Christianity Responsible for the Decline of the West?

“Yes,” say many non-Christian traditionalists, and they seem to have a point. The western church promotes liberalism almost as much as the secularists, and it’s easy for a cynic to see current Christendom as just another part of the Left’s evil empire—with exceptions being sufficiently rare not to alter the overall judgment. And it’s easy for the selfsame cynic to see the liberalism that is dragging us down as a bastardized version—or perhaps even the natural fulfillment—of Christianity.

And if Christianity is responsible for the decline of our homeland and our people, it would seem that we ought to stay away from it.

But the validity of this judgment depends on the referent for the word “Christianity.” Does the word simply refer to the totality of persons, institutions, words and deeds that are conventionally called “Christian?” Or, while conceding the validity of this first meaning, can we see an additional and more fundamental meaning?

Christian Scripture claims that the things of this world do not just happen. They have a divine order, ordained by God. According to the Bible—which is God’s Word and therefore fully trustworthy—the church is not just a human phenomenon. Its existence and progress is ordained by God with the purpose of saving sinners and sanctifying believers through the proclamation of Scripture and the administration of the sacraments. That word “Christianity,” then, refers fundamentally to the preaching of the Word of God (both inside and outside the walls of the church building), worship, prayer, the administration of the sacraments, and the other endeavors that relate to these primary Christian activities. And at an even more basic level, Christianity is God working—generally behind the scenes—to save sinners. At this level, Christianity is fully invisible except to those who believe the life-giving truths that God has told us in the pages of Scripture.

The politically-correct foolishness that occurs within so much of the institutional church, then, is not the proper meaning of “Christianity.”

We must also point out that Scripture frequently warns against false teachers, false gospels, and false Christs. These repeated warnings show, at minimum, that holding to a proper form of Christianity is of vital importance, and that there will be many counterfeits of Christianity, and that it is possible for Christians to recognize the false versions of their religion. Not everything conventionally called “Christian” is wholesome, and it is only to be expected that perversions of Christianity will have toxic results for nations as well as individuals. The situation decried by secular traditionalists was anticipated by Scripture.

Why then is so much of Christendom not doing its God-ordained job, and instead participating in (or at least tolerating) the evil system of the world? No authoritative explanation has been provided to us by God, so we must be content to observe that all human activities are corrupted by sin to at least a certain extent, that poisonous liberalism is nowadays wildly popular and therefore irresistible even to most Christians, and that God has good reasons (known only to Himself) for everything He permits.

So is Christianity in the proper sense of individuals saved from God’s wrath through repentance and faith in Christ, along with prayer, worship, accurate proclamation of the Gospel, and suchlike activities, responsible in any sense for the decline of the West? Clearly not.

At the same time, we Christians must acknowledge that our house is corrupt. We make the assertion that true Christianity is not responsible for the decline of the West, not to avoid judgment, but to keep up our spirits. True Christianity has become something like an ideal that is rarely achieved, but this is no reason to abandon it. On the contrary, it is reason to pursue Christianity more zealously, and to protect it more wholeheartedly once we find it.

One last point, addressed to you non-Christian traditionalists, neo-reactionaries, or whatever you call yourselves. You have enough wisdom to see that your nation is in danger, and you also recognize that there is much foolishness in the Christian church. You are correct on both counts. But do not let the foolishness of the church distract you from an important truth.

You see, I know something about you even though I’ve never met you:  You feel guilty.

Nothing personal about that. I feel guilty too. And that’s because you and I are guilty. All men are guilty.

A traditionalist is a man who is perceptive enough to realize that something is seriously wrong with the status quo. And the ultimate problem with the status quo is that man, on account of his sin, is guilty before a holy God. That’s why man erects false systems like the current politically-correct liberalism. He wants to solve his problem of guilt by pretending that the world can be made right through a liberal socio-political order that will make all men free and equal. But the effort must fail, as we traditionalists know.

If there were no God, guilt would be a meaningless concept. But man feels guilt, because he senses correctly.

And only Christianity solves the problem of your guilt. Because of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, your sins can be forgiven, through your repentance and faith in Christ. This last sentence is, of course, just a summary of a vast lifelong process. But the process begins in an instant when, after learning the truth about Jesus Christ, you come to see him as what he is: your only hope. At that instant you are completely saved, even if the working out of it lasts a lifetime. That’s the good news of true Christianity.

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36 thoughts on “Christianity Responsible for the Decline of the West?

  1. Alan, I suspect that even the best of us fails to grasp just how not-yet-Christian he is. What is sometimes called the Decline of the West is the continuing, relentless disintegration of the not-yet-Christian world under the perpetual action of grace. The actual “reactionism” is the resistance of the grossly not-yet-Christian world to the process; the actual “reactionism” is the petulant rejection of grace.

    • Tom, I’m having trouble grasping your comment here. How do you see the disintegration of the West as part of the perpetual action of grace?

      • The disintegration, the suicide, of the West is the resistance of modernity, a purely Western phenomenon, to action of grace, i.e., “the petulant rejection of grace.” But to stymie the resistance to grace is part of the action of grace, and grace stymies petulance by contradicting, thwarting, and humiliating it. Grace not only rewards; it punishes, or rather it permits the fool to punish himself. Grace is nothing less than teleological causality. Hence the stuttering. bloody, murderous enormity of the modern crisis. Five hundred years from now, when historians write about the last half of the Twentieth and the first half of the Twenty-First Centuries, they will compare that period, in its profound corruption, to the sanguine-pornographic worst of the Latin and Byzantine Empires, and to anything else equally contrary to and contemptuous of the structure of reality.

        Alan, brother, this is the most important exchange you and I have ever had. It transcends the “thread.”

        There is a remarkable passage in The Odyssey, Book I. Zeus tells Athene that (I paraphrase, but accurately), Men blame their misfortunes on the gods; but they themselves, by their actions, are responsible either for their happiness or their misery.

        Plutarch, a virtuous pagan, writes that God, in the singular, punishes a crime from the very instant of its commission, in the generous hope that the trespasser will repent.

        To Alan: It startles me, too.

        To Kristor: I saw your comment at Laura’s website and remarked the convergence of thinking.

        To Felipe: Your question answers itself — the Sheikdoms are “hellish places.”

      • What you say is so big that I have trouble wrapping my mind around it. Each part makes sense as a part, but the sum is mind-boggling. Modern man is certainly kicking against the goads, because he hates God. But to see this as Grace, as God’s tough love: Well, I can acknowledge it, but it seems uncanny.

        Modern man thinks that if God is to exist, then He has to be Nice. But the God of the Bible is not Nice. Tough grace is the sort of thing He would do. And how else could a nation or an entire age be brought to repentance except by a civilizational catastrophe?

      • Tom: it should hardly surprise us, I suppose, that two Orthosphereans find themselves on the same wavelength. Still it struck me, reading this comment of yours on the train this morning, that just last evening I said something almost identical in a comment to a post over at Thinking Housewife:

        It is not quite accurate to say that God punishes us for our sins, although to be sure that is how it feels to us. It is only sort of accurate. Just as virtue is its own reward, so is sin its own punishment. Sin just is disagreement with God, and alienation from him. It is also, therefore, disagreement with the order of being (“the order of being” is just a different way of saying “God”); and in any contest of the feeble creaturely sinner with either the order of the cosmos or God, the sinner is obviously going to get totally thrashed. In order for this thrashing to occur, God doesn’t need to do anything special. All he has to do is just stand there, being who he is, like a mountain. The sinner inflicts all the punishment by thrashing himself against the mountain, trying to force the mountain to do or be as he might wish – trying, that is, to make life so that sin is not sin, which is in effect an attempt to make God so that he is not God.

      • Well, if this is really a punishment for resisting grace, then how do you explain other civilizations which resist grace possibly even more fiercely and yet are clearly not walking to their suicides? I mean, some of them are hellish places, but many aren’t (think about the rich Arabs in Dubai), and they are surviving just fine …. my concrete examples:
        *Islamic world
        *Sub-saharan Africa

        Well, since the West is the only civilization comitting suicide, so the list could simply include all of the world minus the west.

  2. I think your perspective is off. Political correctness isn’t some good intention system created by people trying to find god… it’s a system created by Satan. Christians keep using the mildest of terms for people and groups that clearly driven by devil as evidenced by it’s fruit.

    • Yes, political correctness is a satanic system. And today’s Christendom mostly doesn’t want to acknowledge this fact, because they have largely abandoned the faith.

  3. Fr. Alexander Schmemann opines in For the Life of the World that all of modernity’s “isms” are degenerate forms (bastardizations) of Christianity, as they never would have occurred (or occurred to anyone) without Christianity. I agree with him, and we should expect it to be so. When I commented on Dr. Charlton’s post about the good emperors’ persecuting Christians, I wrote:

    I realize that any truth will have its corresponding and concomitant errors. I believe that it is Aristotle who uses the image of archery to illustrate the search for truth. One aims at the mark, which is small, but one may miss the mark in many ways—namely, at every other point. It is easy to err, and it is not surprising that we Christians repeatedly fail in our understanding of God’s way. The path to truth is hard, and we are quite weak for the task.

    We expect most people to misunderstand complex mathematics. Should we have different expectations for understanding the greatest objects?

    • Joseph, Eric Voegelin writes in The Ecumenic Age that the emperors were quite right to persecute Christianity, since they correctly perceived that Christianity doomed the Pagan-Imperial order.

      • Since it is the duty of a Monarch is is to create an environment where virtue can flourish and since the virtue of Justice is traditionally described as giving each what is due to him and since God is due worship, any Monarch which prevents the worship of God is failing as a ruler and thus bad.

    • Your point, Joseph, as I understand it is that Christianity introduces a new way of understanding reality, a way which is complex and subtle and therefore can lead to error.

      Certainly such ideas as faith and works as complementary rather than antithetical, the three persons of God, the Incarnation, and predestination are difficult and can easily lead to misunderstanding. This misunderstanding, and the social trouble it may cause, is therefore a result of Christianity. Fair enough.

      At the same time, I reiterate my main point: The primary work of Christianity is the saving of souls by way of Word and sacrament. This is the most important result of Christianity, but it is invisible to the non-Christian critic.

  4. Fr. Alexander Schmemann opines in For the Life of the World that all of modernity’s “isms” are degenerate forms (bastardizations) of Christianity, as they never would have occurred (or occurred to anyone) without Christianity.

    Philosophies similar to modernism arose among both the ancient Chinese and the ancient Greeks. It’s hard to explain those as arising out of Christianity.

    • I cannot speak about Chinese philosophy, but I know a thing or two about the wisdom of the Greeks, and I agree with Fr. Alexander. Yes, there are forms of materialism (Milesians), evolution (Empedocles), and convention-dismissing relativism (sophists) (and Plato’s and Aristotle’s take downs of them are delightful), but I suspect that it takes an Abrahamic understanding of man and of the contingency of the world for intelligent, educated folks to believe in something like German idealism, leftist social doctrine, or the Cartesian mastery of nature program.

      • Hey guess what, if evolution is wrong, and everyone really does get more or less identical souls, then the only *possible* reason for Black dysfunction is White racism. And since 50 years of affirmative action haven’t done a thing, maybe it’s time to consider more drastic measures to combat White privilege.

      • Now Alan! You directly address non-Christian traditionalists, overtly openly evangelize them with the gospel, and then label the first respondent “off topic”?
        In what way are two souls equal? Where in Christianity does it say anyone gets identical souls? How does it then follow that black function is a function of white function- let’s see that in syllogism form?

        Romans 9: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

        2 Tim 2: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.”

        1 Cor 12: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will… And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

      • Evolution and whether “two souls are equal” is off topic. The topics are whether Christianity has contributed materially to the decline of the West and whether you need salvation from your sins.

      • if evolution is wrong

        Good so far.

        and everyone really does get more or less identical souls

        Nope. False premises lead to false conclusions.

        the only *possible* reason for Black dysfunction is White racism

        This is a non sequitur, literally, it does not follow.

        Off-topic indeed.

  5. However, Plato tends to foresee the insane depravity of which the mob is capable. The Republic and Laws in particular always strike me as prescient works. So, maybe strike “leftist social doctrine” from my list . . . though many in the Abrahamic tradition have considered Plato divinely inspired in one way or another.

  6. Why are Whites, especially of the Northern European variety, more likely to feel guilt than others? Could it have anything to do with the ancestral environment and adaptations to it? Nah, everyone is exactly identical because souls, or, God gave souls in the patterns He did for His reasons. Or maybe stuff like propensity to guilt isn’t in the soul. Well, you’ll figure out some way of explaining how God fits in with evolutionary psychology somehow.

    • God does not “fit in with evolutionary psychology.” God is the ultimate explanation of all things.

      Ancestral environment could have been a contributing factor, and a secondary cause, but the underlying cause is God’s creation of man and his nature.

      Regardless of whether some peoples are more likely to acknowledge guilt, it is real, for God determines the standards the violation of which make one guilty.

    • To assert that Northern Europeans have a greater propensity to guilt based on evolutionary developments, one would have to show that the pre-Christian Germanic peoples had a greater sense of guilt than the Ancient Greeks, Jews, Mesopotamians, etc. Since anyone familiar with the literature of these ancient cultures and Early Germanic literature knows that this was not the case, the proposition fails. I also think that the claim that modern Northern European person is more guilt ridden is highly dubious. What with the rights to abortion, euthanasia, and Whiggish views of history and all.

    • In cultural history there are either fundamental breaks or there is just one continuous stream running from the dawn of civilization to the present. If there is such a thing as Christian culture, and this is not just a development or transformation of classical culture, then it must be possible that we have entered upon a post-Christian culture for which Christianity is not responsible. This post-Christian culture may retain many Christian symbols and contain a good many individuals practicing genuine Christianity, but its fundamental structure is non-Christian or anti-Christian.

  7. Christianity made the West, so in a sense it’s true that Christianity is responsible for progressivism, just like in a sense its responsible for Stalinism and the scientific method and American football. *Any* Western ideological current will have Christian roots.

    It would make just as much sense, and as little, to blame progressivism on classical antiquity or the Hebrew bible.

    • I agree, and indeed the whole question of what caused the decline sounds like finger pointing after things went wrong.

      But, there do is a much more interesting question here to ask: Why is Christianity unable to stop liberalism?

      That’s the real question that we need to ask. A real, concrete, on-going problem, not just assigning blame. I think that liberalism is Satan’s final weapon against Christianity, it was cleverly development to exploit the weak points in Christianity such as forgiveness and so far we have no answer on how to turn the tide, every battle in the west is just another victory to liberalism.

      • We can’t know how this will play out, but liberalism, being a rejection of God, cannot last forever. God will triumph. That victory will not be without apparent cost to us, however.

        Lawrence Auster noted that liberalism was killing its host societies; the only question was whether those societies would reject liberalism before or after their destruction. He remained optimistic for many years, but he eventually changed his mind, concluding that the decadence and decay was too far advanced for any reasonable hope of recovery.

        For me, the turning point was June 28, 2012, when ObamaCare was deemed constitutional. As discussed at View From the Right, this meant the death of limited government of enumerated powers and therefore the beginning of tyranny. I haven’t been able to fly the flag since, even though I know I should.

        We have been living in the final days since Jesus’ ascension into heaven. How much longer until the visions of the Revelation come true? Only God knows.

      • > We have been living in the final days since Jesus’ ascension into heaven. How much
        > longer until the visions of the Revelation come true? Only God knows.

        This is a common conclusion: that those are signs of the end of times. But Luther thought that the Ottoman invasion of Hungary was a sign of the end of times … and he was completely wrong.

      • My point is that we have been in the final days since the ascent of Christ into heaven, and that no one but God knows when these days will end. The collapse of our civilization is not necessarily the end of days.

  8. There needs to be a distinction between a baptized Christian society (whose adherents are practicing or not), and the totality of Christian teaching/tradition (in regards to its creeds, doctrines, etc). Western society hasn’t been declining because of Christianity, in the latter sense. It’s declining because of the moral breakdown of the faithful population; and its rulers, leaders, clergy, etc. Without a concrete foundation of morality, virtues, ethics, etc… society is relativistic, which creates chaos and division, instead of unity.

    Intertwined with all this; are the many heresies since Christ; the philosophies of eastern/pagan origin, of the renaissance/enlightenment philosophies, and of modernist philosophies; the ever-changing secular governments (from Roman Empire to Kingdoms, to Revolutions, and Modern states, etc.); and the major fractures of the Eastern Orthodox & Reformation schisms; and foreign threats (such as, Muslim invasions).

    It’s very difficult to narrow down the root causes of decline, and most would blame Modernism, but even the word modernism is too ambiguous to define, unless one wants to start with the French Revolution (which is still debatable). If you try to trace the decline back to its root, you’ll end up going back to the 1st century AD (an exaggeration of course).

    Christianity today is viewed by the majority of people as an old tradition. It’s viewed as out-of-touch with modernism. Its churches are basically museums in most of Europe, and even the Vatican itself is now a tourist attraction, and the Pope is regarded as an equal to Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Mandela, or any other modern “martyr”. It’s akin to the fall of paganism in the Roman Empire. The old traditionalists, back then, tried to hold onto it, but alas, they failed. Christianity prevailed, while the civilization of the Roman/Greek Pagan gods faded away.

    Western civilization is on the brink of collapse, and the only thing holding it together are the quasi-dictatorial states with their military might. They will either collapse by warring with each other, or by violent revolutions, and it might fade away due to a new ideological movement (such as the modern state, that we acquired), or perhaps a mixture of all three.

    I went off on a rant, but to conclude on this subject. We can only speculate on the causes, but we will never be able to definitively answer who is responsible.

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