28 July 2007
Western Culture? There's No Such Thing.
What is in reality "the most powerful and dynamic cultural tradition that has yet appeared among human beings"? The answer is the culture of reason and of human-based rational ethics and of scientific method. And this is not 'Western Culture' it is Rational Culture, it is Humanist Culture, it is Scientific Culture, it is Enlightenment Culture, and most of all it is World Culture. Contributions to this Culture have been made by all the peoples of the Earth. It is a heritage open to all the peoples of the Earth. Its opposite is not 'Eastern Culture', its enemy is all forms of irrationality, ignorance, incoherence, obfuscation and superstition.
Unfortunately Don Cupitt's thesis, as expressed to us at Secular Hall, is to hijack this World Culture in the name of the ghost of Christianity. In order to do this he has to play down or even to deny that Eastern Cultures have made or are even capable of making contributions that count. The Chinese, Indian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Arab, and other Pre-Christian contributions to science, to logic, to democracy, to philosophy, to ethics, to the whole world of ideas for him do not count. His thesis is that only Christianity is responsible for modern humanitarianism, self-examination, critical thinking and progressive reform. What nonsense! To speak plainly, besides being self-delusion, this verges on being Racist.
One can understand Don Cupitt's motivation. Having devoted a life to trying to save the religion of Christianity in which he was brought up and thoroughly immersed and enmeshed, and having sought to bring about the modernisation of Christianity, he now finds it impossible to let go, to just let it fade away and die. There must have been some purpose in it he despairingly thinks. He actually says in the handout circulated at the meeting that "the decline of the religion was also the beginning of Christianity's extraordinarily successful afterlife as modern Western Culture"! Sorry Don: The truth is that Cristianity is Dead, it was killed by the Scientific Enlightenment, and there is no Life after Death.
To argue that there is a "World Culture" that opposes obscurantism is a bold step that is more accurate in abstract but the term does not (yet) exist in common usage and so if used would only confuse. Perhaps "modern world culture" or "secular world culture" might be better?
"Progress will require behavioral changes. If Muslim societies are to develop technology instead of just using it, the ruthlessly competitive global marketplace will insist on not only high skill levels but also intense social work habits. The latter are not easily reconcilable with religious demands made on a fully observant Muslim's time, energy, and mental concentration: The faithful must participate in five daily congregational prayers, endure a month of fasting that taxes the body, recite daily from the Qur'an, and more. Although such duties orient believers admirably well toward success in the life hereafter, they make worldly success less likely. A more balanced approach will be needed."
The acceptence of the importance of science is not the adoption of "western culture". It is a return to the rational Islamic culture of the past.