Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 10, 2000
Unbelief is no mark of wisdom
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
A 60-country poll conducted last fall by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch and the Gallup organization found the United States to be the most godly country in the developed West, with nearly twice as many Americans giving God top priority in their lives compared with Canadians.
Canadians almost exactly tracked the international median for personal piety, with 62 per cent rating God from seven to 10 out of 10 in importance. The average among all countries polled was 63 per cent, but 84 per cent of Americans put God in the top rank.
The most religious are West Africans, only one per cent of whom do not profess adherence to one of the world's great religions. The most godless people are East Asians, especially citizens of Hong Kong, 64 per cent of whom reject all religions.
Other interesting data from the poll show that only 52 per cent of college graduates worldwide profess religious belief, compared with 54 per cent of high school graduates and 70 per cent of people with primary school education.
What are we to make of this? It's obvious that Canadians have by and large swallowed the liberal humanist hook, with the largest number (55 per cent) rating "having a happy life" highest on their list of priorities.
Then there's the education factor. A devout Catholic friend of mine maintains that many people in our era are "educated beyond their intelligence." Indeed, many religious would argue that spiritual naivete is a more profoundly unfortunate and destructive form of ignorance than any lack of formal education.
Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described the basement level of spiritual judgment as the "aesthetic" level, where one lives for the moment in pursuit of as much pleasure and enjoyment as one can grab - seeking "the happy life."
Kierkegaard said graduation to higher levels is characterized by serious effort to make moral choices.
Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa called the first level of spiritual growth "mechanical/blind." Most moral relativists are stuck at this level, arguing that right and wrong are simply matters of taste. Sentiment, emotion and the desire to feel good about things are at the root of most modern notions regarded as "enlightened" and "progressive."
Jungian analyst and Christian social philosopher Scott Peck and Ohsawa both postulate an intermediate level of spiritual growth inhabited by people who deal in scientific and systematic understanding of how things work on a factual, material plane. Peck calls people at this stage "skeptic/individuals" - "principled, self-governing human beings" who, he says, "include most doubters, agnostics, and atheists."
These people are often truth-seekers, says Peck, and if they seek truth deeply enough and widely enough, "they do begin to find what they are looking for, and get to fit enough pieces of truth to catch glimpses of the big picture and see that it is not only very beautiful, but that it strangely resembles many of those primitive myths and superstitions their . . . parents and grandparents believed in."
Kierkegaard defined the highest level of judgment as the "religious" stage - choosing spiritual faith in preference to the aesthete's focus on sensual pleasures and the ethicist's reasoned sense of moral duty."
Ohsawa's highest level of spiritual growth is the world of philosophy and religion, where sensory instincts and appetites are brought under the discipline of thinking power and ideals. Life is now lived not to satisfy personal desires, but to honour religious and/or philosophical principles. The paradoxical truth that genuine freedom and ordered discipline are inseparably interdependent is finally grasped at this stage.
Peck calls the highest level "mystical/communal," inhabited by people who are apparently scientific-minded, " yet still somehow believe in this crazy God business."
All three suggest that as people stuck at lower levels of judgment grow older, their lives become filled with difficulties and sadness - "a desperate sentimental life," as one puts it.
Those more fortunate continue to expand and hone their judgmental and spiritual faculties throughout life. As one advances and matures in judgment and faith, he or she doesn't abandon the lower levels, but rather disciplines and integrates them into harmony with increasing understanding and wisdom.
The great tragedy of our time in the secular humanist West is not only that so many people never mature beyond the lowest levels of spiritual development, but that vast numbers are also apparently convinced that not maturing is a mark of sophistication.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.