So near. Yet so far. In this final part of my review of Murray’s brilliant book we come to consider the heart of the matter. What can be done to stop Europe, as we know it, dying? Murray has a sort of answer but it is not nearly adequate enough. In part 1 we looked at the overall thesis of the book – that Europe has become too meaninglessly shallow to cope with the difficulties it faces. Firstly from immigration (part 2) and then from Islam (part 3). I would argue that, uncomfortable as it seems, in that it does not fit in with the Western Liberal view of humanity, Murray’s thesis is incontrovertible. So what can be done about it?
In part 4 we now look at how he identifies the problem as Europe losing its soul – i.e. it’s Christianity. Again I will let Murray speak in his own words and comments afterwards.
Meaningless, Meaningless, Everything is Meaningless
“With the help of such thinkers (as Nietzsche) it is easier to recognise that what was already affecting Germany in the late 19th century was not a tiredness caused by a lack of muesli or fresh air, but an exhaustion caused by a loss of meaning, an awareness that the civilisation was ‘no longer accumulating’ but living of a dwindling cultural capital. If that was the case in the late 19th century then how much stronger is the case today, when we live on even smaller portions of that inheritance and breathe even further away from the sources that gave that culture energy. (p209)
Citing Stephen Spender who was in Germany in the 1930s – “the trouble with all the nice people I knew in Germany is that they were either tired or weak”. Why were the nice people so tired? Existential tiredness is not a problem only because it produces a listless type of life. It is a problem because it can allow almost anything to follow in its wake.” (p216)
The loss of meaning is everywhere. People seek and find it in many different ways, from the valuable (family, friends, faith) to the shallow (fantasy, entertainment, drugs). But the loss of ultimate meaning means that everything becomes insignificant. Never has Ecclesiastes been more relevant than in today’s Western culture. When I preach on this book I often have people coming up and saying ‘wow, I cannot believe that is in the bible’. Meaninglessness is the disease of our times. The Gospel is the cure.
The Weakness of Christianity
Christianity used to offer meaning – but over the centuries it has been undermined so that in many areas it is just a pale shadow of itself. As Nietzsche famously said: “God is dead and we have killed him”. Much of what passes for Christianity today is nothing but baptized paganism and humanism. Clergy are state officials who just parrot the latest mantras of whatever zeitgeist is in fashion. They have no thought, never mind possibility, of turning the world upside down. They speak of being prophetic, whilst being pathetic.
Murray – better than many Christian commentators gets the root cause of this. He points out the impact of the higher biblical criticism in German universities on the culture – undermining the foundational Christian story. It is the removal, or undermining of the Bible, first from the churches, and then in the wider culture, which has done so much to undermine the European civilization that was to a large extent based upon it. We are no longer peoples of The Book.
Who Will Fill in the Gap?
“From George Bernard Shaw to Jean-Paul Sartre almost all the secular prophets turned out to have been apologists for the worst systems of their time” (p218).
Secularism only works when it is tied into Christian values. Those who advocate secularism minus Christianity almost always end up being fantasists or as Murray points out, apologists for great evil. They tend to regard Christianity as the great enemy of progress and operate on the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. This has never gone well.
“But Christian Europe had lost faith not only in its God but in its people as well. Any remaining faith man had in mind was destroyed in Europe. “Page 220
GK Chesterton pointed out that once people ceased to believe in God, it was not only that they lost God, they also lost humanity. The late Victorian and Edwardian eras were times of great optimism amongst the ruling classes and the elites. Were we not ‘progressing’ towards the evolutionary heights of mankind? Was not Europe, with its all conquering armies and culture, about the lead the world from one Enlightenment to another? And then came World War 1. And if anyone had any doubt about the failure of European supremacy and culture, along came World War 2 to put the lid on the coffin. Of course there are still believers who keep the faith – and there is a new religion of ‘progress’ and ‘human rights’ but the majority of the population don’t believe it.
“The Enlightenment project has failed. People thought that the creed of a belief in human progress not only technological, but moral an intellectual would be enough. But what if that creed is not shared?”
This is the great weakness of the ‘Progressive’ doctrine. It is assumed to be true. It is assumed that every decent person will of course accept its inevitability. But such hubris and arrogance means that there is no Plan B and no way of coping with those who don’t share that creed. Which is why we have ended up in the insane position of liberals decrying the faith that gave them their values, whilst refusing to engage with the faith that wants to take them away!
“We have not become absolute cynics, but we have become deeply suspicious of all truths” (p222)
Most people in Europe do not spend their days thinking about the meaning of life. They just get on with it. Looking after our families, being entertained, providing for our bodies. There is little time to look at the bigger questions. And even if we did we have become so indoctrinated into a meaningless post-modernist philosophy that truth has been reduced to the Manic Street Preachers song ‘this is my truth, tell me yours’.
If every truth is just a question of perception then every truth is valid and everything is truth. It’s a ridiculous and unworkable philosophy – as is evidenced by the outcry from those who taught it about ‘fake news’ and will end up not with diversity and equality, but with an authoritarian illiberal ideology.
“It does seem, living in any Western European society today, that this particular worldview has caught on. (Talking about the lack of faith in any ideology). Not only entertainment industries but also the information industries speak to populations intent only on a fairly shallow kind of personal pleasure. In the words of a famous atheist bus campaign slogan in Britain: ‘there’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’. The question of how we are to enjoy that life is answered only with, ‘however you see fit’. Who knows what will step into this void, but for the time being the consensus appears to be that the answer lies in enjoying our consumerist culture, frequently buying things that do not last and then buying newer versions of the same to replace them. We can go on holiday, of course and generally try to have as nice a time as possible.” (p222).
“To immerse oneself in popular culture for any length of time as to wallow in an almost unbearable shallowness. Was the sum of European endeavour and achievement really meant to accumulate in this?…… we look like a people who have lost the desire to inspire because we have nothing to inspire anyone with.” (p263)
If you doubt Murray’s observation – switch on your TV, look at the internet or look at any aspect of the dumbed down social life that we dare to call ‘culture’. The following photo from Bromans (itself a spin off from Love Island) was accompanied by this headline from one of our broadsheets The Guardian – “Bromans: it’s Love Island – with added togas, loin-cloths and genital casts”
“Today German philosophy, like the philosophy of the rest of the continent, has been ravaged not just by doubt (as it should be) but by decades of deconstruction. It is pulled itself and everything else apart, without having any notion of how to put anything – let alone itself – back together again” (p223)
“It was some years ago, during a conference at the University of Heidelberg, that the full catastrophe of modern German thought suddenly came upon me. A group of academics and others had gathered to discuss the history of Europe’s relations with the Middle East and North Africa. It soon became clear that nothing would be learned because nothing could be said” (p224)
“The search for meaning is not new. What is new is that almost nothing in modern European culture applies itself to offering an answer. Nothing says, ‘here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too’. Instead, a voice at best says, ‘find your meaning where you will’. At worst the nihilist creed can be heard: ‘yours is a meaningless existence in a meaningless universe’. Any person who believes such a creed is liable to achieve literally nothing. Societies in which that is the case are likewise liable to achieve nothing. While nihilism may be understandable in some individuals, as a societal creed it is fatal.” (p266)
These are brilliant observations to which I have nothing to add!
“Why can art not take over, without the ‘encumbrances’ of religion, from where these religions left off?…… Today if you walk through a gallery like Tate Modern in London the only thing more striking than the lack of technical skill is the lack of ambition. The bolder works may claim to tell us about death, suffering, cruelty or pain, but few have anything actually to say about the subjects other than pointing to the fact that they exist. Certainly they provide no answers to the problems they present. Every adult knows that suffering and death exists, and if they did not then they will hardly be persuaded in an art gallery. But the art of our time seems to have given up any effort to kindle something else in us. In particular, it has given up that desire to connect us to something like the spirit of religion or that thrill of recognition – what Aristotle termed anagnorisis – which grants you the sense of having just caught up with the truth that was always waiting for you.” Page 272
It used to be that art led the way. It was radical and provocative. But where it led was to its own destruction. Pretentiousness, greed and elitism have turned modern European art into a shadow of its former self. Again, whilst there are exceptions, the art of our time does little to connect us with that which is beyond us.
“At the same time the highest ends of our culture seem content to say – at best – that the world is complex and that we must simply embrace the complexity and not look for answers. At worst it says openly that all this is quite hopeless. Of course, we live in an age of extraordinary prosperity, which allows us to be comfortable even when we are despairing. It might not always be like this. Even today, when the sun of economic advantage still shines upon us, there are people who notice a gap in our culture and are finding their own ways to fill it” –
Murray suggests that this gap will be filled with something and wonders whether it might be Islam. He talks about the number of young people who are converting to Islam. This won’t at the moment make much of a demographic difference, but it certainly makes a crucial cultural difference.
“Why do these young men and women (very often women) not reach out and find Christianity? Partly it is because most branches of European Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytise or even believe in their own message. For the Church of Sweden, the Church of England, the German Lutheran Church and many other branches of European Christianity, the message of the religion has become a form of left-wing politics, diversity action and social welfare projects. Such churches argue for ‘open borders’ yet are circumspect about quoting the texts they once preached as revealed.” (p264).
This is spot on. I listen to the leaders of the mainstream churches, and with few exceptions, they could be the Lib-Dems or indeed any political party (because most mainstream political parties are now interchangeable) at prayer. They merely parrot the values of the zeitgeist and add a few religious words to them. I was once interviewed by a journalist who told me that he often interviewed church leaders and they always wanted to talk about their latest social project, never about Jesus!
And I’m afraid that evangelicals can be like that as well. We may believe in justification by faith for the individual, but for the church we seem to think it is justification by works. ‘Look at the marvellous works we do….see how we care for the poor, run a crèche, help the homeless’ etc. The world doesn’t care two hoots if we do that – in fact they are rather grateful when we do, because we are propping up their failed welfare schemes. Just as long as we don’t upset people by teaching doctrine contrary to the States indoctrination. And we play along. Turn the world upside down? No chance. We want to smooth things over and maintain our place in this messed up and unjust world. (Note – this is not an argument against good works – it is an argument against doing good works to justify ourselves or evangelise, rather than just do them because they are in themselves good!).
“Of course religious people find talk like this frustrating because for real believers the question will always be, ‘Why do you not just believe?’ Yet this latter question ignores the most likely irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth claims of religion and ignores the fact that people cannot be forced into faith. Meantime the nonreligious in our culture are deeply fearful of any debate or discussion that they think will make some concession to the religious, thereby allowing faith-based discussion to flood back into the public space.” (p.267)
This is where Murray just does not get what real belief is. As a result he sets up a straw man. I am a real believer and I have never in my life asked ‘why do you not just belief?”. We don’t ask people to believe without evidence. We don’t preach belief. We preach Christ. Of course it is true that people cannot be forced into faith – but where will he find a Christian saying that they can be? We cannot be forced, but we can be persuaded. Is Murray not aware of the teaching of Christ that unless we are born again from the Holy Spirit, we cannot even see the kingdom of God, never mind enter it?!
And there has not been irreversible damage done by science and historical criticism to the ‘literal truth claims of religion’. Although it all depends on what Murray thinks these truth claims are. This is one of those atheist myths that Murray seems to have bought into, hook, line and sinker. He and others need to break out of this circular ‘reasoning’ and get a wider intellectual as well as spiritual understanding. The problem is not that they are too intellectual and reasonable; but rather that they are not intellectual and reasonable enough!
Of course there is a vicious circle here. The reason that Murray and others of the European intelligentsia can be so dismissive of biblical Christianity is that they don’t know what it is (although they think they do). And they will never find out what it is because as Murray observes, they cannot permit faith-based discussion to enter into the public square. It’s why almost every representative of Christianity on mainstream media is either a wet spiritualized reflection of the culture or occasionally a crank (to show the nuttiness of Christianity). In an increasingly dumbed down soundbite culture, the depth and intellectual coherence of Christianity is always going to find it difficult to be heard. The irony is that those who promote this dumbing down think that they are being intelligent and reasonable!
“Where faith still exists it is either wholly uninformed – as in the evangelical communities – or it is wounded and weak” (p212)
(Some ‘wholly uninformed’ evangelicals – Dr Andy Bannister, Os Guinness, Dr John Lennox, and Dr Amy Orr-Ewing!)
Again Murray’s prejudice, based on ignorance of what evangelical communities are, shines through. Of course there are people who will fit his stereotype – there always are, but it is not far of him to paint all evangelical communities as being ‘wholly uninformed’. Perhaps we are more informed that he is aware of? I accept of course that there is much more to be done – (which is why we set up Solas – to provide information and intelligent Christian analysis) – but I would suggest that most evangelicals are above average in the ‘informed’ stakes. Murray of all people should know that just because one does not agree with the zeitgeist of the times, does not mean that one is uninformed!
(These three Solas magazines for example deal with Europe, Sex and Sexuality and Islam – you can get copies here )
What Can We Do?
`”How long could Western civilisation continue without religion?” Michel in Houellebecq’s Atomised (1999) (p277)
”If our freedoms and liberties are unusual and do in fact arise from beliefs that we have left behind, what do we do about it? “ (p261)
Murray’s solution is interesting and weak
“Unless the nonreligious are able to work with, rather than against the source from which their culture came, it is hard to see any way through.” (p268)
There are some secularists who are coming to realize that if they cast out Christianity then what replaces it may be far worse. Instead of secular nirvana we could be heading towards a more authoritarian illiberal future, whether based on religion or not. Some are beginning to ask the question – what if these freedoms that we value are not self-evident and inevitable but instead the fruit of a Christianity we are throwing out? What will happen then?
But the idea of an atheist/Christian alliance won’t work. Mainly because the world cannot be divided in that way. Life is much more complex. There are secular humanists and atheists who are as fundamentalist and militant as any religious group and who still regard the Christianity of their youth as the main enemy. Its why much of the Left in Europe and the UK want to make any criticism of Islam an ‘Islamaphobic’ crime, whilst encouraging the mockery and denigration of Christianity.
But the biggest problem is that Christianity is not primarily about politics, setting up a new political kingdom on earth; nor is it just about values, morals, ethics and culture. This is not a cultural war we are in. It is a spiritual battle. Europe needs renewal. On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Europe needs a new Reformation. We need revival. The Christianity that Murray dismisses as uninformed and ignorant, is the very Christianity that will bring him back what he so desires – a Europe based upon it.
I leave you with another astute observation from The Strange Death of Europe:
“Enjoyable as it might be while it lasts, it probably goes without saying that the life of a mere consumer lacks any real meaning and purpose. Instead, it reveals a gap in human experience that every society in history has attempted to address and which something else will try to fill if our own societies do not apply themselves to it. A society that sells itself solely on its pleasures is one that could swiftly lose its attractions. That post-nightclub convert had experienced the pleasures but then came to the realisation they were not enough. A society that says we are defined exclusively by the bar and nightclub, by self-indulgence and our sense of entitlement, cannot be said to have deep roots or much likelihood of survival. But a society which holds that our culture consists of the cathedral, the playhouse and the playing field, the shopping mall and Shakespeare, has a chance.” Page 306
And these words of Jesus:
“Know the truth and the truth will set you free…..I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, except by me”.
The link below is to an article I wrote in the Solas magazine a couple of years agao which ties in with Murray’s views