The Post-Christian Mindby Harry Blamires
"What we need," says Blamires, "is a
In his classic book, Harry Blamires defined and explained the essential qualities of The Christian Mind. Here he exposes the agenda of the secular mind, vividly describing the way the media is trashing Christian principles in every area of life-human rights, marriage, family, morality, health, economy, environment, politics.
"What we need," says Blamires, "is a Christian backlash, a vigorous reponse to the new paganism of the contemporary world."
"Like C.S. Lewis, his teacher at Oxford and later his friend, Harry Blamires has written prolifically, from textbooks in his professional field to Christian fantasy novels and diagnostic apologies for mainstream faith. His constant concern as a literary disciple is to display and defend the Christian way of thinking in a non-thinking world.
"The Post-Christian Mind is true journalism . . . shrewd reporting of what people around us think and do, with interactive comment offered on a basis of common humanity, common sense, and Christian insight. . . The masterful clarity and precision of the analysis offers wisdom for us all."
- J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God
- Regent College Publishing
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The Post-Christian Mind
There is no doubt that, as the twenty-first century approaches, Christendom faces formidable hostility, not the least in those developed Western countries once regarded as bulwarks of Christian civilization. Looking around us, we Christians cannot but be aware of how powerful and insidious is the assault on the faith we hold, the faith we have assumed to be the foundation of Western culture. Current secularist humanisma mishmash of relativistic notions negating traditional values and absolutesinfects the intellectual air we breathe. There is a campaign to undermine all human acknowledgement of the transcendent, to whittle away all human respect for objective restraints on the individualistic self. The hold of this campaign on the media is such that the masses are being brainwashed as they read the press, listen to the radio or watch TV.
The intellectual forces of the Christian Church need to be mobilized in answer to a movement whose leaders are involved, knowingly or unknowingly, in nothing less than the decomposition of our civilization. It is time to submit the half-truths and sly insinuations of the new anti-Christian establishment to ruthless scrutiny. We need to analyze the machinery of discourse by which it operates and examine the verbal currency which it exploits. If we do, we shall discover that the more deeply we dig through the slogans and verbiage, the emptier the supposed foundations of the fashionable liberal relativism will be seen to be.
Earlier books of minehave pressed the need for maintaining logic and consistency in Christian attitudes to the world of action and the world of thought. They have defined doctrinal yardsticks by which those Christian attitudes can be clarified. The concept of a "Christian mind" proved to be a useful umbrella term under which to formulate the presuppositions undergirding genuinely Christian attitudes to the contemporary world and its culture. In defining specifically Christian attitudes, we inevitably uncover by contrast the preconceptions in contemporary popular thinking that are inimical to the Christian faith. Moreover, logic leads us willy-nilly to unearth evidence that current preconceptions basically antagonistic to the Christian faith infect the thinking of Christians themselves, not only at a popular level but also at the level of theological controversy.
In my previous ventures into this field the logical approach has been to make the Christian faith the starting point and to survey the contemporary scene in the light of its doctrinal formulations. My intention now is to start from the other side of the fence. We shall explore the kinds of views, attitudes and topics of discussion that fill the mental atmosphere around us, and try, thereby, to define crucial characteristics of current secularist thinkingin short, to grapple with the "post-Christian mind." The method will be to pinpoint the preconceptions undergirding popular contemporary attitudes and show how they represent positions antagonistic to the Christian faith.
For some decades we have had reason to wonder what would eventually happen to the popular mind as the traditional restraints of Christian culture were increasingly jettisoned, that is, as the remnants of belief in a supernatural order disappeared. After all, accepting a divinely granted human responsibility for one's course through time has long been a basis for upholding an ethic of self-control. Recognizing at least the possibility of judgment to come reinforced this ethic. Now the sad results of our loss are revealed. The popular mind has been transformed before our eyes. There is need for a systematic Christian analysis of what this amounts to.
Coming to grips with the post-Christian mind will not exercise the brain in the way it was exercised in defining the Christian mind. For there is no fixed body of opinion, no homogeneous set of principles, no philosophical rationale informing that amorphous accumulation of half-truths on which the popular mind is fed by the media today. It would be a mistake to look for system and coherence there. It would be like looking for signposts in a jungle. And that, as will emerge later in this book, is partly because the distinction between the Christian mind and the post-Christian mind is analogous to the distinction between civilization and the jungle, between order and anarchy. Whether a civilization is coterminous with the religious faith that informs it is a question which the experience of the twenty-first century may answer.
If we are to examine from the inside the machinery of contemporary error, we must step outside of our theological skins. Everything that gives shape and meaning to our conception of the span of human life derives from a system of beliefs that the post-Christian mind rejects. The Christian finds the ultimate meaning of things outside time, outside the boundaries of our earthly human career. For you and me, the Christian revelation makes sense of all history and of all our human experience. The great drama of Creation, the Fall, redemption and salvation is something which for us overarches all human experience, to give meaning to our days. We have been told after what model men and women were fashioned, what demands are made of them and how they will be called to account. We are taught that there should be no point at which the will of God and the divine scheme of salvation is not relevant to what we are doing. This should be the unifying factor in our lives, giving purpose and coherence where otherwise there would be only what is discrete and disconnected, haphazard sequences at the raw animal level.
For where can they turn in search of meaning, purpose and coherence, those for whom the facts of Christian revelation are nothing but an idle dream? Can we lay aside our theological presuppositions, throw off any sense of life's structured purposefulness under God and look out on experience as the pure secularist sees it? If we try, we shall find that things fall apart, the center cannot hold. There is fragmentation, nothing to provide a meaningful linkage between the diverse experiences of your life or my life, except that you or I partake as an individual in all of them. In other words, if no meaning can be found in the objective scheme of things, then it must be sought in the experiencing subjectin you or me, the individual.
Is it any wonder then that we are experiencing this drift of contemporary attitudes which tries to locate whatever principle of unity life may have in the person of the experiencing subject? If there is no divine plan, what other unifying principle can be discerned in things, what design, what overall purpose, what guidance for human conduct? Codes such as the Ten Commandments or Christ's Beatitudes assert an objective moral authority overriding all individual opinions or tastes. But the post-Christian mind rejects such objectivities. Having turned its back on all notions of the supernatural, the very basis of the Christian belief in a rational order, it can look for authentication of its judgments only in the individual self.
The post-Christian mental world is not a world of structures but a world of fluidity. What issues from the mind bereft of divine affiliation is passing opinion, transient feeling, today's or tomorrow's capricious preference. The universal language of reason and morality gives place to a wholly relativistic vocabulary of emotive predilections. The standard articulation of moral judgments in terms of virtues and vices gives place to a strange amalgam of subjectivist concepts, such as self-esteem and self-realization. We are always hearing that someone has found himself or herself, gotten to know himself or herself, learned to live with himself or herself. On all sides people are prating about discovering their "identity," as though one could help having one. A figure famous in the eyes of the media's public will explain, "I found out who I really am," after some remarkable experience and as a result of some mighty effort. Most of us acquire this knowledge before the nursery school age. Incidentally, the Christian call to lose oneself stands at the very opposite pole of experience to these meaningless assertions.
As we examine this and that piece of evidence, and see what kind of notions are at large among the bulk of our contemporaries, we detect modes of thinking that are rooted in the cultivation of the comfortable self as the unifying ideal. That seems to be what it all amounts to. And this drift in secular exploration of the self has itself unhinged many within the Christian Church. Added to it, the need for living harmoniously in society along with people of other faiths has encouraged a pluralism that saps confidence in the imperatives of the Christian revelation.
We may well ask ourselves the question: How have we gotten to this pass? The mental climate no doubt always changes from generation to generation, but the shift, for instance, in popular moral thinking during the last few decades is surely a remarkable development. It is perhaps historically unique in its thoroughness. The Christian consciousness has been bulldozed into acquiescence in a society ethically remodeled beyond all recognition. Certainly, Christians of today face a mental world that their grandparents, if they saw it, would surely regard as exemplifying rather sleazy fiction. Let us try to put our fingers on crucial aspects of this transformation.
In the nineteenth century the threat to Christianity in the West was, in some respects, a clear-cut one. The development of scientific thinking encouraged an assumption that gradually a full understanding of the origin of the world and its inhabitants would be reached. This understanding would be such that past reliance on so-called revealed truth, as exemplified by biblical narratives and religious tradition, would be rendered unnecessary. "Faith" came to be regarded as a kind of provisional, pre-suppositional footing in an as yet unexplored terrain. It was an inferior substitute for knowledge, a substitute that humanity needed only where knowledge was not yet available. Progress toward true knowledge was a matter of patiently observing by microscope and telescope, assembling evidence and establishing conclusions.
It is important to understand the secularist perspective of the day if one is going to challenge it from the Christian point of view. It is also important to understand the secularist perspective of the day because it always infiltrates the Church. Thus in the latter part of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century the mode of scientific thinking that focuses on what is physically observable infected the Church. What came to be called the "modernist" movement within the Church sought to bring Christian experience within the scope of scientific scrutiny. As a result, a new skepticism was brought to bear wherever the supernatural impinged on the Christian story. "Modernist" thinkers tried to discredit doctrines basic to Christian beliefthe Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrectionand to explain away biblical narratives involving the miraculous. Thus the Christian faith was emasculated by trendy theologians too ready to accommodate their beliefs to the intellectual fashions of the day. The impulse to desupernaturalize Christian history and Christian teaching took hold of some who had previously been worthy believers. Nevertheless the so-called modernist movement did not irreparably muddy the waters of faith.
There were always, of course, scholars who defended theological orthodoxy and who resisted current aberrations. And in England, by the middle of the century, the testimony of more widely influential thinkers and writers such as C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot and Charles Williams had enlivened a renewed orthodoxy. Following in the footsteps of G.K. Chesterton, Lewis set out to reason people into Christian belief. The Christian faith was presented as the only thing that made sense of life and of the world. There was no attempt by Lewis or by others of his kind to underplay the demands of faith, to minimize the need for personally abandoning the self into the hands of our Lord. Indeed, the personal testimony Lewis bore was as compelling as St. Augustine's. But at the same time he overpowered the intellect in arguing the sheer necessity and the sheer reasonableness of the course of conversion he recommended.
Gradually the fashion and the taste for reasoning faded. I can locate the point in time, around 1960, when I became personally aware of how the change was affecting the popular mind. As a teacher, I had always found students responsive when the matter in hand led to some open discussion of philosophical or religious positions. Some such topic had arisen with a group of mature students, many of them former officers who had been retired from the armed forces by a national cutback. Interesting views were being aired when one student suddenly said, forcefully and in a tone dismissive of the entire discussion, "But this is the Age of Aquarius." That was all. And the implication of the words soon became apparent. Reasoning about basic issues of life and death, of truth and falsehood, of goodness and evil, was no longer valid. There were no longer any intellectual landmarks or signposts by which such reasoning could be conducted. Absolutes were nonexistent. The fluidity of experience was irreducible to formulation in concept or premise.
There were, of course, current movements of thought in the world of academic philosophy, such as the theories of the logical positivists, which played their part in influencing people to query traditional modes of reasoning. Philosophy at the specialist academic level seemed to preoccupy itself with casting doubt on whether the linguistic machinery by which it had always operated had any valid connection with living experience. Whether such thinking had much direct influence on the wider public is questionable. But obviously it contributed to undermining confidence in those who used abstract concepts in reasoning about the questions on which philosophical and theological thinkers traditionally made their pronouncements.
The course of the argument here is directed toward clarifying a change in the intellectual environment, subtle in its influence but sweeping in its implications. To say that reasoning was totally discredited would be an exaggeration. Rather, it was that to connect reasoning with living experience just went out of fashion. At the popular level, at the level of the glossy magazine, contrasts began to be drawn between what the head says and what the heart feels about this or that: opting for the action recommended by the heart was made to seem more adventurous, more up-to-date, less stuffy and, above all, less rigid than taking advice from the head. I emphasize the words "less rigid." Where intellect and feeling were in conflict, where wisdom and whim collided, it became the smart thing to reject the intellect and wisdom because they belonged to a sphere of rules and regulations, of fixities and demarcations, while feeling and whim inhabited the ever-changing environment of the fluid, the environment of the Age of Aquarius.
The scientifically based challenge to Christianity infiltrated the Church in the first decades of the century, and so-called theologians tried to whittle away its supernatural affiliation and to bowdlerize its dogma. The Aquarian drift of popular thinking has now infiltrated the Church. It has led the clergy to an emphasis on the immediate which is neglectful of history and tradition. It has led to an emphasis on emotional togetherness in delight as opposed to controlled obeisance in worship. It has produced a generation of clergy who try to please rather than to instruct, to appeal to natural inclination rather than to the sense of duty.
One difficulty that faces us is the fact that, during the last half-century, certain key words have been taken over by secular humanists and given connotations twisted to conform to their program of destabilization. We may cite words such as "freedom," "value," "rights" and "discrimination." These words, and many others, have acquired connotations explicitly adapted to the secularist agenda for decomposing the social and intellectual frameworks on which Christian civilization has been built. No weapon is more necessary today to the Christian apologist than that of verbal sensitivity. The abuse of words plays a key role in the decomposition of our moral and intellectual stabilities. In view of this, the reader will not be surprised to find some chapters in this book built around misused words, such as "rights" and "values." And, quite apart from such specific attention to misused concepts, the abuse of language will occupy us at many points in our exploration. Indeed, one reason why we define what we are up against as the "post-Christian" mind and not the "anti-Christian" mind is that current secularist humanism feeds on the inheritance of the faith it has abandoned. There is much in anti-Christian propaganda todayits vocabulary and conceptsthat is essentially parasitical on the Christian tradition.
The aim of this book is to define what we Christians are up against in the areas where the new relativism is most threatening. It will involve disentangling threads of distortion and falsehood from the daily output of propaganda emanating from the media. Such clarification is badly needed. We Christians are not yet organizing ourselves, either by word or deed, against the incursions into our world from the world of unbelief. To what extent such organization is now called for will be made evident as we explore the current scene.
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