What happened to this world? How did Western Civilization, with its traditions of religious values and beliefs reaching back over a thousand years, suddenly become a fractured culture of individualism, unmoored from its past? These are the questions being asked today by people of faith. Revolution and Fall takes the reader from the beginnings of this secular revolution, through its present evolution and its subtle ways of persuasion. In these chapters you will gain a greater understanding of modernity’s assaults upon the Church, how it seized the public square with its shrill political voice and how it distorts valid science to promote its agenda of agnosticism. Only with an understanding as to why this revolution began and how it was able to seize the mind of our modern world, will Christians and other people of faith be prepared to ask a deeper question. What should we do? With these insights into what historians call a Post-Christian world, we will realize its failure to answer the most basic questions of human life and living, also realizing how fragile are its foundations as they begin to crumble. Revolution and Fall is a journey through Western culture that will restore the proper confidence of faith.
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Revolution and Fall
Christian Life in a Post-Christian World
By Charles Grice
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2017 Charles Grice
All rights reserved.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is about the most profound and far-reaching revolution in the history of Western Civilization, a revolution from our Christian foundations to what historians now call a Post-Christian world. No shot was fired, no government was overthrown, no one took to the streets. Yet it was a revolution which, over time, revealed itself to be more sweeping than any other social or political movement in our history. More profound because it represented a revolution in thought, which in turn became a revolution in beliefs which lie at the core of culture, beliefs as to who we are as human, how we should live together and where the future is taking us.
The Post-Christian revolution drew much of its strength from its subtlety, a slow and steady march over centuries, often under the pretext of science or philosophy, carrying the seemingly unassailable banners of freedom, progress or reason. For the most part the Church remained silent. Confronted by the revolution, it engaged in a slow ritualistic form of suicide in its attempt to adapt to this new spirit of the age. Abandoning its roots, it was unable to summon even a word of protest.
The secular movement carried another advantage. It was a message that flattered man. It showed us a new humanity unbound and autonomous, free from all constraints of the past. Much like the serpent's temptation in Genesis, to be like God, Western man ate the fruit and now finds himself in another kind of exile. Alienated from God, we are now alienated from one another and from our best selves. Mired in an age of anxiety and malaise, we are no longer at home in our world.
In Europe the revolution is all but complete. In many of their countries less than ten percent are affiliated with the Church. Here in America the struggle rages on, underlying our deep division. They appear political, but lie much deeper under the surface of things, two groups who can't cooperate, who don't even speak the same language because their differences lie in irreconcilable worldviews.
I saw for myself the statistics of Europe while visiting the great cathedrals of London, Milan, Paris and Rome. In Milan during a worship service, I sat alone in my pew, with only a few elderly scattered about a massive sanctuary that once held thousands. Later in the day I returned when the cathedral was open to the public. The noise of tourists milling about, eating and taking pictures as they pointed at the sculptures and architecture, spoke of a curiosity without a history, having no sense of reverence for place. They gazed at the highest expressions of European art, unaware of the artists' faith. They admired the high majestic arches and stained glass windows, with little understanding of the builders' devotion, the centuries-long commitment of generations in its making. Filled with tourists, it was emptied of its spirit.
Some will say this isn't all that revolutionary, just part of the inevitable ebb and flow of history. Rather than offering dozens of anecdotes as a counterpoint, such as activist courts upending long standing traditions or bestselling books written by militant atheists, I offer a brief thought experiment.
Let's extract three couples from three different eras and place them into our century. One from Europe's Middle Ages, one from the United States Revolutionary War period and a third from the recent past, an American couple just after World War II. When we insert them into today's world, our initial thoughts are directed towards a different revolution, one I don't consider all that revolutionary. We'd want to know how they would react to our technology, everything from smart phones to jumbo jets. Those things would dazzle, but only for a while. Over time our modern inventions would lose their magic. The real revolution lies underneath and can be unearthed by asking them a few questions.
Do you believe you possess a soul? Implicit in this question is a challenge to a modern view of humanity as highly evolved organisms defined only by our chemistry and biology. A second question, do you believe in an entity we can call evil? This is another challenge to today's thinking, evil as the stuff of myth and superstition, along with the modern claim that our problems are the effects of oppressive social structures. This of course reflects modernity's own mythmaking, a belief in the eventual perfection of man by man. If we only refine our methods of social engineering, enhance our sensitivity training, if we fund enough programs and ride the wave of technology, a grand new world will soon emerge. This is the secular experiment we've been living in for decades. When faced with its self-evident failures, modernity reaches into its bottomless bag of still more utopian promises, just more finely-tuned social engineering and more training, unable to see that our problems are human problems, not the problems of biological accidents. Related to the question of evil is the question of sin, a word now erased from the public square. The post-revolutionary man is free to define herself or himself on their own terms. Free from God, who can we sin against?
The power and reach of our Post-Christian transformation is revealed by the answers these three couples would give. Do you have a soul? "Of course," they'd answer, likely wondering why you asked. Theirs is a Christian answer, once the bedrock of Western civilization, with the soul as the most basic assumption of our self-identity. We are made in the image of God.
Is there such a thing as evil and sin? All of them would reply with an emphatic yes, not with abstract sociological responses. They could give you examples of our human history of war and strife. On a personal level, they would acknowledge themselves as fallen; still another reflection of the once Christian worldview that man is unable to save man.
Their answers would contain such phrases as "that's how things are," or "everyone thinks that way," evidence of what we call culture, something we will explore in the next chapter. But the radical reach of the revolution is revealed not just in their answers. It is revealed by the fact that these couples, whose different lives span over a thousand years, would all give you much the same answers. Fixed in a Judeo-Christian mindset, they would share the same outlook upon life, the same view of themselves, ideas fixed and stable as cultural assumptions, until now.
The following chapters are an attempt to understand how and why we find ourselves in this Post-Christian world. Only when we're able to understand the how and why, as well as the revolution's means of persuasion, can Christians begin to form a proper response and regain their confidence.
On several occasions I've presented this topic to various groups under the title of 'Christianity and Culture: Are We at War?' Usually as I'm gathering my notes after a presentation, there's a line at the podium, people wanting to know more. More or less they have the same question one woman asked, her voice displaying deep distress, "What can we do?" That is what this book is about, what we can do, the question which lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. Faced with our new world, I find Christians either in a state of denial and withdrawal, or reduced to angry hand-wringing. These attitudes not only betray the assurances given to Christians, a world still in God's hands, but they also betray our great commission, to go out and to love a lost world. But before we can speak this Christian truth to our world, we must first understand the lie it is living.
Chapter Two is entitled, "What Do We Mean by Culture?" If we want to understand this seismic shift of the West, first we need to know something about culture itself, its foundations and how it works. In using the term Western culture, I'm referring to the civilization arising out of the ashes of Rome, migrating north from the Mediterranean throughout the European continent, later imported to the new world. Today we can't envision how thoroughly Christianity once pervaded the West, not just one influence among many, but an embedded worldview which formed a distinct culture. Faith transcended nationality. Kings and queens sought the authority of the Church for their legitimacy. At the center of almost all old European cities there stood a church. The disciplines of their early universities, science, philosophy, astronomy and mathematics were all taught in the service of theology. Art and literature, from Michelangelo to Milton, were anchored in the expression of Christian faith.
Chapter Three, "How the Enlightenment Left Us In the Dark," looks back to the seeds of thought which eventually gave rise to today's Post-Christian culture. Historians generally agree that it was the philosophy of the Enlightenment beginning in 16th Century Europe, which eventually shaped the mindset of the secular world as we now know it. By tracing the development of ideas from the Enlightenment, we will not only gain an understanding as to how it was able to undermine Christianity, but we'll see its inherent flaws and weaknesses.
Chapter Four, "Out of the Rubble," revisits the collapse of the Enlightenment project in the aftermath of two World Wars. With millions lying dead on the battlefield, Europe was forced to look in the mirror. Here we will examine the choices it made, choices which are still with us today.
Chapter Five studies "Secular Humanism" asking what is it and what are its beliefs? The term 'secular' means those areas of life, such as government or business, in which religious influence is generally absent. When the term secular is joined with the term 'humanism,' as it is today, it embodies a comprehensive belief system more prevalent than many realize.
Chapter Six, entitled "Altar of Science," doesn't engage in the tiresome and unnecessary debate as to whether science and religion can coexist. The history of the West, other than a few isolated incidents, was not only one where faith and scientific inquiry got along, but one of mutual encouragement. Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and a long list of Nobel Prize winners were all persons of faith. This chapter is about something else, a distortion of science I call pseudoscience which doesn't limit itself to the scientific method, hijacking real science to make philosophical or quasi-religious claims. Since this is one of the agnostic world's most powerful tools of persuasion, we need to understand its agenda.
Chapter Seven, "Within the Walls," looks at the way secularism, with its activist bent, undermines the traditions and beliefs of the Church. Here we will take a look at two of their assaults upon Christianity, one upon its creeds and another under the pretext of social justice.
Chapter Eight, "Messages of Modernity," asks several questions of today's culture which should be an embarrassment to modernity. Questions it cannot answer. What happened to the greatness of Western art, literature and classical music? Where are today's creative geniuses who can rival Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Mozart? Is the abandonment of Western classical studies by our universities a reflection of this embarrassment, or is it a repudiation of our past so that it can install a culture of its own?
Chapter Nine presents "Ten Questions Christians Must Answer." Only a few decades ago these questions would never have been posed to the Christian faith. In a once stable culture of shared values and meaning, these answers were considered settled. A Post-Christian world now questions faith in the spirit of antagonism rather than inquiry. Christians need to know how to answer, and in knowing what we believe, we will reclaim our confidence, realizing that faith does in fact provide life's compelling answers.
Chapter Ten takes a look at the "Public Square" and its history in America, asking how our historical dialogue, which used to talk about shared values and the common good, has turned into today's shrill and toxic shouting match over rights and power, no longer seeking truths by which a nation can live.
In the final chapter, "A Christian Response," I return to the question of what we can do. The hope is that these chapters, by giving the reader an understanding of how this secular revolution began, as well as its methods and its underlying beliefs, we will then know what to do. We will see how tenuous are the foundations of this revolution, and how it is beginning to sow the seeds of its own demise. Yet much like the early disciples, first we must be equipped and prepared before we can go out into our world.
I write from a Christian perspective. I can write from no other. One of the modern lies we've been handed is that faith can be reduced to our personal preferences. With seemingly unassailable words like 'choice' tossed about, we're confused about something. We're confused about truth. Of course we're free to choose our own belief system, but in today's individualized world, we've stopped asking of things, "Is this really true? And if this is really true, is it not true for everyone?" Every religious tradition once directed a person towards this one idea, a belief in something absolute and timeless, a reality beyond us rather than the subjective. Faith had to do with the nature of man and the nature of God, and within such truths our destiny rather than our own projections. So complete is the revolution, such questions have given way to vague notions of tolerance and inclusivity, with any absolute claims subject to derision, except of course the absolutism of their Post-Christian claims. In a world we did not make, a life we didn't create, standing in a universe we cannot comprehend, the human predicament has somehow become a self-construction. In taking our first step, as we try to understand this strange new world in which we find ourselves, we need to ask and answer an initial question. What is culture?CHAPTER 2
What Do We Mean By Culture?
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to truth and wander away to myths.
If we want to understand how our culture has changed, we must first understand culture, what it is and how it exerts its influence. A definition is elusive. We're so immersed in our own culture, for the most part we're unaware of its workings. Trying to explain it to someone is much like telling a fish it's wet. Still, we can venture some thoughts. One is by way of comparison, looking back at old cultural foundations which once held firm in the West but no longer bind us.
Culture is not to be confused with civilization. A nation can be civilized, possessing advanced technology, yet with very different ideas about democracy, the role of women, the rites of childhood or even the worth of the individual. Culture binds us subtly and powerfully, with its traditions constantly enacted and reenacted in order to reinforce itself. In this manner culture transmits its own set of values and virtues, providing nothing less than a comprehensive outlook upon life. Strong culture is like the air we breathe, invisible, yet life sustaining.
Likely culture arose initially from the need for survival, binding people against external threats. At first this took the form of military or economic ties rather than sharing a common spirit. Ancient Rome is referred to as an empire, not a culture, because it was held together primarily by military might, ultimately proving to be a weak union. Once the Roman projection of power waned, its fracture was swift and inevitable. Rising from the collapse, a different type of conquest took place, this one spiritual. Christianity quickly spread from its Mediterranean roots, sweeping across Europe, holding it together somewhat loosely through the Dark Ages. Over time it became a strong culture by providing more than protection or economic benefit. More than that, it provided a spiritual framework for both the community and the individual. Unlike primitive or weak cultures, Christianity was able to supply answers for living as well as answers for dying.
Christianity became so imbedded in the European psyche, so widely shared in its way of thinking, we were the fish unaware of the water in which we were swimming. All cultures to a different degree, give something tangible to its people in the form of answers to our basic human questions, ones we are born with. Usually these take four basic forms: Where did everything come from? Who am I and how do I fit within this creation? What constitutes living a good life? Finally the question of death, where is everything going?
Because each of the four questions is related to the other, we will take the first two together. How did the world come about and who am I within it? Every culture has provided some sort of answer. Each had its own creation story. Some of the early answers, although partial, arose from primitive animist beliefs, which believed in a preexisting eternal cosmos of which the earth was at the center. It was a reality we could not peer beyond. This gave the earth a form of eternal permanence since it alone appeared unchanging while yielding plants and animals who came and went. Generations passed but only the earth remained. Possessing this life-giving magic, the world itself was the object of worship as early man simply considered himself to be a part of nature, caught up in the same cycle as the plants and animals. It was a weak transmission of culture, man was not unique, with questions of life and death yielding little. It was a diminished hope if anything, humans like the harvest, flourished in their spring and summer, followed by an eventual winter.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter One: The Revolution, 1,
Chapter Two: What Do We Mean By Culture?, 9,
Chapter Three: How the Enlightenment Left Us in the Dark, 21,
Chapter Four: Out of the Rubble, 33,
Chapter Five: Secular Humanists: Who Are They?, 39,
Chapter Six: The Altar of Science, 51,
Chapter Seven: Messages of Modernity, 65,
Chapter Eight: Within The Walls, 75,
Chapter Nine: Ten Questions Christians Must Answer, 89,
Chapter Ten: The Public Square, 103,
Chapter Eleven: A Christian Response, 117,