Too often, I hear the claim by populists that Islam is a Trojan Horse in Western society, that the Islam is an enemy to Western values. The theory of a fundamental clash of cultures between Judeo-Christianity and Islam is the very pillar of Islamophobic popularism today. This co-called Strauss–Howe generational theory comes from amateur historians and populist authors William Strauss and Neil Howe from the US, who both see a war between Islam and the West as the ‘fourth turning.’ I studied history and am an amateur historian myself, but I believe in facts rather than ‘alternative facts’, in truths rather than convictions.
The true foundation of Modernist Western ethics and current social values however is not religion but happiness. As a humanist, I believe that the pursuit of happiness is what drives man. Man advances through learning. Happiness, Epicurus says, is the absence of physical and mental suffering. Happiness is ensured in Freedom and Democracy, which are the legal form of this pursuit. This pursuit of happiness requires, according to Lucretius, the seeking of truth. It is science, not religion, that is the foundation of the pursuit of happiness, and therefor the true foundation of Western modernist culture.
With the rise of populism claiming to be the true defenders of our Western values, it seems that we Western humanists of the 21st century do not know whom to fight. The left is easily cornered by the right to be defenders of Islam, and out of instinct too easily accepts this role. But humanists should understand that the anti-Islamic populists are not worse but equal enemies as is Islam. The left has become complacent and overconfident in its fight against religion.
When I grew up however, it was not Judaism or Christianity that shaped my thinking and my values, but a series of Western thinkers whose works radically opposed Judeo-Christian culture. Western modernist culture instead of being Judeo-Christian or welcome to Islam, is instead radically anti-religious.
Antiquity or the Classicism of Rome and Greece form the very origin of the tree of Western civilization. Rome appropriated Greek thinking. Then already, two very opposite ways of thinking can be recognized in Greek and Roman thinking. On one hand there is the school of Aristotelan and Platonic thinking that was absorbed into Christianity. On the other hand there is the Epicurus and Lucretian thinking of the natural philosophers, with Pythagoras binding the two schools together.
Christianity has always strongly favored the school of Plato above the natural philosophers, which lead Western thinking into what became known as the Dark Ages with its scholastic form of Christianity. Only with the Renaissance, was the Greek and Roman thinking reborn in Western culture.
But it wasn’t until the Enlightenment that thinking saw the light truly as what we know feel is modern Western culture, with its emphasis on individual freedom and democracy. But the Englightenment is not a way of the past, as the term Judeo-Christian would lead us to think, it is a way forward, the Way of Light.
The true birth of Modernism however takes place in the 19th century with thinkers like Kant with his laws of causality and methodology, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Sartre. If we ever can find a root for current Western thinking, than the sciences of the 19th century more than anything
In my teenage years of coming of age, I read Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, and none of his thinking advocates what is the essence of Judeo-Christian thinking. Nietzsche spoke out strongly against Judeo-Christianity, most people only know Nietzsche from his final declaration that ‘God is dead‘, rather ending Judeo-Christian thinking.
At the same time, I read Karl Marx’ ‘Das Capital’ and the ‘Communist Manifesto’, which he wrote together with Friedrich Engels, while reading Ludwig Feuerbach’s ‘The Essence of Christianity’ that formed the basis of Marx’ thinking about religion. Nothing in Marx, Engels or Feuerbach could ever be read as promoting Judeo-Christian thinking. Marx claimed that ‘Religion is the opium of the People.’
The third influence from this stream of 19th century humanism on me is Freud. Few men have shaped our thinking about man the way Freud did, with his theories about the subconsciousness or the Id. It is hard imagine for a modern Western man to imagine a way of thinking without awareness of the subconsciousness and its current of dark processes, while changing the thinking in terms of good and evil, to mental health and illness.
Strangely enough, I read about Darwinism in detail only later in my education, and for a large part initiated by interests in genetics, biology, sociology or history, rather than in Darwin himself. As a modernist, I presumed to be too familiar with his ideas already simply through secondary education, to make much extra effort to read about Darwin, but more than anything this probably subscribes how important Darwin is to Western thinking.
What Darwin is for biology and genetics, Freud is to psychology and psychiatry, this is Einstein for physics. Physics however, takes a special place in modernism and the sciences, because it drives more than any other science, with the exception of genetics perhaps, the boundaries of understanding of the world, man and the universe, at the boundaries of which are the remaining fringes where God still survives and lingers. It is there, on the fringes of physics and genetics (biology), that Judeo-Christianity and Islam still exist
Last (at last), there is Sartre who more than any other philospopher has captured the despair and spleen of modernism, all the dilemmas of modern man, his relation to self, love for the other and the impossibility of love, the despair about the world as hell, our relation to the world is described in ‘Being and Nothingness.’
Islamophic Populism itself is based in the American and Zionist religious right. The fight of freedom and democracy is foremost against this religious zeal, in tradition of Western humanism, against Zionism, against Christianity, against Islam.