C. Things government should promote

A government not only needs to protect its people from certain things, it should also actively promote several things. The New Testament indicates that a government official “is God's servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4), and the government is supposed to “praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14), which implies encouraging and promoting things that are good for the society as a whole. In this section, we consider three areas in which government can promote and encourage things that bring great economic benefit: education, marriage and family, and church.

Compulsory universal education

Economically productive nations require universal education of all the children in the society. Educated people bring benefits not only to themselves, but also to the society in general, which constitutes a good reason for the government to require some level of educational achievement. Economic progress is closely tied to levels of literacy in an economy and to the attainment of other types of education (such as vocational training) sufficient to enable people to earn a living and contribute positively to society.

By contrast, in nations that remain in poverty, education is often limited to certain favored groups, and it is very difficult for others outside those groups (such as racial, ethnic, or religious minorities; women; and poor people generally) to obtain it. Therefore, poor countries often have widespread illiteracy that is concentrated particularly among women, certain ethnic and religious groups, or certain lower castes.

Regarding the general economic benefits of education, Landes notes that the Scandinavian countries, which were “desperately poor in the eighteenth century,” suddenly began to experience spectacular economic growth, more than tripling their per capita incomes from 1830 to 1913. One reason was that “the Scandinavian countries, equal partners in Europe’s intellectual and scientific community, enjoyed high levels of literacy and offered a first-class education at higher levels.”[1]

This was also true of Protestant Northern Europe in general. Prot?estants placed a “stress on instruction and literacy, for girls as well as boys.” A theological belief explains why:

This is a by-product of Bible reading. Good Protestants were expected to read the holy scriptures for themselves. (By way of contrast, Catholics were catechized but did not have to read, and they were explicitly discouraged from reading the Bible.) The result: greater literacy and a larger pool of candidates for advanced schooling; also greater assurance of continuity of literacy from generation to generation. Literate mothers matter.[2]

This Protestant emphasis on education of children is not surprising, because the Bible emphasizes the responsibility of parents to train their children. Immediately after Moses gave the people of Israel the greatest commandment, he encouraged them to educate the next generation:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:5-7)

All the people in Israel were expected to imitate the godly man of Psalm 1, who takes “delight . . . in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).

The Protestant emphasis on education led to rapid economic growth in Protestant Northern Europe, while the Roman Catholic countries of Southern Europe lagged far behind in economic development: “The contrast between Mediterranean and northern Europe is undeniably large. Around 1900, for example, when only 3% of the population of Great Britain was illiterate, the figure for Italy was 48%, for Spain 56%, for Portugal 78%.”[3]

Similarly, Russia under the czars failed to develop economically to keep pace with Western Europe, and one reason was “a poorly edu?cated, largely illiterate population with spots of intellectual and scientific brilliance.”[4]

In the Muslim nations of the Middle East, “the rates of illiteracy are scandalously high, and much higher for women than for men.”[5] For example, even as late as 1990, 43 percent of the population of Algeria was illiterate, and 55 percent of the women.[6] The only Middle Eastern Muslim nations that are wealthy have much oil and few people (such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait).[5] This is because the immense wealth generated from oil reserves often remains in the hands of powerful ruling elites, while the majority of the population remains trapped in poverty.

Similarly, there is resistance to universal education in some parts of Hindu culture. Darrow L. Miller and Stan Guthrie note that a development worker who wants to teach poor people in India how to read and write might confront an objection from Hindu culture: “In the Hindu system, encouraging the poor to learn is asking them to sin.”[8] Technological and trade school education is also crucial for a nation’s educational progress. Such vocational training must be widely available so that the country has an abundant supply of electricians, plumbers, welders, carpenters, X-ray technicians, lab technicians, secretaries, heavy-equipment operators, and so forth.

Finally, knowledge of a foreign language is important. Because of increasing global opportunities in business, students who cannot speak multiple languages are limited in their economic opportunities. Therefore, it seems that a working knowledge of a worldwide language is increasingly important for children’s schooling in every country. In countries where English is not the primary language, prosperous nations today generally require fluency in English for children throughout the nation, because English is now the worldwide language of business and scientific interchange. (English proficiency is now required or strongly encouraged and widely available, for example, in the educational systems in prosperous countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, as well as in the rapidly growing countries of India and China, and in several of the growing countries in Eastern Europe.)

By contrast, nations that fail to require fluency in English in their educational systems guarantee that each succeeding generation of children grows up to find itself linguistically incapable of participating easily with the commercial, technological, and scientific interactions that occur each day in the most economically advanced countries of the world. The opportunities for these children to escape from poverty themselves, and to help bring their nations out of poverty, are severely restricted. Sadly, many Latin American countries still fail to require their children to have widespread training in English (perhaps because of a nationalistic resistance to becoming “like the United States”). This is also the case with many Muslim countries and with Russia.

  • [1] Ibid., 248.
  • [2] Ibid., 178, emphasis in original.
  • [3] Ibid., 250. However, Roman Catholics promote education in many countries today.
  • [4] Ibid., 268.
  • [5] Ibid., 410-11.
  • [6] Ibid., 508.
  • [7] Ibid., 410-11.
  • [8] Darrow L. Miller and Stan Guthrie, Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures (Seattle:YWAM, 1998), 68.
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