Monday, June 13, 2016

What Living in a Post-Christian Society Means

“A current commonplace, the truth of which is taken for granted, is that the modern world is secular” (Jacques Ellul, The New Demons, translated into English by C. Edward Hopkin in 1975, p.2). This assumption is understood to mean, specifically, “that the modern world no longer believes but wants proof; it obeys reason and rejects beliefs, especially religious beliefs; it has got rid of God the Father and all gods, and if you talk to it of religion, it won’t understand you…The day of religion is over” (18).

Where do we find this painfully false assumption taken most seriously as truth? “[I]n most Christian intellectual circles and especially in the World Council of Churches” (19).
Most unfortunately, “[t]his [false] assumption is the basis for the impressive effort at renewal that is going on in the churches as the attempt to communicate with this [imaginary] contemporary [person] and to make the gospel acceptable to [them]. We have new theologies, new ecclesiastical structures, integration into the modern world, efforts to develop non-religious forms of witnessing and preaching, and so on. The whole ‘crisis’ of the church and all the movement going on within it are based on this assumption…” (19).
The term, “post-Christian,” says nothing about the truth of Jesus Christ. It does, however, say something significant about formerly Christian societies. One, it says that “Christianity no longer supplies a set of shared values, a norm of judgment, and a frame of reference to which [people] spontaneously relate all their thoughts and actions” (23).
Two, it means that the Church “is no longer coextensive with society; it is no longer a power to be reckoned with” (23).
It means that, culturally, the Church is discouraged from publicly declaring anything distinctly Christian about “social, political, intellectual, scientific, and artistic areas” (23). Rather, it is restricted to “religious, spiritual, and moral areas” (23) while, even in those, it is only one tolerated voice among many.
Four, and most significantly, “post-Christian society…has experienced Christianity and left it behind” (24).
This abandonment of Christianity has two important consequences for post-Christian societies. One, these societies nonetheless remain significantly influenced by Christianity. At the same time, they are certain that they know “all there is to know about Christianity” (24). Nothing new need be expected from Jesus let alone his Church.
While Christianity is dismissed with greater or lesser contempt, post-Christian societies all affirm “atheistic humanism” (25) with great enthusiasm.
This humanism is based on five basic assumptions. One, “man is the measure of all things” (25). We are no longer responsible to Jesus for what we do. There is no divine judgment in this world or the next. We humans alone decide what standards we shall use to distinguish good and evil and to measure right and wrong.
Two, “man is autonomous” (26). We humans must come up with our own meaning. “In atheistic humanism, then, man adopts a very lofty conception of his own fate, but the price for it is high: his own existential anxiety” (27).
Three, “man is a rational being” (27). This conviction, however, is attacked, on one side, by the reality of phenomena like love which cannot be verified using the scientific method. It is eroded, on the other, by the persistent inescapable irrationality of all of us.
Four, “man is good or at least free to choose good or evil and that, barring [27] error, ignorance, or passion (which resists rational analysis), he chooses the good. Man has to be regarded as good, since he is the measure of everything, is his own master, and takes it on himself to direct everything else (technology, for example)” (27-28).
The evil that obviously exists cannot, therefore, be our fault as humans. It must be the fault of flawed societal organization or culture. We need only change the organization or set of beliefs and all will be well.
The good is whatever most people are doing and regard as such. In this way, we may regard technology as great.
Finally, “modern man has come of age” (28). This is an affirmation that we human beings are free from any need for religion and can take responsibility for ourselves.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.