Critiques of the West


Sayyid Qutb is considered the father off modern Islamic radicalism. An Egyptian writer and poet, he was executed by Gamal Nasser in 1966. Yet what he wrote still reverberates throughout the Islamic world and profoundly affects Muslim perceptions of Western culture. About the U.S. (where he studied as an exchange student), he wrote in a famous polemic,
The America I have Seen:

“This great America: What is it worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And, by the journey’s end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist between American’s material greatness and the quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of life will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals.”

Compare that perspective and the striking similarities with these passages from Pope Benedict XVI in his 1990 book, In the Beginning:

Pope Benedict Xvi

“The good and the moral no longer count, it seems, but only what one can do. The measure of a human being is what he can do, and not what he is, not what is good or bad. What he can do, he may do . . . And that means that he is destroying himeslf and the world . . . [The question] ‘What can we do?’ will be false and pernicious while we refrain from asking ‘who are we?’ The question of being and the question of our hopes are inseparable.”

Both works are biting critiques of the bankruptcy of Western culture. It is not unlike the extensive treatment that Protestant theologian, Os Guinness, produced 30 years ago entitled, The Dust of Death, which articulately dissected the same spiritual poverty. Or consider the works of Alexander Solzenitzen which do the same.

While intellectually understanding such critiques, the emotional impact was driven home to me on my first visit to Beirut several years ago. Particularly jarring was the visual displays of wealth, materialism, sex and sensuality that were everywhere in the so called “Christian” enclaves. I saw, and actually felt, for the first time what devout Muslims must see and feel when confronted with the decadence of Western culture. It is a decadence that I suspect I have become numb to because it is the social and moral ocean in which I swim.

Perhaps it takes a Benedict, a Guinness, or a Solzenitzen to jar us to reality. Or a Sayyid who helps give us insight into the passions that motivate devout young Arabs to strap explosives around their waists and blow up soldiers from Western nations.

(The comparison between Sayyid and Benedict are based on an article by John L. Allen Jr. in the 11/16/06 Op Ed section of the Los Angeles Times).

2 Responses to “Critiques of the West”

  1. Bryan Riley Says:

    Yes, it would seem we worship Mammon, instead of the One True God. Sigh. Good post.

  2. Tom Middleton Says:

    This post should somehow go into your leadership book. I hope it will cause great controversy and potential unrest. Let us pray so. Though those things are hard and tiring, as your Change blog suggests, they are what catalyze.
    Decadence and irrelevance seem to go hand in hand.

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