Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Secularization in Greece and Turkey

6/16/2015—I’m just back from a visit to Greece and Turkey. I was exposed not to young people as much as to the generation of my children. And even there, to people from Istanbul, rather than from more rural areas, which makes a difference.

Nevertheless, it is clear that secularization is continuing to make tremendous inroads in these two countries. The phenomenon is not the same in each country. In Greece, matters are similar to the United States. People leave religion and do not give the matter of religion much thought. That is not possible in Turkey, where Islam is a dominating presence and the entire country is organized around the Islamic calendar and practices. (A revealing detail is that our hotel did not serve bacon at breakfast, even though many foreigners stayed there).

So, secularization in Turkey occurs among people who were raised in Islam and take much of its teaching seriously. Just few of its practices.

In both countries, however, the issue of the future remains open. One way to think about this is as a question of the source of values. More deeply, however, is the question of whether values are real and important. Nihilism asks the question, what’s the use? A secular civilization must have a way of addressing that question. So far, neither Greece nor Turkey has successfully come to terms with this problem.

The way this plays out is that in Greece, the ancient sites are simply archeological curiosities with historical significance. In Turkey, however, the spiritual power of religious spaces is openly and unself-consciously acknowledged. This makes a visit to Turkey satisfying in a way that a visit to Greece is not—or, at least not to me.

Turkey is a country that will be very important to the future of world events. The roots of democracy and liberty are very deep. They are not a function of a westernized elite. Turkey is the place where a new public role for Islam will be worked out.

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