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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Liberal ideology: a threat to peace and freedom (Published in “Tserkovny Vestnik”, No. 1-2 (278-279), January 2004)
A THREAT TO PEACE AND
Published in ‘Tserkovny Vestnik’, no. 1-2 (278-279),January 2004
With two world wars now fading into history, the peoples ofWestern Europe can look back on almost 60 years of peace. However, we Christians should not forget St. Paul’s words that: ‘when they shall say: ‘Peace and safety’, then sudden destruction shall come upon them... Therefore let us not sleep as others do, but watch and be sober’ (1 Thessalonians. 5: 3, 6).
At the beginning of the third millennium, following the collapse of communism, mankind faces the threat of new conflicts, rooted in issues of power and values. Two antagonistic systems are ranged against each other in today’s world, the one secular and humanistic, the other religious and traditionalist. On the one hand is the liberal view of the individual and of society, and on the other an approach founded in traditional cultures and religions. By liberal we are referring to the secular, humanistic approach to the organization of society and the state, derived from Western philosophy and political thought, as perceived, learned and developed in Western Europe and North America. It is this view which, in the twentieth century, formed the basis for the activities of international organizations. Currently, the liberal ‘standard’ presents itself as a universal norm for structuring social life and of government at the planetary level.The legal and political framework shaped by this standard are
proclaimed as the norm, departures from which are severely censured or punished by force.
This is a cause of great discomfort to the huge masses of people who live outside ofWestern Europe and North America and who continue to be guided in their daily lives by other values - especially those deriving from their religious and cultural traditions. At the intellectual level, the clash of these views also produces enormous tension. Many times the representatives of liberalism refuse to admit the possibility of their values being open to review. They ignore the very principle of liberalism - the licitness and admissibility of disagreement - just as soon as any challenge is uttered to their universalist pretensions. On the other hand, many representatives of traditional values reject out of hand any thought of reaching a consensus with their opponents, whose views they brand as sinful and alien to the religious understanding of the world and man. This situation is reinforced by the history of liberal ideas, which emerged in the West outside any real influence of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Orthodoxy. The role of Catholic theology in this process is also far from clear. Much more certain is the involvement in this process of Protestantism, itself an attempt at a liberal reading of the Christian message.
Today, unfortunately, very few people are talking about the need for serious and open-minded dialogue between liberal, secular humanism, and religious and cultural traditions. At conferences exploring this area, discussion focuses exclusively on inter-faith relations. The liberal-humanist component is almost always absent as a player in this field, even if, in evaluating a particular religious concept, a secular liberal-humanist cliche is all too often imposed and the concept is evaluated positively or negatively based on its concordance with the Western liberal standard. Vivid examples of such evaluation, incidentally, are the criticisms voiced in the West to the ‘Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church’.
Today’s world needs both real inter-religious dialogue, especially between Christians and Muslims, and dialogue between religious and secular-humanistic thought. The aim of such dialogue should
be to build a multipolar world. And by poles we should understand here not so much the poles of political power (though they too come into the picture), but cultural and civilizational poles. Neither globalization, nor indeed, European integration, can be founded on a mono-civilizational basis. The very idea is a dangerous delusion, reminiscent of the ‘sole correct and scientifically based’ teaching of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The idea of a single philosophical concept, imposable on the whole world and embracing the diversity of cultural and religious traditions, is simply a non-starter. From the perspective of most religious traditions it is very difficult, if not impossible to accept the primacy of the values proclaimed by the modern liberal ‘standard’: the priority of the earthly life over eternal life, and of personal freedom and rights over the moral demands of faith and the values of a religious way of life. Large numbers of people are frustrated by the practical effects of liberal standards in economics and politics: the rich get richer and richer, and the poor get poorer and poorer. ‘Managed globalization’ of the world economy is generating and perpetuating poverty and powerlessness among the peoples of the ‘second’ and ‘third’ worlds. Despite this, the proponents of liberalism continue to argue that their policy has no alternative. Is this true? No economic model of development should be called successful if it fails to solve social problems, if it does not give people the opportunity to control their destiny. Economic imbalances in the world not only maintain, but are constantly reinforcing the capacity for hatred, creating instability and fuelling terrorism.The liberal political elites who promised and continue to promise freedom to the world are quick to apply very stringent measures to ‘educate’ and ‘instruct’ those human communities that insist on other social orders.
A second, smaller-scale and less remarked-on, but no less significant example is education: in the public schools of many countries, including Russia, materialist ideology and secular humanism are a mandatory part of the curriculum. Religious values are replaced, or, where tolerated, are subjected to major restrictions that often deprive children of any real right of choice. This religious worldview
is artificially contrasted with the so-called scientific worldview, supposedly the only one of real benefit to society.
Exemplary in this connection is the silence on Christian values in discussion of the draft constitution for the European Union. Christians should not, however, be afraid to declare publicly that, without moral values, freedom, democracy, human rights and the dignity of the individual are meaningless and can turn into the opposite! This we know from historical experience. Europe remains a spiritual and cultural force in the modern world, not only because over the past two centuries she has learned secular humanism, but also and largely because a centuries-old Christian tradition is still alive there. Western Christianity continues to exist not because it has adapted itself to an outside ideology. Its strength lies rather in its historical heritage and in its being the living faith of millions of ordinary people. The fact that the collapse of the Soviet Union did not turn into a bloody mess was not because ‘enlightened’ people in Moscow, Kiev and Washington modelled the peace process. No, simply because our people, Orthodox, Muslim or of other religions, had, even after decades of state atheism, maintained a sense of conscience and morality.
All of which begs the question: if the European Union is to become a common home for many nations, should the secular-humanistic model of society and the state enjoy a monopoly right in it? Should we not rather give serious consideration to the possibility of religious and moral influence on the social order?
Talking about religious values, of course, I mean not just Christian values. At this stage our opponents craftily argue that Christian values cannot be mentioned in the EU constitution, because Europe is also home to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christians. But the latter are in fact the last to advocate the deletion of references to Christian values in the preamble to the European constitution, because the moral values that are fundamental to Christianity are largely shared by the other traditional religions.
It is important that the legislators of the new Europe listen to the position of believers, for whom secular-liberal values alone are
inadequate, as indeed they are inadequate for society as a whole. Eliminating as they do the concepts of sin and personal responsibility, these values and freedoms are unable to halt the moral degradation of society, because they objectively promote the freedom of fallen man, freedom outside any moral system. This freedom turns into tyranny, into the violence of sublimated passions, and the destruction of moral bearings in personal, family and social life.
To function well, the new Europe needs to understand that human rights, peace and harmony can be truly realized only through a sense of duty and responsibility, and only within a concrete system of moral values.
On our day, faith is a key factor in determining the way of life and behaviour of millions of people. The many Christians and believers of other religions who hold that faith is more important than worldly prosperity, that solidarity is no less important than individual self-fulfilment, that traditional values are no less important than economic success, justice no less than material prosperity, and that the welfare of one’s home country stands above personal gain, are also entitled to have their beliefs reflected in the existing social order. Otherwise conflict becomes inevitable.
What is more, a traditional consciousness, critical of the dominance of the liberal ‘standard’, can under certain conditions become a breeding ground for extremism, including religious extremism. The threat of terrorism arises whenever and wherever political radicals are able to convince people to take up arms to defend their values.With secular Western values today shared by the most powerful nations and forced by them onto other peoples, terrorism, to which these nations remain vulnerable, is seen by the opposing party as the only effective way to fight back. The world situation is aggravated by the fact that fanatical religious radicals do not just appeal to religious and traditional values, do not just protect the lifestyles of their own peoples, but seek the global spread and domination of their religious and political views and beliefs. Terrorism in the twenty-first century is not an inter-religious conflict, it is not a war between Christians and Muslims, it is a conflict between the new
world order based on secular liberal values, and those who, exploiting religious and traditional values, seek to impose their own world order. Such conflict is potentially endless. Neither military nor police measures can save people from the threat of terrorism. Events in today’s world are clear evidence of this.
And yet, humanity must say a categorical ‘no’ to any political exploitation of religious beliefs by radicals, fanatics, and just plain bandits. We must strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and recognize the right of states to protect their citizens, by force if necessary. In so doing we must also, however, avoid double standards: if you denounce the evildoers who killed innocent people in Manhattan, you must equally condemn terrorist acts in Chechnya, Moscow, Kosovo and elsewhere on our planet.
Ensuring the truly sustainable existence of the human community calls for a new world order, multi-polar and multi-structured. Religious and other traditional models will also need to be taken into account in formulating a common civilizational pattern. It is time to give back to society an understanding of religion as the deepest layer of human culture, not confinable to personal or family life.
Let me state once yet again: what we need today is not only inter-religious dialogue, but also dialogue between believers and the upholders of a secular worldview. The latter need to understand that their outlook is not entirely ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ and cannot serve as the unique, non-alternative basis for social order. A world based only on a single ideological model will be unsustainable. It will be powerless to prevent new and bloody wars in the twenty- first century.
To avoid such developments, we must take national and religious traditions into account whenever we apply international standards at local, national level.To prevent future wars, it is important to create conditions in which each nation can develop freely within its own religious and cultural traditions.
To criticize the monopoly in Europe and the world of a single civilizational model is not to reject out of hand the values inherent
in this model, nor the possibility of harmonizing these values with the moral ideas of traditional religions. Indeed it is vitally important, through dialogue between secular and religious worldviews, to ensure such harmonization. For me, the starting point for such harmonization lies both in the rights and freedoms of the individual and in the moral values that are expressed through religious traditions.
In conclusion let me state once again that the crisis of globalization facing mankind can be overcome only by the combined efforts of all believers and all people of goodwill in the moral education of the individual, and in shaping just and viable foundations for human coexistence.
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