Understanding the Roots of Global Rage


Meic Pearse

InterVarsity, 2004, 188 pp.   ISBN 0-8308-3202-5


“Many in the U.S. are baffled at the hatred and anti-Western sentiment they see on the international news. Why are people around the world so resentful of Western cultural values and ideals?


“Historian Meic Pearse unpacks the deep divides between the West and the rest of the world. He shows how many of the underlying assumptions of Western civilization directly oppose and contradict the cultural and religious values of significant people groups. Those in the Third World, Pearse says, ‘have the sensation that everything they hold dear and sacred is being rolled over by an economic and cultural juggernaut that doesn’t even know it’s doing it . . . and wouldn’t understand why what it’s destroying is important or of value.’”(from the back cover)


While others have suggested the hatred is because of economic injustice or political positions or religion, Pearse says it is because of culture, specifically the Western “anti-culture” and “anti-values.”  “Non-Westerners are becoming understandably anxious about the future of their cultural space, which they feel is being intolerably threatened by aliens—that is, by us.  And to the non-West our culture appears not as a culture at all, but as an anticulture.  Our values appear not as an alternative to traditional values but as a negation of them—as anti-values, in fact.”  (28) The book is really about worldview.  Much of it is clear and compelling.  A few parts are more academic.


“Tolerance is a fine thing—if you can get it.  That, apparently, is what distinguishes us in the West....” (11) “Where it used to mean the respecting of real, hard differences, it has come to mean instead a dogmatic abdication of truth-claims and a moralistic adherence to moral relativism—departure from either of which is stigmatized as intolerance.”  “With it, the underpinnings of the various subcultures are knocked away.”  “The new, intolerant ‘tolerance’ might be described as an anti-value; it is a disposition of hostility to any suggestions that one thing is ‘better’ than another, or even that any way of life needs protected space from its alternatives.”  “Anyone who cares about their culture...will feel threatened.”  (12)


Tolerance and its corollary, openness, have become foundational, part of ‘common sense.’  “If confronted by individuals or groups who differ from this perception and who behave accordingly, we will probably consider them to be stupid, crazy or perhaps fanatical.”  “Western societies generally are sharply at odds with those of the non-Western cultures that confront them.  Indeed, they are sharply at odds with the values and ideas of the West’s own history.” (15)


“The assumptions of the Western worldview are more sharply distinguished from those of other people than has been the case with any other major culture in history.”  “Most contemporary non-Western experiences, assumptions and values are an incomprehensible ‘closed book’ to them also.”  (15)


It is urgent for the West to understand its own ideas of common sense.  “Mutual incomprehension is a dangerous state of affairs.” (16)


“This is the irony and the emptiness of ‘multiculturalism.’  ‘Tolerant,’ ‘open’ Western cosmopolitans can get along with anyone, anywhere, on one condition: that they be Westernized cosmopolitans like themselves.  Non-Western values...are simply not welcome at the table of discourse.” (23)


“[Fundamentalism] has come to signify ‘more religious-than-I-happen-to-like’—and thus to say more about the speaker than abut the persons, things or phenomena described.”  (27)


“Normal people (that is, the rest of the world), however, cannot exist without real meaning, without religion anchored in something deeper than existentialism and bland niceness, without a culture rooted deep in the soil of the place where they live.  Yet it is these things that globalization threatens to demolish.”  (29)


“Our politicians continue to address the non-West as if all of the world were Westerners under the skin; everybody wants ‘freedom’ and the consumerist paradise and, in order to obtain these things, considers the adoption of Western antivalues and the anticulture to be a price well worth paying.” (32-3)


“The truth is that Westerners are perceived by non-Westerners...as rich, technologically sophisticated, economically and politically dominant, morally contemptible barbarians.”  (34)


“Why barbarians?  For despising tradition, the ancestors and the dead.  For despising religion, or at least for treating it lightly.  For the shallowness and triviality of their culture.  For their sexual shamelessness.  For their loose adherence to family and, sometimes, also to tribe.  For their absence of any sense of honor.” (34)


According to Huntington, “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion...but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence.  Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”  (36)


“‘Justifiable’ actions by Western powers look very different from a non-Western...point of view.”  “Quite obviously, violence is the only way to get the West’s attention.” (37)


“Even consciously committed religious believers in Western countries live highly secularized lives....” (41)  “Religious doctrine as a guide to action in the world and to the shape of ultimate reality is considered crazy, even dangerous.”  (42)


Traditionally, such things as wisdom, religion, honor, and the creation of solid or beautiful artifacts were prized. The West is obsessed with appearance, ephemerality and the commercialization of sex.  (43)  “The fragility of families is an obvious corollary of sexual freedom.  Family has been a principal focus of values and devotion in every culture.  (45-6)  Honor is scarcely understood by Westerners.  “The concepts of shame can only have a strong hold where there is an ingrained sense of right and wrong.  This is absent from the West where shamelessness is extended to sexual matters and taken for granted most everywhere else.  (48)


We who have a high value on a pain-free life are aroused by cruelty, but are desensitized to many other evils that all cultures but ours have considered offensive.  “That their offensiveness eludes us is no small measure of our own barbarism.” (50)


“By absolutizing the unique—not to say historically aberrant—culture of the post-Enlightenment West, we have become the ultimate cultural imperialists.  And then we wonder why we’re hated.” (51)


The Reformation shifted the rule of behavior from external works to inner conscience.  This “internal policeman” allowed unimagined political freedoms. In the 20th century the internal moral dynamic shifted to “being true to oneself.”  Integrity at one time meant conformity of the inward person to outward morality.  But it has gradually come to mean a congruity between the inner and outer person, regardless of the one’s beliefs, morals or ideals.  This “idealizes the self and discards all notion of external fixed points.”(57) “The results...have transferred any feelings of moral superiority from Westerners to non-Westerners.” Because postmodern Westerners do not (even in principle) practice traditional morality, they appear as barbarians to much of the world.  (58) 


Postmoderns beat their ancestors with the sticks of oppression and hypocrisy.  After the 1960s there was no more need for hypocrisy.  “For hypocrisy can only subsist in societies that uphold ‘the good’—a good to which sinful human beings cannot fully and consistently attain.  And the more enthusiastically and successfully the good is upheld and observed, the more hypocrisy is necessary as a cover for those who do not achieve it....”  (61)


“People behaving hypocritically is, of course, a bad thing—but the existence of the phenomenon is a sign of a good thing.  One can only be guilty of it if one aspires—or at least feels one ought to aspire—to high moral standards.”  “If postmoderns are guiltless of this failing, however, it is not because they are above hypocrisy—but because they are beneath it.”  “To be guilty of hypocrisy, one has first to accept the validity of the morals upon which it is predicated—and our culture, uniquely, does not.”  (63)


“Human rights have increasingly become the defining idea in Western morality over the past two centuries.  They have changed our conceptions of right and wrong...”  “...human rights are essentially an invention of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.”  (64)


Once revelation is discarded, “morality, then, does not come to us as a series of commands from on high, or from outside human society at all.  It emanates outward from the human person, with his or her needs.  It does not consist of duties, therefore, but of rights.” (66)


As responsibilities pile up on “the system,” “...the traditional needs for self-restraint and the acceptance of responsibility for one’s own actions are likely, in the long term at least, to wither to the merest vestige.” (69)


“The sentence beginning ‘I have a right to’ is now, more often than not, ‘I want’ dressed up in a tuxedo and palming itself off as a moral claim....” (72)


“By the turn of the century, the triumph of the left...was the triumph of individualism and of the individualistic understanding of human rights.” (74)


“Christians...wish to buy the Western worldview while subtracting the elements that we do not like.  But those elements are the fruit of the poisoned tree.  And a bad tree, as someone once observed, will not yield good fruit.  To resist the conclusions of our opponents, we would be well advised to reject their premises as well, or else we will lose every argument.  Indeed, we are, observably, doing so.”  (77)


Human rights is “a moral right that is claimed simply by virtue of one’s existence.  This, we have observed, is a concept foreign to Scripture, and indeed to the entire world before the eighteenth century.” (78)


“The only obligations, in human rights discourse, are corporate, not personal.  If the poor are starving, we need a new law or a new tax, not more generous individuals....” (79)


“But people with no sense of obligations are people with no sense of personal sin.”  “If I have no obligations, then there are no duties that I have failed to fulfill, no forbidden acts that I should feel guilty about having done.  I cannot envision myself as a sinner—not even before a holy God.  The central thrust of Christian evangelism is thereby rendered ridiculous.” (81)


“Human beings have been ducking responsibility since Eden; it is only our own generation that has had the ingenuity to reject it as a category!” (81)


“In almost all traditional cultures, including our own before the modern period, wisdom and right behavior consisted in following tradition....  In this view, the world is not our own but a trust from our forebears....” (82) “Innovation and initiative were not prized qualities but serious faults.” (83) 


“The ideal of progress was born, along with its counterpart, the rejection of tradition.” (88)  “Darwin’s evolutionism propagated the idea that our ancestors were apes.  (89) 


“Christian belief located authority in a past tradition and in an ancient text speaking of historical events.”  (90)  However, “...modernizing Westerners saw religion in general, and Roman Catholicism in particular, as obstructionist and obscurantist, dangerous if powerful, simply irrelevant otherwise.”  Most people mindlessly refer to fundamentalism, by which they mean religious believers who fundamentally believe in their religion as an alternative worldview to Western secularity.  (91)


“Progress ceased to be common sense sometime between the First World War and the 1960s.”  “What remains is an ingrained alienation from tradition and the authority of the past.” That Westerners have liberated themselves from their own past is, from the standpoint of non-Westerners, a measure of barbarism.  (95-6)


“The strong egalitarianism of the West cannot exist in the absence of Western hyperprosperity and the security that that hyperprosperity provides.  In its absence, security has to be provided by order.  Western subversions of that order, through the cultural influences of film and television, for example, seem to threaten anarchy.” (108)


“Radical Islamists often consider the states in which they actually live to be illegitimate and intrinsically secular....”  (124)  “Third World states are unlikely to remain democracies in anything but the most formal of senses....  If Mubarak or the house of ibn Sa’ud are overthrown, as looks entirely likely, it will not be because of their ‘failure to respect human rights,’ but because they have failed sufficiently to reflect the Islamist sentiments of their teeming urban populations.” (125)


“It is the failure of the Western imagination to confront the most obvious cultural realities about the world on its doorstep—or even about its own past—that is driving its relationship with the remaining 90 percent of the global population into a corner.  By refusing—or at any rate, failing—to understand, coexistence becomes impossible, and the only possible bases for relationship between West and non-West are those of domination or collision.” (125)


“The long-term path away from catastrophic conflict is to be sought elsewhere.  It is to be found by refraining from the cultural imperialism presently being inflicted on the non-West by our anticulture and its antivalues.  And you know, to stop it happening there, we really have to tackle it here.” (126)


“As the Western antivalues have impinged ever more upon their lives and begun to undermine their own cultures, so their relative impotence vis-à-vis Westerners has become ever more irksome to them.” (155)


“Our global domination and stratospheric living standards have confirmed us in an unfounded confidence in the rightness of these attitudes.  They have also deluded us into an over-haughty rejection of the wisdom of the ages that was enshrined in societies all around us.” (156)


“It is Western amorality that has brought about both the demographic decline and the conflict with traditional cultures.”  “Morality is built into the fabric of the universe itself; it cannot be expunged, be our technical wizardry never so clever.”  “Nothing less than a massive cultural reversal is necessary.  We need to rejoin the rest of the human race.” (166)


There is quite a bit more in here about worldview, lifestyle, and moral discourse in the public square that could be very enlightening and helpful for Christians.  [dlm]

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