This paper, appearing in stages, suggests western Christianity of differing types has fragmented and in part lost its way. As a result of this failure Secularisms of various kinds, some dangerous and destructive, have dominated the West and caused and are causing massive problems. It is time western Christianity recovered, and this primarily involves once again seeing and living the big picture of Christian truth and moving away from the subcultures and holes we have often dug ourselves into. Many of the two billion plus Christians around the world are already doing this in a variety of ways, and this paper merely throws in its contribution.
A Short History.
After the partial defeat of Fascism in 1945, an idolatry which sought to replace Christianity, like atheistic Communism and other modern movements, it seemed Christianity would be able to grow without persecution, except in the USSR and China. There were missionary movements planted in many countries which were honest and trusted and Christianity grew. Except it did not in the West as other cultural forces took over. These included Individualism, where life centred on me, Consumerism, where the advertising industry promised the new world to sell its goods, and Choice or Freedom, where the individual choosing his or her life was the most ultimate reality. New generations choose these ways, as the ideologies for them swamped churchgoing and Sunday School.
Gradually, years of teaching, prayer, churchgoing, family life conveying a Christian faith or ethos receded in varying degrees. God was not worshipped, except occasionally, or on Sunday and was marginalised in the media, especially television. There were compartments for Christianity – RE in schools, religious slots on radio and television, civic and national events, and for a lot of people the weekly church event, but Christianity was being marginalised.
There were also educational and intellectual challenges. Perhaps the main one was a scientific neutralism in the natural and human sciences which was philosophically and really without foundation, but claimed to know. Facts, causes, logic, data, evidence, theory described what is really the case and all other views were consigned to belief or ideology. In the popular mind evolution not a seven day creation proved God did not exist, and even more formative was the cultural division between the natural, what is explained by something else, and the supernatural, whatever might then be unexplained. Some Christians addressed these. Some secularists saw their own problems, but most did not. Even worse, many Christians slowly retreated from intellectual engagement.
Throughout this period there were good things. Millions of Christians lived mainly good lives, serving others, being reliable, having good standards of conduct and helping good economies emerge, stable and relatively peaceful states, health services, education systems and good marriages, families and relationships, although there were also Christian failings of course. These contributions are the great unwritten history of the late 20th century to be noticed only in the 21st century as they disappeared in selfishness, aggression and self-promotion.
But Christians did not reflect on their reactions. One was to churchify and internalize. They deliberate for decades on proposed church unities, sifting organisational quagmires. They spend decades on whether there should be women as vicars and bishops when men have been cross dressing for centuries. Ecclesiastical issues became so convoluted that no one could understand them. People did things in churches which were cultic and weird, and more sadly churches were bought off – Anglicans by the British establishment and American Christians by the Republican Party in what is one of the most serious issues on the planet. So, western Christians collaborated with Secularism, mainly because they wanted to be nice and fit in.
Within this internalisation, various Christian isms emerged. One of them was moralism, the ism which Christ opposed in the Pharisees. Another was liberalism, an accommodation with whatever new thought form might emerge in the culture. Another earlier one was fundamentalism, a flight from Darwinist thought and possible a white racist reaction to black Christianity. Another was Evangelicalism, growing out of the world-wide spread of Chriistianity, and taking various new turns. Another was the charismatic movement. Catholicism had its own set of emphases. These isms often reflected important aspects of Christianity, but they had an inability to reflect on their own limitations or see Christianity aright. They were subcultural. Just as earlier, denominations had seen Baptism, the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper ( or whatever you choose to call it) , Congregationalism, the Priesthood or something else as the defining issue, so these groups were subcultural. They made a bit the whole.
This was even worse in theology. Theologians, enamoured of their own work, often picked up a post trendy philosophy, grafted it into their theology, when it was already outdated, and spilled words on it. Even worse were those who undertook to defend God in theology, or “doctrine”, as it was often called, failing to notice that Christ’s teaching was infinitely more subtle and comprehensive than theirs. Often, they were essentialists, seeing one “doctrine” as the touchstone of all truth. It may be substitutionary atonement, or even more strangely “abortion” which carries the weight of all veracity. There is, of course, good theology, but the discipline strained at gnats and swallowed camels. They talked theology, but ignored the whole corpus of knowledge world-wide into which Christianity has spoken for two millenia and now should have been speaking to billions who were, or might become, Christians.
Culture moves fast, especially with the internet and television. Now the crap of militarism, western and Islamic, is let loose on the world. Western capitalism has conquered with its own self-serving faith. The process of individualism is driving billions to success at the expense of others. The planet is in danger from fast, or slower, destruction though the human predicament of sins and idolatry, yet Christianity, especially in the West, and despite the bigger wisdom of Pope Francis and others, is fragmented and not up to the task it should face. It is time to wake up, friends, and this essay will try to provide breakfast in a number of later additions.