By Tim Haydon
What the End of a Civilisation Looks Like: Britain and the West 2010
It is a truism to say that we live in an increasingly secular society. What those who welcome this present trend do not seem to realise is that it means the end of civilisation as we have known it. And if it were to continue and expand it would ultimately mean the end of any civilisation worthy of the name whatsoever.
A Society cannot survive without agreed Standards of Morality
Why so? Because a society cannot survive if there are no agreed standards of morality, and there can be no such standards without religion. That is because without religion the universe is meaningless. Our lives have no purpose beyond the animal urges endowed us by our genes which are themselves the mere accidental outcomes of physical laws.
In a Meaningless World, No one has the Right to decree Right and Wrong.
Political Correctness: Merely the Preferences of the Left imposed through Power
As Nietzsche foretold, what is left without religion is power and the Politically Correct merely impose their own preferences on the rest of us through the exercise of it. Whatever the secularisers might say about religion, they cannot claim that it is self contradictory in the imposition of morality in the way that Political Correctness is.
In the 1930’s the pioneering Harvard Sociologist and historian Pitirim Sorokin predicted that values in the West would continue to be undermined, would become more and more influenced by relativistic thinking, would lose their binding power and would be .‘ground to dust’ Distinctions between right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly and positive and negative would more and more disappear in the opaque and chaotic world of crumbling ‘sensate ‘ culture as he termed it.
Sorokin’s Chillingly Accurate Prophesy
He has been proved absolutely right. Huge numbers of people are increasingly incapable of telling right from wrong including politicians, judges, journalists and even many clergymen. A quick glance at Modern Art (where Lucian Freud for example depicts human beings as soulless mounds of flesh and Frances Bacon saw them as ugly, tortured and almost dissected, staring into the void), modern music (based round the rhythm of the sex act), modern architecture (which banishes the human and the fitting in favour of deliberately meaningless gimmickry and the celebration of glass, steel and concrete), the cinema and TV, ‘all show that the borderline between the beautiful and the ugly, the positive and the negative have been erased’.
Becoming more and more materialistic
Sorokin also asserted that Man himself in the declining modern world would become more materialistic and less spiritually minded. Science would seek to strip life of its sacred character (think genetic engineering, abortion on demand and ‘designer babies’) and Mankind would become increasingly debased and sensual (Any TV soap and many town centres on a Saturday night are proof of this).
Most people would ‘sink deeper into the muck of the sociological sewers’ and would be ‘progressively destructive rather than constructive, representing in their totality a museum of sociological pathology rather than the imperishable values of the Kingdom of God’ (It is hard to disagree with these remarks given the morality -free wastelands of so many of our towns and cities). The ancient place of true religion in society would be replaced by pseudo religions (such as Political Correctness, Environmentalism, all those little Buddhas used as ornaments, the devotion to ‘Yoga,’ the fawning over Islam etc. )
The Disappearance of Personal Honour and of Duty
Sorokin also predicted that ’contracts and covenants in our age would lose the remnants of their binding power.’ This would make virtually impossible the proper functioning of representative government. (Do you trust our politicians?)
The Rise in Violence and the Loss of Respect for the Law
With the fragmentation of other values, Sorokin predicted that respect for law and civil order would dramatically decrease. Government would turn to its only remaining weapons; naked force and fraud. There would be an increasing war of all against all (such as we are beginning to see in our inner cities), riots, civil disturbances and brutality would become commonplace. (Is this not true?).
The Hollowing out of the Meaning of Words Men once Died for.
Words which previously were meaningful such as ‘freedom’ would gradually lose their definition and become mere fiction. (We can see that in our ‘liberal’ ie ‘free’ society in which people are in reality less free than they have been since Cromwell). Our rights would be alienated. Constitutions would be abolished or used as ‘beautiful screens for an unadulterated coercion.’ (The enforcement of EU membership and mass immigration and multiculturalism on this country by its Political Class speaks for itself);
The Disintegration of the Family
The Prediction of the Overwhelming of Western Civilisation
The End of Creativity
Sorokin though that genuine creative thinking in the crippled remnants of Western Society would wither and die. The Beethovens, Newtons, Rembrandts Shakespeares of our former civilisation would be replaced by mediocrities (Tracy Emin, David Hockney etc) vulgar showmen, pseudo-thinkers (Foucault , Derrida, the Frankfurt School etc etc) and the like.
The End of Rising Living Standards
Finally, with the collapse of moral values and ethics and the withering of creativity, Sorokin saw that economic production would eventually decline, and that standards of living would grow worse. With this, security of life and of possessions would fade as would peace of mind and happiness. Violence and criminal activity would grow to terrifying proportions and ever –increasing numbers of people would grow weary from the struggle for existence. (The ultimate decline in living standards Sorokin foretold may or may not be here –watch this space - but the rise in criminality certainly is)
Sorokin’s truly chilling accuracy as to the way our society has evolved (written some 55-75 years ago let us not forget) demands that we take his ideas seriously.
A Christmas Message of Hope - Part Two
By Tim Heydon
First the bad News : Western Culture is being overwhelmed by Foreign Elements
To recap, in Part One, we saw a truly bleak vision of what a secular world would be like and noted that our present society is already moving into this grim future. Overwhelmed by the sheer flood of foreign elements and incapable of discriminating between what is harmful and what is not, our culture has lost its confidence. It no longer believes in its own superiority and is disintegrating. Weak and ill, it betrays itself. The cultural outlook that dominated the world a mere hundred years ago is in its death throes.
Then the Good News.
Sorokin believed that the drive to materialism which is a function of the internal dynamics of all cultures would serve eventually and inevitably to bring about a change for the better in the West. He wrote, ‘In these conditions the Western population will not be able to help opening its eyes to the hollowness of the declining Sensate Culture and being disillusioned by it…by tragedy , suffering and crucifixion it will be purified and brought back to reason.’
The Future Age
When the West inevitably returns to a more spiritual mode of existence and to absolute values though, what religion will it be that is followed? Will it be Christianity or will it be (God forbid) Islam or some other faith?
The decline in the grip of Christianity on the West since the ‘Enlightenment’ has been driven by a strengthening of the materialist world view of which Sorokin spoke which now dismisses spiritual explanations entirely, believing that whatever cannot be explained by science cannot exist (vide Dawkins). This means (and is meant to mean) that the miracles of Jesus are fraudulent and therefore the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels including the key miracle of his Resurrection is a lie.
Crossan the Arch-Sceptic
The rationalist attack on Christianity by those whose intellectual horizons are defined by an acceptance of a closed system of cause and effect has effectively culminated in the work of John Dominic Crossan, a member of the so-called ‘Jesus Seminar’. In an honest attempt at scholarly enquiry, Crossan concentrated on individual items of the traditions about Jesus and decided whether or not they were genuine in ‘archaeological’ fashion, digging through three ‘layers’ of data to reach the historical Jesus.
The first ‘cosmic’ layer is of pan-Mediterranean models of patronage and clientage and fundamental values . Next comes the mesocosmic layer; Jesus’ immediate historical context, then the microcosmic layer which relates to the literature concerning him. The results are then interpreted in the light of Graeco-Roman history and anthropological models in a way appropriate to the historical contextualisation of the data. This method, so Crossan argues, reveals the historical Jesus.
The Jesus of Crossan
Well, who is the Jesus according to Crossan? He is merely a social and political reformer who posed a threat to the authorities. His burial and resurrection did not happen, although his crucifixion certainly did.
In terms of historical significance, it is the life and mission of Jesus that are important for Crossan. According to him, Jesus’ death was not of the greatest significance. This contrasts with the view of Paul, for whom what was of ‘first importance’ were the death burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor15:3-4).
Crossan ‘s Scepticism Dismantled
Tom Wright exposed Crossan’s approach as circular. He points out that Crossan’s dating of materials results from his understanding of Jesus rather than the other way around. Crossan’s intellectual horizon; his view of the world as a closed system of cause and effect, leads him to the a priori dismissal of supernatural intervention in the world whether working outside the ‘laws’ of nature or within them. Therefore the miracles (except Jesus’s healings, which in his opinion do not in fact contravene the laws of nature) are inventions. These other miracles, the turning of the water into wine; the feeding of the five thousand - they are all fables designed to show Jesus as in some sense a divine being. He was in fact merely a social and political reformer who posed a danger to the authorities. The Passion story, the accounts of the Resurrection - they are fictions concocted to reveal Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and to deal with power struggles and other problems in the early church.
Tom Wright gets his teeth into Crossan
However, Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham who is now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews argues persuasively that if Jesus was merely a social and political agitator it is hardly likely that his followers would have attributed to him the importance that they did, nor having fled when he was arrested would they have come together at a time when their own lives were in peril as his associates unless something momentous (his Resurrection) had occurred.
Wider Intellectual Horizons: The Miracles and Quantum Mechanics.
Ben F Meyer (‘The Aims of Jesus’- Princeton 2002; ‘One of the most important books of its type of the Twentieth Century ‘) rejects Crossan’s out –of-hand denial of the possibility of the miracles. Restricting himself to supernatural intervention working within the laws of nature he bases his opinion on the demonstration of the philosopher Bernard Lonergan’s cognition theory ( ‘A Study of Human Understanding’). Lonergan embraces Quantum Theory which has done away with the seemingly inexorable determinism of cause and effect. It shows that there are a number of possible outcomes for any event.
Amazingly, an observer creates an outcome by collapsing the possibilities through observation. The outcome appears to be more and more likely the more it is expected; in other words, faith orchestrates outcomes; the greater the faith the more likely the outcome. So for example, Jesus could quite conceivably have turned the water into wine or walked on water and have done so without contravening any ‘laws’ of nature.
Meyer holds that the widespread historical assumptions that miracles must be discounted may themselves be discounted as culturally determined and little better than reductionist encumbrances to legitimate historical method.
Crossan’s Methods attacked
Meyer attacked Crossan’s approach (inspecting individual items of the traditions) as refusing to see the wood for the trees. Jesus must be seen as a whole through the narrative of the Gospels rather than in the fragmentary way Crossan espouses which only succeeds in failing to capture the integrity of the portrait of Jesus’ personality and missing the whole point of his story. Meyer also contradicts those who assert that Jesus never made any claims about himself. Drawing on the philosopher Collingwood’s views on intentionality he shows that Jesus demonstrated who he was through his actions.
Meyer and Lonergan
Meyer based his own approach to the study of the question of the historicity of the Gospels on Lonergan. Lonergan’s view is that ‘understanding’ occurs in a three stage process of the experience of sense data, the questioning of the data and the grasping of it as an intelligible unity in an act of insight, followed by a judgement of the truth or falsity of that understanding according to criteria determined by the knower. Only after the completion of this three–stage process of experience, understanding and judgement can the knower can truly be said to ‘know,’ or grasp, the ‘virtually unconditioned.’
Accepting the possibility that the miracle stories are true, Meyer’s conclusions are that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ own miracles and his Resurrection, as well as his teachings, are correct in all essential particulars.
Further Validations of the Truth of the Gospels by Modern Scholars
These conclusions are supported and extended by the work of Tom Wright (‘The Victory of the Cross’ etc) and by other recent Scholarship such as the textual analyses of Craig Blomberg (‘The Historical Reliability of the Gospels’) and Richard Bauckham (‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ and ‘The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple’. ( Bauckham identifies the ‘Beloved Disciple’ as St John, who wrote or dictated his Gospel and who was present at the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Empty Tomb).
The Christmas Message of Hope
The Christmas Message of Hope then is that yes, the Gospel Story has survived the worst that its enemies have thrown at it and has survived more or less unscathed. The historical Jesus is indeed pretty much the person that believers have always thought him to be, the Jesus of faith. And so his birth and his mission really are events we can celebrate.