"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, November 28, 2016

On the first day of Advent, the Internet gave to me....

A really interesting take on a subject that will get no serious consideration where it was posted:

We [Europeans] haven’t really succeeded in removing religion from the public sphere. Instead, we’ve been left with a sort of non-religious cultural Christianity that we call secularism. And we are so adamant about our belief in secularism that we don’t see it. As German philosopher Martin Heidegger taught us, our experience as humans beings is always rooted in our own reality, and what seems natural is always historical. In other words, even as European countries claim to be secular, Christianity still underpins our culture.

To take the most prosaic of examples, now that Christmas is approaching, cities will spend large sums of public funds to illuminate the streets with festive lights. In the region I’m from, it’s tradition that schoolchildren perform in a play that illustrates the nativity of Jesus. Similar traditions can be found in other countries. Even the most radical atheists buy gifts for Christmas Eve and eat chocolates for Easter. Oh, and forget about finding stores open on a Sunday.

Philosopher Mark C. Taylor points out in “After God” that “secularism is a religious phenomenon, which grows directly out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” He argues that secularism is associated with Modernization, but both phenomena are highly rooted in Western religion. The fallacy lies in the fact that Modernization, and especially the Enlightenment, made us think of values such as laïcité as universal. But those values were actually born in Christian societies. And even as religion retreats to the private sphere, centuries of tradition cannot be extirpated from culture — nor am I arguing they should be.

But we are equating secularism and laïcité as universal, atheist values, and thus creating an opposing narrative against Muslims (and Jews) who see their religion as part of their cultural identity. The truth is, most Europeans are culturally Christian, even when their families, like mine, have long abandoned the idea of God. This narrative of the secular “us” vs. the religious “other,” which is upheld by many who consider themselves liberal, progressive people, incites and allows for populist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the ultra-right.

The author is a Spaniard writing about Europe, but she makes it clear she might as well be writing about America, too.  European culture is Christian.  The very idea that reason should prevail and be upheld as a universal standard is due to the Roman church, not to the abiding influence of Greece or Rome.  The ideals of Greek and Rome we venerate to this day (in ways obvious and all but unnoticed) would never have survived the collapse of the Empire without the Church.  Those ideas were kept alive by the Church across the centuries; it because the common glue of European society because of Christianity, not in spite of it.  If there is an anti-reason element in modern American Christianity, its roots are in American anti-papistry, not in know-nothingism.

But the idea that Europe is a secular paradise is as wrong-headed as the idea that America is ruined by religion.  If we think we are not culturally Christian, we don't see how atheism, as proclaimed by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris or whom you please, is directed against a caricature of religion that's as intellectually offensive as a caricature of a Jew (although caricatures of Muslim and Mohammed are still acceptable, for reasons that don't bear very much scrutiny).

In the Age of Trump, we would do well to engage in some self-examination and realize our "freedom" is the very thing that "incites and allows for populist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the ultra-right," and that, in Jung's terms, the more we fight it the more we fight our shadow self.

Or, as Jesus of Nazareth put it so well:  why do you point out the splinter in your brother's eye, while ignoring the beam sticking out of yours?  Especially, in my modern gloss, when what you are seeing is a reflection, in a curved surface.....


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