Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Secular Liberal Death Wish
It's a weird dance of cultural death and it underscores the suspicion that modern liberal secularism may be congenitally incapable of combating the very things that most threaten it.
When Europe abandoned Christendom in the 19th century, it went into a cultural spiral that resulted in two world wars. The cultural vacuum that allowed German nationalism—and, later, Naziism and Fascism—to capture the minds of so many Europeans has never yet been filled. And secularism will never fill it.
In one sense, secularism is itself a religion—and one as totalitarian as the totalitarian philosophies which it purports to replace. It is what we call an "ideology," a word that simply means a religion without the courage of its convictions. It is a religion without a god.
Modern liberal secularism is the cultural equivalent of a zombie: It has all the normal biological functions, but it has no soul. This is why it is neither good nor evil. Positively good and positively evil things both have a kind of substance. But the ideology that rules the political world today has no real substance, and this is why it is so vulnerable to a religion like Islam.
Secularism is a religion for comfortable people: people who have all the modern conveniences and simply don't want to be bothered, not even by ultimate concerns. It is the religion of Nietzsche's Last Man. All it requires is broad, non-committal sentiments, occasional genuflections toward the popular platitudes, and the repetition of the word "science" in the proper company. And the only creed is that there are no creeds.
Problem is, when faced with the openly radical sentiments and heartfelt devotion of a religion like radical Islam, it stands no chance. Radical Islam thrives on Europe's host, but will eventually take it over and—because of its inherent opposition to the secular liberalism that now controls it—must turn in to something very different. It may not be Shariah law, but it will be something that approximates it.
The dominant liberalism is outwardly comforting, but intrinsically weak and the forces of culture will ultimately force it to give way either to Islam or something equally radical that opposes it.
I don't know where I stand on the debate over whether radical Islam is by nature radical. But it doesn't matter. What matters is the empirical fact that—however radical authentic Islam is or isn't—the impulse that drives its cultural presence in the world is radical. Shia may be a peaceful Muslim sect, but the Shia rulers in Iran are radical. Sunni Islam may be, according to its central doctrines, a religion of peace. But the ones who control Isis are radical.
What average Muslims believe may, in and of itself, be unproblematic. But it isn't average Muslims who are running the show. Even many of the rulers of a country like Saudi Arabia, who on the surface seem docile and untroublesome, are intensely anti-Semitic and prone to supporting groups like Al-Qaeda with their oil money.
Joseph Sobran once pointed out that turning over the board is not a move in chess, and no one who thinks it is should be allowed to play. On today's cultural chessboard, we see people who think that players should be allowed in the game who think that turning over the board is a legitimate move in the cultural game.
Why is it that the world religion that invented our civilization (Christianity) is denigrated and sometimes suppressed, while the religion whose most vocal leaders want to bring it down (radical Islam) somehow warrant the vocal defense of the Prime Minister of Germany?
Sermons on diversity are no match for the commitment of the faithful. The latter wins every time.