Today is Sunday, the Christian day of rest, and I’ve been thinking about the role of Christianity in western civilisation.
And my principal thought has been that there is an enormous divide between those people who regard themselves as being Christians, and those people who don’t. The further thought has been (and this is an enormous generalisation) that the political Right generally consists of Christians, and the political Left consists of non-Christians, or rather post-Christians. The two parties quite literally inhabit separate universes.
This is most apparent in America, where people on the Right will very often openly articulate their Christian beliefs. For example, when running for the presidency, Donald Trump came out openly in support of Christian beliefs which he probably received from his Scottish mother. By contrast the American Left is almost entirely secular in outlook. The American left regards itself as “progressive” precisely because it has progressed beyond Christianity into a godless, secular world view. They have moved on, and they regard American Christians as deluded fantasists, clinging to a dying worldview. In fact, they have utter contempt for them. And they reserve their uttermost contempt for a Donald Trump who has the gall to stand up for American Christianity, even if only in small ways.
By contrast, in Europe people mostly keep quiet about what they do and don’t believe. But very largely Europe is far more “progressive” than America in this respect. There are far fewer Christians in Europe than progressive secularists.
But if the secular progressives pride themselves in having moved on past Christianity, and left it behind, they have singularly failed to put together a cohesive, consistent worldview to replace that of Christianity. They have demolished Christianity, but have not built anything new in its place. The progressive secularists are living in a ruined world, in which they have torn down more or less everything that used to be held sacred, but erected nothing new. And, having dispensed with Christian morality, they now have no morality at all. And in fact, having demolished Christianity, they are now set on demolishing (or ‘deconstructing’, as they prefer to call it) everything else as well. And so now everything is under attack. Marriage. Family. Nation. Maleness. Whiteness. Everything.
Seen from this perspective, the American Christian Right is actually far stronger than the American secular progressive Left. The Christian Right actually have a set of strong beliefs, and the secular Left do not. Furthermore, the secular Left is made up of people who, having dispensed with a Christian worldview, are quite likely to next come to believe almost anything at all, and to furthermore become fanatical believers in whatever it is. Examples: Antismoking and Global Warming. So the secular Left is highly fragmented, and always likely to become more fragmented and fractured.
The decline of Christianity is in large part a consequence of the rise of Science. For there is (apparently) no place for God in the scientific vision of a universe made up of particles and waves. In this respect, the scientific worldview suffers from the same problem as the progressive secular Left: it has no morality. The scientists dispensed with God, but did not replace Christian morality with a new scientific morality. They left a vacuum.
This isn’t a problem just for western civilisation. It’s a problem for the whole world. Because all the many religions in the world are under attack from scientific secularism. Islam is also under attack. And so is Judaism. And Hinduism. And everything else.
It was probably even a problem that the Romans faced, 2000 years ago, as their old Roman religion, of Jupiter and Mars, came under siege from all sorts of new religions, Christianity being just one of many. The fall of the Roman empire may well have been much less a military collapse than a moral collapse. For maybe what had really held the Roman empire together was not the Roman army, but an austere, stoic Roman morality which was the real glue that held it together, and which no army could replace once it had dribbled away. Rome probably fell when it ceased to believe in itself, and came to believe in almost anything at all.
We’re in the same place today. We’re facing the same moral crisis, as old belief systems lose their grip, and in the ensuing vacuum people are beginning to believe in nothing, or in almost anything.
Many years ago, while on holiday in Luxor, Egypt, I spent hours talking to a very earnest young Muslim who spoke of his despair at the loss of Christian faith in Europe. He had no wish for Christians to become Muslims: he simply wanted them to believe in something, rather than in nothing. He was talking about a moral vacuum. At the time, I couldn’t really see why he was so concerned. But I think I understand him much better today.