Christianity at War
Christianity has been at war with leftist atheism since the 17th century, when the ideology that would become known as the Left emerged from the primal slime of the French revolution. Unfortunately and inarguably the Left has been successful in this war. Europe, the cradle of Christianity, once known as known as “Christendom,” is today widely referred to as being “post-Christian.” And the United States is in danger of facing the same fate. Much has been written about the Left’s campaign. In fact, we have a 1000-page book on the subject coming out later this spring. Today, though, we wanted to address a facet of this ongoing war that is rarely discussed, that being Christianity’s wholly inadequate job of defending itself.
Briefly stated, the assault on Christianity began with the Enlightenment notion that the Judeo-Christian belief system underpinning Western Civilization was based on fable and superstition and needed to be replaced by a new social order based instead on science and reason. The war that followed has been philosophical in nature and is therefore not as easy to understand as a physical war, for example the attack by the Umayyad Caliphate against Christian Europe in 732, which was stopped by Charles Martel, or the defeat of the Ottoman fleet by Don John Austria at the Gulf of Patra in 1571.
Unlike more traditional conflicts, the war of the Left against Christianity is not about land or treasure, but about the hearts, minds, and souls of the citizens of Christendom. The stage was set for the conflict in 1767 when Voltaire complimented Frederick the Great for his antagonism to “the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.” A few years later, the war became even more serious, when the philosopher Immanuel Kant stated that reason cannot prove the existence of God. Early in the 19th century, the philosopher Georg Hegel added his derision, and a few years later, Karl Marx began developing the outlines for a Godless society that would replace the Judeo-Christian order with an earthly eschaton, a workers’ paradise. Marx’s eponymous ideology became the foundational blueprint for all of the leftist formulations to follow, including communism, socialism, fascism, Nazism, American progressivism/liberalism, and a host of other “smelly little orthodoxies,” to borrow a phrase from George Orwell.
That these leftist constructs should have had such a devastating effect on Christianity is one of the mysteries of modern times. Every one of them failed miserably to produce a healthy community when put into practice, while Christianity has provided mankind with spiritual comfort and material abundance unmatched in human history. And it’s not like this is a secret. Many wise men and women have noted it. One of our favorite tributes to Christianity comes from the great German poet Heinrich Heine. To wit:
For eighteen centuries this religion was a blessing for suffering humanity; it was providential, divine, holy. Every contribution it has made to civilization by curbing the strong and strengthening the weak, by uniting the peoples through a common sentiment and a common language, and all else that its apologists have urged in its praise – all this is as nothing compared with the great consolation which it has bestowed on human beings by its very nature. Everlasting praise is due the symbol of that suffering God, the Savior with the crown of thorns, the crucified Christ whose blood is a soothing balm flowing down into the wound of mankind.
So why, then, is Christianity losing souls to an ideology of chaos and old night?
Obviously, the answer is complicated. But one seldom discussed aspect of this dismal record is that ever since the assault on its principles began, Christianity has been defending itself on the enemy’s terms. Instead of simply agreeing that Kant was correct when he said that God’s existence cannot be proved by philosophy, science, or reason, Christianity has tried, ceaselessly, to prove that it too can be “rational.” This has been a mistake of unspeakable magnitude. Christianity is about faith. Thomas Mann addressed this tragic error as follows in his classic novel Dr. Faustus.
Orthodoxy itself committed the blunder of letting reason into the field of religion, in that she sought to prove the positions of faith by the test of reason. Under the pressure of the Enlightenment, theology had almost nothing to do but defend herself against the intolerable contradictions which were pointed out to her: and only in order to get round them she embraced so much of the anti-revelation spirit that it amounted to an abandonment of faith. . . . Since this went a little too far, there arose an accommodation theology . . . . In its conservative form, holding to revelation and the traditional exegesis, it sought to save what was to be saved of the elements of Bible religion; on the other hand it liberally accepted the historico-critical methods of the profane science of history and abandoned to scientific criticism its own most important contents: the belief in miracles, considerable portions of Christology, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and what not besides. . .
Heine described the consequences of this error this way in 1833.
From the moment that religion requires the aid of philosophy its downfall is inevitable. Attempting a defense, it chatters itself more and more deeply into destruction. Religion, like all other absolutisms, may not try to justify itself.
One result of all of this was that instead of reminding individual Christians of their obligation to the poor, the Church itself took on this task. Mainline Protestant congregations became social service organizations, while the Catholic Church fell into the trap of liberation theology. Thomas Mann put it this way:
Ready to adapt itself to the ideals of bourgeois society …. it degrades the religious to a function of the human; the ecstatic and paradoxical elements so essential to the religious genius it waters down to an ethical progressiveness.
Clearly, we are neither morally nor intellectually qualified to give Christian leaders advice about how best to defend their faith against the heathens. But we have a stake in the outcome of this battle and thus pray that Christianity will return to the task of saving individual souls and rendering “unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”