In 1900, most westerners were confident and optimistic, full of pride about their civilisation. Since then, the west has made enormous strides in economic, scientific, military, political and social terms. Yet the earlier confidence has gone.
We have stopped believing in the ideas that drove earlier generations to improve the world. Six main ideas made the west, century after century, progressively successful, powerful, and attractive – Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, individualism and liberalism. Are these ideas past their sell-by date?
The article is written by Richard Koch and Lord Smith, co-authors of a book "Suicide of the West" and goes on to say:
"Today many of us do not believe in the soul or Christ. In a way, however, we all still believe the Christian message. We believe we have a self, just as we have arms and legs. With the idea of the soul safely transmuted in the idea of the self, Christianity has permanently changed the west. The modern self-help movement best exemplifies the central Christian innovation---personal responsibility."
When I first worked overseas in Beirut in the early '70s, just before the outbreak of the twenty-plus year civil war among the many sects of Christians, Muslims, and over the border to the south, Jews, I noticed something very different from the US which I had just departed.
Everyone commented on the political situation which was rapidly falling apart, but in a context that each observer noted was the fault of a sect or denomination or party other than his own---given the twenty-odd major affiliations available in Lebanon, this was understandable. The cohesion of Lebanese society was crumbling, and soon it would be a war of all against all.
But each local observer, with almost no exceptions, would note that his own party, social stratum, sect, or ethnicity was a victim of the aggression of others. My Lebanese Assyrian Christian landlord kept an arsenal in his bedroom because he was convinced that the Muslims would come to kill him and ravish his women--wife and daughters. And the town of Suq-al-Gharb, where I lived, did get destroyed later in the conflict---albeit partly by US naval gunfire, it was reported!
So there is reason for paranoia, because enemies are out there somewhere. But it is important for Americans and Europeans to bear in mind that we must avoid the fractious factionalism that results in tragedies like Lebanon.
As the authors finish up their FT Op-Ed piece, they note that aside from the neo-conservatives pushing for aggressive imposition of democracy around the world, we must guard against:
"...ultra-liberalism, the relativists who see nothing special about western liberal society, who deny personal responsibility and incubate the "victim mentality."....
Western civilization has reached a fork in the road. Down one road lie cynicism, aggression, indifference, neo-conservatism and ultra-liberalism. Down the other lie a recovery of nerve, confidence in ourselves and our culture, unity within and between America and Europe, a society of individuals held together by self-improvement, striving, optimism, reason, compassion, equality and mutual identity. The road chosen will determine whether our civilization collapses or reaches its destiny."
As the piece mentioned in its beginning, the "central Christian innovation..[is]..personal responsibility."
Secular reformers like to pin every shortcoming in American politics and society on the values of a religious education. They want to throw out the baby of Christianity with the bathwater of lapses in Christian behavior.
On a weekend when The Da Vinci Code, a movie dedicated to scandalizing Christians and non-Christians alike with blasphemous lies under the guise of entertainment, we should bear in mind that Christianity and its insistance on the value of the human soul lies as the foundation and basis of our western civilization.