There’s been a long-stated conviction among conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, that the path out of the West’s current predicament requires their active re-engagement with culture with the ultimate aim of restoring Christianity to some preeminent place in American and Western culture. But given the elite culture’s implacable hostility to all forms of Christianity, particularly evangelicalism, I’m not sure that that is possible.
Indeed, reading these sorts of accounts, I’m reminded of the scorn that the late conservative writer Peter Viereck heaped on those who resembled the Ottantotists, those French reactionaries who passionately believed that post-Revolutionary France somehow could be restored to some kind of pre-1788 status quo.
Speaking as a former Cooperative Extension professional who wrote extensively about the implications of invasive species to Southern forests and croplands, I’m well aware of how such infestations, after wreaking considerable havoc, eventually establish of equilibrium over time, acquiring a niche in the ecosystem.
Restoring the status quo is just not possible in a complicated ecosystem, whether it happens to be human, mammalian or insectoid.
To say that secularism has gained a firm and expanding beachhead in Western culture amounts to a rank understatement. Secularism, more accurately described as secular liberalism, is now the regnant culture of the West, America included. The Christian culture of the West now comprises an embattled remnant. For from resembling some kind of resilient cultural beachhead struggling to stage a resounding comeback, Christian culture could be more accurately compared to Chiang kai-chek’s besieged Nationalist fortress on the peripheral island of Taiwan, though lacking anything resembling the support Chiang enjoyed from the United States.
I am reminded of something the late Christian scholar Marcus Borg once related. He said that in his religion classes, which were taught at Oregon State, his students’ body language would undergo a discernable change from engagement to one of disengagement and even hostility whenever the topic switched from, say, Hindusism or Buddhism to Christianity. I think that this speaks volumes about what we are dealing with today
As I see it, the advances in textual criticism and evolutionary science, by removing much of the adhesive that has bound our civilization, have been catastrophic for the West.
I count myself a nontheist – I won’t go to the trouble here of explaining all the differences between atheism and nontheism. Whatever the case, I believe that everything that we have achieved has been the result of a network that has developed over eons and that has grown primarily out of language and written script.
Religion has historically been bound up this network and has afforded humanity all manner of advantages in terms of providing a sense of purpose and keeping all of the psychological furies and common human fears at bay. I have come to call this networking the Networked Human Exoskeleton, because this dense networking of language, culture and technology enshroud us, much as shells do crustaceans, providing us with all manner of sustenance and protection.
This networking amounts to scaffolding – in fact, that term could be used interchangeably with networking or with the exoskeleton. Like networking, it underscores how everything in existence is contingent on everything else.
The Christian faith afforded European civilization unique scaffolding. and with the destruction of this scaffolding – at least, most of it – I’m not that confident that we will manage to put anything of equal and enduring value in its place.
So much of this scaffolding was bound up in traditional Christianity – the promise of an afterlife and the fear of eternal damnation for egregious offenders provided an integral, if not essential facet of this scaffolding. And I think that these unique facets of Christianity breathed life into the faith and provided it with its strongest and most enduring scaffolding, at least, until the mid-19th century.
But textual criticism and evolutionary science have challenged this – in the minds of of the most culturally influential members of our society, these advance put a lie to it.
Nietzsche, as memory served, believed that this destruction of old scaffolding would clear space for well-integrated humans who would put aside the old slave morality of Christianity and construct a new ethos more aligned with the true character of our humanity and better equipped to maximize human potential.
Technophiles and techno-utopians have expressed the fervent hope, if not certainty, that advances in Artificial Intelligence will enable us to construct a viable alternative, but I entertain serious doubts, frankly.
As I have stressed time after time in my writings, the faith tradition that emerged as the sole faith of Europe in the Fourth Century conferred all manner of advantage on the West. And the more perceptive public intellectuals among us always have painted an unsettling dark age that may follow as the scaffolding built on this faith tradition faces structural collapse.