The President of the Czech Republic, VÃ¡clav Havel made an extraordinary speech last year, condemning ours as "the first atheist civilisation", which "has lost its connection with the infinite and with eternity". Now if you are thinking maybe I have abandoned my non - theism and am about to declare I have found God, you are wrong. I may not believe in the God of Abraham but it has to be saidÂ if Hindus, Buddhists, Shinto and neo - pagans are classed as believers,Â all have a completely approach to the divine than Christians, Muslims and Jews and one which while I do not accept it as my personal belief system, I am entirely comfortable with.
VÃ¡clav Havel, poet, philosopher, politician, is likewise not often thought of as a defender of religion, and the Czech republic by most some measures vies with Britain for the distinction of being the most dechristianised nation of Europe. But when Havel talks of atheism he means the kind of insatiableÂ arrogant greed which mashes both interior and exterior landscapes into something as homogenous as mechanically recovered recovered meat. He means the noisy, unthinking atheism of those who cling to a quasi religious faith in "science" or advance the political ideologies of soft Marxism with it's dogmatic hatred of "the rich"and belief in the rigid control by central government of all aspects of life. Or he mayÂ mean those who ridicule established religion but create their own secular gods, the personality cults that sprang up around, to name three,Â Michael Jackson, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs plus Apple technlogy (overpriced gadgets that were not even original but were sold by the experedient of convincing the gullible thy could buy self esteem by owning the latest Apple gizmo.)Â It is a vision of the consumer society as hell:
"Our cities are being permitted without control to destroy the surrounding landscape with its nature, traditional pathways, avenues of trees, villages, mills and meandering streams, and build in their place some sort of gigantic agglomeration that renders life nondescript, disrupts the network of natural human communities and under the banner of international uniformity it attacks all individuality, identity or heterogeneity. And on the occasions it tries to imitate something local or original, it looks altogether suspect, because it is obviously a purpose-built fake. There is emerging a new type of a previously described existential phenomenon: unbounded consumer collectivity engenders a new type of solitude."
This is a similar view of the horror of modern life to that which animates Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury, senior cleric of the global Anglican communion and part - time Druid. Williams has spoken many times of "the fantasy that you can organise the world to suit yourself".
He is speaking of solipsism, the belief that one's mind is the only thing that can truly be said to exist. I have referred to itÂ many times in articles and comments as such extreme egocentricity seems to abound in this community.
Havel made his speech at a conference which focuses on architecture; but he sees the extra urban sprawl of banal concrete and steel boxes as the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual degeneration.
"...not only a globally spreading short-sightedness, but also the swollen self-consciousness of this civilisation, whose basic attributes include the supercilious idea that we know everything and what we don't yet know we'll soon find out, because we know how to go about it. We are convinced that this supposed omniscience of ours which proclaims the staggering progress of science and technology and rational knowledge in general, permits us to serve anything that is demonstrably useful, or that is simply a source of measurable profit, anything that induces growth and more growth and still more growth, including the growth of agglomerations.
Naturally this rhetoricÂ will notÂ convince anyone who is not prepared to accept there is an alternative to their own world view. What is most interesting and persuasive about Havel's case howeverÂ is that he knows he is unlikely to win many converts among the dogmatists of the left or the evangelical preachers consumerism orÂ of "living scientifically". In taking the recent economic chaos as an example of the way in which an apparently rational and entirely controlled system suddenly showed that it was neither of these things he deftly undermines all arguments in support of what we must call "progressiveism" for want of a better descriptor.
But with this cult of measurable profit, proven progress and visible usefulness there disappears respect for mystery and along with it humble reverence for everything weÂ will never be able toÂ measure and analyse, not to mention theÂ troublesome question of the infinite and eternal, which were until recently the ultimateÂ horizons of our actions.
In another part of the speech Havel spoke of how we have forgotten what all previous civilisations knew: that nothing is self-evident.
"I regard the recent crisis as a very small and very inconspicuous call to humility. A small and inconspicuous challenge for us not to take everything automatically for granted. Strange things are happening and will happen. Not to bring oneself to admit it is the path to hell. Strangeness, unnaturalness, mystery, inconceivability have been shifted out of the world of serious thought into the dubious closets of suspicious people. Until they are released and allowed to return to our minds things will not go well."
After this crisis a thousand and one academics, theorists, sociologists, political philosophers, economists and general smart alecs will emerge to describe precisely how and why it happened and how to prevent it happening in future. But this will not be a sign that they have understood the message that the crisis sent us. The opposite, more likely: it will simply be a further emanation of that elitist academic arrogance Havel was speaking of.
He was not the first to spot the lesson events are trying to teach us,Â around ninety years ago the British writer D.H. Lawrence penned these words; "Mankind must get back into step with the rhythms of nature." That is what VÃ¡clav Havel was referring to when he spoke of losing our connection with infinity and eternity.
The Czech PresidentÂ did not mean we should all sign up for communal worship at the local Synagogue, Church or Mosque but that we should understand how puny and how powerless we are in the scheme of things, even on this planet - are utterly insignificant in relation to the Universe. We can no more control nature than conjure food and water for the poor out of thin air. Until the new elitists are prepared to learn this lesson it will be repeated, more and more painfully until, eventually, our children are forced to learn. We must all find our own ways to reconnect with nature.
Before that can happen a lot of people need toÂ subject themselves to a reality check. Personality cults are mentioned above as being vehicles by which people who deny faith or nature fulfill the human need to worship and revere somethingÂ by creating contemporary messiahs. Michael Jackson was mentioned because I well remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth here at gather that followed his death. People were saying he was the greatesat entertainer ever, the greatest musician ever, (to paraphrase John Lennon, Michael wasn't even the greatest musician in the family) and bizarrely from a person of whom I expected much more intelligence, "He did so much in the fight against racism because he was the first black performer to break into the mainstream."
What shocked me was this came not from a silly teenager, but from somebody in their fifties, someone who reallyÂ ought to have heard of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Harry Belafontine, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier to nameÂ only a few. It was not just the stupidity of the comment but the outrage when presented with reality that convinced me I wanted nothing more to do with that person. Life is too short to waste on idiots.
When VÃ¡clav Havel made his remarks about losing connection with infinity and eternity it was precisely that kind of subjective,Â tunnel - visionedÂ world view he referred to
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