Moral questions are rational questions that discuss how we are to live the best possible life. Christianity produced a distinct set of moral virtues that were the ideal standards for justice in traditional, historic Western nations.
Christianity, ethics and Habermas: Since the atheist, relativist ideology took over the hegemony in the West, these ideals have been scrapped and substituted with what we today call secularized, atheist values.
Culminating in the 1960s’ Marxist student revolts, the dramatic change of values in the West is producing a very different society to that which characterized the historic Western system.
In his ambitious work to establish a basis for communication, philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who is one of the world’s most important intellectuals, has studied methods which show that normative questions – questions that address what people should or ought to do – can be answered in a rational manner. Ever since Habermas received his Ph.D. in 1954, he has attempted to shed critical light on the development of the industrialized society.
His thinking has initially been considered neo-Marxist, following along the lines of the radical Frankfurt School that heavily criticized the bourgeoisie, traditional values in Europe.
Yet, Habermas came to a point where it seems that he departed from much of his previous Marxist views. This has been a very controversial move, causing many Western intellectuals to remain silent about Habermas’ dramatic change.
So, why did the atheist philosopher Habermas begin to speak about Christianity and religious ethics as motivational values needed in the secularized West?
Christianity, ethics and Habermas: For decades, Habermas emphasized the need for social bonds between individuals and social, moral development. From a global perspective, this includes the relations between nations.
In his later years, he has spoken of the need for a new respect for traditional Christian, European morality. This has dumbfounded many since Habermas for decades has been one of the architects of European secularism.
Upon receiving the Holberg Prize in Bergen, Norway in 2005, he delivered a remarkable acceptance speech that deserves to be cited. Its unique message represents a stunningly strong abandonment of the academic theories that professed that faith in God is an attribute of an unenlightened, old-fashioned and archaic society.
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Christianity, ethics and Habermas: He stated that the historical European ethic has a role, a moral role, to play as the ethical foundation in a secularized Europe. The tendency for solidarity to decline in liberal society and for egoism to dominate is a worrisome development. Numerous moral philosophers have actively warned against this trend for quite some time.
Habermas is, as most know, a leading neo-Marxist philosopher and proclaimed atheist who has argued for a strong secularization his entire life. His dramatic change of view is therefore quite sensational. Habermas now seems to acknowledge some of the flaws in the neo-Marxist thinking that characterized post-war Europe.
The speech reflects the new attitude, as Habermas acknowledged that religious traditions and denominations had taken a new and unexpected place in politics. He states that religion has ended up playing, in clear contrast to what many secularists predicted, an increasingly important role in the modern world.
The essence of the speech focused on the necessity of a renewed focus on the value of religious ethics in order for secular society to rekindle the waning spirit of solidarity, empathy, and respect for one another.
Habermas pointed out that the political revitalization of religion occurs right in the heartland of Western society. Even though a wave of secularization has washed over most European countries since World War II, the significance of religion for political purposes has not decreased in the rest of the world.
He stated that against this background, the secularized Europe is the exception from the rest of the world. Habermas stated, that precisely by the elimination of capital punishment, liberal abortion laws, the equality of homosexual partnership with heterosexual marriage, the unconditional rejection of torture, and generally giving priority to individual rights over the collective good such as national security, it seems that European countries have left USA behind on the road they once shared.
In the light of world history, the European form of anti-religious rationalism is actually an exception to the rule: People in the rest of the world still believe in God and the spiritual realm. They have not in any way followed the atheist, Western trend of secularization, which is carefully observed by the keen eye of Habermas.
He now has become an advocate for respecting Christian ethics in Europe, although himself being a well-known atheist.
Habermas explains his view in the Holberg speech by stating that there are weaknesses and shortcomings in modern science’s inability to comprehend the equally important metaphysical dimension of human relations.
Christianity, ethics and Habermas: Traditional science distinguishes sharply between faith and knowledge and takes a naturalistic position that devalues all categories of knowledge that are not based on empiricism, natural laws and causal explanation.
This singular emphasis on physical science makes it difficult for us to understand the complexity of the human spirit, he says. A more practical understanding of what it means to be an individual with responsibility for one’s actions is particularly essential.
According to Habermas, if the only approach is science, such an understanding is difficult to achieve.
We need a deeper understanding of the metaphysical dimension of human relations, focusing on a morality that may motivate citizens to a solidarity and an empathy that we seem to be losing in secular Western societies today. Knowledge of the spiritual world is waning.