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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

We hear that Christianity is collapsing in the Middle East, largely as a result of the Arab Spring, but what is happening to Christianity in the West?



REACHING AND REASONING CHRISTIANITY _ BLOGSPOT



INTRODUCTION
            The influence of Christianity in Europe is hard to deny. With its beautiful monasteries, cathedrals and religious history European culture is surrounded by memories of a past lifetime and pious society. Yet things have changed in the last generation or so rapidly towards a post-Christian Europe. But what has caused this dramatic shift away from veneration, reverence and adoration for God?
            In this essay I intend to explore four causes that have lent themselves to the decline of Christianity in Europe. First we will look into the influence of the Enlightenment, particularly at the work of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Next we shall delve into the idea of syncretism and how this has shaped the religious milieu of the continent. Next we will survey the changing social and family structure particularly the size of families and the role of inheritance in strategic powers of Europe chiefly Germany. Finally we will briefly cover the influences of the “New Atheist” and how this is shaping the landscape of European morality and life.

The Influx of Reason[1]
            Christianity in the eighteenth century began to face some new challenges that would rock the landscape of European thought. Beginning in the late seventeenth century the rationalist, those whose attitudes could be typified by an interest in the world and conviction in the strength of reason, began to influence the way people in Europe thought and how they came to an epistemic stance.[2] However following the initial rationalist incursion came a bright skeptic of the rationalist position.
David Hume employed his own method of experience and knowledge that shaped the thoughts of his day. Truth, as Hume saw it, is not that we see an apple, rather that we perceive its attributes such as size, color, flavor and so on.[3] Hume also struck at the core of Christian belief by asserting that belief in God, most notably the Christian God, is not something that comes from a pure love of the truth but rather out of an anxiety, a desire for joy, pleasure or a fear of death.[4] Naturally this sort of “experience skepticism” could have a profound impact on any who would read his work, and at this time with the aid of the printing press, was easier to access than ever.
Following Hume came, considered by many one the most notable philosophers of all time, Immanuel Kant. Kant, who had been awakened from his “dogmatic slumber” by reviewing the work of Hume, expounded upon this idea of reasonable knowledge in his work Critique of Pure Reason.[5] Kant makes a distinction in this work between phenomenon that are spatiotemporal objects, and noumena which are neither spatial nor temporal, thus these two worlds are separate.[6] God falls into the realm of noumena that Kant claims we cannot have intuition nor experience of. This means we can’t even begin to have knowledge of God let alone be able to describe his attributes.
Though claims made by Kant and Hume are not certain facts, what is certain is that their thoughts still impact an ever increasingly secular Europe. This impact thus requires a response from philosophers and theologians in the defense of knowledge and God to help turn the cultural tides back in the favor of theism.

Syncretism: The Harmful Ecumenical Movement
            When a culture that is largely dominated by one religion, as was the case in Europe’s past, encounters other religious traditions or sees an influx of foreign people to their lands change is inevitable. In this instance, the change we are speaking of is that of syncretism. Syncretism is the idea that as new influences on society are introduced, most principally religious views of immigrating peoples, they begin to borrow and adapt traits from one another until you have a religion that is not what the founders would have intended it. For example, if you have a stream of Hindus in England you may find the Anglican Church laity adapting the same respect of cows as do the Hindus and thus a blending of cultures would have taken place.
            Certainly there are good things that can come from blending of cultures such as the sharing of spices or the advancement of technologies not seen in the existing population. However, when you begin to allow other cultures, particularly religious cultures, into a society dominated by one sect it is likely things will shift and a decline of the dominant faith can be expected. Nonetheless, the case in Europe is a bit more troubling for Christians. It has been recognized that cultures and religions, particularly Islam, who had no defined historical heritage in Europe are now being integrated into the continent with a certain degree of success.[7] This success is at the expense of Christianity and the reaction to regain the landscape in Europe for Christians has been ineffective.

A Cultural Identity and the Shrinking Family
            Another of the main issues in the decline of Christian Europe is the changing social structure of religion. In times past the religion of the home, in this case Christianity, was passed on from father to son and so on. This in no way ensured the salvation of the son, however the cultural trait of sharing the family’s faith was a major part of the development of the church as a whole. If your parents were Christian there was a greater probability that you too would hold this same religious affiliation. According to Hans Joas, there is a decline in the practice of handing down faith within families, although he notes the effectiveness of highly religious families to succeed in this practices, nonetheless the actual population of such highly religious groups is also shrinking.[8]
            In addition to the lessening impact of family religious heritage in Christian Europe, there is also another trend that may be affecting this transmission of faith. The average size of European families are shrinking and most notably since the turn of the millennium. The birth rate in Germany for example has been in sharp decline since 2000 and though it has recovered somewhat in 2010 and 2011 the recovery is still far short of the birthrate a decade previous.[9]  What all of this is telling us is when you combine a falling birth rate with a declining tendency towards families to pass on their Christian heritage the end result is a decline in the overall cultural impact and population of Christian believers.
            A last point on the culture of Christians in decline, it may appear that some numbers do not actually show the results of Christianity declining, however this may be explained when you look at the cultural identity of Europeans. It has been a joke for sometime that atheists in Northern Ireland are identified with Christianity; they are either Catholic or Protestant Atheist.[10] This cultural tag allows some to be lulled into thinking Christianity is alive and well in Europe but the post-modern culture screams otherwise.

The New Atheists
            Since 9-11 and the rise of Islamaphobia in the West there has been a revival of atheism. However this is not the atheism of yesteryear, that of Bertrand Russell and even Antony Flew (the author is aware that Flew has recently accepted theism). This type of atheist, lead by the four horsemen Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, are a more belligerent type of atheist one who is bent on attacking Christianity in the private sphere. Their arguments are typically recycled rhetoric from the past and they dismiss many claims from professional Christian philosophers with an uniformed bravado. However their audience, who are less concerned with scholarship and more concerned with one living their own life of cultural and moral relativity, have latched on to such elementary arguments in support of their position.
            In order to gain a respectable footing Dawkins for instance espouses his own form of a moral ethic. In his work The God Delusion he declares that compassion and generosity are “noble emotions.”[11] He rails against the doctrine of original sin claiming it to be “morally obnoxious” and Dawkins even goes so far as to declare his own Ten Commandments.[12]
All of these efforts to show that one does not have to hold to theism, particularly Christian theism, in order to live a fulfilled and morally ethical life. This type of atheism is becoming more and more attractive to a culture that has fallen asleep at the wheel in reference to the piety of their past. This is yet another reason for the decline of Christendom in the once robust European social structure.

CONCLUSION
            From the various influences on the culture in Europe the trend towards a decline in Christianity is unmistaken. The Enlightenment thinkers who placed doubt on experience and knowledge rocked the very core of thought for centuries to come. As thoughts were beginning to grow so to was the culture of syncretism in Europe which helped to drown out the Christian culture. Contributing to the cultural changes were the downslide in birth rates and the influence of families on their children to carry the torch of Christianity to the next generation. Lastly the New Atheist with their rhetoric and attempt at ethical living in the face of a relativist milieu has gained quite more than just a cult following. The thoughts, habits and traditions of Europe are shifting farther and farther from the heritage that was once steeped in piety. As the secularization of Europe continues one cannot help but ponder when the final sun will go down on Christianity in the continent that saw its largest growth.

POSTED BY A STUDENT AT LIBERTY UNIVERSITY ONLINE, SCHOOL OF RELIGION

21 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. A reader asked that I post this as a rebuttal to some of my previous posts.

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  3. A charitable view would be that they are returning to a former outlook of individualism, where each Knight seeker rides forth alone, into the woods, 'there where the forest is darkest', without the aid of any organization whatsoever, to test and try one's own true self.

    A less charitable view would be that they are now all brain dead, like the woman there converting to islam.

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  4. On this day in 2008, crude-oil prices jumped above $100 a barrel for the first time ever.

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  5. .

    Of the four reasons offered by the author, the only one I can buy is the last one, the growth of moral reletivism.

    .

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    1. I can buy into the shrinking of the family reason. No family, no one can hand down the tradition, no one really to hand it down to.

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    2. Drugs too perhaps. Those white boys I saw stoned to unconsciousness around that square in Amsterdam couldn't have walked to church if they had wanted to do so.

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  6. Replies
    1. Hey, I heard that one before somewhere.

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  7. .

    Judge backs Obama administration on secrecy of targeted killings of terrorism suspects

    The ACLU and the Times both said they plan to appeal. A similar ACLU case covering many of the same issues remains pending in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

    SCOTUS will eventually rule on this issue

    .

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  8. A more highly educated, and economically secure population.

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    1. Therefore more 'rational', which we have seen breaks down. More 'rational' as in all the professors who spout Marxism, against all the evidence of history.

      This answer fails the experience test.

      All these highly educated economically secure folk have bought into the proposition that science can answer ultimate questions, when it doesn't even try to do so, concentrating on the how not the why, as it does.

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    2. And is the general population really more highly educated? I really doubt it. More highly indoctrinated sounds more right.

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    3. .

      Interesting point, Bobbo.

      We've been joking around about the left brain/right brain divide. Yet, to work efficently both sides of the brain have to work together.

      I saw an article recently that argues that our education system has moved away from offering a basic liberal education and now caters mainly to the left-brained individuals. The emphasis on rote memorization and testing (No Child Left Bdehind) leads to the right-brained becoming bored and uninvolved but still puts pressure on the left-brained because they are not forced to use their entire brain in the learning process.

      Those who favor the current system aregue that you have to assure every child gets the basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, the system is probably losing some of out most valuable and creative people because of the way it is structured.

      I've argued the current education system sucks because students only recieve a smattering of liberal arts, a smattering of history, maybe an optional foreign language, forget about Latin, or logic (unless you join the debating club).

      Our college system is the envy of the world because it teaches people how to think not just what to think. However, I expect this is now changing or will soon change and for the worse.

      Indoctrination is a good word.

      It starts with the government and filters through everything they touch. The education system is their biggest area of influence since you have mandated attendance of an entire population.

      .

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  9. Much has been made of the fact that Einstein (for example) professed a belief in God.

    Not so often mentioned is that he seemed to spend very little time in church (no matter the "majesty" of the local cathedral,) or teaching "Bible School."

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    1. dear Rufus.

      you are one dumb fuck.

      Jews dont spend time in "church"

      Nor do we teach "bible school"

      Please pull your drunken head out of your ass...

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  10. Deep thoughts Rufus that you are having. Though Einstein, being a Jew, would not have spent much time in church and was unlikely to be found teaching 'Bible School' there. He expressed awe at the majesty of the stars, the universe and not the cathedrals. In Geneva once he joked to the boys that a few hundred years earlier he would have been burned at the stake there. He thought God did not play dice with the universe, and was not involved in daily affairs. He might be more properly conceived of as a pantheist of a sort. He was not a theologian and expressed little interest in it. He wondered whether the universe was 'for us or against us'. He thought if you didn't have awe before the mystery of things you were 'as good as dead'. He probably therefore would have considered you, who thought going to the moon a waste of time, and a waste of money, and boring the second time around, as 'good as dead'.

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  11. And the west is more than just England. In Poland, which ought to be considered west, Christianity is still going great guns, while in formerly 'atheistic Soviet Russia' Christianity has made a comeback, even Putin taking the cross. The Christians there don't fear being shot any longer. Which helps a lot.

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    2. .

      And the same in China where both total numbers and growth rate are large yet still rather insignificant when compared to the total population.

      .

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