The Low Social Status of Christian Belief Is Part of a Larger Problem

The Low Social Status of Christian Belief Is Part of a Larger Problem April 3, 2018
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Modern people live in the aftermath of a terrible rupture, in a time radically disconnected from all that came before. Their knowledge of history is limited to a few cliches about the darkness and cruelty they suppose characterized all previous eras.

Rather than valuing continuity with the past, modern people seek to invent themselves out of nothing but their own wills. Rather than finding their identities through the values of the past, modern people define themselves by transgressing those values. This way of life was inevitable as soon as the modern project was launched.

The modern project seeks to liberate the individual from the constraints of religion, of the state, of family and community. Completing this project requires the rejection of all that once defined Western Culture and lent order and purpose to individual lives.

The Culture of Repudiation

The result has been the development of what Roger Scruton has called “the culture of repudiation.” In such a culture, repudiation of the Western inheritance is a sign of belonging to the times, of being au courant, of being hip. Maintaining loyalty to any aspect of our inheritance marks one as old-fashioned, as retrograde and, quite probably, as an agent of oppression.

The most reviled part of our bequeathment is traditional Christian belief. Modernists revile traditional Christian belief in large part because it served as the source and foundation of the old way of understanding the world. As such, Christianity has, over the course of the modern period, been cast more and more as the enemy of human flourishing rather than as its source.

A Substitute System

In Christianity’s place, a new default religion stands. In this system, the human problem is lack of liberty, specifically the lack of liberty for each individual to determine his own values, purpose and morals. The solution is to liberate others by advocating, even in an abstract and risk-free way, for “social justice.” Salvation now can be had for the price of a bumper sticker or a willingness to mouth the right platitudes.

The new system grants the believer freedom. Most particularly, it grants the freedom to pursue material gain without the restraints of morality or even of reason. Stopping to reflect on the reasons for one’s consumption is discouraged. Reflection on such things is a value of the old system.

Adherents of the new system are also free to pursue whatever sex they desire. The most obvious example of the shift from the Christian to the Modern systems in this area has been the radical alteration of our view of divorce. Lifelong marriage was part of the old system. The old Christian culture insisted marriage was an ontological mingling that could only be severed at great cost, including at the cost of social approbation. Under the new system, marriage is, like, whatever.

Under this new system, those who maintain the rightness of any of the old ways are marginalized. Above all, this is the case for those who openly insist on the correctness of traditional Christian belief. Their pertinaciousness serves as a reminder that the new system can never be total. Since the old system can never be utterly stamped out, those who resist are pushed into positions of limited cultural influence.

In short, the increasingly strong stigma on public expressions of traditional Christian belief is a feature of modernity, not a bug. The marginalization of traditional Christian belief throughout the West has always been a predictable outcome of the modern project. People surprised by these developments simply never took modernity seriously enough.

The Good News

The good news is that we are nearing peak modernity. For all the self-determination and technological wonder that modernity provides, it cannot meet the deepest human psychological and spiritual needs. We hear much about the inevitable further decline of American Christianity. Millennials, we are told, are increasingly irreligious will only become more so. In the short-term, these predictions may be accurate.

But, black swans appear out of nowhere. Already, we see you people like Sarah Jean Gosney embracing the outwards expressions of the old, inherited Christian culture if not yet its core. Gosney, of course, represents thousands of others. These young people are stumbling, often without the aid of their elders, in the right direction. For now, though, they remain on the margins. But when the aim is to revive the repudiated soul of a culture, the margins are a very good place to start.

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  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    This article reminds me of this famous statement which Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. (President Ronald Reagan nominated Kennedy for the Supreme Court in November 1987.)

    I disagree with the characterization of “social justice” in this article. There are theologically-conservative Christians who believe that there is such a thing as “social justice”, who are concerned about it, and who promote it in word and deed. Anyone who truly believes in it and cares about it will not believe “Salvation now can be had for the price of a bumper sticker or a willingness to mouth the right platitudes”.

    Are there not people who believe in “the new system” who are critical of materialism and consumerism? Such as some of the former companions of Sarah Jean Gosney?

    I strongly disagree with the “good news”: “that we are nearing peak modernity”. People–especially young adults–have been searching for meaning for their lives for a long time, especially since the 1960s. One should not expect that most of them will eventually become Christians. For millennia, billions of people around the world have believed that their lives are meaningful, and most of them have not been Christians.