Western civilization seems to be committing suicide. What else to call it when a culture starts denying its defining values and ideas, demonizes its greatest contributors, and decides that its heritage is not worth transmitting to the next generation? One aspect of the suicide of a culture has to be its repudiation of the religion that made it possible.
The United States is indeed a nation of immigrants, and its genius used to be in assimilating them, teaching them American history and government and instilling the values of “Americanism.” Today this is not so easy, especially when schools–once the prime engine of assimilation–teach the evils of America while trying to be “multi-cultural” by affirming immigrant cultures.
European nations are especially struggling with the problem of assimilation today. How can they makes the hordes of Muslim immigrants crowding into their nations “British” or “French” or “German” or “Norwegian”? What do they assimilate them into? Shopping? Free sex? Secularism? But commercialism, the sexual revolution, and the rejection of religion are anti-cultural in their effects, undercutting traditions, family, and values.
We do have to remember that religion is not the same as culture, but it does help to shape and hold together culture. And when a culture stops believing its foundational concepts, which usually emerge out of its religious beliefs, that culture becomes hard, if not impossible, to sustain.
Garland Tucker discusses these issues in his essay Europe: Culture & Christianity Decline in Tandem | National Review, which is, at least in part, a review of a book on the subject by Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe.
Tucker cites the decline of Christianity among Europeans:
Of those between 18 and 24 years old, 62 percent have no religion. The figures for the Church of England were devastating: The proportion of the population describing themselves as Anglican has dropped from 30 percent in 2000 to 15 percent today — with just 3 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds. In Scotland, church attendance has fallen by over half in the past 30 years.
He quotes Murray:
“At any time the loss of all unifying stories about our past or ideas about what to do with our present and our future would be a serious conundrum,” Murray writes. “But during a time of momentous societal change and upheaval the results are proving fatal. The world is coming into Europe at precisely the moment that Europe has lost sight of what it is.”
Murray gives two main reasons for the decline of Christianity. Again, in Tucker’s words:
Murray traces this crisis of identity back to the late 19th century, to two seminal events. First, the textual criticism of the Bible, originating in Germany and spreading throughout the West, undermined the Biblical foundation of Western Christianity. The second seismic blow occurred simultaneously, with the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Whereas it had been a foundational belief that a divine, awe-inspiring plan was behind all of civilization, it suddenly was widely held that science — not faith — held all the answers.
How odd to think that the higher criticism of the Bible–the scholarly approach that treats the Bible “like any other book” and that starts with the assumption that the events it records did not occur and that the Bible’s supernatural content isn’t real–continues to be taught in many seminaries, despite this method’s corrosive effect on Christianity. And yet, postmodernist scholarship, for all of its own problems, casts doubt on the “scientific” claims of higher criticism.
As for Darwinism, it really does undermine Christianity. And yet many Christians keep trying to make peace with this view of the world, even though their attempts, such as “theistic evolution,” also goes against the “undirected” nature of natural selection, which is an important pillar of Darwinism. Again, postmodernist thought casts doubt on “metanarratives” such as Darwinism, showing that even scientific models are cultural constructions (as in 19th century capitalism with its own version of “survival of the fittest”) and keep changing over the course of history.
At any rate, the United States also was exposed to higher criticism and Darwinism, and yet Christianity–indeed, conservative Christianity–still thrives here. And yet our culture too seems to be in a bad way.
Why do you think Christianity is doing better in the U.S. than it is in Europe? Do you think Europe can be re-evangelized? Can Western culture be brought back to life?
Or is it time for that culture to just pass away, as other civilizations have before that, with the Church outlasting them all?
Photo of a German City, Max Pixel, CC0, Public Domain