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Is God Dead?

Greg Sheridan in The Australian (August 26) wrote an outstanding piece on the loss of Christian influence, why it is happening and what the consequences will be. This brilliant piece of journalism (do we say things are brilliant because we agree with them?) is worth further study in the staffroom or senior school studies. I have abridged the article, though what follows is considerable (around half the article).

“One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity. George Orwell, 1944

“What will it mean, when God is dead? Australia is about to become an atheist nation. The census shows us that barely half the population identifies as Christian while nearly a third nominates no religion. The numbers of believers will be bolstered by immigration but the trend is unmistakable. The old beliefs are dying out.

“Our trek to radical unbelief follows much of western Europe. The same trends are evident in the US. Though religious belief is stronger there, it has lost the elites and over time elite opinion leads public opinion.

“The eclipse of Christianity will be like the eclipse of the sun. Darkness will be the result. Will it be a temporary darkness or a long night of the Western soul? In abandoning God, we are about to embark on one of the most radical social experiments in Western history. It is nothing short of the reordering of human nature. Short of war, nothing is as consequential.

“Human beings create themselves inside a culture. A culture without God will create different human beings… When our culture has exiled God, there will be a radical change to the human personality and all our social institutions and relations.

“For a time we will continue to live off the declining ethical and cultural capital of our heritage of 2000 years of Christianity and more than 3000 years of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But as British writer Arnold Lunn once remarked, we are living off the scent of an empty vase. As we cut ourselves off ever more comprehensively from the roots of our civilisation, our civilisation will be damaged.

“The social and political consequences will be severe, with a crippling loss of civic purpose. At this moment there is a perfect storm of social, historical, technological, educational and intellectual forces militating against belief in Christianity. A semi-official new religion, the new atheism, is slowly taking its place and acquiring the appurtenances of an established church. Atheism is every bit as much a religious faith as any religion, but it is less rational and less human than Christianity.

“What are we losing here? Religious belief cannot be sustained on the basis that it is useful to society. People only subscribe to it if they think it is true. This means not only a rational ascent, but an intuitive sense that religion is real, a sense that our innate hope and wonder are not meaningless, that our lives are not meaningless. In all the important decisions in life — who we will marry and the like — we use all the means of understanding at our disposal. Our intuition of God, and of hope, is admissible evidence, it is part of the reason we believe

“But we should at least pause for a second to consider how much we are losing as a society by rejecting this Christian tradition. Virtually everything we like in our current society, and in our political culture, derives from Christianity, and before that from the tradition of the Old Testament.

“The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, might have been written 2500 or more years ago. It begins with what was the most radical statement in favour of human rights to enter the ancient world. It was that God, one God, created human beings in his own image. That is the beginning of the story of human dignity in the Western tradition.”

[In this section Sheridan goes onto explore the teachings of the OT and NT as they contribute to “the central elements of cultural and indeed political development in Western civilisation”.]

“In the 19th century, seduced by the new discoveries of science and reacting against the exaggerated or misplaced claims of some Christians to explain the detail of the physical universe only through scriptural reference, there developed a great vogue among some intellectuals for scientism, the misplaced view that science could explain everything.

“This is not to whitewash the various crimes and periodic wicked¬ness of countless Christians, including many Christian leaders, through history. Nothing is easier than to find bad deeds and sayings of individual Christians over 2000 years and then implausibly claim that this invalidates the whole of Christianity.

“Where are we now in the West? As our liberalism loses touch with its Christian roots it is becoming ever more confused, intolerant and incapable of delivering a good political culture.

“But liberalism today is unravelling. The loss of faith in God has been accompanied in the West by the collapse of faith in institutions, and indeed in humanity itself.

“To cite one study among thousands, the US National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper titled Is Religion Good for You? Here is one of the headline results: “Doubling the rate of religious attendance raises household income by 9.1 per cent, decreases welfare participation by 16 per cent from baseline rates, decreases the odds of being divorced by 4 per cent and increases the odds of being married by 4.4 per cent.” There are endless similar statistics.

“It has been rightly said that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. An intolerant atheism is just one variant of a wild miscellany of ideologies and esoteric cults gaining ground in the West.

“ The lack of purpose and the lack of any ultimate standards that comes with the exile of God from our culture leads to savage polarisations and sudden outbursts of hysterical sentiments. This is an inevitable consequence of the new conception of human nature that will follow the turn away from God.

“Without God, human beings are no longer unique, universal and special in nature — they are just one more chancy outcrop of the planet and its biosphere. And when Christianity is more completely eradicated from our consciousness it will dawn on the culture that without God there is no final human accountability. Life is just what you can get away with, and no ultimate price to pay.

“We seem now to be moving into a new, extremely perplexing historical phase. The sheer pace of change everywhere, not least the extreme disorientation of every person holding in their smartphone computing power undreamed of even a decade ago, is fracturing and disorienting. We have moved from what sociologists have called the “solid modernity” of the first half of the 20th century to “liquid modernity”, where there is nothing to keep hold of, no certainties, just a continuous whirl of change that is exhausting and confusing, and yet ultimately dreary.

“And we have decided to banish and harm the very things that might help us make sense of this time. For the first time in non-communist Western societies, except for brief moments in European history when revolutions have displaced monarchies, the state apparatus itself will to some extent be mobilised to suppress and prevent Christianity.

“The process has already begun, but you can see coming down the road a vast caravan of legal harassment and actions, under the aegis of human rights and anti-discrimination bodies, to constrain churches and Christian institutions from teaching and practising their faith.

“…society is about to move from that consideration and swing wildly to an alternative extreme of making the conventional practice and teaching of traditional Christianity legally problematic.

“The Christian churches have been slow to understand and respond to all this. But a serious dialogue is under way. American writer Rod Dreher argues that many mainline Christian churches are in danger of descending into what he calls moralistic therapeutic deism, a bland version of the prevailing zeitgeist with the merest thin treacle of lowest-common-denominator deist beliefs over the top.

“In his bold and high-selling new book The Benedict Option, Dreher suggests the churches have to rethink their social roles. Politics offers them nothing, the culture is everything. Their main political battle, he argues, should be to secure their own freedoms.

“He thinks they need to re-conceive of themselves as minorities. This would give them some advantages. They need, too, to reconsider the seriousness of their purposes, so that even if they no longer represent a consensus, they can at least continue to offer an ¬alternative.

“This is not the end of days. But it is the end of that long period when the West has known Christianity, even if it has often honoured the faith in the breach.

“Our culture, our people, not to mention our poor and our sick, will miss Christianity more than they can possibly know.

Click here for the rest of this outstanding article.

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