Post-Christian Anxiety

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Longtime readers of this blog will notice that I use the term “post-Christian” quite a bit. This doesn’t mean that I think Christianity is going to dry up and blow away any time soon (that would be statistically unlikely), but that we are entering a world where that faith is one of many, and no longer the only moral and cultural guide.

…a post-Christian world is one where Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but one that has, gradually over extended periods of time, assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian (and further may not necessarily reflect any world religion’s standpoint). This situation applies to much of Europe, in particular in Central and Northern Europe, where no more than half of the residents in those lands profess belief in a transcendent, personal and monotheistically-conceived deity.

This trend is no longer isolated to France or Germany, it has been gaining stream in the Americas as well. As it happens, the forces who prefered a Christian-dominated society are becoming increasingly hostile and defensive.

A television advertisement shows Bolivia’s President Evo Morales dressed as a shaman. He is knocking away at an image of Christ; a document marked ‘New Constitution’ is emblazoned with the slogan: “Choose God, Vote No”. This ad has been put out by evangelical groups concerned the new constitution will lead to legalized abortion and same-sex marriages. Neither issue is mentioned in the document, leaving room for ambiguity.

Polls show that the referendum on a new secular constitution, which would place the Catholic Church on equal footing with indigenous religions, will pass, leaving Christian groups increasingly worried about the “public will”.

Same-sex marriages are not ruled in the document. Gabriela Montaño Viaña, the presidential representative in Santa Cruz, said the constitution “could open the door to a civil law allowing homosexual marriage if there was a public will to do that”.

Why the worry over what “the public” wants? Because it seems that many conservative/traditional Christian thinkers believe that without the cultural and religious dominance of Christianity, we will all slide into amoral paganism.

…the West is not becoming secular, it is becoming visibly more pagan. Further, the failure to address the pagan nature of the West will lead to a failure to fully address the challenge of Islam.  Scripture presents only one real alternative to the worship of the one, true God. That alternative is the worship of natural forces given personal forms as various deities. These forces included such things as the state (pharaoh or emperor worship), war, fertility (the baals), wisdom, love, the sun, moon, and stars. These deities were worshipped because their adherents believed they supplied the vital necessities of life — children, health, security, material well-being, and personal power and renown. Paganism, in this context, would be defined as allegiance to, reliance on, or preoccupation with specific natural powers as the source of one’s well-being and happiness.

The true enemy then isn’t “secularism”, but what they fear the process of secularization will bring about. A post-Christian (and ultimately post-secular) re-enchantment that  gives birth to a new multi-religious (pagan) world. Christian groups have responded with increasing hostility to this process, and some are slowly re-embracing once-discarded ultra-conservative factions as a sort of rear-guard action against the secular onslaught. But are all the fears of this “pagan” future justified? Conservative journalist and pundit Heather Mac Donald argues that we shouldn’t fear moral chaos as secularism continues to rise in the West.

The religious superstructure of centuries past has been dismantled.  Rising in its place is a remake of religion “in the image of mass-consumer capitalism,”  according to a sociologist of American religion at the University of Notre Dame.  That remake offers up easily digestible bits like the “5 Minute Theologian”  and “7 Minutes With God.”  Only a quarter of Americans attend church weekly.  Yet moral chaos has not broken out; society has grown more prosperous as secularism expands.  Empathy with others, an awareness of the necessity of the Golden Rule, survive the radical transformation of religious belief, it turns out.  Perhaps because a moral sense is the foundation, not the result, of religious ethics.

In other words, ethical and moral behavior isn’t the result of Christian cultural dominance, but a part of natural human development. Something that any clear-eyed religious historian would know to be true. While I, for one, welcome our new secularist overlords, I fear what the increasingly radicalized fringe groups will do when they believe “spiritual warfare” and repressive ballot measures are no longer enough. While I think a post-Christian future is inevitable, I worry about the birth pangs necessary to realize this brave new world.