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It is as well to admit when your enemies are onto something. Today the antagonists of Western culture and civilisation throw many accusations at us — almost all of them untrue. They say that our history has been especially cruel, whereas it has been no crueller than any other and significantly less cruel than most. They claim that we act only for ourselves, whereas it is doubtful if any society in history has been so unwilling to defend its own or more ready to assume the opinions, and fill the pockets, of its detractors.

But on one single thing it is possible that our critics are on to something. They do not identify it well, and when they do identify it they prescribe the worst possible remedies. But it remains a problem worth identifying, not least in order to raise ourselves to answers.

The problem is one that is easier to notice and feel than it is to prove, but I would suggest that it is something like this: that life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow. I do not mean that our lives are meaningless, nor that the opportunity liberal democracy uniquely gives to pursue our own conception of happiness is remotely misguided. On a day-to-day basis most of us find deep meaning and love from our families and friends and much else. But there are questions which remain, which have always been at the centre of each of us and which liberal democracy on its own not only cannot answer but was never meant to answer.

“What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” These are questions which human beings have always asked and are still there even though today to even ask such questions is something like bad manners. What is even more, the spaces where such questions might be asked — let alone answered — have shrunk not only in number but in their ambition for answers. And if people no longer seek for answers in churches will they find them in occasional visits to art galleries or book clubs?

Jürgen Habermas addressed an aspect of this in 2007 when he led a discussion at the Jesuit School of Philosophy in Munich titled, “An Awareness of What is Missing”. There he attempted to identify a gap at the centre of our “post-secular age”. In 1991 he had attended a memorial service for a friend at a church in Zürich. The friend had left instructions for the event which were closely followed. The coffin was present and there were speeches by two friends. But there was no priest and no blessing. The ashes were to be “strewn somewhere” and there was to be no “amen”. The friend — who had been an agnostic — had both rejected the religious element and was also publicly demonstrating that non-religious burial had failed. As Habermas interprets his friend, “The enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rîte de passage which brings life to a close.”

The challenge which Habermas’s friend presented can be quietly heard around us in our daily lives, as can the results of the questions going unanswered. Perhaps we are wary of this discussion simply because we no longer believe in the answers and have decided on some variant of the old adage that if we have nothing nice to say then it is better to say nothing at all. But perhaps there should be a new urgency about asking these questions. After all, all this could very easily change. Having been for some years, as Roger Scruton has put it, downstream from Christianity, there is every possibility that our societies will either become unmoored entirely or be hauled onto a very different shore. Very unsettling questions lie dormant beneath our current culture.

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Robert Randles
August 27th, 2015
1:08 PM
The Judeo-Christian religion of the Western cultures made a strong distinction betweem Right and Wrong. This provided a strong moral compass on which to base decisions. By adopting Moral Relativism instead we abandon this moral compass. This seems to be the way the Western world is going, and if we fail to do something about it we will be at grave risk of destruction.

Anonymous
July 19th, 2015
8:07 AM
Douglas, you are a spirit, you have a soul (thinker,feeler,chooser)and you live in a body.The problem for you is you've elevated your soul (intellect) and worship it - you've eaten from the tree of the life of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. But, like God says that'll never be enough. He created you to live in communion with Him via your Spirit, which is the part of you He indwells. If you live through your Spirit and elevate it above your soul you will be eating from the Tree of Life, (Jesus), which is the way He intended all of us to live by - including Adam and Eve who chose the wrong tree. There were two trees in the Garden. We all get to choose which we will live life by. Why don't you listen to ravizachariasministries - it'll stimulate your thirst for knowledge through Gods spirit, whilst billjohnson ministries will ignite your spirit. You sound as if you need some excuse to believe in God again

amcdonald
June 18th, 2015
11:06 AM
LIETKULTUR The Unrecorded Man in Japan makes a perceptive comment. Zizek`s " We need to create our own leading culture...a higher leading culture that regulates the way in which the subcultures interact...Pussy Riot are all part of the same struggle. If not then we can all just kill ourselves." (Spiegel online international, March 31) In the islamified Middle East are the Kurdish Army and Israeli Army now the military wing of this `leading culture` ? To what extent is it already here mass-media/technologically ? And, for starters, in Zizek`s conception of the Holy Ghost?

The Unrecorded Man
June 5th, 2015
1:06 PM
I live in Japan, which is not a Judeo-Christian nation, yet in many ways the Japanese knock westerners into a cocked hat when it comes to 'western values'. This is why I am not unduly bothered by the question of whether or not western society can survive the demise of the religion that gave rise to its morality. That morality is alive and well in a present-day non-Christian country.

amcdonald
May 26th, 2015
2:05 PM
Zizek is right to propose that the islamist jihad nutters have an inferiority complex. They are scared of western culture.They are scared of western women. Voters faith in the Tory Party has resulted in a tory victory. The Left may now be extinct but there`s no guarantee the Tories are fit for purpose. The Chinese Communist Party are the best `managers` of global capitalism and its culture. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote " the universe is inhumane and treats men and women like sacrificial straw dogs." Politics and religion mimic Nature. Mecca is now a goldmine of property development,sharia shopping malls and hotels. No support or even a mention is given from the Left or Right to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. No exit from islam/jihadist ideology is promoted by the Tories or BBC. The Tories have won a battle but not the war. When Zizek states that the 20th century is over he means new intellectual coordinates are needed. Philosophy (philosophising not ideology spouting) in the 21st century will blossom in culture. Anthony Gormley`s sculptures are competent but vacuous. Akiane Kramarik`s paintings,books (and life) remain astonishing and eternal. And totally independent of whatever meaning or meaninglessness the global artmarket sells. The Cob Gallery,London now has works by Sarah Maple,Stella Vine and Miriam Elia (and orgy prints and cups by Fee). All signs of the advance of a lively english culture by exceptionally talented individuals. And it`s all on the internet 24/7. `British Values` ? `God`? The lot.

David Soward
May 20th, 2015
7:05 PM
A bit wordy, it has to be said, but a refreshing article which draws attention to the shallowness of much modern-day atheism. It needn't be shallow, as Murray shows, but our 21st century dualism tends to divide people into camps, far more than it should. Quakers have a point, when they include theists and non-theists in their ranks, and refuse to sign up to creeds or doctrine. Can we persuade you, Douglas, to join us at www.wychwoodcircle.org. some day?

Bruce Charlton
May 19th, 2015
12:05 PM
What is the point of saying that we are painted into a corner without checking whether we really are painted into a corner? What is this nonsense about the probably irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth-claims of religion? Honestly, people really need to be able to distinguish between metaphysics and wissenschaft. Science and historical criticism exclude religion by assumption, therefore they can have nothing to say - and say nothing - about the truth claims of religion... etc Commented at: http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/the-big-problem-and-solut...

Anonymous
May 13th, 2015
9:05 PM
Thousands of people have become Christians over the last 40 years, many of them through the Alpha course. The personal accounts they give are very similar to those Douglas Murray has heard Muslim converts describe.

Julian Bailey
May 13th, 2015
8:05 PM
Thankyou for this fascinating article Mr Murray. It is interesting how many of us have lost our fascination for knowledge and solutions to hard problems and have abdicated responsibility for these decisions. The Big Bang Theory may be interesting as a theory regarding the start of the world but it speaks of nothing concerning basic human needs.

Paul Simmmons
May 7th, 2015
10:05 AM
Douglas Murray’s appraisal (Is the West’s loss of faith terminal? May 2015) that western culture in its broadest and deepest sense is drifting, dislocated from acknowledgment of, let alone respect for, its Judaeo-Christian roots – and that this matters and is dangerous because it opens the door to cultures and attitudes inimical to humane, enlightenment values - is a profoundly significant and welcome one. The ferocity and cold-bloodedness of parliamentary opposition to the mildest attempts to mitigate the precarious position of the unborn in our brave new world demonstrate this. Mr. Murray’s calls for efforts to mend the “split” between the “thin and shallow” world-view of contemporary liberal democracies and this cultural heritage, and the call, so astutely made, deserves a response. We might begin with the photograph of the silhouetted figure looking out to the horizon which accompanies the article, Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – described by Mr. Murray as an artwork “which brings to the fore the image of resurrection which lies at the heart of our culture”. For many, I suspect, the artwork is more subtle than an image of resurrection, but instead brings to the fore as part of its enigmatic appeal the question of resurrection - is there a resurrection? Is there “another place” and, if so, who inhabits it? What has happened to our ancestors and where will we find ourselves in our turn? Is the man on the foreshore hopelessly trapped in such issues, or does he transcend them? Whatever one’s intuition as to the answers to these questions, it is encouraging that an artwork of such surpassing quality is popular: the British public are perhaps not, after all, so shallow as to be wholly satisfied with a diet of fried battery-chicken and Strictly, and remain capable of appreciating fundamental questions subtly posed. A work such as ‘Another Place’ cannot be reduced to the level of an ‘illustration’ of philosophical/ religious questions, but it is nevertheless a response in some measure to the very “split” Mr. Murray identifies. If the man looking out to the horizon is everyman (as he surely is) how does resurrection apply to him? In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, resurrection to life rather than to judgment requires salvation as a prelude. Is everyman really so corrupt in his nature that he faces only either annihilation or resurrection to a withering judgment without this salvation? Are the thoughts and intentions of his heart really and in truth “only evil continually” as was the case, apparently, with those wiped-out in the deluge in which only those in Noah’s ark – an unmistakable symbol of the cross – were saved? Personally, I think not, but it is in asking such questions that the split begins to be bridged.

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