“The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. Neither a market economy nor even general abundance constitutes the crowning achievement of human life. If a nation’s spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by any industrial development. A tree with a rotten core cannot stand.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
It was just 45 years ago that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave his famous speech, “A World Split Apart,” at Harvard University. Like the Biblical voice that cries in the wilderness, Solzhenitsyn criticized the moral decline in Western societies, pointing out that the emphasis on individualism, self-indulgence, and materialism was weakening the fabric of Western society.
He also called for a rediscovery of traditional moral and ethical values, a reevaluation of the pursuit of individual desires over collective well-being, and a return to a sense of purpose and responsibility.
Over four decades after his famous speech, the West seems to have gone the opposite of Solzhenitsyn’s counsel. Individualism, self-indulgence, and materialism seem to be the prominent doctrines of Western civilization. I wonder if we are witnessing the beginning of the collapse of nations whose “spiritual energies have been exhausted,” as Solzhenitsyn predicted.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked college students in the United States a philosophical question: “What is the key to happiness?”
I noticed a pause as if questions of this manner were not supposed to be asked. Then, a few summoned the courage to answer. One said having good friends; another said making money, and someone said sleeping well. Only one student whispered, “Having a relationship with God.” I was stunned by the shallowness of their responses.
From doctrines to dogmas
The postmodern mind, forged by doctrines based on materialism and individualism, perceives the world as a purely materialistic enterprise. The transcendent has been substituted for the mundane. The mind curdled, weaned of every conception of the divine, has fallen into the abyss of materialism, consumerism, and an acute lack of meaning.
The famous English writer G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that “the special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.” The fundamental characteristic of a skeptic is that he is open to ideas that may seem different from his. This is how civilization grows: ideas arise, people debate freely, and lesser ideals are substituted in the long run for better ones.
One of the problems of the postmodern mind is the closure of the mind against ideas that fall outside the prominent narratives of the post-enlightenment era. Traditional values are scorned, Judeo-Christian ideals despised, as man is elevated above God.
The doctrines of postmodernism, as is the case with religious doctrines, have become dogmas. It is not uncommon to find conservative speakers scorned and despised without any form of open debate.
For the postmodern mind, the doctrinal dogmas of postmodernism must be held even without the slightest objective evidence. The subjective feelings of individuals must be exalted above social norms that have worked for millennials.
Since the knowledge of God has been deposed from the core of the postmodern mind, moral relativism prevails. It is the individual that matters, not the collective good of society.
The role of the church
In his book, The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray writes: “In the latter part of the twentieth century, we entered the postmodern era. An era that defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives.” The heightened suspicion towards all grand narratives has led to the alternating of various institutions as ideas deemed heresies are substituted for wokerideals.
Even the church, a body that should be separate from the world, has, for the most part, in the West, fallen to doctrines and dogmas of postmodernism. The dilemma of the Western church is thus: following the ways of God or succumbing to the lures of the doctrines and dogmas of secular humanism, which seems to be the prevalent religion in some quarters.
If the West is to be saved from its self-inflicted demise, I believe the church has a crucial role to play—enough of mixing Jesus with the world to appeal to a lost and dying world.
Jesus is perfect theology; thus, we need no additions. Preach Christ and him crucified. It may offend many, but therein lies the power of God—the gospel.