Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Downstream and unmoored

The national offices of the Freedom from Religion organization are located in "Freethought Hall" only a few blocks from where I live. Their purpose is pretty well summarized by their name and they work hard to achieve their desired result.  In "Is The West's Loss Of Faith Terminal?" Douglas Murray contends that secularists who take such positions might well reconsider who their allies are in the world in which we live:
.... “What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” These are questions which human beings have always asked and are still there even though today to even ask such questions is something like bad manners. What is even more, the spaces where such questions might be asked — let alone answered — have shrunk not only in number but in their ambition for answers. ....

Perhaps we are wary of this discussion simply because we no longer believe in the answers and have decided on some variant of the old adage that if we have nothing nice to say then it is better to say nothing at all. But perhaps there should be a new urgency about asking these questions. After all, all this could very easily change. Having been for some years, as Roger Scruton has put it, downstream from Christianity, there is every possibility that our societies will either become unmoored entirely or be hauled onto a very different shore. Very unsettling questions lie dormant beneath our current culture. ....

.... “Does the free, secularised state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee?” It is rare to hear this question even raised in our societies. Perhaps we sense the answer is “yes” but we do not know what to do if this is the case.

But in fact the wind of opinion in recent years appears to have begun to blow against those who insist that Western liberal societies owe nothing to the religion from which they arose. Partly because the more we become acquainted with other traditions, the harder it becomes to sustain. Indeed, although some people still hold out, it should be evident by now that the culture of human rights has more to do with the creed preached by Moses and Jesus of Nazareth than that of, say, Muhammad. Nevertheless, the question of whether this societal position is sustainable without reference to the beliefs that gave it birth remains deeply pregnant and troubling in the West. ....

...[T]he non-religious in our culture are deeply fearful of any debate or discussion which they think will make some concession to the religious and so allow faith-based discussion to flood back in to the public space.

This seems to me to be an error, not least because it encourages people to go to war with those who are supported by the same tree. There is no reason why a child of Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Enlightenment Europe should spend much, if any, of their time warring with those who still hold the faith from which many of their beliefs and rights spring. In the same way there is little sense in the products of Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Enlightenment Europe who have managed to come to a different settlement deciding that those who do not literally and actually believe in God are now their enemies. Between us we may yet face far clearer opponents not only of our culture but of our whole way of living. ....

We are not going to find another culture or a better culture. But we are currently doing a very poor job of saying what it is in this culture which has nurtured believers and doubters of previous generations and may nurture believers and doubters in this generation too. There will be big upheavals in the years ahead and it is not enough to face them stripped entirely bare. If the culture which shaped the West has no part in the future then we know that there are others that will step into its place. To reinject our culture with some sense of a deeper purpose need not be a proselytising mission, but an aspiration of which we should be aware. But that aspiration will be impossible to fulfil if the religious think that those who have split off from the same tree are their greatest problem, while those on the secular branch try to saw themselves off from the tree as a whole. People can sense that and the resulting want of meaning which arises from such shallows. A split has occurred in our culture. It should be the work of this generation to mend it. [more]