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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. The crisis of contemporary secular morality (From an address to teaching staff and students of Balamand University (Lebanon), November 16, 2011)
THE CRISIS OF CONTEMPORARY
From an address to teaching staff and students
of Balamand University (Lebanon), November 16, 2011
Many countries today are moving towards a radical secularization of their way of life, in the belief that only a secular approach to the organization of society can come to grips with the problem of inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts. This approach gives birth to the principles of a secular, non-religious ethic, which runs up against huge challenges and problems. Let me say a few words about my vision of the crisis of modern secular morality and where I see that crisis. In this context I would like to say that Balamand University, in which lively interaction continues between the theological school and the secular faculties, is a good example of the right way to unite spiritual, religious and secular principles.
Allow me to say a few words about ethics. I shall begin with a story that is very close to me. You know very well that the Soviet Union had a goal of creating a non-religious world and society. The implementation of this ‘grand project’ required a philosophy. For this the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism emerged. Scientific institutions worked on its creation.There was created a well-knit philosophical system that was able to explain nearly everything, from creation to eschatology. All aspects of life were clearly and logically explained. Except for ethics. Marxism, as a non-religious philosophy, held that concepts such as conscience and moral values are relative, saying that there is no God and no absolute starting point for
ethics but that ethical concepts appear under the influence of the environment. The central idea of this philosophy was that existence and life determine consciousness, leading to the conclusion that there is no absolute morality but there are instead private moralities, and the most correct morality is that of the working class. The slogan was created: Good is that which is good for the working class.
Essentially, there is either one morality or no morality at all. In Germany in the twentieth century they also said that good is what is good for great Germany. If ethics is relative, it is not ethics. The entire Marxist philosophy collapsed only because it could not clearly explain human conscience, why this conscience ‘works’ the same way anywhere in the world, and why there is a common understanding of good and evil throughout human civilization. This could not be explained in terms of evolution or in terms of the natural origin of morality.
Why have I indulged in this excursion into the history of my country? I have done so because the society that was created on the basis of relative morality turned out to be unviable.What, however, is happening in the world today? We see the repetition of what occurred in the Soviet Union but without Marxism-Leninism. Modern secular society declares the relativity of morality, referring to freedom and human rights, saying that there is no absolute criterion for distinguishing between good and evil. Society asserts that every person has his own criterion, and what one considers good may not be good for another person.Thus we have the relativity of morality. This is considered the achievement of the epoch we live in! The very epoch that was called ‘postmodern’ by the philosophers. Choose any pattern of behaviour with only one condition: Your freedom should not restrict the freedom of another person. It is none of other people’s business in what you believe, what your ideals are, whether you sin in life or fight against sin, or whether your life is full of moral development or degradation. It is nobody’s concern.Your freedom should not limit the freedom of others.There is a system of social convention, which is expressed in the law: Don’t do what is forbidden by law. However, what about good and evil?
What about sin? There is no sin. Instead there is a plurality of views, and there is the ‘freedom’ of the individual. The notion of sin disappears in modern secular society. So, what does the moral perfection of the individual mean? It is not clear. Where does such an understanding of freedom, taken apart from any objective criterion for distinguishing good from evil, take us? It leads to a deep crisis of the human individual.
A lot is said about the economic crisis, the crisis of the euro zone, the ecological crisis and the cultural crisis. I must ask the question: Why this is an epoch of crises. Perhaps we are really talking only about one crisis, i.e., the crisis of human personality. Incidentally, the Greek word ‘crisis’ translates as ‘judgment.’ Perhaps the current crisis is the God’s judgment on people who have lost the concept of sin and therefore lack the ability to distinguish good from evil.
Traditional religions, including Christianity and Islam, preserve the criterion for distinguishing good from evil, based on Divine Revelation. In that sense, today Christian churches and the Islamic community have a certain common task: to convince contemporary man that without the ability to distinguish good from evil, the human personality degrades and society with it. Consequently, we are caught in a permanent state of crisis. At the heart of the recovery out of the various crises is the renewal of the moral responsibility of the individual.
That is why, speaking of rights and freedoms, I propose to talk about the moral responsibility of man. Modern people like to use the word ‘dignity’. However, is there any dignity that is separate from a person’s mode of life? Dignity is a value, the value we impute to a human being. It is wrong to say that all people have equal dignity. People created by God have the same nature, which has its dignity. God’s image determines the dignity of human nature, but this image can be either maintained and developed or destroyed, in the process ruining human dignity. That is why the maintenance of dignity and freedom, and the preservation and protection of human rights, must necessarily relate to a concept such as the moral respon-
sibility of the individual. Incidentally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had this important element, and morality was cited as one of the factors that can limit human freedom. This was the basis for certain conceptual leeway of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, that was a different epoch, the epoch of modernity. However, post-modernity ignores the moral dimension, including human rights. I am deeply convinced that Christian churches and Islam must insist on an internal, organic relation between freedom and responsibility.
I speak today about the theme of freedom and responsibility, because it was decided that some of my texts would be translated into Arabic. I have dedicated a lot of time to the topic I am now discussing, and my book in Arabic is dedicated to that. I would like to donate some copies of this book to the university. I invite you to think hard on this topic. The future of human civilization will depend on the way humanity and each of us solve the problem of correlating freedom and responsibility.
I offer my best wishes for the success of the university. This wonderful school, which unites secular and religious, can be an example for many of us. With all my heart I support the wonderful work you implement collectively, and I wish you success.
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