The problem is one that is easier to notice and feel than it is to prove, but I would suggest that it is something like this: that life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow.
I do not mean that our lives are meaningless, nor that the opportunity liberal democracy uniquely gives to pursue our own conception of happiness is remotely misguided. On a day-to-day basis most of us find deep meaning and love from our families and friends and much else. But there are questions which remain, which have always been at the centre of each of us and which liberal democracy on its own not only cannot answer but was never meant to answer.
“What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” These are questions which human beings have always asked and are still there even though today to even ask such questions is something like bad manners.
What is even more, the spaces where such questions might be asked — let alone answered — have shrunk not only in number but in their ambition for answers. And if people no longer seek for answers in churches will they find them in occasional visits to art galleries or book clubs? ...
But what is interesting to me is that everything about these accounts is both of our time and runs against the assumptions of our time. The search for meaning is not new. What is new is that almost nothing in our culture applies itself to offering an answer.
Nothing says, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years.” At best the voice says, “Find your meaning where you will.”
At worst it is the nihilist’s creed: “All this has no meaning.” Meanwhile politicians — seeking to address the broadest range of people — speak so widely and with such generalities as to mean almost nothing.
Almost nowhere is there a vision of what a meaning-filled life might be. The wisdom of our time suggests that education, science and the sheer accessibility of information must surely have knocked such urges out of us. And the divide can be staggering...
I know that non-religious people do not like talk like this. And I know that religious people find it frustrating because for real believers the question will always be, “Why do you not just believe?”
Yet this latter question simply ignores the probably irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth-claims of religion and ignores the fact that people cannot be forced into faith.
Excellent diagnosis - terrible (non-) prescription.
What is the point of saying that we are painted into a corner without checking whether we really are painted into a corner? What is this nonsense about the probably irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth-claims of religion?
Honestly, people really need to be able to distinguish between metaphysics and wissenschaft. Science and historical criticism exclude religion by assumption, therefore they can have nothing to say - and say nothing - about the truth claims of religion.
No actual or possible discovery of science or history makes or could make any difference to the truth of religion. If you don't understand this, then that is what you need to understand.
Don't keep on and on and on spouting nonsense - stop; analyze the nonsense and find out why it is nonsense.
And what is this straw-mannic stuff about 'literal' truth-claims? I have never come across a literal truth-claim from anybody that did not really mean something contextualized. Words need to be interpreted for intentions; especially when words are the end-product of chains of forced choices. Accusations of literalism are just a rhetorical device to discredit the opposition. Nothing at all is 'literally' true - in the sense that religion is supposed not to be literally true - certainly science is never literally true (even when uncontroversially regarded as correct).
Sometimes things really are simple - this situation is simple.
“What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” Do you really want to know the answers? If so, then choose your religion.
Religions can't be invented to order, not real ones; so decide which existing religion is true/ truest, and then get on with it.
Get on with it as best you can.
You may not get it right first time, or second time or even third time (we work by trial and evaluation, repentance and try-again), but you will at least be on the path, and moving broadly in the correct direction.