Those of us in higher education today are painfully aware of the absence of any mainstream morality that adequately engages the intellectual and artistic expressions of secular society. Of the various disasters that litter the three decades between 1960 and 1990, none was more deleterious in its effects than the social reliance upon technique to solve all our problems for us. In his 1992 book of essays, Summer Meditations, Vaclav Havel asserts that a culture which equates education with the mastery of technology risks precluding any substantive discussion of what constitutes basic morality. In Havel's experience even the most perfect structures cannot long endure if their inhabitants do not have virtuous habits, attitudes and behavior.
The link between religion and civility in contrast to neo-paganism and tyranny is of growing urgency at this kairos moment of the American century. For almost two millennia Western civilization was shaped by a unique proposition: that God created the cosmos and made all human beings in His image. This proposition is foundational to Western history and culture. It gave us not only a theology but an anthropology and sociology as well. It formed an overarching framework of metaphysical presuppositions, a model of reality, a worldview, or, more precisely, a cosmology for understanding the structure and function of the world. It shaped our philosophy and ethics, literature, medicine, art and music, architecture, law, business and politics. It inspired our worship and devotion.
Even modern science, the most unique invention of the West, evidences a divine order as its base. Creation did not occur by impersonal or random chance nor is it devoid of design or organization. The countries where science flourished all embraced Judeo-Christian premises: i.e.
Scientific pioneers like Johann Kepler and Francis Bacon emphasized the religious motif of science: "understanding Gods handiwork." The historian of science, Loren Eiseley, writes, "it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself."
Unfortunately, however, culture, especially in the West but in Eastern Europe as well, has fallen increasingly under the sway of anti-religious influences. Beginning with the rationalism of 18th century enlightenment, religion came to be identified with irrationalism and superstition. Influenced by such thinkers as Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, the universe has been dichotomized and the spiritual half has been eliminated, leaving only the material universe, which is nothing but matter in motion. Newtons mechanical physics dismissed purpose from mans conception of the universe, Darwin encouraged faith in a secular utopianism, and John Dewey rationalized a humanist conception of reality into pedagogical theory.
For the first time philosophy and science, law and politics, business and economics, media and the arts and almost all levels of education became organized apart from God. A new civil structure was erected upon the mechanistic and materialistic assumptions of science. Following the works of Jamie Friedman and George Maitre, the current "big bang" theory became widely accepted in the 1960s. This theory holds that
During the 1960s and 70s -- beginning with young artists in New York -- the term "postmodern" came to refer to the moral relativism which gradually replaced the organizational imperatives of time and space, good and evil, knowledge and value. The new world image became that of a giant machine. God became emeritus.
Clearly something has gone terribly wrong. We now realize how deeply changes wrought by rationalist thinking have subverted our culture. Following decades of chronic doubt and dissent we have been torn from our religious heritage and cast into a social pluralism marked by a dislocating human condition. This condition is increasingly secular, materialistic and intolerant. It is no longer a matter of limited or occasional protest but an all-out and systematic misgiving about the relationship of religious presuppositions and social doctrine. The battle today, which seems likely to continue well into the approaching millennium, is a battle over fragmentation, specialization and babylonisation of language and knowledge systems. Questions of faith and public policy now occupy center stage and cannot any longer be evaded.
The Shuv Institute, founded in Seattle in 1991, seems particularly well suited to test the fundamental assumptions of postmodern society. As a resource for distinctive Christian research and theorizing, the Shuv believes that no more urgent need confronts us today than to encourage, revitalize and strengthen the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Situated on the "Crest of the Pacific Century," the Shuv provides a structured educational opportunity for bringing together leaders and scholars from Asia, Africa, Northern and Eastern Europe, and North America to study the relationship of science, culture and faith in an age of rapid change and to strengthen our understanding of faith and the church in grounding and shaping our cultural institutions. Already the Shuv has established a reputation for identifying scholars and researchers who are at the forefront of creative thinking and planning. In addition, the Shuv has established a comprehensive bibliography and database as well as a leadership network of theological colleges, universities and religious associations for developing creative new strategies for the future.
To change a culture is a major undertaking. It requires reclothing ourselves in humility and responsibility and rediscovering our moral purpose in the midst of a postmodern mind set. It won't be easy and it will take time, but we must begin and we must begin now. It is to this objective that the Shuv Institute commits this work on Church and Culture in a Postmodern World: A Catalog of Classical and Contemporary Literature.
Dr. Donald Douglas
The Shuv Institute