Why the Rest hates the West
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Johnson Journal

Book Notes by David Mays           See more book notes at www.davidmays.org

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

"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."

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...."

"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."

"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...."

"By the turn of the century, the triumph of the left...was the triumph of
individualism and of the individualistic understanding of human rights."

"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."

"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.

"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--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]

Further reading:
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations
Vinoth Ramachandra, Faiths in Conflict, IVP, 1999
Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong, Oxford University Press, 2002,