Ravi Zacharias - Secularization, Pluralization, Privatization
Let me begin with two lighter-hearted stories and one more serious one to put this whole thing in perspective. The first one was doing the rounds years ago and was one of the funniest little stories that was all over the place. You'd hear it all over the globe, but there's always somebody who hasn't heard it, and it's the story of Sherlock Holmes with Watson camping out one night. And after a lot of liquid refreshment, the darkness of the night in their tent, Holmes looks up, and he looks into the night sky, and he looks at Watson, and he says Watson, what do you see? And he says I see stars and stars and more stars. He said what does that tell you? He said well, astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Astrologically it tells me that it's about quarter to three in the morning. Meteorologically it tells me that tomorrow will probably be a great day. And theologically it tells me that God is an all-sovereign and a great God, and we're just a minute part of the great whole. Why, Holmes? What does it tell you? He said Watson, you idiot. Somebody has stolen our tent.
Have you ever thought what the very word university means? It comes from the joining together of unity and diversity which was the greatest pursuit of the Greek philosophers to find the ability or the skin or the tent that would pull it all together. And yet here we are now, most of us graduating from plural-versities, with the disciplines sort of running along their own little tracks and not finding out how to connect these disciplines one with the other. When you see this kind of thing, you realize how difficult communication might become. You may have heard the story of this Indian farmer who was talking to a Texan. And the Texan was bragging about his ranch, and so he looks at the Indian farmer, and he says Mr. Singh, how big is your farm? And the Indian farmer says, you know, if you look a little out in the distance, you see that lamp post there? He says yeah. He said my farm is that long and about that wide. That's about the length and breadth of my farm in Punjab. He says why, what about yours? He says, you know something in Texas? He said, if I were to get into my car at my ranch at sunrise and keep driving and driving and driving, by about 9:00 or 10:00, I still would not have reached the end of my property line. And the Indian farmer looked at him and said I know exactly how you feel. I used to have a car just like that.
You take all of the disciplines running along their different tracks, trying to bring common ground in communication, and it's alright if you're just talking about the dimensions of your farm. But if you are dealing with the very foundational questions of life's essential purpose, then all of a sudden the differences come. Some things are secularized, some things are de-securalized, and these conflicts arise in cultures that are willfully pluralistic. I was in Jerusalem, Israel, not long ago, and four young Palestinian men, friends of mine, invited me out for an afternoon to have some tea in one of the restaurants. I arrived there, and one of them looked at me, and he said Ravi, can I tell you a little story? He said a famous Bible speaker by the name of brother Andrew was here some time ago, and I was sitting at a table with brother Andrew and a leading Mulow, a leading Sheikh, and they were very cordially talking to each other, and he said it was a tense time here. He said the Israelis in some activity had killed about four Palestinians, and at the instruction of this particular Sheikh, eight Israelis were ordered killed, and that was carried out.
So he said I'm sitting here at a very tense time with an even more tense conversation, for one of them was involved in this act. And he said I watched as brother Andrew and he spoke. And brother Andrew leaned forward and said to him Sheikh, can I ask you a question? Who made you the judge of this world or the executioner to this world? Who made you the executioner to this world? The Sheikh looked rather surprised, and he said I am not the executioner. I am merely an instrument of God's justice. At which point brother Andrew paused and then looked at him and said what, then, is the place for forgiveness? And the Sheikh didn't bat an eyelid. He looked at him and said that's only for those who deserve it. That's only for those who deserve it. And this young Palestinian lad looked at me, and he said in that two-minute conversation, I realized how difficult it was to find a bridge between world views. In that two-minute conversation, I found out how difficult it is.
And ladies and gentlemen, even though we may say it light-heartedly and so on, I know there are issues today where one wrong word could completely destroy your future. One misspoken analogy can be taken the wrong way. But in our cultural struggles globally, we are dealing with issues of huge dimensions, and the fact that a university setting like this can be a venue to afford a discussion of this nature is a tribute to all of you. And so I want to thank you as a campus. Thank you for the organizers. And thank you for those who have put in all of the hard work so that even if we disagree, we don't need to be disagreeable. My mother used to say when I was a young lad, once you've cut off a person's nose, there's no point giving them a rose to smell. And so I don't want to cut off any roses and then offer you or cut off any noses and then give you a rose to smell. We hope we'll get the terminology right there.
In the 1980's, sociologists like Daniel Yankelovich were writing about the cultural shift in dramatic ways. And in one of the leading publications, he was quoting Daniel bell, the social thinker, and here's the way he defined culture. Culture is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential questions that confront all human beings in the passages of their lives. Ok? So culture is an effort to find not a disparate set of answers, but a coherent set of answers to the existential questions that confront all of us in the passage of our lives. Then he went on to say this. Seeing where we were headed, a genuine cultural revolution, then, is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meanings of the past, particularly those that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and the nature of human life.
So a cultural revolution is underway when we are making a decisive break from the shared meanings of the past, particularly those deep questions that deal with the very purpose and nature of what human life is all about. So if it's an effort to find a coherent set of answers, and a cultural revolution takes place when we're taking a decisive break from the shared meanings of the past, then you know the more you get to the hard questions, if you calibrate them wrongly at ground level - to use an airplane analogy. If the calibration is wrong at the ground level, then the higher the altitude you fly to, the variance is going to be wider and wider and wider. And it's these culturally shared meanings that are now up for grabs, and the cultural revolution is now into its second or third generation.
What was happening? I believe there were three sociological phenomena that was lying beneath the surface. I use this only as a scaffolding now to bring you to the point of what it is I think the deductions really are and wherein lie our answers. Many years ago, one of them wrote it in these words. First dentistry was painless, then bicycles were chainless, and carriages were horseless, and many laws enforceless. Next, cookery was fireless, telegraphy was wireless, cigars were nicotine-less, and coffee caffeine-less. Soon oranges were seedless, the putting green was weedless, the proper diet fatless. New motor roads are dustless, the latest steel is rustless, our tennis courts are sodless, our new religion Godless. All of a sudden, definitions are taking place without a transcendent perspective of any kind, and the three underlying sociological phenomena were as follows. Number one, the process of secularization.
What is the process of secularization? It is the process by which religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations were deemed to have lost their social significance. Where religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations were considered to have lost their social significance. Yes, they could function, but in terms of the hard questions or meaning, essence and destiny, they were put on the margin and not considered as serious voices in the shifting sands of the cultural revolution. How do we even illustrate something like that? Say you were discussing a serious social issue of our time, and you had a panel in front of you on television, and you were watching the program. And you see an academic, you see a psychologist, you see a lawyer, you see a medical practitioner, you see a philosopher of ethics, and you are listening to all that they have to say. You would see a behavioral scientist, and so on. And then all of a sudden, you come to a pastor and his or her view on the subject.
The way the sociological fabric was changing at the moment the religiously ordained person started to speak on the subject, he or she was assumed at that point to be prejudiced on the subject, as if all the others were completely objective on what they were dealing with. That's precisely what secularization actually meant. That religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations were losing their social significance. When you saw this kind of thing taking place, you began to see what it was that people were actually arguing for or arguing against.
The secularization process was described well by British journalist Steve Turner. We believe in Marx, Freud, and Darwin. We believe everything is OK as long as you don't hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt and to the best of your definition of knowledge. We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that taboos are taboo. We believe that everything was getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence had to be investigated, and you could prove anything with evidence. We believe there is something in horoscopes, UFOs, and bent spoons. Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, mohammad, and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher, although we think his good morals were basically bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same - at least the ones that we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differed on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the nothing because when you ask the dead what happens, they say nothing. If death is not the end and the dead have lied, then it's compulsory heaven for all excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan. We believe in masters and Johnson. What's selected is average, what average is normal, what normal is good. We believe in total disarmament. We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. Americans should beat their guns into tractors, and the Russians would be sure to follow. We believe that man is essentially good. It's only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society. We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him, and reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth except the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.
And then he put this stinging postscript. If chance be the father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky. And when you hear a state of emergency - sniper kills 10, youths go looting, bomb blasts school - it's but the sound of man if chance be the father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky. And when you hear a state of emergency - sniper kills 10, troops on rampage, youths go looting, bomb blasts school - it's but the sound of man worshipping his maker. Now I want to funnel this thought down to show to you what exactly the upper case secularization process actually ends up doing. Now again, you'll have a chance to respond to it, or have it clarified, or even counter it in the question that you raise. But here's what happens. When secularization has moved into the marketplace of ideas, where anything from a transcendent basis is evicted by virtue of the fact that it invokes some transcendent perspective, what ultimately happens? What ultimately happens? Where do we turn to for our definitions that are not ultimately self-referencing?
This was proven many years ago when a leading pornographic purveyor whose pornography was considered to be so vile that the man arguing against it said look, it actually makes playboy magazine and all look pretty tame, and we wouldn't even be here discussing that genre. We'd talk about something heavily perverted here in the abuse and use of children and women and so on in ways that are totally dehumanizing and degrading. But the man who was arguing for the defense of this man's right to produce it had a very clever way in a secularized consciousness to shape his questions. And here is what he said to a witness who was witnessing against it. And he said to him, have you ever gone into an art gallery? And the man says yes. Have you ever gone into an art gallery where there are paintings by the great masters? Yes. Have you ever gone in there where you see paintings of the great masters of unclothed people? Yes. Have you paid to go into such an art gallery? Yeah. Will you please explain to this jury why you called that art and why you call my client's stuff pornography?
And he had many of them on the ropes, and in that kind of a setting, of course, you're not gonna discuss the philosophy of art versus the philosophy of porn and so on. But as I would read the transcript of those and try to come to terms with it in my own mind, I thought to myself, you know what? This is not a new question for art vis-à-vis pornography. If you read the biography of Michelangelo, even the first time he started to paint disrobed people, he was put to the question by his teacher, who raised a very important question so that he would understand what his responsibility would be. He said Michael, why are you doing this? Michelangelo said because I wanna see man as God sees man. And the teacher looked at him and said, but you're not God. And then the unfolding dialogue is fascinating to try and understand the difference of parameters and boundaries and, more importantly, purpose.
But it reminded me of C. S. Lewis' book, "A Pilgrim's Regress," in which this is an extraordinary conversation. It's a fascinating book, and the reason Lewis portrayed it as a Pilgrim's regress rather than his own progressive journey to Christ in his booked called "The surprise by joy," he took this in an allegorical form in "A pilgrim's Regress". And the reason he calls it a regress is because on his journey through atheism and pantheism and all of the philosophies that his brilliant mind was wrestling with, and he was faced with why he was turning away from them, he couldn't quite put his finger to the nerve of what it was he was rejecting, and why he was rejecting it, but he knew there was something systemically flawed in the world views that he was rejecting until he came to know Jesus Christ. And his testimony said surprised by joy. And this brilliant Oxford scholar tells the story, then he took a regressive journey for he had more explanatory power to why he had rejected some and why he had trusted this particular one.
And now in this allegorical journey, he is in the mountain called the spirit of the age where everything goes. But fascinatingly, allegorically, Lewis, who versed himself as John. Pictures himself as handcuffed by the spirit of the age. Not free, but bound. A brilliant metaphor of how absolute freedom can actually become a form of bondage in itself. And while he's bound in chains, he's talking, looking at the neuronic stare of he who heads up the spirit of the age. And while he's talking to him, the waiter comes and serves him his breakfast. Unbinds him. And young John takes a drink of milk and says this is very refreshing, and the man representing the spirit of the age says it is, is it? What do you call it? He said milk. He said it's only the secretion of a cow, isn't it? He said a cow secretes urine, produces milk. What's the difference? Just the secretion of a cow.
Young John says he didn't know how to respond to this, and then he made a big mistake on commenting on the tastiness of the eggs. And the waiter says you know what an egg is, don't you? And he proceeds to give it the most debased description, and young John doesn't know how to respond to it. But he says all of a sudden, after that man has gone, reason comes riding on a horse, and rescues me, and says to me - he looks at the waiter of the spirit of the age, and he says you lie. You lie because you don't know the difference between what nature has meant for nourishment and what nature has meant for garbage. You don't know the difference between what nature has meant for nourishment and what nature has meant for refuse.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to think that an average person standing in front of the lens of a camera, whose unclad body is being used by Marketers of sensations to trap young minds and lock into their memory banks ideas that will haunt them the rest of their lives and put at risk not only their hungers but possibly the very sacredness of their vows and their marriages and so on - I would like to think that somebody who is being paid to do this would stop at a point and say please don't do this to me. Don't do this to me. But you know what happens when secularization has its full run at things like this? It will ultimately cease to have the ability to define distinctives and could ultimately produce a generation without a sense of shame. You know, from what I understand, psychiatrists are dealing with the possibility of a medication that can counter post-traumatic stress disorders. Those who've come from the battle field and are unable to sleep because of all of the trauma and so on. But the fear in the discussion committees is this.
If we are able to find a drug that is so able to erase the memory of horrific things, to what end will that drug be put to a rapist or a mass murderer who, the morning after a series of crimes, can just swallow the pill and not feel any sense of guilt whatsoever? This was precisely the path Hitler went on. Outside the gas chamber of Auschwitz are his words: I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of a conscience, imperious, relentless, and cruel. And what I wanna say to you is definitions are crucial in the earliest stages of sensitivity. And if secularization moves to the point of taking any transcendent notion out of discussion, and if religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations which the founding documents of this nation actually attribute to the very sacredness of our rights to having been endowed by the Creator, what will that make of a society that has lost its sense of shame?
That's why a philosopher of ethics says ours is an age where ethics has become obsolete. It's superseded by science, deleted by psychology, dismissed as emotive by philosophy. It is drowned in compassion, evaporates into aesthetics, and retreats before relativism. The usual moral distinctions between good and bad are simply drowned in a maudlin emotion in which we feel more sympathy for the murderer than for the murdered, for the adulterer than for the betrayed, and in which we have actually begun to believe the real guilty party, the one who somehow caused it all, is the victim and not the perpetrator of the crime. The entire reversal that has taken place when shame and remorse of this nature have gone. It is a serious matter that we need to understand.
Secularization has the possibility of leading this society into shamelessness. Pluralization, where there are a competing number of world views available to its members and no world view is dominant. That's our culture and legitimately so. I think a pluralistic culture is a good way for a culture to be, pluralism of choices, pluralism of ideas, where you can debate, dialog with impunity. America is E Pluribus Unum, out of the plurality of our cultures, finding a single vision for whatever it is we ultimately pursue. One of the things that has made this nation great is our avowed pluralism, but any weakness is invariably an abuse of a strength. And if pluralism is extrapolated into meaning relativism, then you've got a king-size problem in the making when you're dealing with moral issues and moral categories, which is precisely what may happen.
Now, the thoughts I'm sharing with you go back over many, many years, but I share these with you because I think they are so classic in my own formation to try and understand how this change has taken place over the last twenty to thirty years. I remember years ago, those of you who are familiar with my material will immediately connect with this story because it was a very critical defining thing for me myself. Years ago I was speaking in California to an audience, to a vast audience, and a professor of philosophy from the local university came up to me and he said, "So you're from India"? I said, "Yes". He said, "And you're a Christian"? I said, "Yes, sir". He said, "I'm from America". I said, "Nice to meet you". He said, "And I am a Hindu". I said, "Very happy to meet you". He said, "But I'm puzzled. Why are you a Christian"?
Quite a shocking statement. I tried to tell him that Thomas went to India, you know, right during the time of Christ and went to my ancestors in Kerala, which is where I came. But he wasn't interested in that. He said, "You know what, I want you to speak on this pantheistic epistemology and all that it stands for, a various group of world views that come under pantheism and so on". And he said, "I want you to tell me why you are not", let me use the word "Pantheist" for an easier audience here on that. "Let me ask you to speak on why you're not a pantheist and I will take you on". I don't know what he thought I was. Wow. I could hardly wait. Let me do it so you can take me on. I said, "Look, that's not really what I'm here about". He said, "I'll bring my whole class of philosophy with me and they'll tear you apart after you have finished if you deal with this question". I said, "Look, I'll make a deal with you. I will speak on why I am a Christian, and implicit in that will be why I am not anything else and let your class have a go at me, then".
So he finally compromised, and they walked in very conspicuously and found their seats, and I spoke on it. And one of the things I said is that the pantheistic world views, one or two of them in particular, can have systemically contradictory affirmations which says to me that the system implodes under the weight of contradiction. And I gave some examples. After it was over, he walked up to me and he said, "You know, you've done the greatest disservice to this world view I've ever heard any man ever do". And he said, "And I'm very, very upset with you. Obviously, you don't understand eastern logic". I said, "You know, sir, I can use a lot of eastern logic that'll make you quite puzzled right now, but let's not do that". I said, "I'm not here to impress your students. I really don't care about that". I said, "I want to talk to you and you talk to me. Let's go out and have lunch. You buy the lunch, we'll get together, and we'll sit down and we'll chat".
He said, "Can I bring the professor of psychology with me"? I said, "Are we going to be subjects or objects for him"? He said, "No, he's a friend of mine". I said, "All right, bring him," I said, "But I'm not going to talk to him. I'm going to talk to you. Just you and I, and he can listen if he wants to". So the three of us went out for lunch, he was very gracious, pulled out, took out all the placemats from the table. The moment the man does that you know you're going to get a long speech. The psychologist and I had finished our lunch. This man hadn't even begun his. It was getting congealed before his eyes, and all of the placemats were used up. And he was trying to convey one thing: the laws of logic. And he said this. He said, "You know, the law of non-contradiction where two mutually exclusive affirmations cannot be true at the same time and the same sense and so on". He went on to describe it. He said, "That's a western way of thinking". I said, "No, it's not". He said, "Yes, it is". I said, "No, it's not". He said, "Yes, it is". I said, "I'm telling you it's not". He said, "I'm telling you it is".
I said, "Okay, continue". He said, "Then you've got the dialectical system of logic, not the either/or: but the both/and. Not either this or that, but both this and that". He said, "Marx uses it in his dialectic. You don't get either the employer or the employee. You put them together. They get a classless society, which was popularized by Fichter, the popularization of the thesis spawning its antithesis coming together for the synthesis. That's the dialectical system, all right"? And he said, "The easterners use the dialectical system. That's an eastern way of thinking". I said, "No, it's not". He said, "Yes, it is". I said, "No, it isn't". He said, "Yes, it is". He said, "I'm telling you it is". I said, "Okay, get to your point". He said, "The western way, either this or that. The eastern way, both this and that. When you were studying these eastern world views, your problem is you were studying it as a westerner finding the either/or contradiction and therefore finding them flawed. You should have used the both/and logic and the contradictions wouldn't have bothered you".
So I looked at him, I said, "Are you finished"? He said, "Yes". He picked up his knife and fork. I said, "I have one question. Are you telling me that when I'm studying the pantheistic system I either use the both/and logic or nothing else? Is that right? I either use the both/and, the dialectical, or nothing else. Is that right"? He put his knife and fork down. I said, "Sir, I have some news for you. Even in India we look both ways before we cross the street. It's either the bus or me, not both of us". The psychologist said, "I think it's time to go now. We're done here". But you know what he said, what he said amazed me. When I finished that little response, do you know what he said to me? "The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn't it"?
Of course it emerges. The moment you open your mouth to contradict the law of non-contradiction you're actually affirming it. Now, what did he mean by eastern and western? What he meant is half right in the western popularization of pantheism. Yes, they live that way, but it was not so with their founders. Shankara was a firm believer in the law of non-contradiction. So was Gautama Buddha. So was Mohamed. All of them firmly submitted to the law of non-contradiction, that two opposite affirmations mutually exclusive cannot both be true in an absolute sense unqualified. What happens when pluralization has had its full day? What happens is you live with irrationality. The death of shame can come with secularization. The death of reason can come with pluralization.
G. K. Chesterton put this powerfully in his book, "Orthodoxy". The new rebel who once rebelled against everything and a moral law is a skeptic and will not trust anything. He has no loyalty: therefore, he can never be a true revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind, and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution it denounces but the doctrine by which he denounces it. So he writes one book complaining that the imperial oppression insults the purity of women, then he writes another book, a novel, in which he insults it himself. He curses the sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he cries out that war is a waste of life, then as a philosopher that life itself is a waste of time.
A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage is a lie, then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts, then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged and undermining his own mines. It has become politics. He attacks men for trampling on morality. In his book on ethics, he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore, the modern person in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt by rebelling against everything. He's lost his right to rebel against anything. Pretty powerful stuff.
Pluralization is a good thing culturally, but if it is extrapolated into meaning relativism, then I think you've got a problem trying to delve into the deepest issues that could potentially divide us and bring a lot of hurt deep within. Secularization risks the loss of shame. Pluralization risks the loss of reason. And finally, privatization, where what happens at the end of the day, then, is that a person with a transcendent perspective is told to amputate his or her faith. Take your faith into the private world and what you want to believe privately you can believe. Don't bring it out into the public arena. If you wish to co-exist with those of other views, take your belief on the deepest questions of life, purpose, and destiny and keep it in the private world. How does one live that way? How does one live that way?
You know, my own spiritual journey is a deep struggle of the soul, very deep. If you had met me in my teenage years, you would have considered me the last person to ever be up here talking about these things or the last person up here to even believe these things. But it was on a bed of suicide when I was 17 years old, when I had no meaning, because my life was fragmented, completely fragmented. You learn the hard way that both pleasure and pain can ultimately leave you empty if you don't have a transcending reason to be able to face either of those. And it was on that bed of suicide for the first time I ever even had a Bible in my lap, and I say "On my lap" because I couldn't hold it. I was dehydrated with a poison in my system. And the reality of that experience with opening the word that was left there, I couldn't open it. My mother was told to open it, and with her struggle with English and the king James language, it really didn't make for fun reading. But I understood the heart of what was going on there, the heart of what was going on there. Fast forward.
Two years ago the British broadcasting corporation ran a year-round survey on what's the greatest problem facing humanity. Every year it was either poverty or environment, one or two, one or two switching positions, poverty/environment, environment/poverty, year on end. 2010, for the first time, they got a different answer. They released it in December of 2010. You know what the greatest problem the world sees it's facing right now? Corruption. Corruption. The world says it no longer trusts its leaders. It no longer trusts those in authority because they see what is destroying the human condition is the condition of the human heart. Poverty and environment, relegated to two and three, that what struggles you and I face in our moral choices, the exploitation of the poor, the exploitation of people in so many different arenas of life and all of the power-brokering that goes on as Malcolm Muggeridge used to say, "The lie stuck like a fishbone in the throat of the microphone," he said. He said, "Where two or three are gathered together for authority," he said, "It's truth that has died, not God".
And it was in my teenage years for the first time I got a glimpse of my own culture. Systemically corrupt, my own heart systemically corrupt. And then the one thing that I find through the process in the admission of my own heart and listening to the voice of Christ and the word saying, "Because I live, you also shall live," where I'm allowed to be freely speaking on it in the land of my birth, now in the land whose very framework was made possible by a transcendent notion, very foreign to the land of my birth, now where I'm told, "Keep your faith private". Quite shocking, quite shocking. Growing up in India, which is 80% Hindu, at university or in high school 99% of the speakers were Hindu. I don't ever remember going to talk to a principal or a professor and say, "Why are you doing this"? It was the flow of the culture. You learn that that transcendent notion, the world view, you accept it. 10% of India is muslim. India was only 2.8% Christian at that time: now they say anywhere between 4-10%.
Cultures have priorities of transcendent commitments that frame them and you learn to accept it. It is a dangerous move in America today to tell those of faith and transcendent commitments, "Keep it in your private room: don't bring it out into public". That amputation, that amputation is ultimately very deadly. No, I'm not talking about a theocracy. That's not what we want. That would be the worst option to go to. That's not what I'm talking about. But I'm saying in the arena and the public discourse of ideas, every notion that claims legitimacy to the truth ought to be given a voice at the table to discuss and defend. But this amputation that takes place, at the end of the day, will lead to a breakdown of meaning.
I want to close with a couple of very important ideas here. You know, the search for meaning is the most critical search that any human being has. Boris Becker, after winning his third Wimbledon, said the greatest challenge he was facing was that of suicide. Think of one of the greatest voices you and I would have ever heard, of Whitney Houston. What a magnificent voice. And as her coffin was being wheeled and the mother walking behind it saying, "My baby, my baby, my baby," one who, for whatever reason, got messed up by those controlling her life, feeding things into the system that will ultimately destroy her. No sensitive human being could have seen those closing moments of that funeral and hearing her voice ringing through the rafters "I will always love you". What a tragedy. But you know what? Success, fame, degrees, power, wealth don't bring you meaning. They become means to express your meaning. They never bring you meaning in and of itself. The unity and diversity of your life, that which unites the diversity of the proclivities of your life, that's the one that will ultimately bring meaning and coherence.
You see, there are two thoughts with which I want to end after quoting this for you. I began by saying culture is an effort to find a coherent set of answers to the existential questions that confront all of us in our lives. And a cultural revolution takes place when you made a decisive break from the shared meanings of the past, particularly ones of purpose and essence and destiny. Daniel Yankelovich ended that brilliant article in Atlantic monthly with this. He said, "We surveyed the people in America, watching the road down which they are going. And amongst those we surveyed was a couple called Abby and Mark". And he ends with these words: "If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others or simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To Abby and to Mark, as well, self-fulfillment meant having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting on social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. But the individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, it seems that to move to this far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy".
And then he ends with these words: "Maybe the injunction that to find oneself one must lose oneself contains a truth any seeker of self-fulfillment needs to grasp". To find oneself, one must lose oneself contains a truth any seeker of self-fulfillment needs to grasp. Now, how does this work in society? Here's a church man, a religiously-minded man who says this, and then I'll go to an atheist, what he says, and then I will close. Arthur Peacocke is director of the m. Ramsey center for interdisciplinary study of religion and relation to science and he's a member of the faculty of theology at Oxford university and former dean of Clare College of Cambridge at the time of this writing. Here's what he says: "To be truly evangelic and catholic, the church of the next millennium will need to have a theology that will necessarily have to be genuinely liberal and even radical, particularly in its relationship everywhere shaped by the sciences. For Christian theology to have any viability, it may well have to be stripped down to a newly conceived list of essentials, minimalist in its affirmations. Only then will it attain that degree of verisimilitude with respect to ultimate realties which science has to natural ones, and only then will it command respect as a vehicle of public truth".
Here's a professor of theology at Oxford, at that time, saying, "Look, if this is what religionists want, then the only way we can let them into the arena if they strip themselves of all essential affirmations and go to a minimalist belief in what they claim". Arthur Peacocke. Matthew Parris is an atheist with a lifestyle to back it. He wrote in a powerful article in a leading Indian-English newspaper in 2008, please listen. He says, "Before Christmas, I returned to Malawi, the country of my birth, after 45 years. It was a country I knew as a boy: it was called Nyasaland. Today it is Malawi, and the times Christmas appeal here in London included a small British charity working there. Pump aid helps rural communities to install a single pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I decided to go and see this work. It inspired me, renewed my flagging faith in development charities. But traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too, one I've been trying to banish all my life. It blatantly confounds my ideological believes and stubbornly refuses to fit my world view and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now as a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa, sharply distinct from the secular ngos. Education and training alone there will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. There's long been a fashion among our western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence beyond critiques founded in, quote, theirs, and therefore best for them, authentically and intrinsically worthy as ours. I simply don't follow this anymore. I observed that the tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours and it suppresses individuality. People think collectively this feeds into the big man and gangster politics of the African city today. The exaggerated respect for the swaggering leader and the literal inability to understand the whole idea of a loyal opposition, anxiety, fear of spirits of nature and the wild strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. A great weight grinds down their spirit.
But Christianity with its teaching of a direct personal two way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective and unsubordinate to any other human, being smashes straight through the philosophical spiritual framework I've just described. Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know-how that the companies, what we call development, will end up making the change. No, a whole belief system first must be supplanted, and I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone, and the machete. The theologian Arthur Peacocke: the atheist Matthew Parris. I'm with Matthew Parris.