What went wrong with the West? (6)

The fourth pillar of the Western World, religion, inspired and encompassed the other values mentioned in my previous essays – family, free enterprise and patriotism. Religion also provided the underlying sense of moderation and order which helped guard social cohesion though the times of change. Although not a Christian myself I appreciate the role Judeo-Christian values (in their modern, benign form) played in the success of the West.

Since religion is often viewed as a mechanism of control (and, historically, for good reasons!) you may wonder how I will attempt to prove its beneficial social role. Well, let us take a high-level overview of the way things were post-WW2 compared to what we have now. Yes, the World has changed in many ways but the fundamental building blocks of a society are much the same as they were before – people go to work, pay taxes, use social services, rear their children etc. How does the modern value system facilitate these basic functions, compared to the more conservative vision prevalent in the past? This angle may be challenging but should also provide some food for thought.

First the family. Are we really better off with no-fault divorces, effectively void marriage vows and between one third and one half of children growing up without at least one of their biological parents? Do bitter custody battles in which parents use children to settle marital scores and secure favourable divorce settlements contribute positively to the society? Research shows consistently that the social outcomes produced by this situation are disastrous. This being the case a nuclear family should be the preferred model, actively promoted and supported by the governments. Not based on a moral judgement but rather on purely rational grounds – it produces the best social results. That traditional family model aligns with the Judeo-Christian values is incidental here; what matters is that it was more efficient than the current anything-goes approach in growing children into well-adjusted adults.

The obvious counter argument is that the World has changed and the conservative model of a family is outdated but perhaps we could have both – individual freedom from the commitments of marriage, as well as stable families for children to grow up in? To me it is like trying to have cake and eat it too. If it is possible why has it not happened? When financial assistance for solo parents was introduced in NZ in 1960s there were a few hundreds eligible recipients. At present there are over 100 000. Quite clearly peoples’ choices depend on what is deemed acceptable and, in the long run, we get more of what we are prepared to encourage through support.

The other way in which religion contributed to the stability and success of the Western societies was by introducing a sense of moderation. A religious perspective transcends the worldly concerns which enslave us to things like money, power, fame. One of the problems in the West is that we seem programmed to push all social boundaries for personal gain. If, in the name of freedom, we have certain rights (to strike, protest, lobby) they will be explored to full extent. If an entitlement exists, it is a no-brainer to claim it. But, when all people explore all possible rights and claim all entitlements social relations sour. Those who had been asked to support through taxes the few people in real need find themselves paying for an army of misfits. Rights put in place to guard personal freedoms are taken advantage of by activists with political agendas.

There is only so much selfishness and anti-social behaviour that a society can absorb and we, in the West, are approaching the limit. There was a recent story in the media of a woman in New York who would walk around topless where it is legal for men to walk bare-chested. I appreciate her quest for gender equality but, honestly, what is the social benefit created by stunts like this? Just because it is legal to do something does not automatically mean it is sensible. With too much activism in the public life we get distracted by peripheral issues and the important stuff does not get addressed.

Modern Christianity is not the only system promoting the values of social responsibility and moderation. Many people from other walks of life abide by them so this essay refers to religion in a sense of certain values more than beliefs. But there is no doubt that the West’s problems coincided with the demise of the most popular exponent of these values – Church. The void has not been filled by any other coherent value system and all we have is a me-first social philosophy.

It features individual selfishness, corporate greed, charity turned into commercial operation and generally everyone trying to take out more than they contribute. In a democratic system the political parties are forced to offer the electorate more and more to have a chance of getting to power. Thrift is not a sexy election program so the votes go to the spenders. To deliver on pre-election promises they have to borrow money overseas. As a result all Western countries are now deep in debt. The rocky ride ahead is directly attributable to the individual and collective selfish attitudes of their citizens.

What went wrong with the West? (7)

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