Jared Diamond’s book, Germs, Guns and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, is his attempt to answer the question, “Why did history unfold differently on different continents?”* I found the book to be well written, easily understood, and well researched. Diamond writes with a breadth of knowledge and global travel experience. He goes on to more specifically identify his subject, “why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? Those disparate rates constitute history’s broadest pattern and my book’s subject.”2 Through the course of his book he makes the case that the development of peoples on the various continents is the result of the availability of food and animals to domesticate. This availability then facilitates the establishment of dense populations which, in turn, facilitates the resources to develop the capacity and tools to defend, wage war, and overcome other peoples.
Diamond goes on to chronicle how that the developing Europeans transported germs that further deteriorated the strength of foes they encountered in their dispersion, namely in the Americas.”3 He then cites a number of other factors that contributed to the strength of some peoples over against others: writing, the earth’s axis with impact on weather, and societal competition. He makes a summary declaration of sorts, answering his initial question, “the striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to differences in their environments.4
I found his rationale both intriguing and compelling, though not ultimate. Too his credit, he does not claim that his book is the final word on the question of global societal development. I agree with him that this subject is very complex and there are no simple solutions. Questions that may be of importance regarding this subject are:
- What impact did certain people have on their societal group and/or other groups/continents? (i.e. Napoleon, Plato, Jesus Christ, etc.)
- What role, if any, did faith/religion play in societal development?
- Is there any relationship between types of morality and societal strength?
- I also wonder if globalization follows the tracks of Diamond’s theory?
As I read the book I thought about the development of discipleship in different cultures. Here in the west it has become, generally, an academic pursuit focusing on the intellect, namely: theological or faith information. Only recently has there been some interest in Eastern perceptions of discipleship, an important interest because, after all, the Judeo Christian faith is Eastern. The Eastern view of discipleship is more holistic and looks for how a faith is lived more than how it is explained. My travels have mostly taken place in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In that limited arena I have witnessed the export of Western type discipleship (meet weekly, use manual, fill in blanks from noted bible references, etc.).
However, I have seen some refreshing exceptions, mostly in Central Asia. They are, generally, more holistic in their expectations, meaning that they want truth that works, that is applicable to real life situations. They respect intellectual development but they need to see faith in action and they want their ‘capacity’ to apply their faith increased! In short, they want wisdom! I saw this more so in the rural areas of Kazakhstan. Perhaps it is because the city, the densely populated zones, have an image expectation that is different than that of the rural person who is not driven by economic pressures that require an image ‘persona.’
Diamond’s theory includes the idea that societies that leveraged available resources in the context of their favorable environs to gain global status and have global impact. It would seem that a similar strategy could help the discipleship advance. However, do both social development (closely construed with economic power) and discipleship advance rely upon similar resources? It would seem to me that pursuing the Kingdom and pursuing the kingdom may take different tracks.
I enjoyed the book and am grateful for the assignment. I am also stimulated to understand how discipleship is expressed in different cultures and how the gospel can be promoted in a way that leverages various cultural perspectives.
Question: Have you seen differing ways of making disciples that results in mature Jesus followers? Where? What was unique?
1 Jared Diamond, “Germs, Guns and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, NY, 1997), Kindle Edition, 9.
2 Ibid., 16.
3 Ibid., 183.
4 Ibid., 389.