Sawing Off the Branch You're Sitting On
It is no secret that many, if not most of the movers and shakers in the Academy would just as soon Christianity disappeared into the night, and the more quietly the better. Many of them attribute the growing ills of society to the poisonous influence of Christianity and other religions. Just ask Richard Dawkins and his fellow monks of the “New Atheism.”
I have just one question: the prominence of Christianity in the fabric of society has been sharply decreasing for much of the last fifty or sixty years, so why are our problems increasing? It seems like we should be darn near a utopia now.
Granted, Christianity is in the news more than it used to be. However, it is being vocal in the same way any other minority voice is in demanding its equal place in the fabric of the culture from whence it is being unthreaded. Compare contemporary Christian activism with that of the 60’s civil rights activism and contemporary LGBT activism. There are profound similarities.
As Christians have been shunned from the infrastructure of Western culture and institutions, we’ve sought to regain what has been lost. It is not merely that we are upset at losing our prominent role and respect in society that we once had. And I’ll readily admit that is a part of it. No one likes moving from the “in-crowd” to the “out-crowd.” But there is far more.
When a pattern is removed from fabric after it is woven, it will leave holes and facilitate fraying and even unweaving. Trying to reinsert new fabric in the hole, (a nearly extinct art known colloquially as ‘darning’) is difficult, disruptive, and grows exponentially more so as the size of the hole being darned increases. Once a hole in fabric reaches a certain proportion, it is effectively irreparable, and the whole fabric must be tossed and rewoven from scratch.
So, given the rich and integral role Christianity has in Western history—it has essentially been one of its defining characteristics, I ask my question again—if Christianity has been the source of our problems, and it has been effectively unwoven from the fabric of Western culture, why are the problems increasing?
Let me ask another question, approaching the issue as a scholar and scientist examining any other phenomenon: if Christianity is the problem then are there other cultures that have either excised the problem or never had it in the first place? If so, what have been the results of those attempts? Which attempts have furthered the causes of human rights, technological progress and environmental awareness the most?
Larry Alex Taunton in a CNN column explores the idea of removing Christianity from the culture in an amusing and insightful comparison to the beloved Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In it he argues that removing Christianity from the West will have the effect of changing Bedford Falls to Pottersville.
“Of course,” the skeptic says, “a Christian would make the argument that Christianity is George Bailey. Why not a non-Christian?” Fair enough. First, just because a Christian makes the claim in his own faith’s benefit doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Second, non-Christians (or at least nominal ones) have made the comparison. Contemporary secularists love to point out how the founders were not evangelical Christians, and many were Deists. Ok. Let’s roll with that.
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams
“Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society." George Washington
“[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." Benjamin Franklin
All three of these men, it can be effectively argued, were not devout Christians. Indeed, there is some evidence they rejected Christianity. However, they recognized the need for an external moral code to be infused into human character for the betterment of society, and saw some semblance of Christianity as sufficient for the job, even going so far as to advocate the use of the Bible as a textbook. They may have rejected Christ’s divinity, but recognized His moral purity, and saw its benefit in building and preserving the new nation.
It is argued in many circles that were Darwin a century earlier in his discoveries, many of the founders would have embraced him and the resulting atheism it engendered and for which it gave scientific and philosophical support. That may be. As we have tried to implement it into society in the last one hundred fifty years, I again ask my question—what has been the result?
Have we needed fewer laws to govern behaviour or more? Less security or more? Are people more or less kind and loving towards others? Is personal integrity greater or lesser?
In tearing the Christian pattern from the fabric, are we a more noble people or baser?
Lagniappe: The other day, I wrote about Austinite Ben Breedlove, the young man who died on Christmas of a heart condition. His YouTube videos have gone completely viral on the Internet. If you would like to learn more about this man, and the effect his death is having, please see: http://africanewlife.org/blog/the-ben-breedlove-memorial-fund/
I’d like to note in light of today’s post that this young man was a Christian from a Christian home. You can point to all the examples of the evils of religion, and I will still show him as one of the best examples of the good of the Christian faith lived (and died) out.