by Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen)
In the West, we are blinded by our secularist world view. In particular, we are unable to understand other societies that reject our own way of understanding. In particular, we are confronted with two major adversaries, the Islamic world, and Russia, which reject our secular materialist liberalism. We completely misunderstand them and their cultures, and they resolutely criticize and reject ours, especially when it is imposed upon them. We are unable to understand why they don’t want our values. We don’t realize that it’s all about religion.
Some State Department official was recently quoted as saying that no one could be so powerfully motivated by religion as the Islamic Jihadis claim to be. It had to be money, power or the like. Sadly, he is gravely mistaken. Even worse, there are many in American officialdom, all of course pristinely politically correct, that share the same point of view: that religion is basically irrelevant. What they are doing is projecting their own culturally specific world view on people of other cultures, who regard us as completely corrupt and decadent.
As 21st century Americans, our worldview is the product of a deeply secularized culture, which has devalued faith and religion to the point of irrelevancy, at least among a certain class of educated elites now in power. What is valued is autonomous individualism, the pursuit of wealth, and complete liberty in regards to personal relationships and the gratification of the self and its desires. This is the new politically correct norm, from which one dare not dissent in this new culture of libertine conformism. We insist that the whole world has to submit to our enlightened way of thinking, the new moral standards which are an uncritical rejection of the old established morality, and the new faith in our idiosyncratic version of reality.
On one hand, this is unutterably arrogant. On the other, it is even more naïve. Yet, this radical cultural imperialism is being forced down the throats of enemies and allies alike, as a condition of our continued generosity, not to mention that we might deign to overlook adversaries of our new secularist liberalism for regime change if they embrace our new values.
Historically, Western culture was thoroughly integrated by Christian faith and Judeo-Christian morals and values. The society operated with a high level of moral discipline. What was valued was the extended family, church and community, the work ethic, and individual achievement for the sake of the family, community and nation. This has now been relegated to its own isolated compartment, replaced by radical individualism and immediate gratification. There is no longer an underlying set of morals, faith and ethics that structure the whole of society, nor a sense of the value of community. It has led to the disintegration of our culture.
This new secular materialist, individualist ideology is not strong enough to integrate the diverse communities of our nation; nor are economic relations adequate to bring about a shared culture. Political ideologies, not constrained by religious values, have tried to substitute for religion as the integrating factor of various societies, such as Germany, Russia, China, etc. The 20th century is littered with the corpses of victims of their failed ideologies. It always ends in tyrrany and collapse. Religion is the most powerful integrating element of any culture; when faith is lost in the religion, its morals and values, and its institutions, the culture loses the glue that holds it together, and that gives meaning to every aspect of life.
The decadence and libertinism of the West in general and America in particular is a sign of a society that is disintegrating, rejecting its essential structuring elements. In contrast, Islam and the Islamic movement, is a society structured entirely by its religious faith and values. Some sociologists may call it medieval; and there is a point to that. Medieval Western society was similarly completely integrated by Catholicism. The Islamic societies are thoroughly structured by the Koran, and the surrounding literature, and interpretations of them. People lead lives highly disciplined by the traditional codes of behavior and morality, some to dire consequences. Islamic societies, damaged by Western colonialism and cultural imperialism, not to mention economic exploitation, are seeking to restore the balance of their cultures. They are fighting for their life and cultural identity against the aggressive domination of the West and the imposition of its values, which are seen as gross violations of that which is held most sacred. Thus for the Islamists, the only way to destroy their enemy is to conquer and submit them to the same Islamic cultural integration. So it has been for the past 1400 years.
Russia is also on a path to the reintegration of its culture by Orthodox Christianity. It took the radical social, political, economic and cultural collapse of the secular materialist Soviet system to prepare the ground for the new Christian re- structuring of society. This process, begun just 20 years ago, will take generations. It is not a return to the Soviet Empire. Rather, it is the return of Holy Russia. Russia is not seeking political domination; rather, it sees itself now as the great bastion of Christendom, and the defender of persecuted Christians, as it was historically, especially those being oppressed and butchered by Islamic regimes. Hence, Syria.
American reporters almost always mistake this for a new kind of totalitarianism, a resurgence of the Soviet Union. This is absolutely wrong. The Western commentators have no concept of a unified society integrated by its faith.
It is contrary to the fundamental American principle of pluralism. Yet, it is the historical culture of Islam since AD 640, and Russia since 988; even the Soviets tried to unify the culture with submission to a unitary political ideology, corrupt as it was. Further, Russia was humiliated by the West at the end of the Cold War. Do we have no historical memory of what happened when Germany was humiliated in 1918? National Socialism.
How ironic that Russia will end up as the front line of defense of the Christian West against the Islamist insurgency, as Western states dither, trying to hold off their own internal social chaos resulting from decadent selfishness. History is condemned to repeat itself once again.
Metropolitan Jonah is an American Orthodox bishop who served as the primate of the Orthodox Church in America.