We live in a pivotal point of history. Ever since the Enlightenment and the birth of the modern era, an important shift has taken place in the Western mind. Religion and the church began to recede from the frontline of cultural influence, being steadily replaced by the autonomous worldview of reason, science and the self. Thus, secularism was born. Over the course of the next few hundred years, Western people have found it increasingly less necessary to turn to religion for answers to the big questions in life.
The mostly secular culture we live in now has retained many of the foundational values that christianity brought to the West, but it has cut itself off from foundational source that made those values possible. Our pluralistic secular society has many good values, yet it lacks a potent core foundation to power those principles. The problem with this is that it simply does not work. A secular worldview does not provide the human soul with the sufficient reason to stand up and fight for anything that will come at great personal cost.
When the self and its desires and emotions takes the driver’s seat in the life of the culture, anything that will so much as bring a threat to the self will be avoided.
This leaves us with a society with a great many values, but with nothing to hold them in. The secular worldview tells us that we came from nothing and are headed for no where. It answers the questions of how the universe works (at least partly) and where it came from. It tells us that this whole thing is nothing but one great biochemical machine with no inherent meaning or purpose. At the end of the day, some of the most foundational aspects of human existence are left unaddressed – morality, beauty, meaning, love and joy are up to one’s own personal interpretation.
The secular West is thus left in a spiritual vacuum, a longing for purpose and meaning that cannot be provided by its new post-modern worldview. We are a people who without a deep seated reason to fight.
It therefore comes at no surprise to us to hear that many of the recruits of today’s extreme religious groups are coming from some of the most secular parts of Europe itself ¹. This is also why we have fundamentally failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat of ISIS. Secular people don’t understand the power of a theocentric worldview. We have “arrived” at the universal truth that all religions seem to lead to the same place, not realizing that the only people who actually believe that are the ones that don’t believe in any religion.
The vast majority of humanity functions out of a strong set of theological presuppositions. They don’t care about pluralism. They really do believe that they are right and you are wrong. Some of them actually believe that they are doing eternal good by waging bloody war on the West. This is why they will continue to run around Europe and the US with bombs and machine guns. And there is no amount politicizing and social media campaigning that is going to put a dent in it.
Thus, we are at present somewhat of a sitting duck, both externally and internally². Religiosity in the world will not decrease because that is how we humans are built. If the Secular West wants to be able to hold on to the values that have defined it for hundreds of years, it will have to make a serious reconsideration of the roots from which it has severed itself.
1. For more on this, see Graeme Wood’s thorough and penetrating article on the Islamic State written for The Atlantic.
2. Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, observes that Europe is in a process of dissolution due to it’s lack of worldview integrity.