Monday, August 3, 2009

How low can we go?

David Warren writes that Western civilization can't get any lower:
The many symptoms of civilizational decay that lay partly concealed beneath the surface of society only recently came into full view, in the open pornography, the open nihilism, the despairing flippancy, visible throughout our contemporary public life. But the pond was long draining, and it is only now we see fish flopping in the mud.

Euthanasia is the final "life issue," the clincher for what the last pope called "the culture of death." Even when legalizing abortion, we agreed only to the slaughter of human beings we could not see. It was still possible to look away, to pretend we were not killing "real people," only "potential people." But when we embrace so-called "mercy killing," we embrace slaughter not only for the sick and old, but ultimately, the "option" of easy suicide for ourselves. It will be hard to go lower.
While I am entirely in agreement with David's position on euthanasia, I am not sure I agree that, "It will be hard to go lower." Euthanasia is not merely a symptom of hopelessness, as David shows earlier in his column. It is also the greatest act of societal narcissism. As others have written about the rise of narcissism in Western life, I'll not belabor it here.

But is euthanasia the lowest depravity? It is, to use David's metaphor, a big, flopping fish indeed, but not the biggest.

For, despite the moral emptiness of a euthanasia-accepting society, the society itself is still focused on life. Now, it is life only under "normal" conditions, not a life stricken by illness or dementia. And, dangerously, not a life that requires expensive medical care to maintain. It is a society that rejects less than optimum life (which is what it means to talk about "quality of life") and wishes simply to shove aside those not enjoying it (whatever it is, which no one define).

Nonetheless, it is not a society that has actually embraced death and glorifies death. Such societies have existed. Rome was one, a very harsh culture in which mercy was a vice, not a virtue, and in which the gruesome deaths of men and women were public spectacles and sports. Not only gladiator combats, of course, but plain execution by means intended to inflict suffering before death. They included burning alive, being attacked by ravenous beasts and cruelest death of all, crucifixion, which was always a public spectacle precisely because it was (and is) the worst way to die devised by man.

David Warren points out the inverse relationship between religion and suicide rates. He cites the work of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. "He was the 20th-century Czech thinker and statesman whose 1881 book, Suicide and the Meaning of Civilization, laid the foundation for much later social thought."
It was Masaryk's thesis that suicide rates, already at historical highs, and climbing, in the more industrially advanced parts of Europe by the 1880s, would continue to rise through the decades ahead, with decreasing religiosity and increasing modernization. He predicted that this trend would spread to regions yet untouched, as the symptoms of modernity reached them.

This was not so much a question of religious denomination, as of religious practice. There would be a rough, inverse correlation between church attendance and the suicide rate. Later statistical studies have borne this out, and Masaryk thus stands among the few sociologists whose work retains any empirical value.
Let it be noted that Masaryk was embedded in Christian Europe. As Christian devotion has declined, the "the real self-killer [which] is the absence of hope for the future" has risen, followed by a rise in suicide rates.

There is a specificity to Christian faith - and we must include Christianity's parent, Judaism - that assigns transcendent value to this life even while it remains deeply hopeful in the promise of life to come. God, said Jesus in Matthew's Gospel, is not God of the dead, but of the living. So while Christian faith is no guarantee of immunity from depression, it does immunize against despair and hopelessness (as David briefly discusses).

Is there today another culture that glorifies death and hence enhances enhances hopelessness? Alas, there is, and the fish flopping therefrom are bigger than the ones of the West. It is the lands of the Islamic ummah.

Islam formally infuses little to no value in this life and in this world. Allah is remote and unconnected to this world. Allah has given the Quran to humankind through Mohammed (so goes the story) but Allah is himself not present in human life in any way. There is no chance in Islamic thought that Allah could possibly be embodied among us - this Christian idea is very specifically rejected in the Quran - and there is no concept whatever of the Holy Spirit, or, as the Jewish Scriptures put it, the Presence of the Lord.

Hence, from Islam's formative days, Muslims have affirmed that they love death rather than life:
Another chapter from early Islamic history — serving as a lesson for today's Muslims at war against the West — is the concept of the love of death. This originated at the Battle of Qadisiyya in the year 636, when the commander of the Muslim forces, Khalid ibn Al-Walid, sent an emissary with a message from Caliph Abu Bakr to the Persian commander, Khosru. The message stated: "You [Khosru and his people] should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don't, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life." This account is recited in today's Muslim sermons, newspapers, and textbooks. ...

Leading Muslim clerics often refer to the love of death. Chief Palestinian Authority cleric Mufti Sheikh Ikrimeh Sabri stated, "We tell them, in as much as you love life, the Muslim loves death and martyrdom. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death and [strives for] martyrdom." Saudi Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Qassem in Al-Madina added: "The Jews preached permissiveness and corruption, as they hid behind false slogans like freedom and equality, humanism and brotherhood... They are cowards in battle... they flee from death and fear fighting... They love life."

Former head of the Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee Sheikh Atiyyah Saqr was asked the following question in an online chat room on March 22, 2004: "What, according to the Koran, are the Jews' main characteristics and qualities?" He explained one of their worst traits: "Cowardice and love for this worldly life are undisputable traits [of the Jews]." Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah revealed in an interview after the recent prisoner swap between Israel and his group: "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death."
An Islamist terrorist taking the nom de guerre of Marwan Abu Ubeida al-Jarrah was quoted by Time magazine thus:
"It doesn't matter whether people know what I did," he says. "The only person who matters is Allah and the only question he will ask me is 'How many infidels did you kill?'"
Is it any wonder then, that al Qaeda and other Islamists embrace suicidism and "martydom" as glorifications? The depravity of Islamism would take more than a single book could document. (Contrast this terrorist's idea of what Allah will ask him with this Christian teaching.)

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