Can We Be Moral Without God?
June 12, 2006
Europe has been threatened by Islam several times before, but has managed to withstand it. Why not now? If we want to mount a defense of Western civilization, then we first need to define what Western civilization is. (Wolfgang Bruno)
Bassam and Shirley Madany have spent a lifetime bringing the Gospel to the Arab world via the Back to God Hour radio broadcast. Though now retired, they are still very active in the Gospel ministry while keeping a sharp eye on the Middle Eastern cauldron and on the revolutionary impact of the large-scale immigration of Muslims into Europe. They arte an invaluable source of information about these topics, and can be reached at www.levant.info.
Do We Need religion?
Today I received from them an essay by Wolfgang Bruno with the arresting title, Do We Need Religion? This turned out to be a fascinating read since that question confronts us with the most compelling reality of what it means to be human.
Yet many, especially among the academic and the media elite, scoff at even raising this question. Dont you know that all religions are just projections of human imagination? Such fictions were much needed in previous times of ignorance when life was precarious and primitive.
All that, so say the sophisticates, is left behind with the rise of science and technology. They predicted that religion would gradually disappear as we humans would learn to understand and to control our natural environment. Many believed that modernity meant liberation from faith in the supernatural and entrance into a new age of progress, marked by freedom and prosperity.
Marx was in tune with the modern age when he declared in 1848 that religion is the opium of the people. So was Time magazine when in its December 25, 1964 issue it announced that it is the 20th century, the age of technological miracle, that has seen the triumph of the Enlightenment and the apparent banishment of God from the universe even thanks to Freud, from the human soul.
But things have not quite turned out that way. For the religious impulse, the belief that there is more to reality than what we can see with the naked eye, turned out to be deeply ingrained in human nature. As C.K. Chesterton famously noted, when people no longer believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they will believe in anything. This defencelessness in the face of alien religious forces has now come home to the Western democracies in the form of militant Islam.
It is in this context that Wolfgang Bruno deserves our attention. He is a European author who currently is writing a book entitled Reformation Impossible: Whats Wrong With Islam and Whats Wrong With the West? In his article mentioned at the outset, Bruno engages Ali Sina, an ex-Muslim Iranian, who maintains a lively Web site (www.faithfreedom.org) where he explains, as someone who knows Islam from the inside, why he has become an outspoken critic of militant Islam. Sina has posted a large number of articles and essays, as well as an introduction and synopsis of his forthcoming book Understanding Islam and the Muslim Mind. Brunos article is also posted there.
Lets follow the discussion of these two authors in Brunos essay Do We Need Religion? as they debate the merits and demerits of religious faith as a necessity in the fight against the radical branch if Islam.
Whats Wrong With the West?
Bruno has read Sinas forthcoming book and agrees with most of it, including the belief that Islam probably cannot be reformed. Both authors pay a lot of attention to what is wrong with the West and the need for reclaiming its morality. But Bruno parts ways with Sina who believes that all religions are fraudulent, which is why he thinks that a way must be found to salvage morality and family values without the burden of religion.
Bruno is of the opinion that you cannot have morality without religion, which leads him to the position that the most important issue facing the West is not how it should deal with Islam and Muslim immigration, but with what is wrong with itself. Hence his statement quoted at the start of this article that to mount a defence of Western civilization it must first define its own identity. He is of the conviction, though he is not himself a Christian, that such reclamation of its own identity will require the strengthening of the traditional Judeo-Christian religion of the West.
He believes that the West is now mired in an internal cultural battle, that is, an ideological civil war over the purpose of the West which, combined with Muslim immigration, might well trigger civil wars in several Western nations. Bruno then singles out the ideology of egalitarianism, including multiculturalism, as one of the contenders in this conflict. He writes, as long as large parts of our elites adhere to the notion that all cultures are equal, it will be impossible to mount any defense of the West, which means that Multiculturalism and Egalitarianism need to be discredited if Europe is to have any chance of surviving.
Bruno says that he has been puzzled by the seemingly cosy relationship between Muslims and European socialists who tend to be anti-religious. He has come to see this as a result of their shared antipathy towards Christianity and towards the notion of individual rights. He thinks that it makes sense not to differentiate between religious and non-religious ideologies, but to consider all of them as being religious, with this distinction that some are religions with God and some without God. Therefore, he thinks that Marxism should be considered a religion with its own prophet, sacred text, and the promise of heaven. Marx was not a scientist but the founder of a faith.
Bruno discusses the tendency of many intellectuals in the West to argue that Islam is misunderstood as they once did with respect to Communism. Their tolerance for both these enemies of the free West contrasts sharply with their intolerance towards the Christian faith.
Secularism: the Enemy Within.
After explaining his disagreement with some key elements of Ali Sinas position on Christianity, the concept of the person, and personal responsibility, Bruno quotes the Chinese American writer Ohmyrus, who is convinced that Christianity has been an invaluable part of what made the West into what it is. In an essay Bring Back that Old Time Religion, Ohmyrus writes that secularism leads to a short term and hedonistic attitude that destroys faith in the future. Ohmyrus sums up his position by saying that
in the current war against terrorism, secularism is a hindrance. It encourages political correctness, low birth rates, self-doubts and apathy. The West, especially Europe is in a deep spiritual crisis. Secularism could be a fatal weakness in its body politic against a resurgent Islam as polytheism probably was in 7th century Mecca. Modern Europeans are the lucky heirs of Christian civilization which has contributed so much to human progress.
Bruno agrees, though he sees the flaws within Christianity, including the potential for naïve pacifism, and the failure on the part of many Christian leaders to recognize aggressive Islam for the enemy it is. But he also appreciates that these flaws are balanced out by the institution of the nation state which has made modern democracy possible.
In contrast, individual choice in Islam does not exist, which explains why democracy in Islamic countries is so hard to establish. Muslims hate freedom, writes Bruno, because it permits people to think and decide for themselves, rather than as a cell of a larger organism, the Ummah.
Islam is advancing in Europe, because Europe is suffering from the opposite disease, namely the belief that there is no truth and that all cultures are equal. This kind of multiculturalism easily mutates into nihilism where there is no sense of right and wrong. Bruno writes that the individual is then so autonomous that the country and the civilization largely is left defenseless, because nobody identifies with it any longer, and because short term gratification of individual desires is the only thing left.
In conclusion, Bruno predicts that if the current Islamic advances continue, anything that can be remotely described as European culture will die. Then he writes: The alternative is a revival of our own religious heritage. I agree with Ohmyrus: Bring back that old time religion.
This brief summary does not do full justice to Brunos essay. Nor is it a substitute for reading the entire piece (available at www.faithfreedom.org). Some Christians may be turned off by Brunos pragmatic arguments. But he deserves a lot of credit for spelling out exactly why militant Islam is a serious threat to the as yet free nations of the West. He is not blind to the immorality and decadence of the West, reminding us that this is a two-front war against the enemy within our own house as well as against the outside enemy - radical Islam.
It is refreshing to be reminded by someone who does not share our faith that the very future of a free and democratic Europe is vitally dependent on the recovery of its Christian roots. Such a courageous defence of Christianity deserves an enthusiastic reception from the Christian community.