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Social Paradigm Shifts

Faith in a Secular World

The ISLAMIC WORLD and the West appear to be on a collision course. These two worldviews arise from conflicting paradigms. The West itself is divided in two paradigms, those who believe in a Faith and those who are secular.

Judging others from our own frames of reference is the crux of mankind’s cultural misunderstandings; our inability to communicate over cultural barriers.

A paradigm in our daily lives is a particular philosophy of life or a framework of ideas, beliefs and values through which a community or an individual interprets the world and interacts with it. Within a community we share the same set of assumptions and similar expectations, which have to do with how we perceive the world. Paradigm shifts change the way a community perceives other communities and can lead to mutual respect.

Conflict are either caused by politicians, who let millions suffer for some abstract reason, or are generated by an inability to comprehend another culture.

As Donella Meadows wrote:

“Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.”

A social paradigm shift occurs when the community or individual experiences a fundamental change in underlying assumptions. This can under favorable conditions lead to reconciliations.

What often happens when we are confronted with the unfamiliar is that we interpret it from the comfort of our paradigm. The result of this is that we run the risk of misunderstanding innocuous communication signals and feel threatened by the unfamiliar. What might be polite behaviour on the one side is perceived as inappropriate by the other side. We abhor not being sure of our reality. After all, that the definition of insanity?

When there is a mutual misunderstanding, a conflict is waiting to happen.

Often the inability of seeing the other paradigm results in ‘us’ and our paradigm being the only ‘right’ one. This is a lack of respect, which is interpreted by the other side as arrogance.

General George Custer said, “The Army is the Indian's best friend.” He probably believed it too.

The current standoff between the United States and Iran is a classic case of two conflicting social paradigms on the national level.

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, his spin manager came up with the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This was a great success in the United States, and the spin manager brought the slogan with him when worked for a campaign in Mexico. However in Mexico people asked why the candidate was calling them “stupid.” Not a very successful campaign slogan South of the border.

The Muslim world today feels threatened by the West mainly because the Muslims perceive an arrogant lack of respect from the West towards their values.

Europeans have looked upon other cultures as lower than their own, even officially until at least a few decades ago. Christians who are evangelising Muslims, do not lack respect for Muslims. They both share a common belief in the Creator God.

From secular Atheist/Humanist quarters there is a lack of respect that is far from neutral, but really aggressive attacks on Muslim values. The Muhammad dog statues in Sweden, the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark and the films from Holland against Islam, are all counter productive. If the purpose was to further entrench the divide between secular Europe and the Muslims, then these childish efforts were outstandingly successful.

If we want to convince another culture that our ways are better, then we must speak to them in a way that opens them up to dialogue, not getting them to burn our embassies.

(This article continues with Faith in a Secular World or religious paradigms)

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