So many deep cultural and behavioral patterns are under duress today. To name only a few of many, In the US and Europe, consider the transition of religious practice: many churches are becoming anachronisms with falling attendance, bound by generation gaps and overburdened spiritually by large, old fashioned denominational hierarchies. On the evangelical side of the spectrum, literal allegiance to old rituals and intense isolationist attitudes prevail. A few churches are blessed by location in supportive communities and have excellent leadership. Yet the path they follow grows narrow. The current role of Christian faith in society is under pressure to change its paradigm, its model of behavior and purpose.
In the US, political process is grinding to a halt as our body politic undergoes a meiosis of culture – moving farther right and farther left – leaving little ground in the middle for common purpose. Eventually, what new political identity will emerge? What will be the new paradigm?
International relationships are confronted with global issues that require a new, stronger bond between nations. Not just climate change, a profound confrontation for which there is scant preparedness, but other global issues as well involving cybernetics, instant awareness of global activity, population management, multinational economic models, distribution of food and medical support, and the international role of corporations.
Every one of these patterns of behavior, or paradigms, is under duress, highly vulnerable to disorganized response, militaristic rebellion, profit taking, denial, and short-sighted solutions. The news of the day focuses on terrorist atrocities in France. In the Middle East, cultural wars have erupted in response to religious differences, economic inequality, cultural conflict and political disparity. Many nations struggle to find solutions to mass emigration, irrational abuse of citizens by governments and armed conflict in a war with no boundaries, no front lines, and no hierarchical organization.
What is the world to do? What are the processes by which solutions can emerge?
First, we must acknowledge that profound changes are occurring. These changes introduce new values that do not exist in the current perception of world order. Intransigent Christian concepts of society, government, and ethics have shaped the history of Western culture since the time of Constantine. Meanwhile, unnoticed histories shaped by Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism have evolved unnoticed until recent times. In many respects, these other historical influences have not experienced the demand for innovation and competition that Western societies require. Hence, many Eastern practices exist according to older behaviors established as long ago as the eighth century. Many Eastern governments exist today in forms that were adequate until economic and social influence from the West interfered. Tribal values persist even today; the East, particularly the nomadic Middle East, had no need in the past to develop new social solutions similar to Western mechanisms that cope with power and competition. The East never had need of a Magna Carta, parliaments, or the right to vote.
Without the cultural tools developed by the West, that is, trust in government to manage important issues, democratic tools to shape government as times changed, and the rule of law, the Middle East is bound to manage a paradigm shift with what is at hand: aggression and lashing out with violence.
The cultural conflict today, particularly the Islamic-Christian conflict, cannot be ignored. Further, it cannot be contained by armed aggression; it cannot be contained by Western political tools like treaties, international agreements like NATO, or buying compliance through economic favoritism. Of particular importance is that Middle Eastern governments are theocracies – whether dictatorships, sheikdoms or subordinate governments; the religious leaders are in charge – or at least dominate national options. Middle Eastern theocracies have not experienced the pragmatic influence of secularism first melded in Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and other publications. Further, separation of church and state mandated by a few Western nations is an unknown precept to Middle Eastern theocracies.
An assumption held by many westerners is that the West must be tolerant but controlling while waiting for the Middle East to “grow up” and become part of the modern (Christian) world. It may not be addressed as simple as that. What if the roles are switched? If the West had the attitude that it must allow the Middle East to develop a new world order inclusive of the Islamic tradition – a tradition that at least would alter Western perceptions of ethic and personal freedom.
Here are some facts about the world and Islam that may be of interest to the reader’s contemplations:
Bill Maher provides a stark comparison between Islamic and Christian ideology that’s simplistic but reveals in short order the different approaches to justice. See:
The number of Christians in the world is 1.99 billion. The number of Muslims in the world is 2.08 billion. Muslim population is growing faster (1.84%) than Christian population (1.13%).
A column from CNN compares religious behavior between Islam and Christianity. See:
Considering population in terms of gross income between Islamic countries and Christian countries, the Islamic paradigm restricts economic flexibility. Advances in technology, science and cultural adaptation often contradict the Quran, especially when these advances influence a change in societal behavior.
A classic example exists in Iran, an Islamic theocracy and population, struggling with its own emerging technical (and imperial) capabilities versus centuries-old religious traditions that are in conflict both with new technical ideas and with old Shiite-Sunni rivalries. Unlike other Middle Eastern nations, Iran has a growing middle class pressing for Western values and economics at the same time that Middle Eastern politics require Iranian support of Shiite wars and objectives, including ISIL and declaring the West as evil even as its middle class uses ipods, eats fast food and wears western attire.
Clearly, the Middle East is in the throes of a paradigm shift between a religion that requires strict allegiance to Islamic values going back as far as the first century and the overwhelming human experience of the twenty-first century. The gap between the old Islamic paradigm and the new paradigm is catastrophic. It will take the rest of the century to adapt to the new paradigm. In the meantime, the West must mitigate violence perhaps with little reward as Muslim nations come to terms with the modern world.
The new international paradigm that eventually emerges will call for a different West and a different Middle East. Twenty percent of the world’s population will become a new, equal and active participant in the global experience.