Today there is a strong need for a renewed anchoring in traditional cultural and religious values in the increasingly anti-Christian West. For quite some time and especially the past decades, radical European and American elites have followed political ideologies that have aimed at deconstructing traditional values in order to open up for a new world order and a brand new set of ethics. The ideological hope has been that modern society will progress into a much better place if Christianity and the values that once built our civilization disappear. But in the eagerness to break down the traditional role of social authorities such as teachers, the clergy and the police, the liberal elites have made grave mistakes. They have neglected to distinguish between stabilizing values that should have been kept and ideals that would profit from being reformed. What has happened is a total reform of almost all values. The result is a brand new system of morality that strongly differs from what used to be the Western codex of ethics. (Photo: Paul Bernard)
The modern anti-religious society shows a number of disturbingly unhealthy symptoms. The abandonment of central ethical principles from the 1960s has opened for a hedonistic social development where egoism, insensitivity and lack of boundaries have become socially acceptable in most situations. This process is now causing Western society to slowly disintegrate and fall behind in the global race for excellence.
This new morality quietly legitimizes the citizens right to selfishness and carries a profound lack of respect for the social role of the family in society. It is a system that at heart fuels a strong sense of anti-solidarity and breaks away from the old values such as the ten commandments summed up by one sentence: “Do unto others that which you wish was done unto you.” Before our very eyes the whole structure of “love thy neighbor” has become “love thyself.” The glue of morality that once kept society structured and together dissolves. We all know the results: soaring divorce rates, epidemic drug abuse, domestic violence, grave inner city problems with the development of new deprived subgroups, financial crisis’ almost solely stemming from too much greed and politicians who dare not say much in fear of losing votes. It is a compelling picture of a culture in deep crisis with a political leadership that seems not able to handle the situation.
The consequence of the anti-traditional radical elites’ contempt for their own cultural background and the values that once made our culture world leading is that many have lost confidence in their national traditions. There is little respect left for the underpinnings of Christian culture. This is especially true for Northern Europe and the UK. It simply isn’t fashionable to be faithful and honest anymore. It is more socially acceptable to pursue one’s wishes regardless of the destructive effect one’s actions may have on others. Increasingly also in the US, Christians keep quiet. It seems as if they do not dare to speak up too loudly. One of the reasons being that these groups are engulfed in the same extreme liberal narrative that fuels this age, they see no reason to protest with a strong enough voice.
The focus on empirical studies and the corresponding liberal paradigms of scientific methods as the only source of truth have produced a culture with a corresponding lack of spiritual and inner energy. People simply seem to be drained, tired, exhausted and not up for a fight for what is right. Loneliness and a feeling of emptiness and lack of purpose prevail in a cultural setting that emphasized the individual rather than the community, self-realization rather than self-discipline, reliance on the welfare state and its statism rather than personal responsibility, and material values rather than inner virtues such as integrity, loyalty, and respecting others.
As relativism has gained ground and fewer dare speak out about what is right and wrong, an almost unquestioning tolerance of other cultures and religions have come to present a considerable challenge. Many forget the importance of having a strong cultural standpoint from which one views others: a position from which one may practice tolerance without discriminating one’s own values. Today many Europeans are terrified of emphasizing the values of the historical West in fear of a nationalism that could degenerate into a new wave of chauvinism. Many do not even criticize criminal actions by non-Western foreigners out of fear of being labelled a racist or intolerant. However, can we love others if we deny ourselves? Can we respect others if we don’t respect ourselves? There is a dire need today to stress the positive elements of a constructive national conscience that offers a sound cultural identity and a secure foundation in the ideals that once made the Western civilization a global leader.
As the pendulum often swings from one extreme to the other, many today acknowledge the self-destructive and self-exterminating forces that exist in the blatant disdain for one’s own cultural and religious roots. Many recognize the weaknesses in a society that no longer appreciates courtesy and civility. Overwhelming crises of identity can deliver serious blows to the individual. This book analyses these crises, and discusses the actions necessary for a new constructive focus on morality and social development. Those of us who over time have experienced the social effects of the extreme anti-Christian liberalism and its radical hedonism have become the culturally conservative enemies. As a result of the firsthand familiarity with the self-destructiveness of norm dissolution, we call for an increased focus on solidarity, cohesion, personal responsibility, and self-control. HIT2014
Critical cultural analysis
One of the philosophers that over the years have meant a lot to me is the world renowned German philosopher and atheist, Jürgen Habermas. Each chapter in this book consists of reflections on different aspects of the remarkable speech he held when he visited the beautiful coastal city of Bergen in Norway. He was there in order to accept the 2005 Holberg Prize.
The unique message of the speech represents a stunningly strong abandonment of academic theories asserting that belief in God is an attribute of an unenlightened, oldfashioned and archaic society. Precisely because Habermas himself is a proclaimed atheist and neo-marxist, who has argued for a secularization of Europe his entire life, witnessing a leading philosopher like him changing his mind is truly unforgettable. The speech moved me. When a brilliant European thinker like Habermas generously acknowledges the failings in the atheistic views that have epitomized Europe over the past decades, he encourages a renewed respect for the importance that religious ethics and beliefs have had for the development of strong European nations.
For decades Western philosophers have presumed that the more secularized world society becomes, and the more that religious beliefs are relegated to the private sphere of life, the more that numbers of believers will decrease. But the importance of faith has not declined. In the West religious belief has become increasingly personal and private, but the role of religion remains just as important. In a country like France about 90% of the population is Christian, according to the World Factbook 2003. Yet another study shows that over 70% of the French population consider themselves Christian. These are remarkably high numbers given the fact that European populations have been subjected to strong social influences, especially from socialists, that are openly hostile towards religion. Even in one of the world’s most extreme secular countries, Norway, three out of four believe in God. In the USA the number is as high as 90%, and in Russia only 4% consider themselves non-believers. When it comes to Italy, only 6% are atheists. In secularized Europe non-believers are decidedly the largest minority. Almost everyone believes in God.
This critical cultural analysis and call to arms will therefore explain and deal with different aspects of this theme in a confrontational and passionate manner, by evaluating the basic tenets of Habermas’ speech at the award ceremony in 2005. This will be done in chapters that are essentially free-standing. For this reason a single point is repeated where it forms a natural part of the immediate argument. Many ideals such as religious freedom and respect for human value have also characterized other cultures throughout history. However, this book primarily addresses valuable ethical principles that have influenced Western thought. Today it is crucial that Europe firmly grips these principles.
The first chapters deal with the techniques responsible for our present cultural situation, a situation so dire that Habermas is philosophically forced to call attention to traditional European ethics. Following chapters present a critique of the cultural radicals’ enduring depreciation of their own cultural roots, and the social effects of taboos against the very mention of morals and boundaries.
The final chapters are a philosophical analysis of the nature of religion and why religious ethics have a positive and direct social relevance. In conclusion I ask if modern democracy is truly tolerant, or, in reality, intolerant. As an advocate of the fact that different disciplines have much to offer one another, I consciously cross boundaries between philosophy, theology, religion history, and other social sciences.
To make it easier for the reader to follow my reasoning, the literature cited is presented and referenced in each chapter. Some chapters are elaborated versions of chronicles I have published in Norwegian newspapers, others are simply analytic reflections from a culturally pessimistic point of view.
I have made no attempt to be nuanced and examine every aspect of the subject. The democratic debate should function such that, following the presentation of relevant and rational arguments, others can continue with an examination of details. There are many good points, both among atheists, agnostics, and believers. Together we will build the foundation for tomorrow’s society, in which mutual tolerance will hopefully prevail, in addition to a respect for the tolerant conclusion: where one agrees to disagree. Because the public sphere has long featured arguments hostile to religion, I present lines of reasoning necessary to achieve a balanced and holistic social debate from today forward.
My hope is therefore that the reader will become enthused to renewed intellectual reflection. A free mind has long been an ideal we are beginning to forget in the new Western culture where words like democracy, free speech, tolerance and human dignity increasingly are becoming figures of speech rather than lived reality.