August 25th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Current policies leave farmers high and dry in drought

CANBERRA OBSERVED Captain and Lieutenant's $444 million munificence

MEDICAL ETHICS Changes to AHPRA's code of conduct would gag doctors

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump delivers for U.S. economy and workers

CHILDREN AND SOCIETY Treating depressed children: How will history judge us?

PRIVACY Big Brother is marketing you

THE FAMILY Humanae Vitae: a prophetic document at 50

SOCIETY AND MORES Novel features of child sexual abuse in our time

EUTHANASIA International expert emphasises palliative care

BIOGRAPHY The trouble with Harry (Freame) is that we've forgotten him

OPINION Just asking ... sauce for the goose ...?

HISTORY Christianity has died. Agreed, and yet ...

MILITARY HISTORY The volunteering spirit proves best in the test


MUSIC Chilly exposure: The sound and the fury

CINEMA Mission Impossible: Fallout: Ethan Hunt, knight errant

BOOK REVIEW A good diagnosis enables the cure

BOOK REVIEW End of the American empire?



OPINION The Victorian ALP observed from up close

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Christianity has died. Agreed, and yet ...

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, August 25, 2018

The expression, “a post-Christian world”, can at times be annoying, especially when it is used by wicked people to justify their wickedness, or when it is used as a sort of verbal shorthand by the mentally lazy. But it is also used legitimately as an objective description of the state of things today.

The Emperor Constantine

However, when it is a serious statement that our civilisation has moved beyond Christianity, I do not think we have to take this as news, though we do need to take it seriously, because, by all the indicators, it is true enough.

The comments by judges and media in Britain, with its morally inert Prime Minister, where hospital nurses are sacked for offering to pray for patients, police and ambulance drivers sacked for having crucifix tattoos, and prison warders for displaying a tiny cross of St George – as well as the constant succession of closing churches – suggest a population there of millions to whom Christianity, or any other set of values and morals, means literally nothing.

In Europe, demographers speak of “the North German Plain of Irreligion”. In Scandinavia, worship of the Norse deities is reported to be making a comeback. The United States has not gone as far, but parts of it are on the same road. And an estimated 6,000 Christians have been killed this year alone in northern Nigeria.

Mark Steyn’s wonderful but depressing book, After America, states: “Europe’s economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis. What is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-nationalist, postmodern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can’t make the math add up.”

In The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton pointed out that Christianity has already died several times. First, it had died, finally, dreadfully and completely, with the Crucifixion. I am hardly qualified to write of that event, but one does not need vast resources of imagination to guess how shattering and disillusioning the experience must have been for the disciples. It died in a cry of dark and absolute despair: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Sometimes it died less dramatically than that – sometimes it died, not with the glory or drama of sacrifice, but died unheroically of growing old and corrupt beyond hope.

It died when the Emperor Constantine legalised it, transforming it from something one could join only by accepting the desperate risk of martyrdom, to a “court religion” to suit the politics of the Byzantine Empire, a magnet for crooks and social climbers. It was all over then.

It was all over too, when Julian the Apostate restored the Pagan gods. It died again when Islam swept across Syria, North Africa and up into Spain and France. It died when the Crusades transformed it from a religion of peace and love into one of violence; and it died in the 30 Years’ War when sectarianism tore it apart with the sword. It died of political wrangling when schism split the Papacy.

It died with Darwin and the discovery of evolution. It died with Freudianism and with the rise of scientific anthropology, and with the proofs put forward by immortal names such as James Frazer, with his mighty study, The Golden Bough, which proved that it was but a variation on primitive vegetation ceremonies. Then it died, too, with Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man.

There had been, the scholars found and set out, countless religions in the past built around a vague notion, implanted somehow deep in the human psyche, of the idea of a god who died for mankind and rose again. From whence came this strange, vague but almost universal feeling? Well, it probably wasn’t important.

It died on the horrors of World War I, when young men such as C.S. Lewis became confirmed in atheism. It died in the age of the Totalitarian State, when Lenin, Stalin and Hitler abolished it.

In short, Christianity has died about as thoroughly, and in about as many different ways, as it is possible for anything to die. It is the ultimate lost cause.

So, there is nothing novel about living in a post-Christian world, and it is high time we got used to the fact. We have been living in a post-Christian world for nearly two thousand years.

The monks of Iona or Whitby knew they lived in a post-Christian world when the Vikings descended on their communities and destroyed them. King Pelayo of Spain knew he was living in a post-Christian world when the Moors conquered the whole of the country but a single hilltop from which he fought a quixotic resistance, absurdly maintaining the Faith and its promise in the face of reality.

Looking at the whole sweep of history, is there any important fact in this picture that I have forgotten to mention?

Looking at it again, I see there is.

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