Guide to the series:
1. The End of Secularisation
2. Religious Liberty
3. Caught in the Critique of the Decadent West
In the first post of this short series I pointed out that it is not just Islam which has been undergoing a revival at the moment. Buddhist, Hindu, and in some places Christians have been having a big revival outside the West in recent decades. Latin America is an interesting case. What we see there is a degree of Western-style secularisation, but a demographically more significant turn to mainly Pentecostalist Protestantism.
Linda Woodhead and other sociologists have rejected the Inevitable Secularisation Thesis even for the West, for two reasons. One is that lots of people tell opinion surveys that they believe in some vague spirituality. It's a load of baloney, of course, but for that very reason they're further away from the position of Richard Dawkins today than their nominally Anglican or Catholic parents were forty years ago, who at least had a passing respect for Reason. The other reason is that Western conditions - education, prosperity, the Welfare State - have not eroded the appeal of radical Islam for many children of immigrants, and even for a growing number of Britons whose ancestors had never heard of Muhammed.
So let's stop moaning about inevitable secularisation, and ask ourselves why the Catholic Church has failed to benefit more from the process of secularisation going into reverse.
The key question to ask is what Catholicism looks like from the outside, from the perspective of the people attracted by the radical Islam in the Middle East (or the West), by Pentecostalism in Latin America (or the West), or by revivalist Hinduism, Buddhism and so forth. There are many cultural variations but we can make a reasonable generalisation. These are people who reject the values of the liberal West. They may like the consumer products but they have decided not to conform, culturally, to the mindless hedonism. They associate it, often, with a former colonial power, and with American hegemony. They want to adopt something which will give their lives some real meaning, in distinction to the banality and corruption of imitation-Western culture. They want a religion which is not secularised, which is strong, which is demanding, which can form the basis of group identity and a revolt against Western values, and perhaps against Western political influence.
Do they, therefore, want the kind of thing which you find in the average Catholic parish in England and Wales? No, they do not.
Let us keep in mind that the people recruited into the jihadi armies, the Hindus and Buddhists who burn down Catholic churches, and the Pentecostalists who draw so many away from the Faith, that these individuals are right about some things. They are perfectly correct to think that Western governments see it as a matter of financial and geopolitical interest that the native cultures of developing counties be eclipsed by Western consumerism. They are, further, perfectly correct to think that the moral and cultural content of this consumerism is corrupt and corrupting, and has no positive value. They are perfectly correct to see that the necessary response includes a reassertion of sexual restraint and of placing religion, one's eternal destiny, at the centre of life. And they are perfectly correct that conforming the whole of their society to a correct moral and spiritual orientation is the right long-term goal.
With these sorts of thoughts, what do they see when they look at the Catholic Church? They see an institution which is bound up with European history and culture, and - today - does its best not to confront the evils of that culture. There is no visible, distinctive, Catholic critique of Western decadence. The rejection of the sexual revolution, the defence of the family, a Catholic approach to music and art: they exist, but they are minority interests in the Church, and are simply absent from the average parish, the average sermon, the average officially Catholic website, and the average Catholic school. For those looking at the conflict in their local culture (whether it be Bagdad or Birmingham), between the influence of a corrupt West, and various forces opposing that influence, the Catholic Church is, for practical purposes, on the side of the corrupt West. We are part of the enemy.
This hasn't happened by accident. We all know there was a deliberate policy of embracing secular values after the Second Vatican Council. It hasn't converted the proponents of these values. But it can be relied on to put off those who reject them.
It is true that Catholics in the Middle East aren't the worst offenders in this regard; nor, for that matter, are the Shias and Hindus who are also heading for the chop where militant Sunnis have gained control. What is obviously true, nevertheless, is that we have made things infinitely worse for our Assyrian and Maronite brothers by the very visible orientation of the Catholic Church as a whole with 'the West'.
The polemic against the West, which is attracting millions upon millions of people around the world, including many people living in the West itself, is so easy, it writes itself. Look at things from underneath: we may comfort ourselves with the remaining shreds of high culture but for most people, ordinary people, or immigrants, or the products of bad schools and broken homes, the West is about fast food, tired-looking shopping malls, and lawless and decaying 1970s housing. The customs of this wasteland appear designed to rob everyone except gangsters of any dignity and sense of meaning. This is what the Catholic Church has aligned itself with. The jihadis think it stinks, and they are right.
The problems posed by the de-secularisation of the world are not going to be solved overnight, but we can do something to stop making things worse. We can assert the Catholic critique of the decadence of Western culture, especially sexual culture. If there is one concrete gesture which might make those being drawn towards militant Islam stop and think that, perhaps, the Catholic Church may not be part of the problem they are trying to address, then it might be the restoration of head-coverings in church by Catholic women in the West. This would signal a rejection of both decadent sexual mores and of the attack on the difference between the sexes.
Contemplate the likelihood of this happening any time soon, and you will glimpse the depth of the problem.
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