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(R^CONSIDERATIONS Christopher Dawson America and the Secularization of Modern Culture The Smith History Lecture i960 The secularization of modern culture is a world wide phenomenon and in the most advanced societies it permeates die whole social structure and affects the life ofthe masses no less than the ruling element . But it is not a uniform movement. It takes at least two forms. In the East, in Russia and China, it is linked with the aggressive intolerant ideology of Communism which is imposed by force and spread by organized propaganda. In the West it is associated widi democracy and the ideals ofpolitical and intellectual liberty. No one is forced to be a secularist, He is free—more or less free in the various countries—to follow his own religion or to adopt a purely secular philosophy oflife. Here there is no official ideology—at least in theory—although in practice, as we shall see, this is not altogedier the case. Nevertheless it was in dieWest that die process ofsecularization began andWestern civilization was die creator ofthat technological Copyright © i960, University of St. Thomas, Houston. Copyright © 2000, Christina Scott for the Estate of Christopher Dawson. LOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 2 O O O H LOGOS order which is now the real basis of secular culture. Indeed die Eastern development is due to a great extent to the imitation ofWestern technological culture and its violence and intolerance is partly due to its desire to "catch up with" theWest and carry through in a generation the changes which took a century or more to develop in the West. Where does America stand in this development? America is the most Western ofWestern countries, and it is in America diat the technological order has achieved its greatest triumphs. In Europe the influence of the past is still strong and one is everywhere conscious ofthe existence ofthe pre-technological order, even though culture may seem to be completely secularized. It is not until we come to America that we realize visually and experimentally what the technological civilization means in terms ofhuman life. No one from the OldWorld can land at NewYork widiout being immediately impressed by this spectacle of gigantic material power, and if one sees the city at night from the air, outlined in lights, it is almost more impressive. There is nothing like it in Europe or I think anywhere else. It seems to mark die coming of a new age and a new civilization. Yet at die same time we cannot help being struckby a certain disproportion between means and ends. For when one asks what is the real end for which all this majestic array ofpower exists, the answer is a disappointing one. The towers and temples ofManhattan arejust business offices, and die language of illuminated signs which make the nights ofNewYork so brilliant only proclaim the quality ofsome commercial product. This is so familiar to us that we take it for granted as the normal way of life. But viewed in the perspective of history it is a very strange and surprising thing. The ancient Egyptians built pyramids that were even greater than the skyscrapers of New York, in terms of human effort expended, but they were for the tombs of God-Kings. The relatively poverty stricken peoples of medieval Europe erected vast cathedrals and abbeys, but these were AMERICA AND THE SECULARIZATION OF MODERN CULTURE the expression of their common faith and their hopes for eternity. But today we build temples greater dian die Egyptian pyramids or the gothic Cathedrals and they are dedicated to toothpaste or chewing gum or anydiing diat anyone wants, so long as enough people want it. There is no denying that this is an impressive witness to the democratic character ofthe American way oflife, but it is also a sign of die secular and materialistic values diat dominate the new civilization .We may congratulate ourselves diat diis expression ofpower is not subservient to the power ofan autocrat or the absolute will of a totalitarian state, but to the service of the Common Man, but we cannot congratulate ourselves that die recognition ofthe Common Man has left no place for spiritual values or that all this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 23-34
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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