by Tim Jones 6/27/15
What Secular Humanism has Wrought: Throwing the Baby out With the Bath Water • Society has evolved to the point where it’s creating problems in order to solve them. We’ve become the society of perpetual discontent and planned obsolescence. The internal contradictions of modernity and its unintended consequences have led to numerous problems, from massive waste to new medical complications to addiction and hedonism where truth is defined by what feels good and where pleasure and having fun have become society’s primary values.
The hedonistic society and the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment has distorted the individual that in turn has led to extreme selfishness, pathological narcissism along with all kinds of self-destructive behavior. As a result, therapeutic and healing industries emerged where behavior is modified through the “science” of psychology and pharmacology to maintain baseline normality. Self-help books line the shelves of book stores and an alphabet soup of recovery groups are offered up to the public to get people back on track who have deviated from modern cultural norms.[pullquote]Consumerism has become the unifying worldview that transcends all political ideologies and religious beliefs that keeps the peace for the most part between all of the competing visions.[/pullquote]
The The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is thicker than an auto shop repair manual. And the self, what once was the soul, is now treated like a leaky oil pan that with a little tweaking can be fixed and be like new again, or so goes modern conventional thinking. With truth and morality essentially customized by the individual, it is no wonder that confusion over personal identity and conflict in politics have become societal norms.
The Amish seem to best represent what the world might look like had scientism and rationalism from the Enlightenment that ushered in the modern world not taken hold of the Western societies in a way that destroyed any sense of shared values or common worldview. From an article in Mennonite World Review, “Retiring scholar’s mission: solving Amish riddle”, the author identifies how they’ve been able to hold on to their sense of faith and community that is entirely rooted in the Bible without surrendering to modernity and individualism even as their population continues to grow:
The Amish negotiate with modernity, Kraybill said. They adapt. They compromise. They tinker with new technologies to make them their own. They “Amishize” things.
But the Amish are not undisciplined accommodators. They accept technologies that don’t threaten their core values. What outsiders perceive as a lack of freedom, the Amish see as liberation from technology’s demands and stresses.
When Kraybill uses the term “negotiate,” he means the Amish will do one of the following with technology: accept it, reject it, or modify it. This process of negotiation enables their growth. How else could a people who reject cars, electricity, computers in the home, and tractors in the field not only survive but thrive in a technological society?
The contemporary vision to possess the temporal has displaced the pre-modern struggle of living for the eternal where power and intelligence are now defined by how much money a person has, identity is defined as “to be is to buy,” and happiness has become an entitlement. Consumerism has become the unifying worldview that transcends all political ideologies and religious beliefs that keeps the peace for the most part between all of the competing visions. Spiritual teleology has been replaced by material teleology, i.e., modern purpose has become the pursuit of things and the ‘good life’ regardless of political ideology or religion (although a big exception could be made for radical Islam). And eschatology no longer entails a vision looking beyond the end of life, but rather a devolution into a repetitive act of ‘buy, discard, repeat.’
“Ontological reduction entails a loss of faith, and without faith humans have no purpose except those that humans provide. The emptiness created by this ontological reduction produces anxiety, which people relieve in a variety of ways — usually by seeking endless diversions.” (page 174)
Everything has become mechanized, including the self, reflecting a mechanized and soulless world. T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is a poem he wrote in 1922 following World War I. The much-predicted cataclysm by Dostoyevsky and others is an allegory — not just of the hollowing out, fragmentation and physical destruction of modern times, but of the soul as well. WWI was the first war in history to utilize weapons and tools designed for death and destruction that were the products of the industrial revolution. The world witnessed during World War II the refinement of the new technologies for the purpose of state-sponsored extermination at Auschwitz and Dachau, and for the military objectives of the warring countries, that again led to astronomical numbers of deaths and casualties — over 60 million according to Wikipedia.
An article found on The New Atlantis entitled The Invention of the War Machine describes how science and technology came together to create the first modern war and its immediate successor:
“…several trends that were already underway when the war (WWI) began — including industrialization, the commercialization of research laboratories, the professionalization of science, and the belief that science ought to serve some public purpose — came together as never before to meet the urgent demands of the belligerent nations. The American economy became, for the first time, a modern war machine — a science-and-technology-centric industrial model that would come into full force during World War II.”
Stalin’s mass collectivization of Russian farmers was supposed to be the rational implementation of Marxist ideology in creating total state command control of agriculture in the name of “public purpose.” The results were tens of millions of deaths. An outstanding book that came out recently, Bloodlands, goes into great detail about both Stalin’s extermination of his own citizens through his collectivization program and Hitler’s own “rational” program of state extermination of Jews and other civilians both before and during the war.
What Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche suggested was that with the age of reason and science and the ensuing secularization of society and individualized morality came the death of God. “Nietzsche argued that Christian theism as a belief system had been a moral foundation of the Western world, and that the rejection and collapse of this foundation as a result of modern thinking would naturally cause a rise in nihilism or the lack of values.” (History of Atheism, Wikipedia)
And with the death of God, people would know the how to manipulate nature for its own purposes but not the why since there was no longer a shared worldview rooted in universally accepted standards of morality predicated by God. Without God, morality just becomes personal opinion. It was T.S. Eliot who said “If you will not have God, you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.”
And McAllister also writes in Revolt Against Modernity:
“When a society relegates morals to the inner sanctum of private choice it has no means of sustaining itself. No society can long last without a purpose to give it meaning and a series of beliefs about proper public ends … Without the support of sanctioned beliefs most people cannot withstand the freedom, they fall easy prey to dictators who provide them what they lack.” (page 65)
Following WWI the world was shocked and stunned at the carnage and destruction it produced, causing many to rethink the secular humanist values that led to such an event. The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater, to use an old cliche, in attempting to create a new world order based on the illusion that humans were now the masters of the world built on the foundations of “enlightened” reason where the myth of progress would rid the world of its pain, suffering and evil. The only conclusion one could can come to looking back at the 20th century when modernity came into its own is that the rational turned out to be not so rational after all.