What's Wrong with "Western Values"

As the Global War on Terror sputters along and the best laid plans of geostrategists seem to gang aft agly, there are various discussions going on all over the media and the blogosphere about the West's lackadaisical and baffled response to Radical Islam.

Not that 9/11 did not galvanize the country.  It most certainly did.  Nobody sentient on that day will ever forget the fury, the sense of purpose, the feeling of closing ranks that steeled us as we witnessed the outrages committed on our nation.  Even here, in the Soviet of Washington where I live, one had the overwhelming sense that "the ents were resolved".  The air was heavy with the will to avenge this crime and stamp out the monsters who had done it.  It was a feeling we will never forget.

But then, falling in love is also a feeling we will never forget--even those 50% of Americans who divorce the person for whom they once had such strong feelings.  And so now we ents find ourselves five years down the road to Isengard, with Iraq sliding into civil war, Afghanistan again menaced by the Taliban, an Administration that assures us Osama bin Laden is no longer especially "relevant" to the War on Terror (despite his promises of More to Come), Europe and American elites more likely to regard Bush than bin Laden as Hitler Redux, mobs of Muslim thugs burning down Europe, and reporters for FOX News converting to Islam at the point of a gun.  There seems to be something more to winning a War on Terror than having felt something once upon a time.

What that "something more" might be comes to us in hints from every facet of our culture.  For ever since 9/11, the West has been trying to confront the inflamed disease of Radical Islam with something vaguely called "Western Values".  Yet just how these values are world-winning is no small mystery. 

Consider: Our proclamation of our glorious war-winning "values" stumble over the very term 9/11.  For it is no small mark of our cultural hollowness that the West was unable to even assign a name to the Day the Postmodern World Changed Forever.  Up till the barren postmodern present, the children of Adam at least retained his ability to give a name to things, including great calamities or dates worthy of note.  Nobody during World War II spoke of "12/7" or "9/1".  11/11/18 was "Armistice Day".  The Stock Market crashed on "Black Thursday", not "10/24".  Even November 22, 1963 is remembered by those who lived it as The Day Kennedy was Shot, not "10/22".  But 9/11 is just 9/11: the first postmodern solemn memorial for a culture that has succeeded so well in extirpating the notion of the sacred and the common that we were never able to decide on anything to call it besides the bare data of its location on the calendrical grid.

Other symptoms of our troubles abound.  Over here, we see the New York Times refusing to show the Danish cartoons out of exquisite sensitivity to Muslim feelings, even as they re-run images of "Piss Christ" and lecture Christians on their philistinism for taking offense.

Over there is Madonna's latest "Ecce Ho!" moment: mounted on a great big glittering crucifix for the titillation of the Chattering Classes.

Here is a guest on a conservative Talk Radio program, saying that the reason we are losing in Iraq is because we, the nation that invented television and marketing, have done a bad job of "selling" democracy in the Islamosphere.  We need to concentrate more on sales, says he.  Yeah.  Sales. That will fix it. 

Then again, there's Ron Suskind recording that, after subjecting high-ranking Al Quaeda member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to everything from porn to waterboarding (which, our President assures us, is not torture), the CIA, that bastion of "Western Values", told Mohammed that his children, ages 7 and 9, and in American custody, would be harmed.  Mohammed replied that if we killed his children they would be with God--and refused to talk.

Meanwhile, from the US to Israel to Europe, we also have the phenomenon of an imploding birthrate among Westerners even as Muslim births skyrocket.  As pundit Rod Dreher puts it, "When a culture has to be persuaded to have children, it's over."  If babies are God's way of saying he thinks the world should continue, then contraception is man's way of saying it should end.

Both here and across the Pond, legislators, pundits, teachers and thinkers labor to find ways to relieve the comfortable of the burden of the most helpless via euthanasia.  Every day in the US, a 9/11's worth of babies are put to death in abortuaries, but there are no days of mourning for this because privatized violence is not a crime against the United States, but a glorious right won only after bitter struggle to keep Christians from imposing their rosaries on people's ovaries.

Even in realms as innocuous and dumb as Saturday morning cartoons, we find NBC trying for whatever dollars it might harvest from suburban religiosity by airing Veggie Tales, yet eviscerating the show of any mention of God or the Bible.  In the deathless secular faith in democratic capitalism's power to heal and redeem that has served us so well in Iraq, NBC carries on the constitutional struggle for the separation of Church and Everything.

And right in the middle of all this, columnist David Warren declares his profound  disappointment with the FOX news guys for caving in to their kidnappers and converting to Islam, just to escape death.  Can you imagine?  Embracing the core beliefs of our mortal enemies in a time of war, just to save their own skins?  How could they?

My answer:  Very easily!  And if they were not Christians or Jews, why not given the "Western values" that undergird our culture's confrontation with Radical Islam?  Because in our zeal to become a purely secular and de-Christianized country, these "values" have managed to rob the vast majority of our population of any sense of the Transcendent or of the common Good.

This brings us right back to the core question, never really answered in the volcanic surge of Western rage after 9/11: Why are we fighting?  What exactly are we fighting for?

For most in the West, "Western Values" means, basically, a tepid commitment to My Personal Truth of the Moment, modified by various fears of such things as theocracy, lack of abortion rights, getting killed, and having bad cable access. It also means "unfettered commitment to the needs of my groin" and "a vague sense that I am entitled to something". Oh, and there are a few gauzy sentiments about baseball, "God Bless the USA" anthems on country music stations, and remembrances of the Greatest Generation (much as Decadent Rome recalled the noble days of the Republic).  A few other things go into the stew as each Imperial Autonomous Self seasons their "Western values" to taste. But what does not go into it is a common creed or even a sense of the common good.

Consequently, Westerners do not know what to do when our decadent spirituality instantly converts to Islam at gunpoint while the inflamed spirituality of Radical Islam is quite willing to let its children die (at the hands of torturers dedicated to preserving "Western values").

Make no mistake.  I'm not one to boast "Lord, even if everyone else were to deny you, I will never deny you!" I've heard that song before and pray "lead us not into temptation" lest I make an idiot of myself were I in the place of the FOX reporters. I hope that, as a Christian, I would have the stones to take a bullet or be beheaded rather than renounce my Lord, who bought me with his blood. But I don't know what I'm made of, the heart being desperately wicked and all.

However, that said, I have to add that, if I were not a believer and guided only by "Western values", I don't see what the big deal would be if I pretended to convert to Islam in order to save my skin. If all I'm betraying is Madonna, Planned Parenthood, the Glory of Sodomy, and You Deserve A Break Today, then I don't know that some inchoate tribal fealty to the Abercrombie and Fitch brand label would persuade me to make my wife a widow and my children fatherless.

So, unlike Mr. Warren, I'm not particularly amazed by the gutlessness of the FOX News guys in the face of forcible conversion, since I have no particular reason to think they were betraying some ultimate trust.  Looking at the post-Christian and often anti-Christian "Western values" in which we have been steeped for the past generation, I have no particular reason to think they even have a concept of an Ultimate Trust.

The bottom line is this, Mr. Warren: If the FOX journos were Christians or believing Jews, it would have been a different story. Such people are commanded to remain faithful to the covenant they have received unto death, if necessary.  In their case, your disappointment would be justifiable.  But our culture has labored for 40 years to create a populace in which all reference to the Transcendent has been stamped out of existence. To suddenly be appalled when a citizen of that culture demonstrates that his vision is no higher than a cow's is a strange reaction to men who acted exactly as all our Manufacturers of Culture have programmed them to act.  It's a bit hard to, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

Copyright.2006 - Mark P. Shea