I’m just a regular guy, but this is what I see. I live in the Northeast, a place with lots of history and money; but the historic districts are just tourist attractions and most of the money is tied up in debts. I’ve read of how values once prevalent in our land are now considered too pre-modern, and I’ve read about Christians solemnly trying to defend those values.
At the end of the day though, I’m still not convinced that what I read is accurately portraying what I see. The intimacy of Christianity really isn’t something my generation can defend, because we never really experienced it. We reluctantly identify with bands and movie characters that are hanging on by a thread in their search for meaning in life. We’re not just desperately holding onto something we’ve been handed in shattered pieces. Something is truly missing. We honestly long for something that we simply have not inherited, and I believe once we discover it again we will be blown away.
The Christendom we had has been lost, and what we have today is a far cry from it. Relativism has taken the place of truth. Autonomy has replaced community. A third of our generation has been killed in the womb. Our highest institutions of learning are circus shows for the rest of society, experimenting just because they can, mocking the standards upon which they are built. Noble causes are seen as merely cultural phenomena. Positions of power are ambitiously pursued as career paths while positions in the family are neglected. Each pillar we stood upon has been swept out from underneath our feet, like folding chairs being put away for the night because the evening seminar is through. The structures hearkening back to our great past may still stand, but they are hollow edifices. They might as well be floating in the world of ideals considered no longer attainable.
The civilization that made our people great is not losing the battle for the Christian way of life. It has already lost. The remnants of it that we encounter are just decaying matter, like reminiscent talk of someone who once lived. Christian culture has been preserved, but it isn’t prevailing. It’s like a photo album or museum exhibit worthy of nothing more than a History Channel documentary. It’s about as important as any given professional sports league or music genre. It’s not the common way of life or the light by which we see. It’s just a part of life that people see as they walk by.
Our mores, our culture, and identity have not survived modernity. This demographic winter is a direct result of the internal deterioration of the fabric of Christian society. If you’re a Westerner in the West and you think the society you encounter every day is the true West, then you should know that you are part of something much greater—but something that no longer exists.
The Christian worldview is now seen by the majority as merely a mechanism of natural selection that homo sapiens held onto because it gave them good company, security, and something to do. Now Neo-Darwinism has taught us that we can shed that old mechanism like we’d give away an old toy once we’ve come of age, since we now recognize that there are more important things to worry about. Empiricism entered the City on a Hill like the Trojan Horse, declaring itself to be the new Pantheon that will work with every other worldview—so long as it is given the reins.
Christendom was Christianity and Western culture in a relationship. Modernism stole Christianity’s girl, and then said “You can still be her friend, as long as you don’t intrude upon any truly important part of her life.” In accepting this marginalization, Christians are only strengthening modernism by making it seem more multicultural, because that’s what Christianity has been reduced to—just another culture in the great mosaic of modernism.
Western culture now just admires modernism even more, saying, “You’re so kind and understanding, still letting me hang out with my old guy friends.” Christianity used to be the one taking her out to the movies and inviting her to family get-togethers. Now it’s at best the friend she calls when modernism fails to appreciate her. Christianity’s answer will always be the same: leave him and start a new life with me. But some unnaturally induced desire within her makes her actually need the pain.
Embers of Hope
There is still hope for Christendom though, because Christians believe in the Resurrection; and the Christian West may have died, but Christ still lives on in the individual. The only way to win back our way of life is to show a new face to the world, while having the same heart. This new face is already preparing for such a proposal in the undergrounds of modern, Islamic and Eastern civilization. In small universities and monasteries, in inspirational discussions at cafes on Main Street, they’re reviving an identity that’s familiar yet innovative, inviting yet conquering, aggressive but loving and charitable.
This is what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has called the “creative minority,” and it has revived the West in the past. It resurrected the Judaic worldview in the undergrounds of the Roman Empire, and made it emerge as the Judeo-Christian worldview. When Greco-Roman civilization seemed to be at its end, out of nowhere Roman Catholicism became the religion of Western civilization. In both cases the face changed, but the soul remained the same.
If I am to propose that Christendom should be brought back to life, then I must have a good reason. After all, doesn’t everything under the sun just have its time, run its normal mortal course, and then just come to some natural end—only to be reverently placed into the annals of history, legend, and lore? Why even bother to fight for a re-establishment of Christendom? Why not just remember it as a noble part of our revered past like the Roman colosseum and the Pyramids?
The answer is simple: because Christianity isn’t just a great human idea that exists merely for its own sake. It never caved in on itself because it was constantly giving of itself. It was, and still is, an essential force for good in the world. Modernism sees it as a worthless rock that belongs in the rubbished past, but it’s actually the heirloom and engagement ring of the human race, given by God—so it must be retrieved if not for Christians’ sake then for humanity’s.
Christianity sincerely left its doors wide open, graciously sharing its ideas with other cultures, and wholeheartedly embracing the true, good, and beautiful parts of every foreign custom it encountered. It perpetuated itself by seeing beyond itself, while understanding that its identity was based upon a faith, hope, and love not particular to any ethnicity or government, but inherent within all humanity in its universal pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Subsequently, Christendom expanded mainly through cultural assimilation. Many civilizations may have mixed their cultural infusions with their military conquests, but the Christian West was different in that it had the transcendent worldview to conquer through love and inherit everything good within the culture it conquered, so much so that it took on a new face each time—and this was acceptable for the Christian because his eyes were focused on heaven more than his own identity.
A Sorry Substitute
Does our new modern civilization embrace these same values of assimilation? Or does it place all other cultures in museums, while calling itself multicultural since—even though it isn’t willing to learn from them—it’s at least willing to learn about them? This new civilization must take a new view because it’s supposed to be the first to see outside the box, the first not to be confined by its own society’s cultural mores, customs, and standards. It’s the first one to have a moral code based on the premise that all other moral codes are just ethnic. Its first universal commandment is that no ethical commandment is universal.
Thus, the rival who took over the Christian worldview has no interest in embracing the beneficial aspects of Christendom. Rather, it intends to dispose of it all. It’s ready to call any public expression of Christian faith offensive while professing tolerance. Its aim is not to diversify the religious landscape, but to reduce religious fervor to the lowest common denominator so that no sincere truth seeker deems it to be worthy of pursuit.
Christian civilization made mistakes as well. I do confidently say, however, that we have sought forgiveness for our sins. Many have mistaken our repentance for sheer repugnance towards who we are, and many Westerners have abandoned their heritage after learning how corrupt their past often was. This is human and understandable. I don’t blame a soul for leaving the Church, but anyone who has left should know that many lessons have been learned from our history. Reformations, revolutions, and renaissances are an intrinsic part of our culture, because we are perpetually aware of ourselves. That self-consciousness has paid a heavy toll. In fact, it’s probably what killed Christendom.
A Murder of Brothers
This is exactly what Christ said must happen, though—“unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Our self-consciousness led to our self-repugnance, which led to our repentance, which led to our surrender. But is this not the only genuine proposal of hope? In fact, it is Hope Himself, The Resurrection, The Body of Christ or the One G.K. Chesterton called “The Everlasting Man” who “has died many times and risen again; for it has a God who knows the way out of the grave.”
“This is the final fact, and it is the most extraordinary of all…. The faith has not only often been killed but it has often died a natural death; in the sense of coming to a natural and necessary end. It’s obvious that it has survived the most savage and most universal persecutions from the shock of the Diocletian fury to the shock of the French Revolution. But it has a more strange and even more weird tenacity; it has survived not only war but peace. It has not only died often but degenerated often and decayed often; it has survived its own weakness and even its own surrender. It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future.” —G.K. Chesterton
Modernism drugged it, and as Christendom noticed its fatal symptoms it went down with a hard fight. The great immigrant churches of America and the European literary giants of the early to mid twentieth century reminded modernism of the great kingdom it just drugged. In its selfless concern for humanity as a whole, Christendom accepted the dosage, thinking the drugs would prepare it to partake in groundbreaking achievements in mankind’s future.
A Flesh and Blood Relationship
But modernism had a different plan. It intended to keep Christendom out of the future, like a judge court ordering a father to stay away from his son since he had done so much damage already. As a public school student I learned how ignorant and inhumane Father Christendom often was. Be that as it may, I still forgive him because I see his good qualities, and I would welcome him home in a heartbeat simply because he is my father.
That is the final fact reinstated in our time—the drugs of modernism killed Christendom; but perhaps the seeds that the Gardener had sown throughout history are ready to germinate and bring new life straight from the ground of a broken earth. Then his disciples will recognize that he is not just a Gardener but the Resurrected Christ, who knew all along how the story goes—even amidst our utter despair. Thus we truly expired as Jesus did, but only so we can truly testify “I was dead, and Christ brought me back to life,” and this will be a testimony not only of individuals but of an entire civilization.
This article was first published on ramblingspirit.com.
Unsplash photo by sergio souza.