Benedict has a point that if one believes a clash of civilization is coming, the West's rejection of the Church has weakened it. As a liberal, secular Western liberal, I must admit that thinking in these terms makes me somewhat uneasy...after all, it's very far from PC, and only a skip, hop, and leap away from saying that “They are barbarians, and they ARE at the gates”. No one is saying that (publicly, anyway), but rather they are analytically pointing out that a certain tradition and way of life seems to be fading out, and may be approaching a crisis.I feel like Patrick Swayze in the movie Ghost, when he's trying to stop Tony Goldwyn from making moves on his girlfriend, but despite his efforts, he's initially unable to influence the situation (as he's a ghost). Eventually, he knocks a picture onto the floor. Maybe all the "no one"s Colpusky assumes don't exist are influencing him somehow.
The argument that the West (including its epistemology, culture, people, and religion) faces an existential threat isn't novel. In his book Culture Warrior, Bill O'Reilly (who, with the most-watched cable news show on the air, is hard to miss) makes a case for exactly what Copulsky claims Benedict is uniquely undertaking:
He is convinced that the secularization of the West has harmed its prospect for long-term survival, and it must act to save itself.Pat Buchanan wrote The Death of the West five years ago. He's not exactly an anonymous figure, either. Nor is Steve Sailer obscure--he's provided the impetus for national news stories and has provided commentary for us on televised national news, in additon to being one of the marquee writers for the US' major paleoconservative voice, The American Conservative. Lawrence Auster has created a terse, logical polemic showing the need for the Western and Islamic worlds to divorce. I agree with him.
Dispensing with the movie analogy, I wonder if a guy like Copulsky is consciously disingenious (a view held by frequent commenter John S. Bolton) or just incredibly naive?
Copulsky makes an easy argument for the latter, when he claims that he is "totally absorbed" in the first thing he starts reading at the library. It reminds me of how I became totally absorbed in classical music when I first listened to a full symphony in earnest (Beethoven's Sixth)--that I was so easily captivated was directly due to how unfamiliar I was with the genre going in. If you've been following the immigration debate closely for years, no single article is going to have you "totally absorbed"--the provoking article that absorbs you is the one that introduces you to the serious debate in the first place.
So Copulsky looks like a greenthumb. But if he's being mindfully deceitful when he says "no one" has argued that the Occident and Islam are incompatible, he may be equally furtive in other parts of his writing as well.
As a self-described member of the empirical right, I'm not religious. But it's difficult for me to separate the contemporary West from the history of the Catholic Church. The Italian Renaissance didn't spring up overnight. Buridan's theories on currency, Oresme's monumental work on how naturally occuring exchange rates are more conducive to economic activity than arbitrary ratios, and Azpilcueta's description of inflation, all occured during the Middle Ages.
The natural philosophy that really developed in the 12th Century broke from the Aristotlean understanding of nature in that it assumed a discernible explanation for natural phenomena. That is, non-living things progressively lost their attributes of personification. Smoke didn't simply rise because it liked the sky, or rocks fall to the earth because they liked the ground.
The Benedictine Cistercians made the first largescale use of hydropowered mechanization. Suddenly monasteries were self-supporting, even utility-creating. And the Catholic Church's networking allowed these advances to be transmitted throughout Europe very rapidly.
The first universal hospitals were constructed under the auspices of the Church in the 4th Century, breaking from the Roman focus on physicians caring for particular members of society.
Anselm, Occam, and one of the most important figures in Western thought, Aquinas, all operated in the Middle Ages. Scholasticism took rational, logical argumentation to a degree of sophistication that was unequaled in the rest of the world.
Even modern liberal ideas on justice and inalienable, ecumenical human rights trace their first champions back to Churchmen like Las Casas.
Copulsky astutely identifies the thrust of the Pope's argument thus:
The key part of Benedict's argument is that the culture of rationality and respect for one's fellow man that inform “good government” is a distinctively Christian legacy.In this sense, Benedictine's concern for the decline of the Catholic Church is legitimately shared by secular Westerners: It is more than a reduction in church attendance--it is a sign of a moribund civilization. Few Westerners will put their careers (let alone their lives) on the line for the amorphous idea of freedom of expression. Largescale ethnic nationalism among those of European descent may be counterproductive and isn't (yet) realistic anyhow. Western nationalism is making a comeback, but it may be too little too late. The universalism of Christian ideals appeals to Westerners, but in practice the Christian body will remain predominately Western.
I'm also concerned about the downtrend in religiosity for a very secular reason: religious societies procreate; irreligious ones do not. The correlation between religiosity and fecundity at the national level is a rigorous .85. Literal belief in religious explanations for various phenomena or instructions for moral conduct are more likely to be bought by people with modest IQs. The stuff that replaces those religious explanations are hardly more accurate or beneficial than the ones they are replacing (the hip-hop culture, reality TV, self-indulgence, etc). The relative elevation of Christianity in the West is not going to stop pioneers in nanotechnology or research at MIT from going forward.