“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting,” wrote Chesterton. “It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
The great man was right in every absolute sense. No society has ever organised itself in complete agreement with Christ’s commandments. But there used to exist palliatives, little relativities that still had some mitigating effect on human nature.
People might not have spent their lives imitating Christ, but a residual fear still gnawed at the back of their minds. What if? What if they’ll really have to pay for their sins in perpetuity? Perhaps it’s better to take Pascal’s wager and assume God exists. If he does, we have a lot to gain; if he doesn’t, we have nothing to lose.
Oh yes, people still killed – they always kill. They kill in the name of Mohammed and Moses, Buddha and Confucius, they kill in the name of every political creed you care to name. And of course they killed in the name of Christ. Give them a killing opportunity and they’ll find a cause.
Yet one has to believe that, but for that fear of God to whom many of them paid only lip service, they would have killed more. In fact, one doesn’t have to believe that. We know. We’ve confirmed that supposition empirically.
For at some point, 300 or so years ago, people decided that God didn’t merit even lip service. The Enlightenment shone its light on them, and they turned their backs on their tenebrous past. They emerged out of the shadows full of self-confidence.
They didn’t need God any longer. They could rely on their own resources to squeeze as much as possible out of this life, for there was no other. Nothing higher than human reason existed, and it could guide people to higher morality than that incomprehensible Sermon on the Mount. It’s not the meek who shall inherit the world, but the strong, clever and enterprising.
Yet Darwin created man in such a way that, no matter how clever he is, or how materialistic, he still needs to believe in something higher or at least grander than himself. Having discarded God, Darwin’s creatures had to look for surrogates.
Those they found in blood and soil nationalism and socialism, ineluctably born out of the original slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité. No longer united by their faith, people decided to come together on the basis of their politics or their blood.
Both strains have flourished since then, sometimes singly and at odds with each other, sometimes in a happy union. That ultimate experiment on human nature has had three centuries to produce tangible results – and tangible results it has produced.
The first century that was atheist from beginning to end, the 20th, densely covered the earth with more mangled corpses than all the previous centuries of human history had managed. Without God, wrote Dostoyevsky, everything is permitted – yet even he couldn’t envisage the full scale of that everything.
In hindsight, some people are beginning to think that, though of course God doesn’t exist, perhaps paying some lip service to him wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Maybe, just maybe, the church has a useful social function to perform, if no other.
The anticlerical believers of yesterday have given way to the clerical atheists of today (the late Roger Scruton is a good example of the breed). Christianism has replaced Christianity, but it’s a poor substitute.
Since our clerical atheists don’t believe Christ is the truth, they want to build a new society on a lie. But that foundation is always termite-eaten from the very beginning. Any structure built on it will sooner or later start tottering within an increasing amplitude – and then it’ll come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
There is no substitute for truth, and there is no substitute for Christ. Here in the West our choice isn’t between a Christian civilisation and some other. It’s between a Christian civilisation and none.
Merry Christmas to all of you – and a Happy New Year, unsullied by Covid, inflation or the gremlin in the Kremlin.