Friday, October 28, 2005

Follow Up: Religion in a Modern World - It's Dead

In an earlier post, I argued conservatives in New Zealand ought to avoid what has been happening in America and stay away from allowing religion to be infused into politics. I based this on my belief that religion as a force is dead in developed world and has no hope of ever regaining its previous strength*. The reaction of some believers to practice a more fundamental version of their faith reflects this concern over their lack of power to shape the world. They are powerless to stop the spread of a consumerist and materialist culture. They also feel powerless against the intellectual climate. Post-modernism and multiculturalism are both ideologies that are hostile to religion. Post-modernism claims religion has no claim to the truth (nothing does) and multiculturalism places once dominant faiths on an equal footing to newcomers (thus Christianity finds itself equal to Islam in Europe). Over the last few decades the social effects of this have come into place some positive (liberation from old sexual mores) and some negative (rise in divorce etc). Strong conservative theologians like Pope Benedict XVI have attempted to stop this slide towards secular humanism, relativism and materialism. In the Islamic world they are grapping with the problem of modernity and Islam. The experience of the Islamic world is very different to the West, as they never went through the Enlightenment nor the Industrial revolution. The few nations that have developed (Turkey, Malaysia, etc) an industrial or technological base did so largely in partnership with the West over a relatively quick period. The oil rich (mostly Gulf monarchies, but also nations like Nigeria, Libya) Islamic nations had plenty of money thus few saw the necessity in changing and developing an authentic culture of entrepreneurship. Nations with no oil wealth like Egypt (in the late 1970s with Sadat) and Jordan (recent decades) have both been pressed to open and adopt more free economic systems due to economic stagnation (in Egypt this is partially a result of the socialist policies of Nasser). Thus the movement in the Islamic world towards more free economic systems have begun. The beginnings of political freedom are now taking root as events in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and even Egypt testify. Islamic fundamentalism is partially a reaction against modernism and the culture of the West, a phenomenon scholars refer to as 'Islamic revivalism'. Islamists call America the Big Satan not due to its militarty strength but its seductive culture that entices believers away from the true path of Islam. Thus Islamic fundamentalists and many Christain sects have much in common. They knowthat faith is under attack and while it seems a Stalin-Hitler pact is unlikely, on a number of issues they can work together. This is a danger. While they mayattack some false ideologies (like relativism) they nevertheless propose an unworkable solution. Ayn Rand sums up why conservatives will never succeed when they base their defence on weak grounds, like faith:

"A bad argument is worse than ineffectual: it lends credence to the arguments of your opponents. A half battle is worse than none: it does not end in mere defeat--it helps and hastens the victory of your enemies."
["Conservatism: An Obituary," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 199-200]

*Nietzsche was right. God is dead. This is not an argument for atheism nor an alternative belief system, but merely an observation that recongises the foundations of religion have crumbled and that many of us in the West today live as if god were dead.

Related Links:

Relativism: the central problem for faith today by Pope Joseph Ratzinger (1996)
Remember, this is the same guy who 'obstructed' sex abuse inquiry


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