TownHall | Dennis Prager | May 12, 2009
Religion in the West raised all the great questions of life: Why are we here? Is there purpose to existence? Were we deliberately made? Is there something after death? Are morals objective or only a matter of personal preference? Do rights come from the state or from the Creator?
And religion gave positive responses: We are here because a benevolent God made us. There is, therefore, ultimate purpose to life. Good and evil are real. Death is not the end. Human rights are inherent since they come from God. And so on.
Secularism drains all this out of life. No one made us. Death is the end. We are no more significant than any other creatures. We are all the results of mere coincidence. Make up your own meaning (existentialism) because life has none. Good and evil are merely euphemisms for “I like” and “I dislike.”
Thus, when religion dies in a country, creativity wanes. For example, while Christian Russia was backward in many ways, it still gave the world Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Tchaikovsky. Once Christianity was suppressed, if not killed, in Russia, that country became a cultural wasteland (with a few exceptions like Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn, the latter a devout Christian). It is true that this was largely the result of Lenin, Stalin and Communism; but even where Communism did not take over, the decline of religion in Europe meant a decline in human creativity — except for nihilistic and/or absurd isms, which have greatly increased. As G. K. Chesterton noted at the end of the 19th century, when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. One not only thinks of the violent isms: Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Fascism, Maoism, and Nazism, but of all the non-violent isms that have become substitute religions – e.g., feminism, environmentalism, and socialism.
The state sucks out creativity and dynamism just as much as secularism does. Why do anything for yourself when the state will do it for you? Why take care of others when the state will do it for you? Why have ambition when the state is there to ensure that few or no individuals are rewarded more than others?
America has been the center of energy and creativity in almost every area of life because it has remained far more religious than any other industrialized Western democracy and because it has rejected the welfare state social model.
Which is why so many are so worried about President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s desire to transform — in their apt wording — America into a secular welfare state. The greatest engine of moral, religious, economic, scientific, and industrial dynamism is being starved of its fuel. The bigger the state, the smaller its people.
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