"What misery has befallen those who call good evil and evil good, who establish darkness for light and deem light to be darkness, who insist what is bitter is sweet... What affliction has befallen those who are made wise by their own conceits, who believe themselves shrewd by their own estimation" . Isaiah 5:20, 21.
A new UK survey posted this week was highlighted in the press by statements that we are becoming a much more 'tolerant' society, but when you actually begin to unpack the details, that isn't as good as it sounds.
Whilst more said they are happy about same-sex marriages, sex outside of marriage, abortion on the basis of a mother not being able to financially support a child, and a strong inclination towards requested euthanasia, more also said they wanted indefinite detention of people deemed a threat without due process and more powers to stop, search and detain people, and that our personal data should be monitored.
There has been a huge drop-off in what would now be defined as 'old school' morality - marriage as an essential social institution, for example, has taken a huge hit, and whilst people seem fine with tighter laws to control us in some ways, there has also been a major decline in confidence in the institutions (Government, Police) which would deliver these.
If you look closer, then what marks the majority of these attitudes is a view that we should have 'health and safety' in society in general (nothing 'bad' that would be deemed extreme or intolerant should be socially acceptable) but we should be pretty well self-determining with regards to our individual ethical and moral choices, and society in general should affirm this (so long as these choices don't 'hurt' in terms of undermining a tolerant equilibrium).
It all sounds readily familiar to anyone who has lived here over the last five or so decades, but what, sadly, needs to faced is that there is never a vital questioning of secularism itself - a sober reflection on whether we, in truth, actually have the 'right' to be so self- determining in our attitudes and actions, and whether any consideration is ever given to the carnage we leave around us by thinking that we are so 'free' in respect to our life towards others.
In a recent post here ('Delusional'), I touched upon some of the more foolhardy aspects of the popular presumptions that underpin our secular culture. In spite of this kind of 'disconnect' from honest evaluation, these often blind presumptions remain culturally expedient, but objectively unwarranted when tested - in effect creating a distancing from a fair and vital use of reason.
Let me unpack this.
The great mistake of a broken culture, as noted by Josef Pieper, is that we believe we can achieve value in our "recreational" pursuits even though we have cut these from any viable source of credible meaning and purpose. Leisure, he notes, cannot be achieved at all when it is sought as a means to an end (Leisure - The Basis of Culture). Because of our current bankrupt estate, however (noted recently, for example, in lectures by Camille Paglia), we have nowhere else to go, so the hunt for some level of resolve by the only means left open to us become even more earnest (and even more illusionary).
As professor John Gray has argued at length, it is this manner of secularism or humanism which has become the new 'religion' of a post-christian europe, but a truly naturalistic world-view will, in effect, entirely expunge any room for secular optimism. This is because the presuppositions derived from scientific naturalism leave us without any place for a strident philosophy regarding the 'good' or the future of our race. According to an evolutionary world-view, we are only a blip on the cosmic stage, of no importance, so all we can actually achieve is only immediate and truly irrelevant. Secularism, Gray argues, as we currently see it in our day, is merely a watered-down 'non-religious-friendly' version of Christianity, without all the 'awkward details' regarding God or ethics that we find inconvenient. In other words, our society looked into the abyss that true naturalism provides, and shirked away from the horror into an illusion that now severs the day to day from the brutal reality of an empty universe.
Our days of seeking to make people 'free' is derived from Christianity's cardinal concept of history going somewhere (John Roberts - Triumph of the West), not the Darwinian construct that we are just lucky (Humanism, notes Gray, lives today in denial of Darwin's cardinal discovery that we are merely animals, nothing more). However hard we wrap ourselves in our blanket of secular rights, we are all still prey to the same nature, the same conditions, the same mortal limitations, of every man and woman - that is what truly defines our world. Atheism (Gray), Science (Weinberg on the futility of the cosmos) and Christianity are actually 'singing from the same hymn sheet' here - the reality is we are failures, and our current popularist approaches therefore will all fail.
The tragedy is that the mistake of secularism has already been made many times over, especially in the West. Since the end of the second world war and the implementation of a plethora of social and economic policies that were, supposedly, scientific in premise and execution, the fracturing of our society has accelerated, leaving us inherently prisoners of our various nightmare delusions (see Adam Curtis' documentary series, The Trap).
If we are to ascribe consciousness, purpose and meaning, notes Gray, to our race, then we'd have to be able look elsewhere than a 'universe without windows' - a godless cosmos - to do so, and from an honestly secular position, that is not possible. These attributes do not come from a naturalist universe.
Secularism is established on a world-view that inherently states we have no meaning (somewhat impossible to gain if the universe is no more than an accident), and because of that, each and every one of us has no significance at all (even passing along your genes, as Dawkins would argue, is pretty pointless in the long-run, as our species will end). To therefore say your 'right' or responsibility matters more than someone else (i.e. someone who in your eyes holds more bigoted views) is nonsense - no one is actually creating a better world. In the cold, hard light of random existence, holding anyone to account for anything is no more than one group of creatures imposing their will upon others (in effect, tyranny) because they are the majority - there's nothing 'moral' or 'right' about it, because we're all the same - collections of atoms that truly have no purpose.
Returning for a moment to Pieper, he notes in his study that a morality that is of any real value can only be gained when it is sourced from the dynamic of the truly spiritual life, because only by connecting ourselves to the understanding of the nature of the divine can our lives become imbued with a value and purpose beyond the immediate.
We can, of course, choose to ignore the ramifications of these matters - to 'work, rest and play' today and probably tomorrow as if 'our' point of reference will win the day, but the day will come when that's no longer true - our limitations will kick-in, and the end will come.
The need is for us to find ourselves by loosing ourselves - to become people who would truly love another so much that we'd give ourselves for them (and not just 'to' them for our own satisfaction). Jesus says exactly this, and became the one to entirely give Himself that we could be found in Him (Matthew 16:25, John 3:16).
This world is a war zone, and it will truly kill us unless we are freed from it's dark, conniving brutality by the God who is there.
Naturalism sees the present world as sick and foolish, heading for its demise.
Secularism denies that reality, but cannot escape it.
Christianity shows that there is something greater, and that we can know that not just for a moment, but for ever.
Consider well - what is truly best?