Press "Enter" to skip to content

Can Western civilisation survive without religion?

When the churches were the primary disseminators of anti-Jewish sentiment, Jews presumably would have felt that the disappearance of the Christian religion would be a good thing. It is therefore a remarkable irony that today, many religiously observant Jews are viewing the disintegration of traditional Christian society with something approaching dismay. There are no absolute standards anymore — everything is relative. One sees how badly more conservative writers fail when they try to condemn the degeneracy they see around them without having recourse to the absolute moral guidelines that traditional Bible-based Christianity provided. Their efforts at the end of the day are entirely subjective, easy targets for those who have other opinions and whose same opinions, in the relativistic universe we occupy, are adjudged to just as much validity.

I recently learned of an extraordinary diatribe launched against me by Alamein Templeton, a presenter on Channel Islam International. The following comes from a transcript of his show of 21 March, which reads:

“So David Saks of the Jewish Voice [sic], if you are thinking about this and you are listening to the show, just remember this wilful infertility, as you call it, is your main problem. When you have got genocide in the back of your head, these are the ways you start looking at the world. You start measuring the way the Semites, the Muslim Semites in Palestine, as you think that are breeding like rats while there in your safe comfortable homesteads in Tel Aviv the people who’re comfortably off, who see children as a cost factor, are refusing to have children.”

It’s hard to know quite what to make of Mr Templeton. Frankly, on the evidence of this bizarre taunt, he seems to be completely out of his gourd. Nevertheless, he is on to something with his reference to “wilful infertility”. Not Israel (where there is a large religiously observant Jewish community with high birth rates) but virtually all countries in nominally Christian Europe today are failing to reproduce themselves. The same is true of a number of other major Anglo-Saxon Christian majority countries.

It is particularly in Europe that birth rates have plummeted. The total fertility rate is now less than two children per woman in every member nation in the European Union. The former East Germany’s figures are officially the world’s lowest, and countries like Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary are not far behind. France is just able to maintain numerical stability, but without the 10% of its population that is Muslim, it too would have negative population growth.

The institution of marriage is in crisis, with high divorce rates and escalating numbers of people who do not choose to marry at all. A growing proportion of married couples, moreover, are choosing not to have children. Those that do, have them late and as often as not are content with just one. All in all, it is assuming a form of mass cultural suicide. Native Europeans are focused on getting whatever they can out of the present while giving up on the future.

What helps a bit is immigration from non-Western societies, including, of course, many Muslim ones. This last phenomenon is eliciting increasingly panic-stricken, and occasionally xenophobic commentary in many quarters. A peaceful counter-Crusade seems to be well underway, with burgeoning Muslim numbers suggesting that the Islamisation of Europe over the next half-century has become a real possibility.

The phenomenon of voluntary childlessness has taken place simultaneously with the decline of religious belief. Nor is it at all far-fetched to see the connection between the two. For the non-believers, life is temporary and ultimately pointless. Why make so many sacrifices in raising children when they, too, are part of the same futile cosmic accident, destined to struggle, suffer and die like everyone else to no lasting purpose?

Speaking personally, I am a strictly Orthodox Jew, but without these strong religious convictions, I doubt that I would bother to raise a family.

For those adhering to any of the three Abrahamitic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — the attitude towards procreation is radically different. To bring a new soul into existence is to become a partner with the Almighty in furthering His Creation. It is an opportunity not just to populate the physical world, but far more importantly, to enable one’s children to enter the eternal World to Come through their own efforts. Can there be a greater demonstration of loving kindness than this? And it is being a giver, not a taker that is the key to true happiness.

A symptom, and simultaneously a cause, of the malaise is surely the pervasive scourge of pornography, whose dissemination has been so dramatically facilitated by the Internet revolution. Pornography is the ultimate debasement of the act of procreation. Indeed, the creation of life is the last thing it encourages, rather using that impulse to foster a culture of voyeurism and brutish gratification. Without going into the loathsome details, the defining feature of the kind of degraded acts most commonly depicted nowadays is that they preclude even the possibility of creating life.

The manner in which women are brutally abused, albeit with an appearance of willingness on their part, further underlines either the staggering failure of the feminist revolution or even the poisoned fruits of its unintended consequences. Was it not feminism, after all, that discredited the traditional notion of women as mothers and nurturers, the gentler sex that needed special consideration and protection?

Today, a newer and even more hateful form of voyeurism is becoming prevalent. Dubbed “torture porn”, it generates its thrills by showing helpless people — invariably young, attractive women — being systematically mutilated. There is evidently a market for those who get their thrills in seeing women slowly hacked to pieces or having acid poured on their faces. The main guilt might lie with those who create and disseminate such wickedness, but those who patronise it are also shamefully culpable. Western culture would seem to be having a love affair with death.

True, pornography has always existed. The difference today is that it is part of mainstream culture, thanks in no small part to the efforts of civil libertarians who have elevated freedom of expression to the status of a fundamental right, no matter what harm accrues to the greater society.

Human beings are so much higher than the animal world, but no species falls lower when it chooses to debase itself. Religiously observant Jews, Muslims and Christians, are often scorned for ghettoising themselves, yet given the culture of defilement that exists outside their closed communities, can they really be blamed?

The official acceptance of homosexuality, to a degree not seen since the Roman era, is another sign of the times. Whatever one’s convictions on “gay rights” questions, it does not take a Mensa IQ to realise that procreation is not going to result from such liaisons.

Underlying all this is a curious paradox. Those who criticise the anything-goes culture that is producing such all-pervasive ugliness and so disastrously undermining the foundations of our civilisation also tend to be amongst the most outspoken critics of the perceived Islamisation of that civilisation. In reality, traditional Islam comprises a value system that fiercely and uncompromisingly upholds the kind of ethics and standards that Christian societies once took for granted.

Personally, I believe that Muslim communities within Western, post-Christian societies are more threatened than threatening. There is a stronger possibility that far from taking over those societies through demographic growth, they will instead see future generations progressively co-opted by them. The Internet and all the other spectacular advances in information and communications technology can now bring the festering sewers of a degenerating civilisation into the heart of every home at the touch of a button.

Should it in fact withstand these pressures, Islam ironically may even have the potential to rescue the decaying Western post-Christian civilisation. Those radical imams who rail against the rottenness of their host societies do have a point. The problem is, trying to convince laissez-faire Westerners that they are wrong by blowing them to fragments is hardly likely to endear them to their worldview. Similarly, I suppose, the old National Party’s strict censorship policy when it came to anything remotely pornographic would have enjoyed more credibility if the ruling party hadn’t simultaneously been promulgating racial laws that were palpably immoral.

Author

  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.

50 Comments

  1. Mike Atkins Mike Atkins 10 July 2008

    Well said! As a (thinking) Christian, I can only say “bravo” and “thank you” for having the courage (intellectual and otherwise) to put forward this truth.

    In practice, most of our life is fairly fluid and “relative”. But people have taken Einstein’s scientific principle of relativity, and applied it to life as a whole (missing, of course, the fact that they are really saying that all truth is relative – except the truth that all truth is relative…).

    Many may have represented absolutes very badly throughout history, but “absolute” should not be confused with “arbitrary”.

    If we are not anchored in absolutes, then we are adrift. Relativism is death, because there is no meaning, no purpose, no confidence. In this context, living for “the moment” (hedonism) is all we have left.

    If I may be permitted to quote from the book of Romans, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:21) and “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28).

    I think that this sums up the death of the western world without God (God is dead – and so are we).

  2. PeterH PeterH 10 July 2008

    Oh, get down off it. Leaving aside the fact that sexual deviants will always be with us — if your god hadn’t wanted people to have sex for fun, he shouldn’t have made it so enjoyable.

  3. Kit Kit 10 July 2008

    As an atheist of the ‘who gives a damn’ variety when it comes to religion, I can see the point of the whole moral and cultural relativism but I think in some ways there are fairly clear-cut moral definitions. If you work on the premise of a rights-based culture you end up with a much more profoundly equal and more moral culture, even accepting of all religions, as long as you have a centralised function where breaches are suitably dealt with. In the family that centralised function is provided by parents, in schools by the bodies governing them, in society at large by the justice system, etc.

    We could argue that the demise of the child smacking culture in the UK is actually the reason for its current delinquency but the truth is probably nearer this: that corporal punishment was hurriedly shoved into the closet of history with no alternative in place. In that vacuum created by well meaning lawmakers, clearly there is going to be that state of flux where competing theories vie for pride of place.

    I view religion much like this. Newer and lazier converts to the idea of atheism might very well find themselves in the quandary of having lost their point of reference but having nothing with which to replace it, much like parents who, having fostered an over-reliance on smacking their children, find themselves in turn bemused, frustrated and feeling powerless. The children then take advantage of this vacuum and lack of guidance and devise their own way of looking at the world, stability of morality not included.

    Most of us actually have very clearly defined moral compasses and instil them carefully into our children. My children have no fear of God but have a fear of punishment nevertheless – and also, I hope, have an understanding of a rights/responsibilities-based worldview that enables them to see an infringement on other’s rights in terms of what an infringement of their own would be like. Hopefully this leads to inbuilt respect in the future, who knows. It seems preferable to me than simply fearing Godly retribution at some time in the future (but only if you don’t get to confess your sins and have them absolved before you move on).

    And I believe Italy, still a fairly Catholic country, at least on paper, has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. The UK, one of the most atheist, does not. Probably more a factor of that vacuum of ‘what do we replace religion with?’ actually then rather than cultural desire to replenish the earth then?

    And none of the more disgusting acts that you suggest in your piece can occur and be accepted in a rights/responsibilities based society, only in one where there is a complete vacuum of morality. These things aren’t ‘acceptable’ anywhere in the world broadly, only by a secretive group of people who disgust all of the rest of us. I would be interested in statistics of professed religion of people subscribing to this kind of ‘entertainment’. The people who provide it are entrepreneurs of the worst kind but, as with most things, the real villains of this piece are in fact those who demand it. I can stick my neck out here and be brave enough to assure you they’re not all atheists.

  4. Craig Craig 10 July 2008

    I have to disagree. I dated some avidly Christian girls and they weren’t keen on procreating at all.

  5. Alan Millar Alan Millar 10 July 2008

    Of course it is accepted among the religion to ignore facts. So it is therefore easy for you to speculate about the increased immorality of secular societies over traditional ones. Except of course that they aren’t. Yes they break a lot of moral taboos of traditional societies. But when it comes to the abuse of people – which you invoke in terms of abuse of women, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

    The abuse of women is at its lowest in the most secular societies. Compare, for example, Sweden or France with Nigeria or South Africa. Uncomfortable notion? Better ignore it then.

    Or what of the link between pornography and violence towards women. Not supported by evidence? Better stop looking at evidence then.

    Or what of your absurd link between fertility and secularism. The decline in fertility in Europe began in pre-industrial, heavily religious, 18th century france. But that’s ok. We’ll ignore this inconvenient fact because it doesn’t fit in with our unsupported “Religion good, secular bad” theory.

    Maybe you should speak with some non-religious people some day. But then again. You might find out that they love deeply, enjoy life fully, and desire their children to be born in to a universe that – if guided by no conscious purpose – is none the less full of unutterable wonder. Far more wonder than can be found in the limited knowledge of the scribes of your holy book – working as they were with a limited ability to observe the world they lived in 5,000 years ago.

    Heck, you might even find that they have fewer children because they expect them to survive until adulthood (unlike in the societies of the past) expect to be able to support themselves in old age (unlike in societies of the past), and have them later because they expect to live longer (unlike societies of the past).

    But this simpler explanation for secular peoples’ worlds must be rubbish. All these “facts” I’ve mentioned surely can’t stand up to your feeling that secularism is the cause of all of todays problems – unlike the perfect world we had when religion was the only game in town. So I urge you all to ignore them all.

    But don’t be afraid. Despite the fringe of secularists fearing islamisation of Europe, most of us are quite happy to leave you guys to practice your religion in secular societies – just like your religions were happy to let other faiths and those with no faith express their beliefs in your religious societies. Oh. But wait. You didn’t let them do that at all. You hounded and persecuted them. Whoops. Better ignore that too.

  6. Stevie Wonder Stevie Wonder 10 July 2008

    The crux of the matter – religious and political systems that are dogmatic on theological beliefs also have the same tendency when it comes to their version of public morals and values.
    Life expectancy has never been higher in the ‘decadent’ Western world! Unfortunately your dogmatic approach is typical – of your ilk. Your so superior to all the rest who are not religious in your sense of the world. Thank goodness organised religion of mind controlling type is in rampant decline. When Christian churches were at the height of their powers, women were chattels, poverty was not a social issue – your reward was in heaven! Not forgetting, if you dare step out of line there was the option of hell.

  7. Hard Rain Hard Rain 10 July 2008

    You know you’ve fallen into the deep end of the twilight zone when an Orthodox Jew is shilling for Islamic Fundamentalists as a means of restoring religious-based “morality” into free societies. I’d call him a dhimmi but really, why bother?

    Islam’s PR campaign is clearly succeeding when they can get an empirical enemy and worthless infidel of the Ummah to placate the free world…

  8. Charles Charles 10 July 2008

    With a population pushing seven billion, severe food shortages around the world, an environment choking to death on our fumes, do we really need more Europeans and Americans using up the world at such a phenomenal rate?

    Not to mention the severe problems which arise from absolute value systems – of which the extermination of European Jews was only one.

  9. Luddite Luddite 10 July 2008

    Interesting, but if you want a far more comprehensive reading on Population growth rates I’d suggest: http://www.reason.com/news/show/126855.html

    Also, one should not be so quick as to dismiss the “god-less European states”. Religious tolerance is far higher, across the religious spectrum, in European ‘atheist’ states than anywhere else. If you want to argue For Religion, then argue for separation of church and state. I think, on the whole, you’ll be much happier

  10. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 July 2008

    Lower population growth has nothing to do with religion – but with education of women. WHERE EVER woman have been educated they have smaller family sizes.

    Don’t be so sure homosexuals don’t procreate – the equipment is there and they also love children. I heard about a Lesbian who wanted a child and had sex with 4 of her homosexual friends, to give one of them the chance also to be a father.

    When the midwife came into the waiting room and asked who was the father – 4 men said “I am”!

    As for pornography and torture. I know these are real problems. But let us not exaggerate. I have a friend who is the kindest and most ethical person you could know who loves horror stories ! I find them gruesome!

  11. Odette Odette 10 July 2008

    I was disappointed with the reasoning of this post. So much was conveniently ignored.

    Declining fertility rates – where is mention of industrial pollution, stress, unhealthy lifestyles and hormones and steroids in our food, just to mention a few points!

    The decision to have children (or not) is influenced by a multitude of factors, not least of which these days is if you can afford it. I know that’s the major reason I delayed reproduction – I simply could not afford to give a child the kind of life I thought he/she deserved. You don’t even make mention of the high cost of living. And that is one, just one factor.

    Not everyone wants children either. There is nothing wrong with that. Why should anyone feel obliged to have children?

    And as for the tired picking on homosexuals…as they say where I come from…ai jinne. I’m sure homosexuals everywhere are wondering how they manage to have so much power to influence marriage, divorce, child-bearing/rearing and a myriad other things but somehow they’re still not able to stop the ignorance, prejudice, hate speech and abuse that is regularly directed at the homosexual community. Let’s stop the tired gay-bashing. It’s so old hat.

  12. Gavin Gavin 10 July 2008

    Referring to your article partly quoted below, it is exactly this narrow “either/or” thinking that has caused millions of people to turn away from religion in their droves. You don’t need to believe and worship some patriachal guy with a beard on a cloud or his son nailed on a cross to beleive that life continues after death and is full of meaning!
    “The phenomenon of voluntary childlessness has taken place simultaneously with the decline of religious belief. Nor is it at all far-fetched to see the connection between the two. For the non-believers, life is temporary and ultimately pointless.”

  13. Mxolisi Mxolisi 10 July 2008

    I find your reasoning remarkably myopic yet rather refreshing…perhaps religion in all forms should redefine itself as the new vile alternative to conventional wisdom and circular beliefs,this for society to consider it worthwhile. That seems to be the premise that liberties are idealised according to one of your quips. Yet that would be wrong. religion itself places the will of man above all else. Perhaps the question should be…”Would religion survive without western society?”. Western society does more service to religion as oppose to dis-service by serving as a template from which religious dogma benefits through evaluating itself against western europes practices. Ironic,you bet.

  14. david saks david saks 10 July 2008

    Oh boy! Well, I knew I was sticking my neck out on this one. Still, the vitriolic tone of some of the responses has taken me aback somewhat. Interesting how visceral is the hatred some people feel for organised religion.

    I will sidestep the tired old arguments about how much suffering, persecution etc has resulted from religion over the centuries, which in any case is not relevant in this context.

    So far as the link between religious belief and higher birth rates goes, well, that seems to me to be a well established fact. Take, for example, the UK Jewish community. Only between 6-10% calssify themselves as “strictly Orthodox”, yet between a quarter and a third of Jewish children in the UK fall into that category. The same phenomenon is apparent in Israel, the US and South Africa, and I have little doubt elsewhere as well. So far as the Muslim minorities in Europe go, it is likewise well known that their birthrates are significantly higher, and the relatively lesser degree to which such communities have been affected by secularisation has surely something to do with that. I do not have figures at hand for Evangelical Christian groups, but it would not surprise me if they too had significantly more children than the average.

    This being said, I might indeed be wrong about the underlying psychological causes of the Western world’s self-imposed sterility. But if lack of religious belief is not the reason why post-Christian Westerners are having fewer children, despite never having been wealthier and healthier, then what is explanation?

  15. Jan Swart Jan Swart 10 July 2008

    I agree with Kit and A Miller’s responses. I hate it when people assume that life for an atheist is ‘ultimately pointless’. Can we speak for ourselves, please? And to suggest that the world is a wicked place because people don’t believe in the Bible, one of the most objectionable books I have ever read, is laughable. The Bible is full of examples of cruelty to men, women, children and animals. Perhaps people are vengeful, petty and cruel because those is the characteristics of the Creator you would have them believe they owe every waking breath to.

  16. Cool Down Cool Down 10 July 2008

    As always I find the reasoning of people with
    a limited lifespan of about 75 years,38 if you
    live in Zim,fascinating that they can with such
    absolutely certainty declare there is no God,
    provide some proof so that I may believe.

    For a species who has to invest millions in
    vehicle to escape earth gravity to just spend
    some time away from gravity so that they
    can place platforms and space telescopes in
    orbit,human kind must rank as the most presumptuous.

    Brainpower so wasted would serve a far more noble purpose if a cure for HIV/Aids could be found.

  17. Odette Odette 11 July 2008

    @ David

    Disagreeing with your point of view does not equate to “visceral hatred of organised religion”.

    I certainly do not hate organised religion but neither do I unthinkingly accept everything that organised religion dishes out.

    You make assumptions about people who have decided not to follow organised religion and I (and others) happen to disagree with those assumptions. What irks me is when the religious types (excuse me if that sounds disrespectful) make smug assumptions about those who choose not to share their beliefs.

    Many people who call themselves athiest or agnostic lead meaningful, purposeful lives that are rich in love, compassion and kindness. So do many who do not follow the three major religions. Your way is only one way, not THE way (whatever your beliefs are).

  18. Alan Millar Alan Millar 11 July 2008

    I note that my comment was moderated out. In this comment I criticised Mr. Sak’s argument on factual grounds.

    While my tone was sarcastic, and was based around the accusation that the religious are anti-fact and anti-evidence, I believe that this tone was justified given that he has viciously accused secularists of being woman hating nihilists (of course no one cares about the sensibilities of the non-religious. But we must respect the sensibilities of the religious. Not very even-handed).

    So let me restate my arguments in a more objective tone:

    1. Mr. Sacks argues that the abuse of women has been increased by secularism. In that case one would expect secular societies to be more abusive of women. I urged him to consider a comparison between South Africa and Nigeria on the one hand – with extremely high rates of church attendance – and Sweden and France on the other – with extremely low rates. Is he arguing that abuse of women is more rife in Sweden and France? Clearly that must be the conclusion we must draw. And yet the opposite is the case in fact.

    2. He implies that the declining fertility rate in Europe is the result of a decline in religiosity. In fact the decline began in heavily religious, pre-industrial 18th century France. His argument is not borne out in fact.

    He goes on to make the insulting claim that secularists don’t value child raising because of a lack of belief in a cosmic purpose.

    We are bound by the same instinctive pleasure in child raising as the religious. Furthermore, while life may be “ultimately pointless” that’s a meaningless technical distraction. Day-to-day living remains filled with purpose. And our evidenced based belief in a stupendously complex universe fills us with a wonder that we can’t wait to pass on to our children that they might experience it too.

    This claim is a variant of the theist myth that atheists are amoral or uncaring because of not believing in a divine law-giver. This is not at all true. There are good and bad atheists like there are good and bad theists. It can even be argued that only an atheist can be truly moral because he or she decides to be moral for their own reasons, not out of fear of punishment by a cosmic judge.

    And this brings me to the crunch. Mr. Saks is arguing for the morality of traditional Islamic values. Where this code of morality is made law, we see grotesque abuses of human rights that far outstrip those seen in secular Europe. Consider the abuse of women in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Women sent to jail for being raped. Having burning paraffin poured over them for being raped. Does Mr. Saks support these “values?” And if this is too old and boring, what about the miserable working conditions and rights abuses against foreign workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Phillipines, etc., on the Arabian Peninsula. Were they protected by Islamic values?

    Mr. Saks is, in effect, not arguing for traditional codes as a means to reduce human rights abuses (human rights being, after all, a secular concept) but is arguing for traditional religious values for their own sake.

    It is only through this thinking that he is able to tacitly support the Apartheid government on moral grounds (while he tries to pay lip service to belief in human rights which that government so viciously abused). The apartheid government, he is saying, may have been brutal, but they were good on the really important things: upholding traditional religious taboos.

  19. Luddite Luddite 11 July 2008

    I’m shocked to find myself in general agreement with Lyndall and Stevie Wonder – this truly is a Twilight Zone topic.

    @ David
    “So far as the link between religious belief and higher birth rates goes, well, that seems to me to be a well established fact. ” I seriously doubt that, and no evidence has been provided for it. How many children are born in Europe’s last remaining Theocracy, the Vatican City? The only religions in the West where there are high birth rates are those crack-pot fundamentalists groups such as in West Texas, where they usually live on euphamistically named “Compounds”.

    As for the influx of Muslims who breed like rabbits in Europe – I’m sure you will find that at higher income levels birth rates drop off and reach a level similar to that of the secular pornographers.

  20. Odette Odette 11 July 2008

    @ Alan Millar

    Bravo! Well said.

  21. david saks david saks 11 July 2008

    Allan Millar

    Just to pick up on several claims you make, which I believe misrepresent my views:

    “Mr. Sacks argues that the abuse of women has been increased by secularism”.

    Now where do I make so sweeping a claim? Look again at the article, and you’ll see that I was talking solely about the evil (and yes, it is ‘evil’) of pornography. Does pornography lead to increased violence against women? I don’t know if reliable stats exist to say either way, but that was not my point. Rather, the very existence of pornography – degrading, humiliating, sadistic and dehumanizing – is itself constitutes an abuse of women in particular and humanity in general.

    “He implies that the declining fertility rate in Europe is the result of a decline in religiosity. In fact the decline began in heavily religious, pre-industrial 18th century France”

    An odd assertion, this, since at the beginning of the 19th century the world’s population stood at only one billion and has increased nearly eight-fold since then! Actually, in 1800 Europe was on the verge of a remarkable population explosion (France might be something of an exception. Concerns about low birthrates were prevalent by the end of the 19th Century, particularly after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870 when its German rival was experiencing very high growth. Still, even the French population grew significantly in the 19th Century).

    The fact remains that virtually all of Europe now has negative population growth, despite economic circumstances never having been better. Maybe declining religiousity is not the reason. But what is?

    “… a variant of the theist myth that atheists are amoral or uncaring because of not believing in a divine law-giver”.

    My article makes no such sweeping and cavalier claims about individuals. Obviously, it is possible to adhere to a firm moral code even without adherence to a specific religious-based code. But then, at the end of the day, it is a matter of personal choice, and cannot be defended as an absolute truth.

    “Mr. Saks is arguing for the morality of traditional Islamic values”.

    Well, insofar as they concur with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Such as charity, chastity, honesty, humility, compassion – sounds pretty good to me. Of course, the behavior of many Muslim countries makes a mockery of those values, but that does not diminish them.

    As noted above, being secular does not mean being incapable of the above qualities. However – again – it becomes no more than a matter of personal choice. Personally, I fear for the future when the theoretical basis of our civilization is so relative.

  22. Siobhan Siobhan 11 July 2008

    Far more important than religion is the cosmology that underlies it. A vision of the origin and purpose of life seems to me to be the essential element in living a civilized life. And that is what you talking about, Mr. Saks, is it not ? Civilizaton.
    Limiting your perspective to the rise of monotheisms omits the greater part of human history, the millenia before monotheism supplanted the earliest cosmologies, the earth and sky based spiritual practices that reflected the first glimmerings of human consciousness. So-called ‘primitive’ religions– especially those that did not practice human or animal sacrifice as many later versions did–esteemed the creation of life as the most sacred mystery of human experience. A reverence for life itself preceeded all ‘organized’ religions and all forms of ‘orthodox’ morality.

    Much has been lost over the course of ‘cultural evolution’ from the earliest beginnings of human life on this planet despite all our ‘knowledge’ of the workings of the universe. That vast body of scientific ‘fact’ and even vaster body of scientific theory has not solved the ultimate mystery of our existence. We may one day achieve that understanding and take our first true steps toward Real Knowedge but at the root of all our present ‘facts’ and theories lies the same riddle that puzzled our pre-religious forbears: Why does anything exist?
    Religion purports to fill the gap between the how and why of existence but the truth is we just don’t know for certain. Humans flounder in a technology-drenched society and flail about that like fish in too shallow a pond. We are are a sad species in many ways but having the choice of whether to reproduce ourselves is probably the most significant aspect of our species.

    That so many are choosing not to do so–for reasons that are no one else’s business–may well be an historical phenomenon. Historically, population surges occurred after huge losses (plagues. famines, wars). Humans will choose to reproduce to re-populate an underpopulated world but in our grossly over-populated world it may just be a higher form of morality to refrain from doing so.

    That ‘orthodox’ religions require women to bear unlimited numbers of children is something that those religions have in common with the illiterate and powerless everywhere in the world. People without choice are powerless and orthodoxy removes the power of choice.

    I’ll take my chances on the literate and choice-centered secular cultures.

  23. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 11 July 2008

    Cool Down

    The LAST thing we need is a cure for HIV/AIDS – it is the only hope to save the planet from overpopulation!

    Alan

    The abuse of women, and children, happens in fundamentalist PATRIARCHIAL un-educated societies. It has nothing to do with any particular religion.

    Educated members of the same religions still share the belief, but not the prejudice.

    As for agnostics – Scott M Peck writes that they are on a higher level of spitituality than fundamentalists because they question and think, and do not blindly believe.

  24. Hard Rain Hard Rain 11 July 2008

    It’s so sweet to see the atypical religious gender bias creeping through. Why, in the author’s mind, are only women “victims” of pornography? Why not men? I guess it must be because their not equal to men, right? Who knows… In any case, I’m having a hard time accepting how exactly they’re victims if they’re performing in a free, consensual manner.

    The author asserts that pornography is “degrading, humiliating, sadistic and dehumanizing”- whether he is referring to the audience or the performers I do not know. I’ll assume he means to the performers in which case how can he make such assertions beyond his narrow religiously-minded framing? I can think of plethoras of activities that involve degradation and humiliation on a consensual basis- say, a circus clown or sitcom comedian? Heck, even religious followers will degrade and humiliate themselves out of piety if need be- what would you call fasting or covering yourself with ash? Degradation is fine, as long as you’re doing it for an invisible being but not for fun/profit!

    I also do not see how pornography is sadistic unless it specifically involves elements of sadomasochism (whatever the gender roles in the performance may be) but when this is done in a consensual way why is it evil?

    Finally, I don’t see how people having consensual sex is “dehumanizing”. On the contrary, I’d say it is actually pretty humanizing compared to the draconian restraints placed on people by religious orthodoxy. If you take an incredibly sexually repressed society such as Saudi Arabia you find extreme and reoccurring examples of rampant sexual abuse- specifically against foreign women as their gender role is so diminutive.

    As far as the author’s claims of “extreme torture porn” or even “snuff porn” are concerned I’d undertake that the vast majority of these are either pure fiction or elaborate and well-produced hoaxes. Snuff films, specifically, are more of an urban myth than anything else: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/madmen/snuff.asp

    And as a final matter of clarification I certainly would not regard any legitimate “extreme torture” or “snuff” as pornography. If there is non-consensual torture, violent coercion or actual physical abuse then it is crime not kink and should be pursued by the proper authorities accordingly.

  25. Sidakwa Sidakwa 11 July 2008

    Is porn not bad for men too.

  26. Kit Kit 11 July 2008

    “But then, at the end of the day, it is a matter of personal choice, and cannot be defended as an absolute truth.”

    Are you implying that religion contains ‘absolute truths’ or am I misreading your statements…again? Religion is a matter of personal choice and cannot be defended as absolute truth. Freedom to practise your religion, however, would be a totally different thing and that freedom is one I would absolutely defend regardless of my own areligious views. It’s a basic human right – the right to belief and freedom of personal choice.

    However, the only way to defend a particular religion as ‘absolute truth’ really would be to annihilate and/or convert all the unbelievers in your own particular brand. I’d imagine we’re all heading for annihilation then; I wasn’t aware that most brands of orthodoxy were keen on the conversion route.

  27. Cool Down Cool Down 11 July 2008

    Lyndall Beddy
    Don’t tell me you’re are happy to see millions
    of people suffer from this dreaded decease.
    As far as human specie is concerned they are
    a sorry breed,still arguing about how it all began
    but presumptuous enough to declare ‘there is no God’
    as if any has explored the hundreds of what we
    refer to as universe or examined every nook and
    cranny and returned to say ‘We looked everywhere
    and found no God,so he does not exist’.
    In my opinion and granted it is only my opinion
    they do not possess the necessary intellectual capabilities to grasp the extent of such statement.

  28. Marc Marc 11 July 2008

    Widespread loss of faith in traditional religions/ideologies, population decline, and an inability or unwillingness to repel foreign invaders were tagged as symptoms of civilizational decline decades ago by Spengler (Decline of the West) and Quigley (The Evolution of Civilizations). Both were right. Disillusion with Christianity and the demographic collapse of the West are both symptoms of the decline of the West, but the former is not necessarily causing the latter.

    I’m sorry to see the West as we know it vanish, but I don’t think a return to Christianity can save it because I doubt that such a return would be genuine. I was raised Catholic but I simply don’t believe that 2,000 years ago a Palestinian was born who was Divine or part-Divine and who rose from the dead, and all my love of Western values and history can’t make me believe it. Millions of others in the West feel that way.

    New religions and new ways of understanding God will have to rise to give purpose to the European peoples if we are to avoid being swept into the dustbin of history along with the remnants of our most recent civilization.

  29. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 12 July 2008

    Cool Down

    I want to see millions of people NOT getting infected because they stick to one partner and use condoms, and plan their families.

    It would do a lot to decrease woman abuse, child abuse, and poverty as well.

    I wrote a post on my blog called “Did God send Aids?”

  30. Cool Down Cool Down 12 July 2008

    Marc
    Why is it that mankind in hard times seeks answers
    religion but in times of prosperity turns
    its back on it.
    In the Old testament and in particular the
    10 Commandments the Israelites were warned not
    to worship foreign gods as disaster would follow,
    but yet elected to do so leading to the total
    destruction of a one mighty and prosperous
    kingdom.
    Is the moral decline of Europe and in particular those countries who once were the home of the
    great Reformers not due to the same.

  31. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 13 July 2008

    Marc

    Are you talking about a decline of Christianity or a decline of Roman Catholicism, because the latter won’t happen while the church attracts men in dresses who like boys and not women, and who won’t allow birth control for not reason found in any biblical text.

    Cool Down

    According to the Bible God sends hard times WHEN people don’t listen.

    I don’t agree about the decline in the West. Compared to ANY time in history people have not ever been better off – nor has there ever been as much charity, and philanthropy.

  32. Cool Down Cool Down 13 July 2008

    Lyndall Beddy
    I am talking about a morale decline,a society
    in which anything goes as long as you are
    not caught with your pants down.

  33. Oldfox Oldfox 13 July 2008

    Hard Rain

    Real snuff movies DO exist. In real snuff movies, the adult male actors typically wear masks or hoods, and they never speak, so they can neither be identified by their faces nor their voices.
    Ernst Dieter Korzen and Stefan Michael Mahn were sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for the rape, torture and murder of a woman which they filmed.

  34. Oldfox Oldfox 13 July 2008

    Lyndall,

    The LAST thing we need is a cure for HIV/AIDS – a very callous statement indeed.

    Doctors, nurses and dentists have died from accidents
    (e.g. so called “needle stick” accidents) when they were treating HIV infected patients.
    Faithful married persons have been infected by their unfaithful spouses. And I can go on and on.

    HIV/AIDS is already impacting on SA’s economy, as the biggest group at risk is the economically active segment of society. Many thousands of girls in SA have had to leave school to look after ill family members. So in addition to the many other problems, HIV/AIDS disempowers girls&women , which I can hardly imaging that you are in favour of!

    If you believe in the Bible, you should know that we are not far from some of the things foretold in the Book of Revelations (e.g. global currency).
    One third of the population will be wiped out, and the implication is that there will be a sudden reduction in population, not a gradual reduction which HIV/AIDS causes. In any event, HIV/AIDS is not preventing rapid population growth in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, as their infection rates are low (relative to Southern African countries like SA, Swaziland, Botswana for example, all of which have very high infection rates).

  35. Jewish Girl Jewish Girl 13 July 2008

    Dear David

    I am born to conservative Jews, went to Chaida, married tradionally, the whole deal. By the time I got divorced and re-married, I was less traditional…

    Certainly living as a woman under tradional jewdisim – IN MY EXPERIENCE – was limiting at best and humiliating at worse. I have decided to seek my own truth and my way to G-d.

    I am educated. I live a “secular” life, yet I have three kids.
    I shall have no more because they are expensive, my body is tired and they need personal attention (and there are only so many hours in the day). In my view, it would be irresponsible to have more.

    And I am the only one coming out of the closet here…..I even watch porns with my husband from time to time. For me it is entertainment and a business like any other. I encourage you to look at your projections when you judge it so harshly. I am aware that in the most religious communities -where one is not free to express his/her sexuality – people are most “perverse” (if there is such a thing, objectively speaking).
    For me, like Hard Rain, anything legal between consenting adults is fine and if I were so riled up by it, I would be reflecting on what repressed issues I may have. I don’t mean this unkindly but any psychiatrist would tell you the same.

  36. Bryn Bryn 14 July 2008

    It’s a good thing people in the rural United States are having 22 children or we’d be at risk of running out of right-wing Christians!

    I am an agnostic woman who has decided not to have my own children. I have based this decision on several factors including, but not limited to, finances, freedom of movement and concern for the bigger picture. What bigger picture? There are already too many people on the planet. If you’d like to train up the next generation of religious adherents, do the world a favour and go and adopt all those millions of orphans around the world who need parents. There’s no need to breed more just yet. If I decide to open my life to children, I will adopt.

    To imply that because I am not barefoot, pregnant and religious in the kitchen I am somehow not fulfilling my God-given function of breeding more God-botherers, is insulting. Also to imply that because I do not believe in your or anyone else’s idea of what or who God is, that I have a bleak and futile outlook on the future is wrong. You don’t have to believe in God or your notion of God to believe in an afterlife. I am agnostic and I happen to believe that this existence is not the only existence. My outlook is neither bleak nor hopeless.

  37. Elisa G Elisa G 14 July 2008

    David Saks’s claim that without religion there would be no morals is simply false. On the contrary, it seems that all manner of horrors – from genocide to slavery to the oppression of women – are not only committed in the name of religion but are sanctioned by the very Bible that he claims holds the moral high ground. Has he not heard of the Crusades? Jihad? Of course, he’ll claim that these are misinterpretations of the Bible, but then the question is – “whose Biblical interpretations do we accept?” And we come back to moral relativism, don’t we?

    Philosophers since before Plato have been discussing the ways of the good life, and provide a much better analysis of morals than does the Bible. Religion is the source of so much immorality because it trades in unargued superstition. The world would be a much better place without the codes that condone irrational conduct.

    And as for David Saks’s claim that we should “go forth and procreate”- one wonders whether he’s hear of global warming and overpopulation. Don’t even the commentaries say that “it’s better never to have been born”! And how absurd to claim that it is Western civilization responsible for the oppression of women – condemning women to the role of child-bearing in a patriarchal system is one of the main ways that women have been oppressed through the centuries in religious systems. Judaism does not even allow a woman to divorce her husband without his consent, while a husband may divorce his wife even without her consent! Yeah – religion rocks!

  38. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 14 July 2008

    Oldfox

    That is not as a result af AIDS – it is as a result of LACK OF TREATMENT by a denialist prissy president and our very own doctor death!

    Jewish Girl

    The only porn movie I watched was Andy Warhol’s “Blue Movie” with some friends. I found it terribly boring – but watching the faces of the audience (mainly male) was fascinating.

    Bryan

    I always believed it was not just to have more children than to replace yourself – but I really wanted more. All my life I wanted to foster children – but there was never enough money. They would have had to be treated exactly the same as my own.

  39. RF RF 14 July 2008

    Jewish girl, there is a difference between the commercial sex industry of which porn is a part, and normal healthy sexual interaction between two adults.

    Women and girls used in the industry are overwhelmingly victims of childhood sexual abuse and drawn from the most deprived socio-economic parts of the population, as with all the other aspects of the sex trade. The making of it is lengthy , grueling and very hard on the body – see the bio of Jenna Jameson in this regard. Most of the ‘performers’ have substance abuse problems. Some are even coerced into it by pimps or traffickers.

    Further, as Prof Jensen states in ‘Pornography is a Left Issue’:”…the bulk of mass-marketed pornography is incredibly sexist. From the ugly language used to describe women, to the positions of subordination, to the actual sexual practices themselves — pornography is relentlessly misogynistic. As the industry “matures” the most popular genre of films, called “gonzo,” continues to push the limits of degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Directors acknowledge they aren’t sure where to take it from the current level.

    This misogyny is not an idiosyncratic feature of a few fringe films. Based on three studies of the content of mainstream video/DVD pornography over the past decade, we conclude that woman-hating is central to contemporary pornography. Take away every video in which a woman is called a b***h, a c**t, a slut, or a whore, and the shelves would be nearly bare. Take away every DVD in which a woman becomes the target of a man’s contempt, and there wouldn’t be much left. Mass-marketed pornography doesn’t celebrate women and their sexuality, but instead expresses contempt for women and celebrates the charge of expressing that contempt sexually.”

    Obviously you are indifferent to these issues as you indicate that you support and view the porn industry as just another business. You are entitled to your opinion.

    Nevertheless, suggesting that anyone who holds a different view has ‘issues’ is a little over the top. I think David Saks is entirely correct about the industry. Progressive countries such as Norway ban hardcore porn altogether.

    Next time you get your kicks watching ‘porns’ with your husband, maybe you might consider that it sometimes comes at the expense of someone else’s pain.

  40. Robin Grant Robin Grant 14 July 2008

    I would argue that charity, chastity, honesty, humility, compassion are good secular values too.

    It is a myth that religion is responsible for our ethical behaviour. Religion generally attempts to place a moral spin on natural ethical traits and thereby claim ownership of them. The perpetuation of this lie is one of the main evils perpetuated by most religions, including those in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

  41. Jean Jean 14 July 2008

    ‘The official acceptance of homosexuality, to a degree not seen since the Roman era, is another sign of the times. Whatever one’s convictions on “gay rights” questions, it does not take a Mensa IQ to realise that procreation is not going to result from such liaisons. ‘

    Mr Saks,

    while not homosexual myself I do loathe bad reasoning. The logical conclusion to your above comment is that homosexual intercourse is wrong because it cannot create life. If intercourse is simply to create life, then we must accept that heterosexual intercourse between couples who are infertile is also wrong because it does not create life; that heterosexual intercourse between partners after menopause is thus also wrong because it does not create life.

    Have you ever considered that its this kind of simplistic and flawed reasoning which emerges from a stubborn refusal to accept that the scriptures are sometimes just wrong, that results in religion becoming the taboo it is today in modern, well-educated, wealthy societies.

    What is it with religion’s aversion to sex? Is it because it awakens those primal instincts within us, reminding us that we are actually not that different from non-human animals. Save perhaps for our evolved ability to reason; or, at the very least, or attempts to reason.

  42. Jewish Girl Jewish Girl 15 July 2008

    @RF

    I do not doubt the cruelty of the porn industry. I do not contend that your analysis is wrong.

    And I hate to sound callous, but if you are living in the western world, where big business rules, the abuse and misuse of persons in ALL industries is rife. Whether it is the coffee you are drinking, the carpets you are walking on, the strawberries you are eating – sadly there is abuse. However you drank that coffee today without shame, didn’t you? You and millions of others.

    But my point is, the way I deal with my sexuality will determine how tolerant I am of others.

    I also never said that anyone holding a different view has issues. It is the passion with which one displays one’s different view, as David has done, and the emotive words he used like “scourage”, “debasement” and “brutish” “gratification” which reveal an emotionality often known as projection. Your analysis had a completely different tone.

    And if I am the only one watching porns and noone is going to prostitutes either, then let’s just say I am the only honest one left.

  43. BLACKLISTED DICTATOR BLACKLISTED DICTATOR 27 July 2008

    David,

    Sex, and its various manifestations, is a “problem” in all societies. Including strict Islamic societies where pornography and homosexuality is unlawful.
    I am, moreover, wary of people who preach morality. Usually they are the most depraved.

    Female equality in Western societies, rather than a decline in religion, is the real reason for the declining birth rate. Japan is similarly affected with one of the lowest birth-rates in the world.

  44. BLACKLISTED DICTATOR BLACKLISTED DICTATOR 27 July 2008

    ALMOST a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll. The study also found that two in five Muslims at university support the incorporation of Islamic sharia codes into British law.

    The YouGov poll for the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) will raise concerns about the extent of campus radicalism. “Significant numbers appear to hold beliefs which contravene democratic values,” said Han-nah Stuart, one of the report’s authors. “These results are deeply embarrassing for those who have said there is no extremism in British universities.”

    The report was criticised by the country’s largest Muslim student body, Fosis, but Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at Buckingham University, said: “The finding that a large number of students think it is okay to kill in the name of religion is alarming. …

    In addition to its poll of 1,400 Muslim and nonMuslim students, the centre visited more than 20 universities to interview students and listen to guest speakers. It found that extremist preachers regularly gave speeches that were inflammatory, homophobic or bordering on antisemitic.

    The researchers highlighted Queen Mary college, part of London University, as a campus where radical views were widely held. Last December, a speaker named Abu Mujahid encouraged Muslim students to condemn gays because “Allah hates” homosexuality. In November, Azzam Tamimi, a British-based supporter of Hamas, described Israel as the most “inhumane project in the modern history of humanity.

  45. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 27 July 2008

    Blacklisted Dictator

    Spot on – like this Serbian mass murderer who was teaching spiritual healing! Imagine what his poor patients feel like now!

  46. babaz babaz 1 August 2008

    David

    When the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus, one of His disciples (Peter) drew a sword and tried to defend Jesus. He(Jesus) restored the ear of His attacker and advised Peter that if He(Jesus) wanted He(Jesus) could call on God to send millions of His (God) angel to defend Him(jesus), but He(Jesus) didn’t.

    In court before Pilate they asked Jesus if He was a king and He answered that His kingdom was not of this world.

    My point is that Jesus the Messiah has called us to look to a kingdom that will come when He comes back again as the King and seats on the right hand of His Father and our Father (God).

    So the mandate of the church has always been to point people to Jesus Christ who can forgive their sins and restore their relationships with God and not to regulate, monitor or even influence the moral fibre of nations.

    Such task would then belittle the heavinly mandate for a political mandate, which is the case in most countries in the world that fight in the name of religion today.

    I do not know about other religions, but I know the mandate of the church is heavenly it will be a disaster to diminish it to simply politics

  47. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 2 August 2008

    Babaz

    You are correct – but he also DID pay his tax when asked and said “render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.

  48. graham graham 15 August 2008

    Can I suggest Sam Harris’ ‘End of Faith.’ He argues not that western civilisation is dependant on religion (a desperate claim to make), but rather that religion is actually the biggest threat not just to western civilisation, but civilisation worldwide.

    In a nutshell, his point is that in a world where the majority of people believe that the end of civilization will herald the return of Jesus (ostensibly a good thing) what incentive is there for them respond to the threats posed by global warming or the use of nuclear weapons.

  49. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 25 August 2008

    Herewith a quote from the nobel laureate Steven Weinberg:

    “Irrespective of religion, good people do good deeds and bad people do evil deeds; but for good people to do evil deeds, that takes religion.”

Leave a Reply