Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

There's a lack of faith in modern culture

By Aussiegirl

Oh, my, my my -- where to begin? I could write reams on this topic -- for here indeed is the very nub of the problem facing Western man -- the loss of faith, not only in a transformative and transcendant spiritual belief that involves a higher purpose to life and the sense of connection to mankind as well as all of creation -- but also a loss of faith in our own civilization, that cradle that birthed the greatest explosion of art, music, science, reason, technology and advancements in human rights and the rights of man to live a free and productive life. A crisis of confidence, a crisis of faith, a crisis of belief. It is not only in art that faith has lost its place, but also in the culture at large, and as we shall see, the popular entertainment that passes for art in modern times is not only soulless, it drains the soul from the culture it should be serving.

How many recent articles that we have featured on UT fit into this template? The recent article by Lee Harris, for instance, who wrote that the reason socialism continues to have an emotional appeal is because it provides the sense of myth and connection to a greater cause that is lacking in contemporary Western culture. We have seen it in Tracinski's article in which he traces many of Europe's woes to an adoption of fascist ideas through the adherence to the theories of deconstruction. And we have seen it in the Front Page Magazine article written by Andrew Bostom, in which he talks of the Muslim concept of freedom as "perfect slavery".

Indeed, the entire zeitgeist of the age is less one of war and conflict (although that is certainly a big and dangerous part of the equation), than one of a crisis of belief and a clash of faiths. Or to be more precise, the clash between one encroaching ideology that has at its core a fanatical and zealous emotional myth that satisfies the urge in man to believe in something and to dedicate himself to a higher cause that joins him in unity with others like him -- and the complete sense of loss of purpose and belief that currently prevails in the West, a kind of suicidal, beyond-caring ennui masquerading as enlightened intellectualism.

If the West believes in nothing -- no wonder it fails to defend itself. One truth is as good as another. You (Muslim) believe in your truth more strongly than I do mine (because, really, if I think about it, what DO I believe?), then I suppose you might as well have your way, because now that I think about it, the only thing I really believe in is YOUR right to believe and do what you want. I don't really much care WHAT I do, as long as I'm tolerant and enlightened while I'm doing it. But then -- why am I so bored? Why am I so angry? Why am I so discontent?

It is Western love of tolerance that has led us astray to a large extent. Western intellectuals and liberals are inconsistent in not expecting the same respect for their own culture that they give so willingly to other cultures. In that sense, they are hopeless elitists, for they condescend to the Muslim and immigrant populations, by assuming that they are so benighted and brainwashed by their environment and class and culture that they are incapable of being tolerant and respectful of western ideas. They imply that it is only because they (liberals) are so superior and enlightened that they can rise above the brainwashing of their own culture, and see that this is all foolishness. But the modern liberal is prepared to let the Muslim indulge his own little delusional fantasy and version of truth. In other words -- Muslims are deluded and Europeans are not, although how Europeans managed to rise up above the brainwashing of culture and to determine this "truth" (which according to their philosophy does not objectively exist) is not explained.

So, one wonders what is the liberal version of truth? That there is none? Well, obviously, that's a form of nihilism, and that way lies madness -- which is what we are seeing. It just goes to show that once you abandon the concept of God, and ultimate truth and reality, you become unhinged from reality itself. And here is where the 20th century went horribly wrong. As Dostoevsky once wrote: "Without God, anything is permissible."

In the twin evil ideologies of Nazism and Marxism (which proceeded from an Enlightenment emphasis on reason that went wrong as early as the French Revolution), man untethered himself from God and from any sense of an overarching right and wrong, freed as he thought he was by the advance in science and the power of his own mind and reason. He thought he could explain everything through objective reason and science, and ended up using that same reason to deny reason itself. If nothing can be objectively determined to be true-- then how can you even say that deconstruction is true? It seems to me these philosophers cut off the branch from under their own theory. They claim to have arrived at their theories through reason, yet they tell us that reason alone is inadequate and cannot teach us anything or arrive at the truth.

Perhaps this is one root of Western ennui and cultural paralysis, and by extension, the rabid anti-Americanism that pervades Europe and much of the world today, although I would say that another large reason for anti-Americanism can be laid at the feet of the Hollywood media machine and our entertainment industry, which flood the world market with images of violence, sex and decadence that incorrectly portray American values, and also invade and pollute the cultures of the countries in which they are shown, while crowding out local products.

There is no question that these entertainments are popular, otherwise they would not sell, but it is quite another question to wonder whether they are ultimately corrupting to the culture, and to soul. Many among us think that as Muslims encounter the western world they will naturally seek and desire its advantages. The youth will want our rock and roll and rap, they will desire to emulate our style of dress and want to see our movies. Many think that this popular culture that is the primary export of America is what will win the day. And indeed, we can see in the remotest parts of the world the influence of Western popular culture. And while it's undoubtedly true that Muslims know, and probably want, all that the West can afford them, we must never forget that man does not live by bread alone. Unless we can offer the Muslim youth something beyond Hollywood, hamburgers, rock and roll, computers and such, it won't be enough. It will be a thin gruel indeed, and one that does not nourish. And in any case they can have both -- the strictures and assurances of their Muslim faith, and the modern world -- in other words they can coast on the legacy of the West's technological achievements for a long, long time before it degrades, and use it to their benefit. Indeed, why shouldn't they?

The West is dying culturally and demographically, and there is a spiritual vacuum that leads to the sort of lack of will and lack of culture and faith that we see today. We have to offer the youth of the world a vision that goes beyond the material -- but how can we if we have lost it ourselves?

President Bush is trying to spread the secular form of our western faith in his push for the democratization of the Middle East, which is a belief in the intrinsic dignity of humans, human rights, freedom, democracy, laws and education, etc. But this is only part of the equation. Is that alone appealing enough or even understandable to the devout Muslim, whose entire faith involves "submission" to God's law, not man's -- which is what Islam properly means -- not peace, as we are so frequently told. As we've seen in the article by Andrew Bostom, freedom means something very different to the Muslim than it does to the Christian. When the Muslim looks to western society he sees decadence, overindulgence and license masquerading as freedom, and this is also perhaps why Islam is becoming so appealing to an increasing number of western converts in a world gone mad with excess hedonism and materialism. A world with too many choices, and not enough yardsticks by which to measure them.

As Lee Harris writes, man has an inborn need to seek something higher and to reach for self-discipline and also for a higher understanding of what it all means. Is Hollywood enough to spread the faith? When even Hollywood believes in nothing except indulgence and excess, both of which we know eventually pall? After all, it was in great part in reaction to the excesses and hedonism of Weimar Germany that Hitler came to power and appealed to the youth with his call to duty, service and discipline.

In a way, the books by Gerald Schroeder and others like them, which lay out a rational, scientific basis for a belief in a creative unifying power that underlies all reality are, I believe, a possible answer to the ennui that has settled over Western Europe and a lot of secular western thought. For most people schooled in science and such, the notion of a God who cares, a God who is involved, a God who is necessary for daily life, is alien. All that can be seen is explainable through science, they believe, and religion is no longer necessary or even reasonable. And the new Pope Benedict is quite right to point out that Christianity seems to have lost this spiritual center in its ability to appeal to a modern audience.

Perhaps it's because science, according to Gerald Schroeder's books, has finally caught up with religion, and perhaps a new marriage of science and religion is the key to awakening the west's dormant spirituality. As the Pope has said, there is a reason that the West has seen a proliferation of seeking in Eastern and other faiths. People are searching for something, and they aren't sure where to find it. In some way, Christianity and Judaism must renew themselves and appeal to people's innermost desires again -- but how? This is probably the most pressing concern of the modern age. As the Bible says -- "Without vision, the people perish."

Let us again take the example of the recent article by Lee Harris. Harris asks the question: Why isn't socialism dead? And he points to South America and the regimes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia where socialism is making a big comeback. Since socialism has so obviously been a failure as an economic system wherever it was tried, what is fueling its renascence? He points to the theories of Sorel, and Sorel's concept of the transformative power of the revolutionary myth in the struggle for socialism. Man's deep emotional need to believe in something gives socialism an edge, even though in practice it doesn't work. In the long run, even if the experiment is a failure and doomed to fail, the meaning and value is not in the final outcome, but in the sense of brotherhood and comradeship and the exhilirating belief in a myth that is transformative and revolutionary. Capitalism, although it works, may suffer from a "myth gap" -- in other words, people want to believe, and they'd rather believe fervently in something which is impossible and has failed to work, as long as the belief is powerful and appeals to emotion, rather than believe in something which does, but which provides no emotional sustenance.

So -- how does man determine what is true in order to make a correct and moral choice in life? What is truth? I can only refer to a beautiful quote of T. S. Eliot that I ran across the other day. He wrote it in 1939, in a book called "The Idea of a Christian Society":

"As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term democracy, as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces you dislike -- it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin."

And I might add -- Bin Laden or Allah.

There's a lack of faith in modern culture - Comment - Times Online

It was, in its way, an epiphany. As moments in church go, it was both a revelation and a turning point. The sermon that the Rev Obadiah Slope preached in Barchester Cathedral still resonates in my mind. And its message came back to me with particular force when I was listening to the world’s leading Hasidic Jewish rapper on Friday night.

The principal reason I remember the sermon is because it was such a silkily chilling performance. I heard it delivered by Alan Rickman, who played the unctuously ambitious cleric Slope in the BBC adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Barchester Chronicles.

Rickman’s performance as Slope, way back in 1982, was his first opportunity to show the world his skill as an actor. I imagine that most of us who were watching the performance at the time recognised that we were in the presence of a significant new talent. Part of the magic of drama is the thrill that encountering a supremely gifted performer for the first time can elicit.

But that sermon stuck in the mind for reasons other than Rickman’s accomplished delivery of Trollope’s prose. His character, Slope, uses the sermon to denounce the use of music in worship. The sermon possesses a singular dramatic power. On one level, it reveals Slope as an ecclesiastical Iago, capable of using the sacred authority of the pulpit for a remarkably un-Christian denunciation of his fellow clergy.

But on another level, the sermon itself shows Slope as a gifted orator, alive to the musical power of words to move, even as he denounces the harmony and melody of choir and musicians. While he denounces one art in the service of faith, he is himself displaying artistry, ostensibly in defence of his own religious viewpoint.

There have always been fundamentalists who have sought to separate art and faith, who see in human creativity a lack of proper piety towards the Creator, from the Puritan zealots who stripped England’s old Catholic altars to the Taleban who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas.

But the historic glories of our culture are, literally, unthinkable without recognising the role that faith has played in their creation. And countless millions have been brought a deeper understanding of faith, or at the very least have engaged with the sublime, through religiously inspired art. Whether it is the soaring Romanesque arches of a cathedral, such as the one in which the fictional Slope preached, the achingly moving chords of the St Matthew Passion or the contemplative mysteries of a Raphael Madonna, our culture is built on, and has acted as a route towards, religious revelation.

[...]Perhaps readers can tell me if I am missing someone big. It certainly feels, looking back on centuries of religiously inspired art, as though our modern culture is missing something big.


At 11:20 PM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Hi Aussiegirl!

I am awed!!!!!

This was truly a brilliant piece! I am not worthy!!!

At 12:36 AM, Blogger Brandon Jones said...


I came here at the recommendation of American Thinker. This entry is very insightful and, unfortunately, true. As an armchair theologian, I know that the task before the Church is daunting in shouting to our culture that faith has not been eclipsed. I believe there are some young believers in this country who are ready to meet this challenge, and I hope many of them will be involved in the arts.

Thanks for a good read.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very insightful essay, Aussiegirl! I was interested in the idea that myths are essential for society, so that e.g. the reason the Chinese invaded Tibet was because they wished to substitute the myth of communism, which brings all together in a higher cause, for the myth of Tibetan Buddhism, which brings all together in a higher cause. I was also interested in what you wrote of reason being used to deny reason. I't always seemed to me that once reason has done its job in presenting a number of proposed lines of action or inquiry, it's up to emotion to choose among them. That is, in the final analysis it's always emotion that trumps reason -- perhaps here is where myths get their power, because they are more profound than reasons. Lastly, I was quite taken what T.S. Eliot wrote about democracy: The term democracy, as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces you dislike -- it can easily be transformed by them. So much for the idea that democracy will always triumph. Once again, thanks for a well thought-out and inspiring essay.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent piece! This is my first trip to your blog, but it won't be my last. You've effectively put into words something I have thought for so long now. Your statement "the popular entertainment that passes for art in modern times is not only soulless, it drains the soul from the culture it should be serving" instantly struck a chord with me. Keep up the good work!

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

There's much insight here. I am reminded in particular of an Ayn Rand aphorism about the Russian Revolution:

"The White Russians had ikons. The Bolsheviks had ideas. The Bolsheviks won."

Astrophysicist and author David Brin has also examined the penchant we of the West have exhibited for "Otherness:" the reflexive assumption that ideas and premises we disagree with should be assumed to be as valid as our own. It's a tendency that has insinuated itself into the core of our culture. It must be ripped out before it allows those of less substance but firmer faith to destroy what we've built

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Thanks to all for such kind and insightful comments. I hope you will come back and read again and we can continue a fruitful dialogue and conversation on the problems the beset our modern world, and how we can best address them. And also have a bit of fun and learn something in the process! I am always interested in the opinions and viewpoints of readers -- even if they differ from my own.

Pindar, I am struck by your comment that at the end of intellectual reasoning, the final decision always comes down in the end to emotion. And I loved the quotation from Ayn Rand about the Bolsheviks and the Ikons. But perhaps as history unfolds, it will be the Ikons that win, as it was in large part dissidents of great faith who brought down the Soviet Empire with their unwillingness to be cowed by the totalitarian monster. Of course, millions of lives were lost in the process. How slowly progress is made, and how easily it is erased and lost.

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem of the failure of the West is well known and this piece is as articulate as many of the exposition. But this piece still fails us in it does not get at the answer of why. All of the explanations proffered are not of why men in the West gravitated to the theories they did that ultimately led them astray from faith. And, even worse, there is a suggestion here that science might provide some answer. I certainly cannot get into the answer in a comment thread but will provide a link to a detailed work in progress that does suggest an answer to why. It will be surprising if not shocking to many of the moderns. http://www.saneworks.us/Working-Draft-of-SANE-POSITION-WHITE-PAPER-No-I-article-7-0.htm

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

David, I would argue that the WHY of this stems from the Sin of Lucifer-pride. The Italian Renaissance revived ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, and the great success of the developing technologies in the 18th Century (during the Enlightenment) led to an intellectual arrogance among the more scholarly, which would be taught to the masses through public education, mass media, and other indoctrination techniques.

Furthermore, Protestantism rebelled against the Catholic Church, but, as all revolutions do, midwifed Modernism which retained the rebellion against Catholicism, only dispossed of the Christian component entirely-in short, the rebels were radicalized. The success of Protestantism (which I consider a good thing in many ways, although I am a Catholic) was due to the printing press as much as anything, and the ``Liberals`` understood this principle. Many of the 18th Century Liberals were intoxicated by the powers of human reason, and believed that Man could accomplish anything.

Early Liberalism had men of faith who were thinkers. By the beginning of the 19th Century the newly minted atheists and the collectivists had usurped the movement, and their goal was the reformation of Man. Their tireless efforts to build a new Man, a collectivist, atheistic Man who is self-willed and self-actualized. (Dewey was a hard leftist, if any of you wonder, and his campaign for government education was for the purposes of indoctrination) Religion had no place in their planned future, where Man would replace God as an object of worship. (Remember the Cult of Reason?)

A civilization which places itself on the Throne has an empty throne, that, coupled with the failure of collectivization has led to the ennui we now see. The West has lost it`s purpose because We have ``traded the incorruptible God for the corruptible Man``. How can we believe in our culture and still be on the throne? Our culture prospered because of our Judeo-Christian faith. We gave that up in a vain belief in science and intellect alone. Pride goeth before a fall.

We came to believe so much in our own godhead and now we no longer have a sense of purpose or worth. We lost that when we dethroned the eternal King. Liberalism violates the First Commandment. There has to be punishment.

Furthermore, there are many in our society who, in their effort to recreate ourselves, realized the need to pull down the traditional bullwark of our civilization. That was the whole point of multiculturalism; to dismantle our own society. The tool to be used was ``tolerance`` and ``diversity``. They have actively campaigned to destroy our faith in our own civilization. The plan is to rebuild on a footing of their choice.

We have sewn ennui and cultural relativism, and it should come as no surprise that we are reaping a bountiful harvest.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find all of the comments to be very interesting. I am a Christian and would say that "modernism" has led us a nation, a generation down a path that was unavoidable. We have gotten to the end of this journey and found, not a better man, but a godless culture. Freedom is not absent of boundaries and parallels. God is not oppposed to freedom, he is freedom. Freedom must mantain within certain boundaries or it becomes anarchy. I am a church going American in the bible belt of the United States, but I do not believe that "church" is the answer. Jesus told us to "preach the gospel of the kingdom." The church is the a living, breathing organism that God chooses to labor with to institute his kingdom. The lack of vision and direction results from a lack of vision for God and who he is. We are not in a culture war, we are in a kingdom war. It was Jesus who stated there are two kingdoms...the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. We can subcategorize these all we desire, there are still only two catergoires. We subdivide these kingdoms to justify our own behavior. There is not justification for human behavior. No one teaches a two year to lie, for example. They inherently know how to do it, and will inherently grow to learn that it's wrong.

I say all of the above, to simply state, that I enjoyed the article, the comments and the stimulating of my thoughts regarding this subject.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Timothy Birdnow: read the link I provided in my post above. What you describe are all the effects of what is discussed there. Go to http://www.saneworks.us/Science-and-Democracy-A-Source-of-Strength-for-America-or-its-Death-Knell-article-96-37.htm to read a less "philosophical" description. And, to see this described in the context of a culture of murder/abortion, see http://www.saneworks.us/Science-and-Democracy-The-Culture-of-Death-and-Abortion-article-100-7.htm to be posted Tuesday, May 30.


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