How do we restore the vigor and greatness of Western civilization?
The collapse of the West is accelerating. The secular, leftist, multiculturalist elites have subverted Europe so successfully that the clash of civilizations is ending not with a bang, but with a whimper. The continent’s leaders have imported a violent, virulently anti-Western horde in the form of mass male Muslim migration; a rape culture and terrorist mayhem are becoming the new normal; and the best self-defense the Europeans can muster is ragtag bands of vigilantes. Here in America the cultural decay is less dramatic but gathering momentum as the radical left’s half-century war on American exceptionalism takes its toll.
As the West commits slow-motion suicide, and fundamentalist Islam advances, the questions arise: what can we do to recover our cultural self-confidence? How can we restore the vigor and greatness of Western civilization? How do we revive the unique values of our culture and push back against the barbarians at (and within) the gate?
A new book from Canadian publisher Mantua Books addresses these urgent concerns: Back to the Ethic: Reclaiming Western Values, by Diane Weber Bederman. Bederman is a multi-faith endorsed, hospital-trained chaplain who contributes regularly to CanadaFreePress and the Times of Israel, as well as maintaining her own blog.
Back to the Ethic is both a personal memoir and a broader cultural prescription. From the author’s own death-defying struggle with illness and depression to her meditations on a secularized culture that itself is mortally ill, the book stresses our need to return to the Judeo-Christian ethical monotheism that is at the root of Western civilization’s success.
Bederman begins by simply stating what I noted at the outset of this review – that “our belief systems are under attack.” Those belief systems, she writes, derive from our “foundational story,” the Bible. “The Hebrew Bible, filled with these teachings, the Gospels, and the New Testament make up the backbone of the Judeo-Christian ethic as practiced today in the Western world.”
Ethical monotheism, the 3500-year-old value system that began with Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert, spread outward from that humble beginning to transform the earth. “And the world’s greatest transformation,” claims Bederman, “has been the knowledge that we humans are individually accountable for our actions.” It taught us that “we each have intrinsic value – we matter because we exist.”
That belief in the ethical God of the Christians and Jews “counterbalances egoism and the idolization of another human being.” Its emphasis on individualism has “freed us from the belief that we had no control over our destiny, that we were mere pieces in the games of capricious gods.” And yet, because it also teaches that we are also our brother’s keeper, the Bible has paradoxically led to a compassionate culture that rose above the narrow tribal loyalties of the past.
Ethical monotheism, set on a Biblical foundation of justice, “colors every aspect of Western culture, including the basic principles of our social, political, and judicial systems.” It is based on the recognition “that we are imperfect creatures, and it provides the path to forgiveness, redemption, and hopefulness, through ritual, symbol, tradition, and prayer.” The belief in a single god is a rejection of moral and cultural relativism. “Moral relativism lacks the universal principles and absolutes that are needed to guide one’s behavior.”
Winston Churchill once wrote that the Bible has given us a “system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.” But we are losing our connection to those ethical rules, and unfortunately, Bederman says, now “the ideologies of secularism, agnosticism, atheism, and political correctness have been elevated to the status of Champions of Objective Truth that will somehow protect us from intolerance, war, and all the other human evils that these interest groups wrongly blame on every religion.”
Those ideologies do not, for Bederman, offer a cogent intellectual or moral alternative to the Bible stories that for thousands of years were part of our collective consciousness in the West. We once read them “for the values considered vital to all citizens of all races, colors, creeds, and religions living in this Western culture.” Those stories, however, are no longer shared. Students today are as tragically unfamiliar with them as they are the classics of the Western canon. The stories in the Bible “teach us the prerequisites for the establishment of democracy” and “how to become moral and ethical human beings,” Bederman writes. They “provide the path to personal liberation and a nourished soul as well as the infrastructure upon which to build an ethical, compassionate, free, and hopeful society.”
In addition to losing our connection to the Biblical roots of our ethics, we are “losing our sense of the sacred” as well, “the sacredness of family, friends, and community.” As with regaining our moral footing, restoring that sense of the sacred lies in reconnecting intellectually and spiritually with the Bible. Bederman writes:
Maintaining Western culture requires that we continue to teach the ethics and values of the Bible. We must teach this ethic as a firewall, a bulwark against cultures and religions that are stuck in the past, that fear change and free will, or that promote extreme submission.
In Back to the Ethic, Diane Weber Bederman has written a deeply thoughtful, deeply personal, and deeply spiritual work which urges us to understand that the future of Western civilization lies in its monotheistic origins, and that we can flourish again both personally and culturally by recommitting to the wisdom and values of the Bible. “[W]e need a shared morality that protects and promotes freedom, free will, individuality, and care for the community,” she asserts. “If not the ethics and values of the God of the Bible, what shared morality will it be?”
Mark Tapson is the editor of TruthRevolt.org and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.