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Monday, August 01, 2005

Cultural Nihilism Collides With Fanaticism

In this LA Times editorial, Niall Ferguson comments on the decline of religion in Great Britain:
According to the Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes, barely 20% of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week, compared with 47% of North Americans and 82% of West Africans. Fewer than half of West Europeans say God is a "very important" part of their lives, as against 83% of Americans and virtually all West Africans. And fully 15% of West Europeans deny that there is any kind of "spirit, God or life force" — seven times the American figure and 15 times the West African.

The exceptionally low level of British religiosity was perhaps the most striking revelation of a recent ICM poll. One in five Britons claim to "attend an organized religious service regularly," less than half the American figure. Little more than a quarter say that they pray regularly, compared with two thirds of Americans and 95% of Nigerians. And barely one in 10 Britons would be willing to die for our God or our beliefs, compared with 71% of Americans.
He ends the editorial:
Chesterton feared that if Christianity declined, "superstition" would "drown all your old rationalism and skepticism." When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad juju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me as much as the moral vacuum that de-Christianization has created. Sure, sermons are sometimes dull and congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine helps to provide an ethical framework for life. And it is not clear where else such a thing is available in modern Europe.

Over the last few weeks, Britons have heard a great deal from Tony Blair and others about the threat posed to their "way of life" by Muslim extremists like Muktar Said Ibrahim. But how far has their own loss of religious faith turned Britain into a soft target — not so much for the superstition Chesterton feared, but for the fanaticism of others?
Now it is perfectly possible to be an atheist and also to firmly believe in and conform to a set of secular ethical principles. However, as Ferguson observes, the spate of multi-culturalism in Europe hasn't offered a strong set of secularly constructed ethical principles either. Carl at No Oil For Pacifists covered such examples of cultural inanity quite well here and here and here.

If you want another perspective, here's a DU thread on the LA Times article. My favorite is reply # 7, which pretty much makes Carl's point about politically correct multi-culturalism:
Look at the language used "Haunts Europe"

How very over-assuming and ethnocentric of us. I'd bet that very few of those Europeans are losing sleep or otherwise consumed with the issue of the "faith vacuum" there. In fact, I'll assume they're pretty damn pleased with the current state, and are probably a better society for it.
Anything rather than ethnocentrism, right? Commenter # 2 is missing the concept as well:
Or a great breeding ground for Freethinking, Rationalism, and reality-based behavior!
They pretty much miss Ferguson's point, which is that people are going to organize their concepts of right and wrong around something, and if your culture doesn't offer a religious framework, and doesn't offer a secular framework, what unifying philosophy do you have to offer? I really don't think that bombing subways is a triumph of rationalism and reality-based behavior.

a couple of points:

1) the decline in religion in Europe doesn't say much for state subsidization of religion and religion taught in schools, does it. Many European nations subsidize the churches and have mandatory religion classes.

2) I have discussed this issue with many of my European friends. Many of them explain it as religion fatigue. Religious wars in Europe have killed so many people and caused so much strife over the millennia, that people just see it as more bad than good and are tired of it.
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