A New Italian Renaissance?
Michael CravenMichael Craven's weblog
- 2006 Mar 13
A report of little note appeared this past week when the Catholic News Agency reported that "a significant number of Italian lawmakers, politicians and intellectuals, led by the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera and including such individuals as Italy's Culture Minister, Rocco Buttiglione, presented a manifesto in which they attribute the confusion and fear in Europe over Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism to 'a moral and spiritual crisis' that prevents the continent from finding 'the courage to react.'"
The article went on to say that "the manifesto, endorsed by more than 70 different leaders in government, trade unions and universities, states that the west is "under attack from the outside by Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism" and is "incapable of responding to the challenge." The manifesto points out that the prevailing attitude in Europe is one in which "we (Europeans) feel guilty for our well-being, we are ashamed of our traditions, and we think terrorism is a reaction to our mistakes." A similar sentiment has been gaining traction in America ever since 9/11. However, the manifesto rightly responds to this erroneous self-indictment by saying, "But terrorism is a direct attack on our civilization and on the whole of humanity..."
The authors of the manifesto argue that "Europe is sick." They point out that "the birth rate continues to fall, as well as [Europe's] competitiveness, unity and action on the world scene. It hides and denies its own identity and thus fails to provide itself a legitimate constitution of its citizens. It determines relations with the United States are broken and makes anti-Americanism its flag."
The document also argues for the "better integration of immigrants" (In other words, assimilation into Western culture) and defends the right to life "from conception to natural death." In conclusion, these leaders affirm that the natural family is the foundation of society, and marriage and argue that it "must be protected and differentiated from any other type of union or bond." Ultimately, these leaders acknowledge that continued commitment to radical secularism, moral ambiguity, and postmodern tolerance will form the basis of Europe's ultimate demise.
What is interesting is the fact that a small group of cultural leaders and intellectual elites are acting in contradiction to the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the broader culture. This is important because this has always been the impetus for long-term cultural change. Throughout history it has been small groups or percentages of people within societies that have initiated and produced real cultural change.
Pitirim Sorokin, the noted Harvard sociologist, observed in his study of social history that within hedonistic cultures there can arise a "temperate and creative minority." As a result of the "creative minority's" commitment to virtue and chastity there naturally follows an increase in their creative output that affects various spheres of culture such as "religion, non-materialistic philosophy, non-hedonistic and non-sensual ethics, and the fine arts."
In other words, a greater creative or innovative minority often arises in reaction to the morally declining broader culture. And in so doing it can in fact produce sustainable cultural change. For example, during the Italian Renaissance there was a steady decline of sexual morality, marriage and family beginning in the thirteenth century. Nonetheless there remained a small but "virtuous" class of intellectual elites whose creative productivity increased. These cultural shapers ultimately laid the foundations for another minority of intellectual elites that would initiate the Protestant Reformation followed by the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This produced the intellectual, scientific, political and economic revolutions that established the preeminence of Western cultural achievement.
In every instance, positive cultural progress and, in some cases, reversal of cultural decline was produced by a small minority who had the insight, wherewithal, and courage to act in contradiction to the cultural drift toward immorality and the resulting creative stupor. This point was strongly reinforced by Randall Collins, The Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Collins argues in his book, The Sociology of Philosophies that over the course of 3,000 years of history only about 500 thinkers have been at the center of world civilization. My friend, Dr. John Armstrong, president of ACT 3 ministries and adjunct professor at Wheaton College recently made a similar observation when he wrote that "the root of every culture is a tiny network of intellectuals."
Throughout Western history many of these were men and women of faith who, choosing to live in obedience to God, resisted the values of their culture while pressing the truth of Christ into every area of life and culture. These Christians were counter-cultural in virtually every way as well as intellectually competent in their respective spheres of influence. These two must go hand in hand in order to impact culture as argued in my previous essay on The Christian Mind. In doing this they were able to establish a Christian cultural consensus that shaped most of Western culture for centuries. It is this consensus that has been or is being replaced in most of the Western world - a shift that has raised alarm among this group of Italian intellectuals.
In conclusion, individual Christians, competent in their faith and possessing a comprehensive biblical view of life and reality, must rise to challenge the cultural trends toward secularism, moral ambiguity, and the stupefaction of culture. We, once again, must become the cultural leaders capable of exercising the tools of reason and persuasion, not political coercion, if there be any hope of reversing the deleterious effects currently unfolding in American culture.
© 2006 S. Michael Craven, All rights reserved. For reprint permission contact Philip Barnett at [email protected].
S. Michael Craven is the vice president for religion & culture at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and leads the work and ministry of Cultural Apologetics. Through the Cultural Apologetics ministry Michael works to equip the Church to assert and defend biblical morality and ethics in a manner that is rational, relevant and persuasive in order to recapture the relevance of Christianity to all of life by demonstrating its complete correspondence to reality. For more information on Cultural Apologetics, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.CulturalApologetics.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.
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