Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 15, 2001
Is Christianity 'almost vanquished'?
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
The Times' religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill last month reported a dismal assessment of the state of British Christianity by Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who, addressing the National Conference of Priests at Leeds, declared that Christianity has "almost been vanquished in Britain." Christ is being replaced by music, New Age beliefs, the environmental movement, the occult, and the free-market economy.
Gledhill says the cardinal's observations echoed the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who observed last year: "A tacit atheism prevails. Death is assumed to be the end of life. Our concentration on the here-and-now renders a thought of eternity irrelevant."
Murphy-O'Connor pronounced that "Christianity, as a sort of backdrop to peoples lives and moral decisions - and to the Government, the social life of the country - has now almost been vanquished."
People are seeking transient happiness in alcohol, drugs, pornography and recreational sex, the cardinal said. "You see quite a demoralized society, one where the only good is what I want, the only rights are my own, and the only life with any meaning or value is the life I want for myself."
In some respects, the cardinal was merely stating the obvious. Typically, people today define "spirituality" as a celebration of self. Christianity is about denial of self. That makes hazily-defined "spirituality" a much easier sell in a selfish, narcissistic culture.
According to Church Attendance Survey statistician Peter Brierley, just 7.5 per cent of the British population now attends church weekly. Only five per cent of Brits in their 20s are churchgoers. Projections indicate that within 40 years, a mere 0.5 per cent will remain faithful.
That makes Canada, with church attendance of 20 per cent (weekly)/34 per cent (monthly) look enthusiastically religious, and the U.S., where approximately 40 per cent of citizens say they attend church weekly (55 per cent monthly), 54 per cent of adults give money to a church in a typical month, 40 per cent read the Bible at least once a week, and a whopping 80 per cent claim to have prayed to God in the past week, look like a hotbed of revivalism.
Britain, along with the rest of Europe, has essentially now become a post-Christian culture. Fifty-three per cent of Americans consider religion to be "very important" in their lives compared with 16 per cent in Britain, 14 per cent in France and 13 per cent in Germany.
However, despite the encouraging U.S. figures, church attendance is gradually dropping there too, and North Americans are well on their way down the same regressive road to paganism.
As a traditionalist Christian, I view these statistics with distress and alarm. I believe that the key fundaments of our civilization are essentially Christian ideas and principles, and I am deeply pessimistic about the prospects of Western civilization being sustainable while denying its Christian moral and philosophical underpinnings.
Principally, I blame the churches themselves and their leadership for the meltdown of Christian purchase on Western society. Gradually and insidiously over the past hundred years the churches lost sight of their prophetic role and suicidally allowed themselves to be subverted by liberal-humanist secular ideologies.
The result has been disastrous. If Church leaders obviously don't believe what they purport to believe in paying lip service to the creeds and doctrines of Christianity, why should anyone be even intrigued to investigate, much less embrace the Christian faith?
As St. Paul noted, "And how shall they believe in him if they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
The late Malcolm Muggeridge observed more than 30 years ago that, "Pretty well every item of Christian belief and of Christian ethics has been subjected to some degree of denigration and attack by those ostensibly responsible for upholding them. . . .
"The Church of Christ has to stagger on under the guidance of those who increasingly sympathize with, when they do not actually countenance, every attack on its doctrines, integrity and traditional practices. . . . Institutional Christianity, it seems to me, is now in total disarray, and visibly decomposing, to the point that, short of a miracle, it can never be put together again with any semblance of order or credibility."
As a Christian I believe Christianity will survive, because it represents objective truth and reality that transcends social or cultural developments. But if Christians don't stop caving to secularism and resume their duty of evangelism and cultural leadership, when Christ returns, their numbers may well be small.
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