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← Europe's crisis of faith

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Jos Gibbons

This is an opportunity to refute “infallible” claims, and thereby that doctrine.

Europe's crisis of faith

Why is a reduction in the prevalence of faith always a “crisis”? Why don’t increases in the prevalence of faith in a society get called a crisis of reason?

In hard times, Europe could learn much from Africa's joyful passion for faith

Europe is superior to Africa in literally every way $, its problems less serious, as reflected by the continued charity from Europe to Africa even in these “hard times” for Europe. Africa doesn’t even do faith better – more, certainly, but with horrid consequences. In Africa, religion leads people to hunt albinos, execute or lynch homosexuals and experience an explosion in population and STDs their nations simply cannot economically handle. It is a continent in which religious warfare between Christianity and Islam killed millions of people in the 20th century. And it’s no good using the “these bad things religious people did were not attributable to religion” defence if your thesis is that religion serves us best when done the way it is in Africa rather than the way it is done in Europe, because then we’d see it in the outcomes.

$ Some “wish there was less of this” problems are worse in Europe, e.g. obesity; but this is to consider the issue too narrowly. People’s weights are far healthier in Europe than in Africa, not because obesity is optimal (it isn’t) but because it can let you live decades longer than starvation, and in greater comfort.

Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the old continent.

The crisis was born of a mixture of poor book–keeping, deregulated corruption and poor foresight regarding the consequences of everybody investing in the same, initially highly profitable ways. While there were some vices to be found here, what happened can hardly be blamed on not paying close enough attention to biblical instruction. Where does Jesus tell us something that would help us build a stable economy? The man, as described in those texts, called for us to pay no thought for the morrow. If anything, we have been too allegiant to his ideas for our own economic good.

the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practise renunciation and make sacrifices

The problem with the “Christianity will motivate people to obey its rules” idea is that the worst of these economic misdemeanours were not in Europe, but the far more devoutly Christian US. The countless Wall Street villains who laid the foundations of these problems show no signs of being less religious than their nation as a whole, and yet they also show no signs of placing the next world before the hunt for greater wealth in this one.

where is the light that is capable of illuminating our perception not merely with general ideas, but with concrete imperatives?

The general ideas at least need to be right for our imperatives to not go awry. Economists have a consensus, like the experts in any science do. Mainstream political parties throughout the US and Europe, and especially right–wingers, have long practised on the basis of ideas that contradiction the findings of that consensus, and they continue to do so. A good example of this is supply side economics and laissez faire capitalism, and examples such as these have played a large role in the economic disaster.

These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the new evangelisation, so that message may become event, so that proclamation may lead to life.

Our actions should be motivated by the best knowledge we have in the relevant fields and by careful, reflective and discursive ethical principles that in practice are liable to work best as part of a complex network. Neither this knowledge nor this thoughtfulness can be found in any ancient or even 19th century texts, and the Gospels are especially poor choices due to their self–contradictory character and aforesaid economic naïveté. Worse still, if it is thought there is an afterlife we can pleasurably access via methods these texts describe, that takes away the impetus to make this life a good one in any areas doing so would conflict with the orders given.

outside observers are noticing with concern that …

What evidence does Ratzinger have that non–believers find a reduction in the prevalence of faith disconcerting? I’ve seen much evidence that not only is this eagerly welcomed news to them, but that Christian authorities (including Catholic ones) have regularly picked up on this.

What, then, are we to do? There are endless debates over what must be done in order to reverse the trend. There is no doubt that a variety of things need to be done.

That a decline in religiosity is a bad thing is actually a claim about which there is great doubt, and what we are to do in an economically difficult time is therefore not uncontroversially a matter of fostering a greater prevalence of faith.

But action alone fails to resolve the matter. The essence of the crisis of the church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective.

Apparently Ratzinger thinks the one and only effective method of increasing the prevalence of Christianity is for people to have religious experiences of Jesus, and yet the history of how Christianity spread through many lands shows this is untrue.

the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves.

There is much linguistic sleight of hand here, e.g. two meanings of the unloved, “loved by no others” and “loved by none” are conflated. Now it may be factually accurate that a feeling of acceptance and being wanted cheers African Christians’ spirits, but whether it is or not is to be settled by data, not by vague platitudes; and in any case, none of Africa’s or Europe’s problems can really be tackled through such feelings, and they are (as far as we can tell) mere wishful thinking not worthy of our encouragement.

we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man's sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable.

How does Ratzinger know we need such a sense? Indeed, many non–religious people such as myself are testament to his being wrong. Why does he think there are no good reasons for a human to exist other than a god decreeing it so (does he know nothing of mainstream moral philosophy)? And, if in fact he’s right, he must either show this god is real or else concede our lives apparently lack the value he wants people to be convinced it has. But people should not harbour inaccurate beliefs. Nor should they think human existence is in doubt; we do exist, that’s for sure.

Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably.

Except, apparently, in Japan, Scandinavian nations, France, and so on. Indeed, the legal protection of human rights is strongest in irreligious nations, and the widest legal protections of it, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, have no religious premises. By contrast, reasons to tread on people’s rights are regularly found by religious leaders, and Ratzinger’s policies in Africa have been an especially disastrous example of this.

We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today.

There is no evidence joylessness is either on the rise in increasing irreligious nations or on the rise due to said religious decline.

Sun, 01 Jan 2012 14:59:28 UTC | #904213