28 July 2007


Western Culture? There's No Such Thing.

Don Cupitt came to Secular Hall on Thursday (26th July) to speak on "The Meaning of the West: Secular versus Religious Interpretations". He maintains that "'Western Culture' is ... the most powerful and dynamic cultural tradition that has yet appeared among human beings". He is right to put 'Western Culture' in inverted commas here, because there is no such thing. The term 'Western Culture' is a label used by those who want to polarise the development of ideas into an Us and Them, East versus West battle. We must be careful not to fall into this trap.

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.

What an excellent response, George. I'd only add one thing to your comment on on Cupitt's personal motivation - he has sold an awful lot of books, averaging, as he told us, more than one new title a year!
Regrettably I was not able to be present for Don Cupitt's talk but have to confess that I have used the phrase "Western culture", or similar, as shorthand for the generally rational and secular view of the world developed mainly in Europe since the Enlightenment, as opposed to obscurantist religious views that have generally found their geographical bases in non-Western European countries.

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?
There is an interesting article on the richard dawkins . net site about "Science and the Islamic world", writen by a Pakistani professor:


"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.
Great little article. Unfortunately, most people are indoctrinated since birth to believe something & part of the educational system says that there is such a thing as "western culture", there are even classes in college termed "non-western cultures". It is nothing short of a scam. For one, what is considered west is relative where ever you are in the world. Second, many ancient & modern-day cultures, ethnicities, religions, groups & individuals contributed to the so-called "western culture" but in today's world anything outside of European-originated cultures (Europe, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) is not "western". A perfect example of non-European grubbed entities of "western culture" would be Judeo-Christianity which is West Asian in origin & the very concept in media as "western clothing" meaning trousers, skirts and so on. Trousers are Iranian in origin & skirts are Armenian. It is a psychological, subconscious & racist-induced warfare, an "us vs. them" mentality indeed. Now just you wait for the idiot who will call me a leftist, conspiracy-theorist libtard. At least i think for myself & do my own research, i am no sheep.

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