Another article from the Kairos Journal. It is unlikely that the secular drift of western culture will yield the good results promised to us by social theorists on the left. All we have to do to understand this is just a little bit of historical reflection. As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, don't take it for granted that the richest part of giving thanks is that there is truly a God to whom we can give thanks. He is really there.
The Perils of Pure Secularism: Part I
Today, Europe, indeed the West, faces great challenges, not the least from resurgent Islam. Unfortunately, at this critical historical juncture, much of the continent has chosen to forsake its Judeo-Christian heritage, turning to secularism for strength and deliverance. Alarmingly, a moral and spiritual vacuum has developed as Europeans have forgotten that their arts and sciences, laws and letters, and leading institutions, both public and private, are rooted in biblical perspectives. What, then, will become of the culture of DaVinci and Pascal, Newton and Nightingale, Mendelssohn and Bach, Shakespeare and Rembrandt, St. Patrick and Tolstoy, Mendel and Bohr? What hope is there that atheism or agnosticism might generate and sustain such cultural and technological greatness in the future?
Consider the lesson of the kite: When tethered, it can soar, but once the string is broken, the kite crashes to earth. Similarly, when man, in his vanity, presumes to break free from the counsel of God, he is capable of all sorts of perversity. He may start with good material, but without biblical correctives, he carries thought and action to the point of ruinous absurdity—as the following trajectories demonstrate:
1. Deduction. God gives man the ability to reason, but when the terms and premises are flawed, it is “garbage in, garbage out.” For instance, Spinoza developed pantheism (All is god; God is all) from a flawed notion of substance. Today, environmental extremists thank him for putting microbes, trees, otters, and men on equal, “divine” footing.
2. Induction. Empirical, observational reasoning can go wrong too. The senses are wonderful, but as Hume demonstrated, one can lose track of God, science, and the human soul in the jungle of perceptions. This skepticism opens the door to moral decay, producing the licentious sexual counsel of such empiricists as Russell, Ayer, Singer, and Dawkins.
3. Will. Beginning with Kant, German philosophers have proclaimed the mind’s power to engineer reality. This is the tradition of Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and yes, Nietzsche, with his “will to power.” Not to be outdone in “willfulness,” the French have given the world Sartre (whose man creates his own nature) and Foucault (who denigrates logic, calling it a mere power play).
4. Impulse. The desires for self-preservation, for sexual intimacy, and for community are healthy, but fallen man is apt to misuse them. Hence, the error ofJean-Jacques Rousseau, who glorified the “noble savage.” The 1960s and their aftermath have shown that wildness is not so noble after all. “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” are a dead end.
5. Creativity. As Marcel Duchamp’s famous choice of a urinal as his art-show entry demonstrated, novelty-for-novelty’s-sake and the-shock-of-the-new has replaced beauty as the standard of artistic excellence. Pointless provocation now enjoys the place of honor.
And so on it goes. In sector after sector, modern man has pushed legitimate concerns to illegitimate extremes—order to fascism; fitness to eugenics; self-respect to narcissism; civility to cultural relativism; sensitivity to speech codes; dissent to anarchy; commerce to materialism; debate to sophistical sound bytes; society to tribalism; objectivity to apathy.
Western civilization is not fool proof, for fools are so ingenious. In their hearts, and from the rooftops, they have proclaimed, with great effect, “There is no god.” And now the West watches itself fall to earth in a death-spiral of godlessness. Its children are contraceiving and aborting the next generation into oblivion; its relativists are giving away the cultural store; its nihilists are laying down the arms of common
sense and conviction. The kite’s string has been cut.1
This article is taken from a longer paper that was presented at the 2008 Vienna Forum titled, "The Perils of Pure Secularism."