Sunday, 6 August 2017

to All Angry Atheists

To All Angry Atheists

Hello,
Since you are passionate about your opposition to Christianity, I don't need to persuade you further that the question of God's existence is important.

As it is important and I assume you are a seeker after truth, I hope you will play along with me when I ask you to perform a thought experiment. First let me narrow the field. We are only interested in God – not churches (no matter how badly they may have behaved) or priests (and unfortunately we do know how evil some of them have been). A person may be quite justified in being angry at any of these, and angry at their misuse of religion and perhaps angry at “religion” in general as a result. But for our present purposes I ask you to hold this in abeyance. It is your passion for the belief that there is no God that is the subject of our thought experiment.

I am going to ask you to do a simple but difficult mental exercise. To try to look inside yourself and determine what makes you passionate about your belief?

Now I believe that UFO's do not exist. But I'm not passionate about it. I can be indulgent towards people who do believe they exist. And I suppose if a real one landed on my lawn I would become a true believer without any angst!

So back to you: can you pinpoint what puts passion behind your belief? Make, if you will, a note of your reasons.

Now am I right thinking that many of you will have put some variation of “If there is a just & loving God then why is there so much suffering in the world” (In a few posts time I think I can satisfy you on that one). That that may be sufficient reason for thinking Christians are a bunch of duffers – but is that reason for you to get worked up about it? Does it not indicate something further is present?

Please bear with me – since we agree this is an important issue – while I suggest two reasons which I expect none of you will have put down.

The first is guilt. No, I'm not suggesting you are a bad person. Don't we all, if we are driving down the road at a safe and legal speed instinctively slow down. But if we are people with a keen sense of justice, we are not only distressed by the injustices in the world, but also conscious that we ourselves have at times contributed to them. It would be natural indeed laudable if – perhaps at a sub-conscious level – one thought along the lines: “Well there had better not be a God – or I'm for it!”

Now what if I say to you that in fact the God who does exist has done something such that “justice” can be fully served even when He forgives people the punishment “justice” would otherwise demand. Details can come later. But if this is the case and if God has offered to forgive any person who rejects evil and commits themselves to a friendship with him, does this de-fuse the anger you had felt?

The second is an inexplicable surge of anger – pain even, whenever God or Christianity comes to mind or is mentioned. If you have or do feel this, I can give you an explanation.

In the Christian world view there is not only God and a host of good spiritual beings loyal to him, but the devil – a defeated enemy but for the moment an active enemy of God and all that is good – and spiritual beings under his control. These beings assault humans in many ways. One way is stirring up anger and causing a mental / spiritual pain that makes us react against other people. There is solid precedent of these evil spiritual beings doing this to make people flee from thinking about God or Christ. So if you have experienced this sort of attack, you have by experience proved at least the existence of evil spirits. The logical next step is to accept the corollary: the existence of God. The wise move then is to find out more about God and to reject evil and chose to align yourself with the all-good God.








Sunday, 30 July 2017

Angry Atheists

Angry Atheists

How can we tell the good news of God's reality, goodness and mercy to this first category of people: the angry atheists. There certainly seem to be many of them, or perhaps they are just being more strident or getting more favourable mention in the press. Either way, they are out there and we want to reach them for good even though they are trying to drive us from the public scene and eradicate all Christian influence in our societies. Of course what they want to replace Christian influence with is usually some variation of Rousseau's utopian vision. He thought that people are really all good, they just need to be educated better! This idea is counter-factual and wherever tried it has been a dismal failure. However I don't think this is a profitable line of attack. To be more precise I don't think attack is the best approach at all.

I think the key is understanding why they are angry. Why does the very thought of Christianity cause them inner pain.


Now an atheist by definition does not believe in God, or more positively does believe that God does not exist. Well I believe that UFO's (from outer space) do not exist. But I'm not angry about it. It does not cause my blood pressure to rise or my voice to become shrill and my conversation strident if I meet someone who does believe in UFO's. I don't agitate to have such conspiracy theorists silenced. And if a real UFO landed on my front lawn I would change my beliefs pretty smartly!

So why does Christianity or talk of God get angry atheists so riled up?

I can think of three reasons which I'll explain below. If you think of more, please let me know!


1. The “god” they have a mental picture of is a nasty being who really does not exist. Well think about it, they may have been influenced by people whose idea of God is a travesty.
To take an extreme case, a Jihadi believes in a “god” whose character is so warped, depraved and different to the character of the real God, that it is fair to say they believe in a god who does not exist. And we are very glad that this god does not exist!
History, and even the present is replete with people who worship a god made in their own image. They can call this god “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” but it is so different in character that one must say “No, that is a different god, and one which simply does not exist!” (OK some descriptions may be so depraved that we could say, “Yes what you call “god” does indeed exist: its real name is Satan! But the real God is good, mighty and has triumphed over this Satan”

Read C.S. Lewis' last Narnia book “The Last Battle” for a beautiful exposition of this in the final pages. Here a righteous man who though he served the abominable idol “Tash” meets Aslan and is accepted into heaven. The gist of what Aslan says is: “my character is wholly good: Tash's character is wholly evil. So those who say they worship me but love evil worship Tash even if they call their “god” by my name and those who love good do in fact worship me even if they call me by the vile name of Tash” As so often Lewis has managed to expound in simple terms both profound theology and university level philosophy in a children's book!

To such a person, if accorded a face-to-face dialogue I would proceed something like this. “describe to me the god you don't believe exists”. If, as likely, they said “How can I describe something that doesn't exist!” I would say something like, “well we both agree unicorn's don't exist, but I can still describe one.” And try to get them to spell out exactly what their conception of God is. If this produces as expected a false image of God, I can say, “Well I don't believe that god exists either!”
And perhaps slide over into talking about the character of the One who does exist.


2. They have a strong moral sense and are stung by feelings of guilt when we talk about God. As one psychologist I read put it: “they think, possibly sub-consciously, 'There had better not be a God or I'm for it at the judgement!'”
In Luke 5 we have the account of Peter after he sees Jesus bring about the miraculous catch of fish cry out: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” Yet he was probably a fairly upright citizen.
In our own experience, who of us driving along at the legal limit does not instinctively slow down when we see a police car – or as we have in Australia a police speed camera pretending to be an ordinary car parked innocently by the roadside!
So guilt feelings are quite understandable even in the absence of some particularly wicked deed.


3. Many of us who are devout Christians know what it feels like to be under attack by the spiritual forces belonging to the devil. One form can be a very real though spiritual-cum-mental pain. The “anger” of some atheists may indeed be that they are under such attack which manifests itself as an inexplicable inward pain at the very thought or mention of Christianity.


Causes 2 and 3 may be amenable to countering without the dialogue method of Cause 1. It may be something we can present in a blog like this or a YouTube video. So next I will try to formulate something of that kind.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

What Can We Do Next

What can we do next


Crying out to God is the essential first second and third steps!


However there are things we may also be required to do. If my initial thesis is correct namely that a revival of (real) Christianity is what is needed and if indeed this is part of God's answer to our prayers; then part of what we can do; or under God what we will be expected to do; is tell and persuade people of the truth about God.


Here I recall that Jesus both sent disciples to do this and also told them to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest field.” So the telling activity may not be for everyone, but it may be for you!


So next I want to look at and think about how we may effectively tell our generation about who God is, and what He has done for them in Jesus and what He invites them to become. I think the present decline in religion in the West is strong evidence that what we have been doing in recent years is not the answer. I expect that what was done in past generations may not be applicable directly to our generation. Of course the content is unchanging, but language, social mores and perhaps more importantly the mental world view of our people today is different from past generations.


So just how do we engage with people today for a start, and then how do we present these timeless truths in a form they can digest?


There is an old Anglican prayer “For all sorts and conditions of men”. OK in today’s language “mankind” or even “people” for a start! But people did come in many “sorts and conditions” even more so today, so I guess there will need to be a wide variety of basic forms and even these tweaked for different audiences.


For a start I will try an approach for what I think may be the easiest group to reach: the outspoken atheists.


You might think these are the most hardened but Wesley (I think it was) talked of “those who came to scoff but stayed to pray”. Those who were ardently against his message were at least engaging with it, and when they saw the truth in his message they changed sides! I think many of the very vocal atheists are engaging with the topic of God. Otherwise, if they simply had an absence of any belief or interest they would not bother to be vocal!


Also I sometimes feel their anger is of the right sort.
In one sense what a soldier would call “probing fire” - an attack to elicit a response if there is anyone there! Almost as though they are saying “there aught to be some truth in Christianity, but I can't see anyone who acts like there really is: come out and fight if you are there! Or perhaps “come out and tell me!”


In another sense I sometimes think their vitriol against Christian institutions may have an element of insight. True some of them do attack Christians for accurately reflecting some aspect of God's character that conflicts with the spirit of the age. That we cannot compromise on. But at other times their anger has been directed at genuine failures or evils in these institutions that even sincere Christians have failed to adequately address.


So for all these reasons I think atheists may be reachable and persuadable with the truth about God if it can be presented in a way they can come to grips with.


So next post I will try to formulate one way of engaging with angry atheists.



Saturday, 15 July 2017

God Save Our Nations

God save Our Nations



This brings us perhaps more in a spiral upwards than in a full circle.



I started with the idea that the only hope of saving the West was in a sweeping Christian revival. After looking at all the various problems facing us we come to the dismal conclusion that everything which made the West great is crumbling. This is happening close on the heels of a dramatic decline in Christian belief. Secularists ardently argue that what we had in the West was not a product of Christianity but apart from the inherent weakness of their arguments there is really strong cause-and-effect to these thinks evaporating from society and the decline of Christianity. So we come to the crunch: only God can save.



It is a very Biblical theme that God is a God who saves, and that there is no one and no thing else that can. We think of it in personal terms, which is fair enough, but in the Old Testament it tends to be broader: more often a national salvation.



So I must admit that yearning for revival I was missing a vital step! Reliance on God and crying out to Him to act is what really counts. Even if we are right in guessing that revival is the next step – the important thing which I for one had forgotten is that it would still be the next step!



Just as an little illustration of how much our society is sliding: Last nigh a friend was describing the problems they had experienced wit their aged father in a large and prestigious hospital. He was dying and had dementia. But staff left him all day without opportunity to go to the toilet, and when he eventually wet or soiled himself merely put it down to incontinence. He was deaf but staff would come up behind him and just shove a thermometer in his ear to take his temperature, and when he instinctively flicked his hand up to brush it away they said he was violent and had him restrained. (they were obviously not horse riders, or they would know what happens if you walk behind a horse without letting it know you are there!) One time the registered nurse went off to tea break at the time of taking all the blood pressures etc, and ordered a “personal carer” who had no medical training and had no idea of how to use the equipment to do it, under threat of losing their job!



This is just one cameo, but I think it illustrates just what happens people lose the work ethic, and cease to care about other people! How different when people live Jesus' command “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. And when people see whatever role they perform as a vocation they are putting their best into in order to please God!



This is the sort of dismal future our societies face without revival. Secularists, even if they arrive at the correct ethic – which they generally do not! - have no power to transform human lives from the inside. They can attempt to coerce – but human nature will continually confound their efforts! Only God working through his redeeming love and the power of his spirit in people's innermost beings can transform lives.



So we desperately need God to save us. Revival of faith in Him, as we saw looking through the Old Testament history of God stepping in to rescue his people is a pretty indispensable element. But the one Old Testament element I nearly forgot is that things got so bad that the people cried out to God to save them! Maybe I'm just “wishful thinking” but I really hope things don't have to get worse than they already are in the Western countries. Perhaps that depends on us - how soon we start crying out to God!



So if we are saddened by seeing bit-by-bit so many social institutions, precepts, customs and manners which have made human existence better in our countries being washed away by the tide of secularism. If we lament the immorality of our society – not out of prudery – but out of prudence recognising these behaviours call to fallen human nature like the mythical sirens - that the result now as then is shipwreck and the destruction of human happiness. If we are frustrated at the blindness of our national leaders – their failure to govern for the people – and their lemming march to national bankruptcies and ruin. Then it must start with us. We above all must cry out to God to save our nations.





Saturday, 8 July 2017

Persecution is Coming!

Persecution of Christians is Coming to the West



I do not in any way wish to minimise the suffering of Christians in lands where they are a small minority. That is a travesty and a tragedy that should ever be in our prayers – and our politics! But at present I want to talk about the West – where Christianity has had a historic significance, indeed where the labours of Christian men and women in all fields of endeavour has been like yeast in bread to the benefit of the whole.



So what has this to do – as I claimed last post – with the current push for same sex marriage?



As I said last post, in Australia the recent census has revealed that only 0.72% of “couples” stated that they were same sex couples. This where there is every benefit to their cause inflate the numbers. It is likely this tiny percentage is mirrored in other countries. Yet in many countries there has been a determined headline-grabbing fight to legalise same sex marriage. 
 
Why have so many been fighting so hard for an issue that affects so few?

The answer cannot be “equality” “justice” or any other high sounding reason because there are just too many much better qualified claimants for these things. True there are many “rebels looking for a cause” so as a matter of human psychology any crusade couched in appealing terms can garner a considerable number of ardent supporters. But the question still hangs: why this cause? Why so much fuss about so few – and at that a “few” that already have all the legal privileges (in Australia anyway) of marriage, along with “de-facto” heterosexual unions. Why so much fuss about “marriage” when marriage is falling out of favour in the general community being replaced in popularity by casual-to-long-standing “relationships”. It reeks of ulterior motive.



Ulterior motive is the crunch. I don't say the “foot soldiers” and hangers-on who absorb this agenda as part of their commitment to progressive dogma realise there is an ulterior motive. I don't say the actual gays and lesbians who think all this support is wonderful are party to it. Perhaps it is only the “spiritual rulers of this world” who have thought out the end plan. Perhaps also the movers and shakers among the progressives are actively plotting it. Whoever and however, there is I believe a powerful ulterior motive: a stick to beat genuine Christianity with.



Go back for a moment to our discussion of Revelation 13 and the persecution of those early Christians. The “beast from the sea” was as I said human government when it stopped governing under God and began governing as God. The beast from the earth was human religion giving a religious under-girding to the government. For the early Christians Imperial Rome and the cult of emperor worship fitted this description. (many other tyrants and their “high priests” have fitted it in the generations since then, and will to the end of time.) The original recipients of Revelation did not need to be told what the “mark of the beast” was! They knew that without a certificate of having sacrificed to the emperor, and membership of the trade guilds which also required sacrifice to pagan deities no one could work or carry on business!



As persecutions intensified those who refused to offer a pinch of incense on the altar to the emperor faced death. Many wishy-washy Christians gave into the pressure, true Christians could and would not – and died for their faith!



“What if” in our day there was something true Christians would not participate in, but which would be no problem for false-Christians? Would that not be a brilliant way destroy the spiritual effectiveness of Christian churches, leaving them dead to God but useful to progressive “religion” and the “spirit of the age”.



Same-sex marriage is just that. Genuine Christians can accept same-sex couples as they are, and live in love and tolerance. Many of us have relatives whom we love dearly who are in same-sex relationships. Many have them in our community and even in our churches and treat them as lovingly as we do anyone else. But …. we just can't call it “marriage”



For Bible believing Christians, and for Catholics, Orthodox and others (in my case Anglican) who hold to the historic foundations (and in my case also the legal constitution) of their denomination there is no room for choice. Marriage is, for Catholics a sacrament, for Anglicans “an honourable estate instituted by God in the time of man's innocency (ie Adam and Eve), signifying to us the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and his Church.” (1662 Prayer Book, Solemnisation of Marriage)  Humans are simply not at liberty to redefine that which God has instituted!



To mis-quote the marriage ceremony: What God has instituted let not man mess with!



Already there have been a few cases of Christians being sued in the US for refusing to provide services for same sex marriages where it has been legalised. Ink this was just like a few soldiers opening fire too early in a massive ambush. Wait till all the West has legalised same sex marriage. In Australia it is on hold because the current government promised a plebiscite on the issue, and a progressive-controlled Senate has blocked this (perhaps they fear that with a secret ballot they would lose!). A leading Australian progressive got quoted a while ago berating his fellow-believers for pushing social change too fast. That way he said risked waking the populace and producing a backlash. The secret, he said was to take little steps and wait until the community had grown accustomed to that one before taking the next step.



There is also the story of boiling frogs: if you throw them into boiling water (so the story goes) they will jump out. If you put them in cold water and slowly heat it up they will stay until it is too late.



So my premonition is that once all over the West same-sex marriage is legal and then communities see it as the status quo: the ambush will be sprung. Then legislation will compel all ministers to marry same-sex couples and likely proscribe penalties for people refusing service to such events.



For ministers and churches who have sold out to progressivism this will pose no problems, and they will be praised by the media and government. For the genuine Christians it will be like throwing a pinch of incense onto the emperor's altar: so easy yet impossible. So the real Christians will be weeded out of the churches and persecuted in the community.



The time to act is now! 
It has absolutely nothing to do with homophobia or gay rights, it is simply a matter of defending the Faith once entrusted to the Apostles!






This week as a “bonus” post I am reproducing an article I saw in yesterday's paper: one of their chief editors actually agreeing with what I said in a post a few weeks ago in “self, Self, Self” - he has just researched it more and says it better!
Saturday /8/7/17 in the Australian

Blessed be the egoistic individuals

Illustration: Eric Lobbecke
  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM July 8, 2017

PAUL KELLY

Editor-At-Large
Sydney

In the litany of words about the census the core issue has been avoided — the almost certain link between the generational decline in the Christian faith as guide to the common good and the collapsing relationship between the people and the political system.
The reality is staring us in the face. Yet it cannot be spoken, cannot be entertained, cannot be discussed because there is no greater heresy and no more offensive ­notion than that the loss of Christian faith might have a downside.
Christianity has fallen from 88 per cent of the population in 1966 to 52 per cent today, and seems sure to slide soon below the 50 per cent threshold. It would be absurd to pretend this epic change does not have profound consequences for society since it constitutes the eclipse of a particular conception of human nature.
At the same time the past decade has witnessed a shattering of trust across the Western world ­including Australia between the people on one hand and politicians and elites on the other. This dysfunction in Australia has multiple causes within politics itself: the identity crisis of the major parties, the rise of negative politics, a self-interested Senate, leadership failures and internal disunity.
It is obvious, however, there is a deeper problem, that something more profound has gone wrong. The sense of a community of shared values is disintegrating. The most fundamental norms, ­accepted for centuries, are now falling apart as disputes erupt about family, education, gender, sexuality, marriage, tradition, patriotism, life and death.
The decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded, the idea of a common community purpose is undermined, trust is in ­retreat but the most important singular development is the transformed notion of the individual — the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life: love, work, race, sex, culture and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realisation and human rights.
The idea that our democracy is founded on core moral truths about human nature has collapsed — or is collapsing. Donald Trump’s election as President was driven by fear the American dream had been cancelled and by alarm that elites led a separate life and used power for their self-­interest. But the deeper source was a feeling that the moral foundations of the country were eroding.
Confronting the US dilemma, American writer George Weigel said: “The first step is to recognise that American politics is in crisis because our public moral culture is in crisis. The second step is to recognise that American public moral culture is in crisis because of a false understanding of freedom. And the third step is to recognise that the false notion of freedom evident across the spectrum of American politics is based on a false anthropology: a distorted idea of the human person and human aspiration.”
If this sounds too lofty or too deep, let’s revert to the brilliant 2015 book by New York Times columnist David Brooks, The Road to Character,to offer down-to-earth examples of what has happened.
Brooks says: “Psychologists have a thing called the narcissism test. They read people statements and ask if the statements apply to them. Statements such as ‘I show off if I get the chance because I am extraordinary’. The median narcissism score has risen 30 per cent in the last two decades. Ninety-three per cent of young people score higher than the middle score just 20 years ago.
“By 2007, 51 per cent of young people reported that being famous was one of their top personal goals. In one study middle-school girls were asked who they would most like to have dinner with. Jennifer Lopez came in first, Jesus Christ came in second and Paris Hilton third. The girls were then asked which of the following jobs they would like to have. Nearly twice as many said they’d rather be a celebrity’s personal assistant — for example, Justin Bieber’s — than president of Harvard.
“As I look around the popular culture I kept finding the same message everywhere: You are special. Trust yourself. Be true to yourself. Movies from Pixar and Disney are constantly telling children how wonderful they are. Commencement speeches are larded with the same cliches: Follow your passion. Don’t accept limits. Chart your own course. You have a responsibility to do great things because you are so great.”
Brooks argues there has been a “moral shift” in the way parents now raise children and this has permeated through institutions from Girl Scouts to the churches. He quotes a Texas preacher telling his flock: “You were made to excel. You were made to leave a mark on this generation.”
Australian writer Anne Manne, in her 2014 book The Life of I,says: “Changes in our culture have created an economic, social and relational world that not only supports but actually celebrates narcissism, cultivating and embedding it as a character trait.”
She says by the mid-2000s The New York Times declared that narcissism was not only an academic “growth industry” but also the explanation favoured “by columnists, bloggers and television psychologists”.
“Narcissism had become a central problem of our time,” Manne says. She quotes a prophetic ­passage from the path-breaking 1979 book by Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism,where Lasch talks about the preoccupation with self: “People now responded to others as if their actions were being recorded and simultaneously transmitted to an ­unseen audience or stored up for close scrutiny at some later time.”
Manne references the work by academics Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge showing the rise in narcissism over generations. They called the problem an “epidemic”. According to Manne’s summary, Campbell and Twenge concluded that “what makes a child grow into a narcissist is spoiling, indulgence, an absence of moral discipline in building character and a culture of excessive praise, of telling children they are special”.
“The new terror is to be invisible,” Manne says. “As playwright Preston Sturges once quipped, ‘He was forgotten before he was remembered.’ Lena Dunham, the clever and creative writer behind the hit show Girls,put the new sensibility this way: ‘My dad finds Twitter just infinitely unrelatable. He’s like, Why would you want to tell anybody what I had for a snack, it’s private! And I’m like, Why would you even have a snack if you didn’t tell anybody? Why bother eating?’ ”
Now reflect again on Weigel’s bedrock argument: that we have a “distorted idea of the human person and human aspiration”. In a deft juxtaposition, Brooks exposes how far we have come and how far we have fallen.
His book begins with a reflection on the generation of the Depression and World War II — described by writers but not themselves as the “greatest generation”. You might remember them, perhaps they were your parents, the last generation of the universal Christian norm.
What did they achieve?
Apart from suffering economic hardship, they won a war, beat the Germans, beat the Japanese, changed the world, backed their mates, ­returned home, raised families and contributed to their ­society. Guess what: they stayed humble. They didn’t beat their chests, didn’t say how great they were, didn’t seek media ­attention, ask what the country was doing for them, behave like narcissists or ­declare how extraordinary they were — when they had claims to being extra­ordinary.
Not only did they not boast about their achievements. Often they refused to even talk about them. How remarkable and humble was that? Brooks quotes Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent, saying: “We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other people.” Brooks says: “Their collective impulse was to warn themselves against pride and self-glorification.”
Many will recall the Australians of that era, a society of 88 per cent Christian nomination. People then had a different view of human nature. Yet their modesty, ­humility and Christian forbearance makes no sense in today’s world. The past is just a foreign country. Some of their generation went to church, others didn’t, some keenly avoided entering a church. But that was of no account. They were part of a Christian ­society in its outlook and virtues and view of human nature.
The progressives — and Brooks agrees to a certain extent — say the world has improved since the 1950s and 60s, when sexism, racism and homophobia were rampant. The truth is that values have changed; some of the changes are good and some are bad. For Brooks, it is a question of character.
He says: “The more I looked into that period, the more I ­realised I was looking into a different moral country. I began to see a different view of human nature, a different attitude about what is ­important in life, a different formula for how to live a life of character and depth.”
Brooks does not make the link to Christianity — yet the link is ­unavoidable. Many of the virtues of the greatest generation are lost or fading. Some people fight to ­retain them and are traduced as a result. It is impossible, however, to separate those virtues from the Christian norms that were so pervasive at the time. Narcissism was in short supply and never rewarded. In those days Christian virtue was the norm and, critically, it was always the default position.
Christianity shaped not just the view of human nature, individual morality and how people were ­expected to behave. It also shaped the social norms. American sociologist Charles Murray says: “Religion’s role as a source of social capital is huge.”
Murray refers to Robert Putnam who, in his classic book Bowling Alone, says: “As a rough rule of thumb our evidence shows (that) nearly half of all associational memberships are church-related, half of all personal philanthropy is religious in character and half of all volunteering occurs in a ­religious context.”
As Murray points out, the post-war standards of American society were overwhelmingly shaped by religious norms. There was near universal marriage, divorce was rare, television shows mirrored “the American way of life”, in films there were no four-letter words, nudity or sex, crime was low, few people even in poor neighbourhoods had served ­prison time and there was virtually no problem with illegal drugs.
On the other hand, people drank like fish and smoked like chimneys. The south was racially segregated, racial disadvantage was huge, the civil rights movement was about to erupt, women were held back, pollution in some cities had become untenable, poverty was disguised but widespread. The cultural revolution seeded in the 60s was at hand. It was an ­irresistible tidal wave propelled by a changing world, technology and a baby-boom generation.
As Murray says, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had appeared in 1962 ­triggering the environmental movement, Ralph Nader had begun his critique of the auto ­industry on ­behalf of consumers, Bob Dylan’s theme songs were being released and the Beatles had captured the youth of the West. Each of these events would resonate in Australia.
The rise of progressive values in the name of freedom and justice would march in parallel with the decline of religious faith. Put ­another way, they were different sides of the same coin. Eventually, the revolution took judicial and legal form. The greatest institution that embodied the new social order was the US Supreme Court.
In a series of judgments, the court redefined the idea of freedom and human nature. Weigel captures this, quoting from the majority decision in the 1992 planned parenthood case. “At the heart of liberty,” the judges said, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Led by Justice ­Anthony Kennedy, this philosophy was repeated in the more ­recent decision to impose same-sex marriage.
At this point individual autonomy and human rights (what some might call “the Big Me”) replaced the concept of an objective moral order founded in the Christian tradition. The notion of a God-­ordained morality was swept aside along with its view of mankind as more than a bundle of desires to be sanctified as human rights. Man, not God, was enshrined at the centre of the universe.
The judges reflected the spirit of the age and the cultural revolution that had transformed the West. The idea of freedom was separated from a higher order moral duty and tied to personal self-realisation and self-esteem. Narcissism was legitimised. Weigel says: “There is no claim here that the American democratic ­experiment rests on self-evident moral truths.” The upshot was a society of many truths; each person was granted autonomy to ­decide his or her own moral truth.
What does this mean for ­politics?
It requires little insight to conclude such a society and culture that prioritises a cult of “individualism” when translated into the political sphere is less cohesive and united, more divided over existing norms, less willing to accept the decisions and compromises of political leaders, far more difficult for politicians to manage and persuade and, above all, from which to extract a working majority position. In short, governing is harder, the gap between politicians and public more difficult to bridge and the society divided at its essence.
There is, however, an even deeper problem.
As the moral status of the church declines, the moral status of progressive ideology grows. Vacuums will be filled. Because the Christian ethos was tied to the past and tradition, it became a target for the new ideology of personal freedom. This is founded in the view that settler societies such as America and Australia have failed to come to terms with the racism, indigenous exploitation, sexism, patriarchy and monoculturalism at their heart. The task of community leaders was once to uphold the values of the civilisation; now, more often than not, it is to dismantle them.
Pivotal to this transition is the progressive attack on the Aristo­telian framework that made the West a success. This concept was articulated at various stages by the popes, notably Leo XIII and Pius XI. As outlined by Tulsa University professor Russell Hit­tinger, this envisages three “necessary” elements for human happiness: domestic society (marriage and family), faith and church and, finally, political ­society. A brief reflection might confirm the wisdom of this ­framework.
It is, however, now being dismantled in the new and manic crusade of human freedom. Pro­gressive doctrine denies any preferred model for family structure since that would be prejudicial and discriminatory; it now approaches its ultimate objective in the realm of faith — to drive ­religion from the public square and reject the role of religion and church as a mobiliser of social capital in a secular society.
The final logic is that everything depends upon politics. As the society of family and marriage ­becomes mired in confusion, as the society of church and religion is the target of assault, so the ­society of politics is being asked to assume a role and burden utterly beyond its capacity and guaranteed to leave community-wide ­unhappiness.
The tripartite design that made the West such a workable and ­successful proposition is being torn part. Once dismantled, it ­cannot be put back together. This is being done in the name of justice, rights and progress. There was an ­inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.