Western civilization has entered a dangerous period of disarray. It is weakened internally by overindulgence and self-doubt, and besieged by forces hostile to its bedrock values of liberty and tolerance. The West can reverse the decline, though, by resolutely returning to its Christian roots
If Western Christian civilization collapses, a brutal and pitiless world will take its place Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself. This civilization’s very survival now hangs on its ability to rediscover Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew its eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions
Published by Geopolitical Intelligence Services https://www.gisreportsonline.com/
Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017 – David Alton
Every generation faces new challenges – and as Europe gazes at the horrors of Aleppo and Mosul, or considers the challenges posed by resurgent nationalism – we are surely right to think of Flanders, Dresden, and Stalingrad.
Just one century ago, in humanity’s deadliest conflict, largely played out on Europe’s soil, 17 million lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded.
In 1919 the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats, wrote his poem The Second Coming.
He describes a brutal, disintegrating, and chaotic world in which the falcon, the hunting hawk, loses touch with its keeper. In place of Christianity, the agnostic Yeats asks “what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”
With Western values and Western civilisation caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam and hollowed-out secular liberal institutions, have we, too, lost touch with the keeper? Are rough beasts slouching towards us, dressed in the garb of new nationalisms?
In 1919, Yeats foresaw a pitiless much harsher world which will replace Christian civilisation. A world in which “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”
Looking back at 2016 we see a world of rough beasts, where things are falling apart, and where the centre has failed to hold. From the rhetoric of Donald J.Trump to the rise of new nationalism – expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Beppe Grillo – the evidence is all around us.
And, like Yeats’ rough beasts, this xenophobia has found its point of entry because the centre failed to understand the depth of disaffection felt by millions of people and has failed to renew itself.
The battle is afoot but it is not yet lost and in 2017 the task of safeguarding civilised values will pass from liberal elites to Angela Merkel and François Fillon – and to their English cousin, once removed, Teresa May. All three are shaped by Christian faith and all three (despite and because of Mrs.Merkel’s handling of mass migration) understand the dangerous levels of alienation.
On becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs.May, a Vicar’s daughter, said she had a “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.
In eschewing class warfare, Marxist economics, and Statist elitism, they are heirs of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all Christian Democrats winnowed by the horrific events that had calamitously befallen Europe for a second time.
In turn, those post-war leaders had been shaped by the ideals of Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher. Maritain’s lodestar is captured in the title of one of his greatest works: “The Person and the Common Good” (1947). Maritain reflected that “Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself…Not only does the democratic state of mind stem from the inspiration of the Gospel, but it cannot exist without it.”
Maritain knew that a radical self-centredness, that elevated the individual or the State, rather than the person made in God’s likeness, would corrupt Europe. He held that we do not need a truth to serve us, we need a truth that we can serve. In these cavalier “post truth” days, the ninth commandment is honoured daily in its breach.
Think of the untruths routinely trotted out in the British referendum campaign or the US election: little wonder that people have lost confidence in the political classes. Discourse has been reduced to personal attacks; argument over ideas to banal sloganeering; complex questions, ranging from migration, refugees, and freedom of movement to xenophobic nationalism and the scapegoating of difference.
Disinformation, propaganda and false news fill the echo chambers of the anti-social media. Worse still, everything has to be said sound bites or in 140 characters – or it isn’t worth saying. This is re-enforced by a media which distorts, dishonours and revels in people’s failings. When we hack down all the trees, from where are the birds supposed to sing in the future? Disillusionment and the breakdown of trust in the political classes has led to voters – from Brexit to Clinton/Trump – making it clear that they do not trust “expert” opinion.
In the UK, the serial banking failures, such as HBOS and HSBC, the failure of managers to take responsibility for shocking lapses, the phone hacking scandal, the collapse of trust in MPs and many others, all points to why the centre is not holding. Instead of ethical leadership we are confronted by poor governance, lack of accountability, regulation found wanting, insufficient boundaries and the connivance of those in authority, who should have known better. Little wonder folk feel betrayed.
Edmund Burke laid great emphasis on the transmission of values from one generation to the next, talking of a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.
How many feel part of such a partnership? How many know the story of how Western civilisation was formed? Do we know the price that was paid for what we enjoy? Do we cherish and hold in trust what we have been given? Do we pass on our values and beliefs with a mother’s breast milk? A year after Maritain wrote “The Person and the Common Good” Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring to birth the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust this was a landmark annunciation of what western civilisation believed it stood for. But from what well was this water drawn? Its radical attempt at universal application was rooted in the Pauline injunction that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one”.
Meanwhile, as angry, intolerant atheists seek to purge all public reference to religious faith, Maritain’s belief that our civilisation has “religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself” is just as hotly contested.
In the nineteenth century, Émile Durkheim questioned how a society can remain cohesive when traditional social and religious ties can no longer be assumed. Whether, in these years of disillusionment and crisis of civilisation, we can rediscover and defend Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew our eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions (from banks to legislatures) – is surely the question for our time: especially in a world caught between these twin dangers of radical Islam and hostile atheism. Many atheists work to tear Christianity from the fabric of our societies. But they should be careful about what they wish for – and of what will be lost.
As The Guardian newspaper correctly observed in May of this year: “The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”
Along with the development of human rights the Christian faith has also radically shaped politics, governance, and social activism. For much of the last seventy years Christian Democracy – whether called by that name or not – has informed the best of our politics.
It defied Nazism and Communism and with its emphasis on social justice, subsidiarity and solidarity, has offered an alternative to unfettered market economics and hedonism. Today it represents the best hope of defeating resurgent nationalism and safeguarding western civilisation. Indeed, for most of the last two millennia Christianity has underpinned the whole edifice of Western culture and, notwithstanding some of the things done in the name of religion, Christianity has been a stabilizing and unifying force, demanding better of us, and safeguarding tradition. Combined with Hellenistic ideals and Roman law, Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped our western civilisation.
The Oxford historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says that religion is “a force that shaped the English soul” – a sentiment that has applicability throughout Europe.
In November, speaking in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Revd.Justin Welby, said: “Values emerge from histories of interaction and are rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo Christian tradition”.
It is not too great a claim to say that this tradition and the efforts of the Church, both as an intermediary and as an institution, have provided the glue for many of our democracies. At its best the Christian faith gave birth to some of our most important centres of learning, to the upholding of God-given Commandments, to a belief in the dignity of man, to social solidarity, to the cultivation of the virtues, and to the promotion of the common good. In the UK, in the nineteenth century, significant Christian men and women, such as William Wilberforce, in galvanising the opposition to slavery, Lord Shaftesbury, in demanding an end to the exploitation of children in factories, Elizabeth Fry in promoting prison reform, and Cardinal Henry Manning and William Booth, by reaching out to the masses, used their values to shape their deeds and to improve the common lot.
In the twentieth century, Christianity produced the courageous defiance of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, and Maximillian Kolbe. It gave us the Christian Democratic leaders who reconstructed Western Europe and, later, the dissenting Christians of Eastern Europe – such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa – whose actions ushered in radical change.
By contrast, in the twenty-first century, we are far more likely to say that Christians should remain silent about their faith – or risk ridicule or dismissal from their workplace. And to what does this lead? Instead of upholding the sanctity of every life we are, for instance, far more likely to dismiss a midwife (as happened in Scotland) for refusing to abort a baby; or tell a mother with a Down’s Syndrome child that she should abort it, rather than provide love and practical support; far more like to say to a Dutch alcoholic that he should be euthanized rather than help him conquer his addiction.
Paradoxically, the liberal elites who promote eugenics and are so hostile to religious beliefs, drive people – many of whom live in the “rust belt” urban communities of Europe and who refuse to accept this paradigm – into the hands of the very forces they claim to avowedly oppose. And in these circumstances, as Yeats foresaw, “the centre will not hold.”
As these neo-pagan values take a grip, and attempts are made to deliberately de-Christianise Europe, we step into the unknown. Perhaps not entirely the unknown. Marx, after all, denounced the opiate of religion while Lenin said that to even postulate the existence of God was “an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague”. Nietzsche pronounced God’s funeral rites: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? ….Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
Those Marxist-Leninist societies shaped on God’s funeral pyre are hardly a hopeful indicator of life without Christianity or God. Nor are the attempt to make men into gods rather than by cultivating a relationship between God and humanity or by building a bridge between faith and reason.
The obligate, symbiotic nature of the relationship between society and Christianity is well illustrated by Einstein’s famous maxim about science and religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Today we are more likely to echo Christopher Hitchens: “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory…To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid…. God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about.”
Yet, many people instinctively see the burial of God as a loss – both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. They comprehend the truth of the remark in Dostoyevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Whilst, to make a point, that may be over-stating the case, it has a certain resonance today – especially in the virtual world of the internet – where you can incite hatred and promote everything from suicide sites to bomb making.
With our failure to mind the gaps in society this is spawning a crisis of confidence and a crisis of values. The hollowing out of our institutions and our loss of identity is leading to a crisis of civilisation. All around us we can hear the distress calls but too often we stay silent rather than jeopardise our economic or political interests. And into this crisis of Western Values now steps radical Islam and Jihadism. Inspired by Judaeo-Christian ideals, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is emblematic of what the West stands for. Smell the coffee, its values are not the values of the Islamists or Jihadists.
In 1948 Saudi Arabia declined to sign the Declaration stating that it was incompatible with Sharia law –detecting both its Judaeo-Christian inspiration and its acceptability to a secular world. Countries like Pakistan (influenced by its far sighted leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Iran did sign.
But by 1982 Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said the Declaration was “a secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” which Muslims could not implement without being in conflict with Sharia.
So, despite the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Saudi Arabia and Iran, here is something that unites them. And what kind of world does this create? Last year Iran’s brutal theocratic regime executed 1,000 people. Iran’s values can be characterised by executions, stonings, torture, restrictions, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, floggings, and by the denial of political, social and religious freedoms. Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continue to be detained in Iran.
Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist is languishing in jail having been given a six year prison sentence for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. A Christian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, and three others, have been arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service.
They were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Iranian theocracy and Saudi Wahhabism both threaten western civilisation and values today. Their ideologies underpin every Islamist group, with devastating consequences for millions of people worldwide. In Saudi, Wahhabism determines the value placed on a woman’s evidence in a Sharia court; refuses to accept a person’s right to change their religious beliefs (or to be atheists); uses barbaric punishments; publically flogs and beheads citizens. Honour killings, enslavement, arranged marriages, and such like, that follow in its wake, are all incompatible with western values.
These practices also run counter to the beliefs of many Muslims and Islamic supremacism is not, of course, the only way of interpreting Islam – and is rejected by millions of Muslims. Yet it does lead to jihadist violence. Yet, instead of understanding the catastrophic consequences of Saudi’s spending of almost $100 billion on exporting global Wahhabism, we go on feeding the crocodiles.
The idea that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the rest, are nothing to do with Wahhabi Islam is a blatant lie. Yet we are wilfully ignoring this axis and are told that great progress is being made because Saudi Arabia might one day let women drive a car and may remove some of its hate mongering from school text books.
Even more dangerously, we continue to naively suggest that Saudi is our key counterterrorism ally. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen jihadists involved in the slaughter of 9/11 were Saudis. Here is a Janus face that feigns moderation when talking to the west but promotes fundamentalism; that says it opposes terror while exporting its ideology.
Saudi warns the West that we will be far worse off if Jihadists take control of their wealth and oil but then does precious little to challenge or reform the precepts that give rise to this threat. What is driving this foolishness? Here’s one clue.
Britain alone, in the period since the conflict in the Yemen began, has sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi. This is a world in which everything has a price and where values count for nothing. 2017 will continue to throw these contested views into sharp relief.
Western civilisation is clearly under threat from those who, by force, wish to promote Islamist supremacism. That in turn threatens our values of mutual respect, coexistence, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights, and the rule of secular law. To defeat this threat we urgently need to remember who we are and what made us who we are. And, in the presence of Yeats’ rough beasts, and a centre that has not held, we might pause and reflect for a moment on how things will turn out unless, in our generation, we learn to defend our Western values and our civilisation.
Professor David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer