I’m not great with directions. Once, famously, during a good discussion, my wife and I circled Columbus, Ohio, twice. As a “directionally challenged” person, I understand questions like the one that resulted in this post. A curriculum is a path. Why choose this path and not that one? Why focus on the West and not all traditions or groups equally? As one of the creators of the Omnibus curriculum, I am well qualified to answer because I know why we were doing what we were doing from the beginning. So, I will give you my top reasons why Omnibus focuses on Western Civilization, but before, I have a few critical caveats—one of which I will save for the end of this post.
First, while Omnibus is Western-focused, it is more than just Western.
The Omnibus begins at the beginning with Genesis. A substantial part of the Omnibus is focused on the Scriptures. The Bible, while it is mixed into the foundation of the West, is not Western in origin. We also read books like the Koran and other books that are not Western in origin. This doesn’t negate the Western focus but contains more than Western tomes.
Second, the editors of Omnibus aren’t convinced of the assumption that all cultures are equal.
This pernicious assumption often lurks beneath arguments for diversity, inclusion, and equity in what we read. If all cultures are equal, shouldn’t we just pick a book from each ethnic group and read them instead of focusing on the West?
Interestingly, no culture ever pretends that all cultures are equal.
In the West, the Scriptures teach us to honor and care for our fathers and mothers.
In Japan, elders are often worshiped as part of Shinto beliefs.
In some parts of India, before the Raj, widows were thrown onto the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.
Each culture believes it is doing the right thing with grandma, but if treating grandma with care and respect is correct, then throwing her on the pyre is wrong. They are not equal. Each culture believes that what they’re doing is right.
The first reason for the Western focus is easy to understand. When we wrote the Omnibus we were writing mainly to a market of people who were part of Western culture, therefore, we started and focused on the culture of our audience. By starting with Western Civilization, we were not saying that other cultures lack value. We are saying that understanding our own culture—with all its triumphs and sins—is the best place to start.
Second, the West has invented a lot of ideas that are extremely important to us today.
The West has some built-in assumptions that are prerequisites for science, freedom, liberty, and democracy. We could ask the question: what do aboriginal Australians believe about freedom of speech? That actually could be an interesting study. Whatever they believe, however, has had less impact on the rest of the world than the US Constitution’s first amendment. If one considers moral justifications for ending slavery, that justification comes from the West. This doesn’t mean that all Westerners agreed with this reasoning— even some that celebrated the outcome could not celebrate the reasoning that the West used to end slavery, but, praise God, it ended. As Western influence spread worldwide, the gospel was preached to an increasing number of people, slaves gained freedom, widows were kept from being burned, and abortion and exposure of children were suppressed. In hoping to see the hearts of many moved in this direction, we must study how the West reached those convictions.
Third, providentially, the gospel went West. Western Civilization, though imperfect, has soaked in the waters of the gospel for much longer than most other areas of the world.
This happened at the behest of a dream set by the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul. We call this dream the Maededonian Dream. It showed Paul that he needed to come West and preach the Word to the Greeks. He was faithful, and the rest is history. Western Europe came under the sway of the gospel like the West Indies, and West Africa did not. Their time was coming. Interestingly, the time for these places came because the base of Christendom reached out to the rest of the world with the gospel, not because of the ministry of Paul.
We see the gospel receding in the West and conversions exploding in South America, Africa, and China. Their time is coming, but, honestly, if it does come, these cultures will inevitably study the triumphs and flaws of the West because of their fathers in the faith.
Fourth, currently, the West is in a place of cultural hegemony setting the patterns for many other cultures.
A Saudi plane with Chinese pilots flying from Basel to Belarus speaks English to the tower and other airplanes. With Industrialism and Modernism, the West has become dominant. It imposed its values and practices on the rest of the world— for better and worse. When treating diseases, growing crops, and ending human sacrifice, the West has done much good. Sadly, the West became dominant at a time when it was abandoning its religious foundations. So, in some places, people were taken advantage of economically. In other areas, like Japan, people and nations were propelled forward at an incredible velocity economically but were given the fruits of a gospel culture without roots.
Finally, the West has been on a quest to discover universal rather than subjective or tribal versions of the truth.
This difference can be seen by comparing Christians in Western Civilization with the Comanche culture of the American Southwest. A few years ago, I got on a Comanche kick. I inadvertently read two books about the Comanches simultaneously. I was listening to S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon and Philip Meyer’s novel Son. There is so much to admire about the Comanches. They were terrifying warriors in the West. They could outride, outthink, and outlast the other tribes who were in constant war with them, tribes that mainly fled when a Comanche war party was near. The Comanches believed in virtue, wisdom, and ethics, but only within the tribe. They didn’t believe that this ethic extended to those outside the tribe. Thus, when the tribe came into contact with American settlers, the carnage was ugly. Comanche warriors would rape, torture, and mutilate American settlers. They would sometimes capture, enslave, and eventually bring American children up as their own. (Both books tell stories about children whose families were butchered by the Comanches who eventually became part of the tribe.) When these abductees became part of the tribe, they were regarded with politeness and respect. There was one truth for the tribe and another one for everyone else.
The West believes in universal truth rather than tribal “truth.” The West is after truth that applies to all. Thou Shalt Not Murder. This means murder is wrong if committed by a priest, a merchant, or a Comanche warrior. Not all in the West hold to this standard, but this shortcoming doesn’t diminish the power of the quest for things that are true for all men and women at all times in all places.
The sophists of Socrates' days bore little familiarity with the Comanche warriors, but both groups believed in a limited truth in time, scope, and purpose. The Comanche warrior treated tribe members with one ethic and others with no ethic. Sophists twisted the truth to gain power. Socrates drank poison because he would not bend the truth to fit his circumstance. Jesus, who was Truth, would not come down from the Cross because He was making a way of salvation for every tongue, tribe, and nation. He was making the only path to peace with God that any human can have.
This brings me to the final caveat (and it is an important one). There are books in each culture that might be critically important for people in that particular culture to read.
The Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) President David Goodwin calls these books “folk” literature. They should be read in one culture but aren’t as crucial as universal-truth-seeking books. One example of this “folk” literature would be Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Without reading this classic, it is hard to understand what it means to be an American. It shows the character of our culture through the eyes of the “noble, innocent savage” Huck Finn. Through Huck’s eyes and ears, we see the horror of racial slavery. When Huck takes the side of his friend, the runaway slave Jim, and says he would instead go to Hell than turn Jim in, we see what it means to recognize true friendship and humanity in another person (a universal truth). The value of Huck Finn is more significant in the American context than if it was read in Singapore or on some colony on Mars. It undercuts the racial slavery system in America. Its value for Americans is much greater than for Greeks or Australians. It is classic American folk literature.
But you might ask: why do so many smart people in the West seem to hate the Western Civilization? That is a great question. Sadly, some modern Westerners practice a weird sort of reverse Chronological Snobbery. (Remember, Chronology Snobbery is that logical fallacy, named by C. S. Lewis, that asserts that anything newer is better. These people usually trace all wrong and oppression back to the West judging people in the past by standards that are anachronistic. They are willing to support and uphold pre-Western cultures or non-Western cultures simply because of this anti-Western prejudice. They see some things that are true. The West often fails to live up to its calling. Truthfully, every City of Man, every culture, does fall short. They often fail to see those same failings in Comanche culture or Norse culture, and they also fail to see the great good that the Christian West has done for itself and for all cultures.
So, Omnibus’s focus on the West is based on the audience to which it is written—which is mainly Western, the importance of the West in crucial ideas, the dominance of the West in modern times, and because the West tries to find universal truth instead of tribal truth. That said, Omnibus does include some books that are not Western, and it includes some books that are folk literature fitted to America.
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