One of the reasons European sophisticates (and American elites) look down on the American barbarians (Texas cowboys, fundamentalist yahoos) is that the Europeans have become post-modern peoples who no longer have any belief or need for religion.
(For the purposes of this blog, I am taking an agnostic position on religion. I try to use the scientific method to help me clarify what I see around me and at the moment, arguments for and against the existence of God essentially rest on faith, not on facts. The Cosmologists, Astro-physicists, Bio-chemists, Cell Biologists, Evolutionary Biologists, and others have shown that our current reality could have developed without any intervention by a greater power or intelligence. Again, religion is about faith, not science.)
I am interested in a number of points based on the belief or non-belief in a deity.
First, does it matter that a society evolves beyond a belief in God?
Second, is there an inherent need, psychologically and unconsciously, for God to exist in one form or another?
Third, is there any way to tell when one's beliefs have taken on the character of religious belief as opposed to reality based belief systems?
Today I will briefly address the first question, with perhaps some hints about the second and third. The empirical evidence suggests that "losing one's religion" (to paraphrase REM) leads to a societal dead end. The post modern states of Europe are demographically doomed. This is now starting to slowly seep into the West's consciousness but they have no way to address it without challenging some of their fundamental tenets. The lack of replacement birth rates in Old Europe (France, Italy, Germany, especially) is now old news. It is certainly over determined with multiple contributing factors but I would suggest that among the more important issues on an individual level for not having children are a lack of faith in the future and an over emphasis on one's own gratifications.
During my personal analysis, I wondered how I would know when I was ready to have children. My analyst answered that when I was prepared to put the infantile needs of my child ahead of my own (infantile) gratifications, that would be when I was ready to be a parent. I have seen this again and again in my work. People who are unable to put their own infantile needs second to their children can not become "good enough" parents (D.W. Winnicott). The two jobs are mutually exclusive. For clarification, when I refer to infantile needs, I am talking about such things as the need for nurturance overlapping with various hedonic gratifications; in adults, these needs are usually fairly well disguised and hidden from the self, but they are typically not that well hidden from an astute, outside observer.
One classic example of the difficulty posed to adult functioning (of which parenting is just one facet) from the recent news would be our last President. Bill Clinton was an exceptionally able politician, the best I have seen in my observing lifetime. He was bright, charming, with amazing charisma and acumen. He could have been one of our best Presidents, though the times he lead in precluded greatness (that requires great challenges that bring out the greatness in a President.) Unfortunately, his childish needs for approval and gratification along with the infantile grandiosity (and frequently, unconscious guilt and masochism, as well) at the core of the Narcissistic character lead to his well known Monica Lewinsky problem. I am not addressing here the "vast, right wing conspiracy" that targeted him, but his own unconscious needs which lead him to offer his enemies the rope they could use to hang him. He was ultimately the source of his own failure as a President and it arose out of his character.
When one grows up in a culture which aggrandizes the self and the needs of the self over the needs of others, it is very difficult to put aside one's own desires in favor of the difficulties of gratifying the desires of a small, dependent human who for the next 20 plus years will be a net drain on one's emotional resources (ie, children need their parents' emotional support much more than the parents need their children's support; parents are also more able to offer the support.)
Everyone must struggle with the balance between personal gratification and submission to the gratification of another. Religion has always been a force which supports the difficult task of having and raising children, perhaps more so today than in the past when having children was an unavoidable outcome of personal gratification instead of the choice it is today. Giving up religion and faith is one factor impairing Europe's ability to reproduce itself. Once a society can no longer "be fruitful and multiply" that society is doomed.
In another way the loss of religion is damaging. Even in the worst of times, religion offers the hope that someday in the future things will be better. A caring God must allow evil to exist for a reason and someday righteous people will be rewarded. Even if the reward must wait until the afterlife, it is there in the future. Someday the Messiah will come (or return, depending on one's view) and we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is an incredibly powerful idea that enables one to imagine a better future for oneself and one's children. If there is no hope for a better future, one only has despair in difficult times.
Firstly, we need to regain consciousness about our values. The european politicians should meet to establish a common set of rules or values that we feel characterize Europe. From there, we can create an european engine of action. (see below). And finally we must connect the values to actual ”rules” – how to act towards which countries in which situations. This is the only way we can secure a quick, and appropriate, response in world events that cause human diaster. Having the moral foundation for united action, having the engine for united action and having the specific rules on hand for a specific siatuation in a specific foreign country or region.
Read the whole article; it is an interesting exposition from a European point of view. While reading consider the congruence between his notion of "our values" and religious values.