The Implosion of Western Civilization?

Copyright © July 31, 2003, by Tim Arensmeier



A friend who was having some problems paying a certain tax, wrote the following with an obvious degree of frustration:


        Dear Tim,


I am not sure what the deal is with fines, penalties, etc.  I applied for relief and now it appears that they did not receive either my payments or my application.  It makes one wonder about the civil service in “What’s its state?”




While my response is not all that intellectual, it did kind of roll off my tongue (would you believe . . . fingers?).


Oh, duh?  When you figure that over 50% of our population are on the public dole for one reason or the other, the rest of us who work for a living are beginning to get fed up, while they feed without too much worry about doing anything with any commitment to anything resembling excellence. 


This is the stuff of which the implosion of a culture is made.


Or, as Jan and I have been thinking, it was the gospel which was responsible for Western Civilization.  As we shift from a pure and sincere commitment to the gospel, we lose the results of it.  It's not a cultural or social problem.  It's not an educational problem, though all of those are affected:  it's a spiritual problem.  And, rather than "the liberals" being the blame, or that wonderful bastion of liberalism, the ACLU, it appears to me that the problem most clearly lays squarely on the doorsteps of . . . The Church. 


It appears to me that pastors started a "response" of "scientific correctness" shortly after Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859.  The church was willing to equivocate on Genesis 1 - 3, and inserted a "gap" between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, thereby allowing for "evolution" to have taken place, because that's what the scientists were saying must be true.


Then, after that equivocation, it was not too large a leap to become "sexually correct," i.e., let's ordain women (started happening very shortly after the "scientific correctness" started -- Methodists and others have ordained women since the last quarter of the 19th century).  This became the basis of where we are today, splitting churches over whether or not to ordain transvestite, cross dressing homosexuals, rather than godly men qualified according to I Timothy 3 & Titus 1, lovingly leading their churches in growth in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


The eldership so weakened by that secondary deviation from the authority and inspiration of scripture, it was not but a small step to allow (also starting in the 19th century) the "intellectual correctness" of German and French "higher criticism" to affect and invade America in the early 20th century, as after all that's what the intellectuals of Europe were concluding.  Amazingly similar to our supreme court recently making a decision based on what the Europeans are thinking.  Huh?


Of course, that open challenge to the inspiration, authority, clarity and sufficiency of scripture merely followed the churches previous overlooking of the same, as demonstrated in the very early “sexual correctness” already mentioned.


"Political correctness" seems to potentially be the last straw in the venture to completely water down the gospel to precipitate its functional ineffectiveness in affecting society positively, or even being sufficiently salty to assist in its preservation.  Today, few are the pastors who will even mention that nasty word "sin."  And, God forbid, it's not our place to tell anyone that any behavior they're involved in might, per chance, be "wrong."  After all, "tolerance" is the hallmark of a dying civilization.  As Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli aver,

You and I will not be around in 100 years.  That doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is whether Western Civilization will be around.


Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Intervarsity Press, 2003


Quite possibly that's why I like them as authors.  They reinforce my prejudice.  Obviously, they're right!


Lest this become a rather minor epistle from a very minor opossum, I'll quit.




* * * * * RESPONSES * * * * *


1st Response:




Good set of thoughts.


I would boil it all down to this:  At some point - maybe just after mid-1800's - the church (not 100% but certainly a very large %) simply ceased to believe the Gospel.  The same is true today.  With all the religious activity, building, ministries, etc. there is precious little real faith, very little visible dependency upon God as savior, provider and caretaker.  If you look at the total effort and energy expended by an average church and subtract all which serves only to sustain the facility, organization and denomination, what is left?  Wouldn't this net amount of energy and effort be the contribution to the Kingdom?  The same is true of churchgoers.  Most churchgoers today include church attendance and participation in church programs as a fruit of the Spirit.


There is a book I think you should take a look at, Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry, written by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett published by Encounter Books.  The book has an incredible bibliography.  These guys look at the historical record and make objective observations as to Christianity's contribution to civilization.  It is a very good work.




2nd Response:


Dear Tim,


      I just finished reading the diary of David Brainerd in which he taught the Indians that they could do absolutely nothing to please a holy God and they were vile and wicked sinners deserving of death.  Guess what?  Revival broke out among them.  And when they were converted, they did not have to be taught theology as much as they understood experientially that they were undeserving sinners and that God had every right to send them to hell.  I found that I was thinking how long it has been in my experience since I have heard such messages coming from the Christian quarters.  But I also believe this is why we don't suffer much persecution in America.  If we were preaching this, you can bet we would be having open opposition.


      Oh that God would send this message back to us through godly preachers and that we wouldn't reject it as being too hard!




Response 2, a.  (August 1, 2003)


Dear Tim,

It is titled The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, edited by Jonathan Edwards by Philip E. Howard, Jr., copyright 1949 by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, reprinted by Baker Book House, March 1999, ISBN Number: 0-8010-0976-6.  It is David Brainerd's journal as he ministered to the Indians.  In it are Jonathan Edwards’ comments.  Brainerd was cared for his last days by Edwards’ daughter who then died shortly afterwards of tuberculosis.  Excellent book!




3rd Response:


Think you're right about Western Civ.  As you know, Tim, my view is that this country, the US, has unbeknownst to most, already had its gov't overthrown from within by elites.  This is why there is so little difference between either party.  For me, there ultimately is no difference.  Those elites are now ushering in the final phase of Western Civ:  the Empire phase which invariably will see a new Caesar arise.  The old rights, the old notions of God given rights and liberties, those will fall by the wayside soon, as they are now doing, just as Romans and Grecians saw it happen to them.  They too had liberties during their "popular rule" phase. 

I will add this, though, Tim.  In reading my latest History book, "A Study of History" by Arnold Toynbee, he makes the astute point that in a disintegrating society, along with a lot of other signs, what you always see among the masses after they have discarded their old religious customs, is that they adopt one of two "escapist" philosophies:  They swerve towards licentiousness or ascetism.  When Greece was collapsing, you had the Epicureans and the Ascetics/Stoics.  When Rome was collapsing, you had the Bacchanalians and the Stoics.  Same with the Indic culture, and on and on.  Can't remember about the Jews, but I do believe the Essenes qualify on the side of the Ascetics. 

At any rate, when you look around, you see no shortage of Epicureans in our Western culture today.  However, what you do not yet see much of are the Ascetic escapists.  Therefore, this historical argument would seem to dictate that Western Civ has some time left.  What nature that time will be I believe I outlined in my first few sentences.  Personally, I think Western Civ is doomed.  The next nexus of power will be the Sinic culture in China.  The church will go underground during a coming period of persecution, the dying throes of Western Civ, the foundation of which I maintain is now being laid by the people who give our "elected presidents" orders.  When the smoke clears, the church will rise again in China, triumphant.




4th Response:




I recommend the book mentioned previously because I am looking for some thoughtful opossum to discuss it with.




5th Response:


Tim -- If I could make a few comments on your previous statement regarding the connection of the "gospel" to the rise of Western civilization.  I think the way you put it is too simplistic.  There is some serious balance needed in order to be honest with history.  Perry Miller wrote an essay a year ago in a book called "Toleration," in which he argued forcibly that religious freedom in America came in spite of visible Christianity (which for the most part vehemently persecuted Baptists, Quakers & other religious dissenters).  He shows that much of the political impetus for religious liberty came from secular forces, not from the church (which had been joined to the state since Constantine). The "gospel" associated with England, Europe & early America, was significantly diluted, clouded, and misdirected because it was assumed that sword & Bible went hand in hand.  One can see why secular forces would join together in reaction to the centuries of the misuse of power by state-churches to opt for religious toleration.  So it would appear that many forces converged to give rise to Western civilization, but I don't think it is fair to attribute this phenomenon to "the gospel." Some Christian values affecting the flow of history are certainly part of the equation.  But I think it would have to be said that religious liberty came in spite of key practices of Christendom that were in truth anti-gospel.




5th Response – #1 Response, by Tim: 


Jon – I totally agree with your observations, however, the essence of what you’ve addressed is what I would identify as the difference between “American (or Western) Christianity,” and “following Christ.”  Upon every opportunity I encounter, I deny that I’m a “Christian,” only to hasten to inform that I am, however, “A Follower of Jesus Christ.”



Web posted:  July 31, 2003

Updated:  August 3, 2003

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