March 16, 2015


God, Reason, and Our Civilizational Crisis (Samuel Gregg, March 12th, 2015, The Public Discourse)

One criterion by which a culture's civilizational attainments are often assessed has been the extent to which it gives scope to man's capacity for reason. National Socialism's Nietzschean glorification of an untrammeled Will of the Volk and the State, not to mention the regime's efforts to exterminate entire categories of people, reflected a thoroughgoing irrationality; thus the absurdity of the Third Reich's claims to be promoting European civilization. Less appreciated, however, is the extent to which a society's capacity to embrace full-bodied conceptions of reason depends heavily upon the dominant understanding of the Divine prevailing in that community. In that regard, modern Western civilization may be more at risk of cultural decline than many presently realize.

No culture is without its blind spots. The Roman Empire embodied many errors, such as slavery and a widespread contempt for human life. These and other features of Roman society were called into question first by Judaism and then by Christianity. Yet even today we continue to refer with admiration to Roman civilization and its many accomplishments. By contrast, no one speaks of the former Soviet Union or Castro's Cuba in these terms. In short, most people do recognize that, at some level, there are qualitative differences between societies and cultures. [...]

To grasp fully, however, the tensions between and within civilizations that preoccupied Huntington, greater attention needs to be given to how different cultures understand the nature of God. The word "culture" is derived from the Latin cultus, which broadly means "religious customs" or "rites." This illustrates that religion, in the sense of views about the Divine, is truly at the heart of any culture.

A particular religion's concept of the Divine thus cannot help but profoundly influence the societies in which that faith prevails. The Greco-Roman world, for instance, generally lacked the biblical notion of God as the Creator. Consequently, it did not view humans as "co-creators" working to unfold a still-unfinished creation in human history. This is one reason why the Greeks and Romans, unlike the Jews, viewed manual work and commerce (as opposed to politics and war) as the responsibility of slaves, women, and other non-citizens.

Especially important, however, is the way a religion's understanding of God affects its appreciation of man's capacity for reason. 

...because ours is the only one.

Posted by at March 16, 2015 7:06 PM

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