The secular desert

By

Mark Steyn's recent article for The New Criterion (reposted on the OpinionJournal.com) 'It's the demography, stupid',  seems to have been linked on a huge number of conservative websites and blogs,  In it he wrote:

so—called post—Christian civilizations——as a prominent EU official described his continent to me——are more prone than traditional societies to mistake the present tense for a permanent feature. Religious cultures have a much greater sense of both past and future, as we did a century ago, when we spoke of death as joining "the great majority" in "the unseen world." But if secularism's starting point is that this is all there is, it's no surprise that, consciously or not, they invest the here and now with far greater powers of endurance than it's ever had. 

As I read Steyn's words, I recalled the conclusion of agnostic Charles Murray in his book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Science 800 BC to 1950. In the last chapter Murray discusses the role of transcendental goods in creating an environment for human accomplishment, the declining rate of accomplishment over the last 150 years when compared to population growth and the apparent lack of great art, music and literature in the 20th Century.

Confucianism and Aristotelianism along with the great religions in the world were for grownups, requiring mature contemplation of truth, beauty, and the good.  Cultures in which the creative elite are not engaged in that kind of mature contemplation don't produce great art.

Steyn demonstrates that in Europe's case, a culture that dwells only upon the here and now can't seem to produce much of anything, much less works of art, music and literature to transcend the ages.  Writing solely of future artistic and scientific accomplishment, Murray is far more optimistic. He likens the period from the Enlightenment to the end of the 20th century as a sort of adolescence of the human race from which the elite will soon emerge with the adult realization that their parents were smarter than they ever thought they were.

Adolescents often imagine nothing in their world is ever going to change. In many ways the European survivors of two World Wars in twenty five years have left heirs who behave much like overindulged adolescents, even as some approach a seventh decade of life.  Unfortunately in most species adolescence is a time of tremendously high morality rates as the rash and the inept are winnowed out.

I find myself between Steyn and Murray.  Although history shows birthrates can change dramatically within a society if conditions change, a factor Steyn does not consider, I doubt the scantly populated emerging generation of Europeans is prepared to again start contemplating those transcendental questions that nourished their ancestors.  A healthy as well as creative society needs to address Why is there something instead of nothing and Why am I here, with something more than today's fashionably dismissive shrug.

Roz Smith   01 05 06                      

Mark Steyn's recent article for The New Criterion (reposted on the OpinionJournal.com) 'It's the demography, stupid',  seems to have been linked on a huge number of conservative websites and blogs,  In it he wrote:

so—called post—Christian civilizations——as a prominent EU official described his continent to me——are more prone than traditional societies to mistake the present tense for a permanent feature. Religious cultures have a much greater sense of both past and future, as we did a century ago, when we spoke of death as joining "the great majority" in "the unseen world." But if secularism's starting point is that this is all there is, it's no surprise that, consciously or not, they invest the here and now with far greater powers of endurance than it's ever had. 

As I read Steyn's words, I recalled the conclusion of agnostic Charles Murray in his book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Science 800 BC to 1950. In the last chapter Murray discusses the role of transcendental goods in creating an environment for human accomplishment, the declining rate of accomplishment over the last 150 years when compared to population growth and the apparent lack of great art, music and literature in the 20th Century.

Confucianism and Aristotelianism along with the great religions in the world were for grownups, requiring mature contemplation of truth, beauty, and the good.  Cultures in which the creative elite are not engaged in that kind of mature contemplation don't produce great art.

Steyn demonstrates that in Europe's case, a culture that dwells only upon the here and now can't seem to produce much of anything, much less works of art, music and literature to transcend the ages.  Writing solely of future artistic and scientific accomplishment, Murray is far more optimistic. He likens the period from the Enlightenment to the end of the 20th century as a sort of adolescence of the human race from which the elite will soon emerge with the adult realization that their parents were smarter than they ever thought they were.

Adolescents often imagine nothing in their world is ever going to change. In many ways the European survivors of two World Wars in twenty five years have left heirs who behave much like overindulged adolescents, even as some approach a seventh decade of life.  Unfortunately in most species adolescence is a time of tremendously high morality rates as the rash and the inept are winnowed out.

I find myself between Steyn and Murray.  Although history shows birthrates can change dramatically within a society if conditions change, a factor Steyn does not consider, I doubt the scantly populated emerging generation of Europeans is prepared to again start contemplating those transcendental questions that nourished their ancestors.  A healthy as well as creative society needs to address Why is there something instead of nothing and Why am I here, with something more than today's fashionably dismissive shrug.

Roz Smith   01 05 06