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How did Christianity lose its grip on Western culture?

by


Stratford Caldecott


    How did Christianity lose its grip on Western culture? The rise of modern science and the impressive power of modern technology obviously had a lot to do with it. So had the disgraceful division of Christians during centuries of religious warfare, and the betrayal of Christ by many who bore his name. For one reason or another, religious faith came to be regarded as a type of primitive superstition, an obstacle to the further progress of humanity. But the more closely one looks at the history of the Enlightenment, the more clearly it emerges that Christianity never really lost the intellectual argument. What it lost was its hold on the popular imagination.

    It is a matter of common observation, especially among teachers, that unless people are interested in a subject they will not sit still long enough to learn about it. Religion and the Church began at a certain point to seem dull and boring and consequently ugly, repulsive. During the 20th century a new culture emerged; one that expressed itself through music, TV, film, dance, computers and fashion. Today it is this culture that shapes children¹s imaginations as they grow, much more than liturgy, tradition or scripture.

    We have not, perhaps, sufficiently understood that the vocations to the priesthood and religious life on which so many Christian institutions depend, though they require prayer, also normally need long cultivation within a living religious culture. Faith is not sufficient, for, as the Pope has often reminded us, "
The synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture but also of faith. A faith that does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not faithfully lived out." Once the religious culture of the home is destroyed or undermined, vocations will tend to disappear quite rapidly.

    Such problems are compounded by the fact that in an age of individualism, all institutions are under attack, all authorities are suspect. Scandals in the Church exposed the corruption that had festered under the veneer of secure self-confidence, feeding the perception of the Church not merely as repulsive (at times), but as a positively dangerous, spiritually unhealthy place to be. Again, the crisis was largely cultural. Perversion had flourished in the subculture of some seminaries, once theological training had become separated from the spiritual and psychological development that makes a good priest. And it was often protected outside the seminary by a clericalism that elevated the priest or bishop to a dangerously cosy position in society.

    It was not just in the seminaries that the way to holiness had become obscure or esoteric. Intimations of transcendence still abound, but their origin and meaning eludes us. When young people feel the need of spiritual transformation they may well turn to some other religion, any religion other than Christianity. When the prevailing culture has no place for holiness, goodness and beauty, then they look elsewhere for these things.

    Step by step over the next few years, Second Spring will attempt to address these problems, and to provide resources for the recovery of a religious, and specifically a sacramental, view of reality. To become capable of a deeper dialogue between religion and science, and between religions, we need a recovery of metaphysics. We need to consider new and creative ideas in the economic and political realm. We need to be aware of the delicate interaction of grace and nature in human psychology, and of the vital need for balance in the life of the planet as a whole.

    
[From the Editorial in
Issue 6 of Second Spring magazine]


Copyright © Stratford Caldecott 2006

Version: 16th February 2006

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