Western Fundamentalism: Democracy, sex, and the liberation of mankind
Gordon Menzies, 2020.
Whether or not we are willing to admit it, everyone is inconsistent in one way or another. People are inconsistent in their behaviour— we can be erratic and we are sometimes devious—and people can also be inconsistent in their thinking or worldview. We often have presuppositions that we don’t acknowledge. Sometimes we believe things and do not even know why. Recently I was in a conversation with a group about matters of faith, and one very pragmatic, scientifically minded non-religious person expressed a belief in life after death. She did not know why, but this was her hunch.
Gordon Menzies’ Western Fundamentalism is designed to uncover, very gently and politely, the inconsistencies in the worldview which the author sees as dominant in the West. He starts rather provocatively with a re-definition of the word ‘fundamentalist’ away from an unreasoning bigot to someone who has fundamentals to base their life on. He wants us to see that we are all fundamentalists in this sense. Then he proceeds to identify what he sees as the three fundamentals of the contemporary Western mindset— democracy, free-market liberalism, and sexual freedom—and devotes a chapter to exploring each.
He seeks to show that each of these principles, which many would see as fundamental to their worldview, are more complicated than we think.
There are lots of great ideas in the book. Possibly too many. Menzies’ ‘Democracy’ nursery rhyme (p48f) is a clever but gentle ribbing of an overly optimistic view of democracy (you can see this on Youtube at westernfundamentalism.com). In another part of the book, I enjoyed it when, having discussed the Marxist-feminist conspiracy theories of Naomi Wolf, he sketched his own alternate conspiracy theory in which the feminist idea of empowerment through working outside the family home was simply a tool in the hands of the captains of industry looking for cheap labour (p126f). I only wish he had stayed on that idea a little longer.
It’s a very polite critique. Possibly too polite! At no point does Menzies really go for the jugular, to drive home the inconsistency of the ‘Western fundamentalist’ position. His method is rather to explore ideas and hope to get us thinking.
An interested Christian reader, looking for resources for an apologetic conversation, will find plenty of interesting nuggets. Monogamy makes for a more equal society (p162). Scientific research, which is based on skepticism, cannot work without interpersonal trust (p166). Menzies is well-read, and provides plenty of references for further exploration. His nutshell summary of Nietzsche is helpful (pp146ff).
Near the end of the book, he discusses equality, and he hints to us that there is no solid basis for a belief in human equality without the Christian gospel. Again, he does not come out and say this too strongly. He wants the reader to reach that conclusion for herself. I personally would suggest that equality has a very strong claim to be one of the fundamentals of Western belief, and the failure of secular materialism to offer a basis for it is one of the most glaring inconsistencies in the stance of many who combine atheism with ‘woke’ progressivism. For that reason, I think this section of the book is useful.
One thing that makes it difficult for the Christian apologist is that unbelievers often seem remarkably happy to live with their inconsistencies. They frequently don’t recognise them, and even if they do, they often don’t care. This is not the book to shake people out of apathy: it is too subtle and gentle for that. However, it might help a thoughtful and sympathetic reader to recognise some of the inconsistencies of ‘Western fundamentalism’ and to consider the answers offered by a Christian worldview.
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