In the modern world, and particularly in the “West”, we have slipped into a devastating pattern of deconstructionism. We’ve deconstructed with pseudo-intellectual lines of attack all of the traditional institutions and paradigms that have held our society together; gender, race, sexuality, religion – the list could potentially be perennial. Anything and everything that held together a people within a group identity has been deconstructed, thereby removing its inherent value and purpose.
Religion is perhaps the greatest example of this and certainly the battleground in which we first encountered the deconstructionist. With the advent of the modern era, with science and the values of enlightenment, we have “disproved” many previously held religious axioms. Most notably of course, and an example with which everyone is familiar, the belief in Darwin’s evolutionary theory as an antithesis of creationism. Once science can effectively disprove the opening chapter of the Holy Bible, the door has been wedged open for the great deconstructionist to begin extracting the value from the rest of the book.
Never mind the fact that the bible contains many lessons from which one might come to lead a better life; never mind the fact that much of the bible should be understood as metaphor as opposed to magic and miracles; once they can defeat one area in the field of battle, they will not stop until there remains no value in a concept.
Thus the Christian way of life was brought down in the west – and I lament this, despite practising a different faith myself. I lament the passing of this system due to the simultaneous loss of group identity it has caused as a side effect, or perhaps the former was a catalyst for the latter. Whatever the cause of the process, the action and reaction, the facts remain the same; the loss of group identity on a community and national level has occurred in direct proportion with the decline of religious faith.
The reason for this is quite simply. Our societies and communities, on a micro and macro level, were built around the Church. The Church was the focal point of the community, a place where one’s fellow kith and kin would gather at least once a week in unified faith. Every major event in our lives was in the domain of the Church; birth, marriage and even death. We celebrated Easter together, the Harvest together, Christmas and Lent and so on and so forth. Even social issues that have now been taken over by the state – with charity being the greatest example of this – were previously under the remit of the Church.
British society is a great example of this. For better or worse, the Church and faith in the Christian religion held society together, even offering legitimacy to the royals and morale for the armies. Whilst I am not a Christian and I believe that a different faith and ethics system is preferable, that’s just personal taste – the focus point of this discussion isn’t necessarily the particular religion, but the system of society that collective belief in a religion generally brings about; cooperation, a sense of belonging, goodwill to one’s neighbour, charity, asceticism.
Another example of this, and perhaps useful for a “compare and contrast” exercise, is the Islamic world. The Islamic world has soundly rejected atheism as a theory and has instead embraced a more traditionalist, more conservative approach to their faith, which in many cases has become almost reactionary as a response to Western-backed atheism. Whilst many of you may not agree with the values of Islam, not one of you can deny that their collective faith gives Muslims a strong sense of identity that many of us in the Western world sorely lack.
The great lie that the deconstructionists fed to us is that one can either be rational, or spiritual. These concepts are, to those who seek to remove the latter, absolutely mutually exclusive. The implication being that by entertaining a degree of spirituality one is by definition, lacking in a logical understanding of the world and their environment. This is false; very few theists claim that their religion should be practised like a child with blind faith in Santa. The belief in a “man in the sky” is not a prerequisite for theism – on the contrary, many theologists will confirm that one can be an ardent Christian without believing literally in the book of Genesis, for instance.
Yet this is how we’ve been taught to view such issues, in grossly absolutist terms that do a disservice to those who do follow a spiritual path. We are given a black and white interpretation that says you’re either with science – and by definition against religion – or against science – and by definition, stupid. The mockery directed at those who practise faith, that sometimes extends to borderline social ostracism, has been weaponised by the deconstructionists to deprive the collective of its identities.
The free-market also has a lot to answer for in this regard. The pressure by free-marketeers to loosen traditionally restricted trading hours, most notably the Sunday Trading Hours laws that have been introduced in the United Kingdom, have turned what used to be time for reflection, community, charity and family, into yet more time for materialist pursuits and mindless, atomised consumerism. In this way, a religiously traditional society is a great threat to the free-market, as it restricts the number of hours the giant capitalists have to make money.
More broadly, neo-liberal Western capitalism has been one of the driving forces behind the challenges to traditionally spiritual societies – hence why Islamic societies fight so vehemently against the doctrine. The proponents of such doctrines – ironically the “conservatives” who claim a Christian foundation – only have one belief system, one faith, and one God: capital. Money and only money is their raison d’etre. They live for no higher purpose, no greater collective mission and nothing other than the accumulation of capital – what a sad existence that must be!
But its effects on Western societies have been momentous. Many in Europe often claim Islam is the fastest growing religion in the continent and, of course, they’re not wrong, but one cannot overlook the fact that the atheistic are the fastest growing demographic more generally. And in any case, it is difficult to separate atheism from the umbrella term of “religious groups”, given their undying profession of eternal love for and their steadfast belief in capital – in a way, this in itself amounts to a religion. It certainly has characteristics of religion that they themselves overlook.
As we know, the belief in money and the accumulation of capital as the only notion to hold inherent value serves no greater purpose than to remove collective identities. Whether it be from the right, the neo-liberal capitalists, or from the left, the individualist social democrats, the prevailing political paradigm of our time is money above all, and identity below everything.
Thus it can be said that, rather than the irreligious being the fastest growing demographic in Western societies, it is in fact those bereft of collective identity who are truly prevailing. As I alluded to earlier on in this piece, I’m not a Christian, and nor do I believe that the rise of Islam is a good thing purely because it’s a religious doctrine combatting an irreligious doctrine. Rather an atheist West than a theist East – yet I can’t help feel somewhat envious of those in the Islamic world, for they have retained their belief in the spiritual and their comradeship of the collective.
Perhaps the West, as opposed to their perennial cycle of teaching foreigners liberal democracy, should take a step back and ask what lessons we could learn from them.