“The Optimal God :Language and Religion in the Rise of Modernity” by Leslie YOUNG
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
What enabled the West to pioneer modern economy and society? The use of an alphabet to write a language with a tightly structured grammar pointed the West toward thought that is rational — logical, mathematical and scientific. The West’s language and writing also provided tools and prototypes to develop formal symbolic systems of law, accounting and finance, which allowed market economies to use capital-intensive technology. These systems were embedded into Western society by its religion, which was developed by literate priests to attract and manage resources from illiterate congregations. Islam expanded through military conquest, so literates never had to formulate a sensuous religion to attract resources from illiterates. So, the sacred interpenetrated the profane, preventing the evolution of modern institutions. Indian priests held back writing and established a sophisticated oral culture that sought salvation in enlightenment rather than in moral accounting. So India never developed symbolic systems to manage and account for the use of the alms donated by the illiterates. China’s language and writing defined a mindset and spiritual conceptions that long supported effective institutions and a prosperous economy, but discomfort with abstract concepts and transcendental models prevented Chinese development of science, and legal, accounting and financial systems.