How does our culture move forward without a recognition of our Judeo-Christian roots, to reclaim Camelot and that misty kingdom of knights and honor?
A generation born in the 1920’s that included many atheists and agnostics is dying. Whether they are surprised or not when greeted by Infinite Love, the God of the Ten Commandments, we believers are glad those unbelievers understood that Western Civilization depended upon the teachings of Christ, if not belief in him. The “greatest generation” recognized, quietly assumed, that Judeo-Christian roots were essential to the rule of law and respect for the individual.
One of those atheists was Sir John Mortimer (1923-2009). In a marvelous article in the January-February issue of Touchstone, Raymond J. Brown writes about the “New Rules of the Game” in “Farewell, Old Chessmate.” Many of us know Mortimer’s work through the BBC films of his books, Rumpole of the Bailey and others. Mr. Brown quotes Mortimer: “It is good to know that both the faithful and the faithless can still be playing from the same chessboard.”
Evidently, the satirical Mortimer was one of those unbelievers who felt comfortable living in the residue of Christian culture, even indebted to the source of the residue. He appreciated the great Christian contributions to the canon of English Literature and his own contemporary Christian writers:
“No one can deny that the Christian belief in the supreme importance of each individual soul was a great advance on the faith which thought of slaves as soulless. The King James Bible is of extraordinary power and beauty…. Much of the literature I’ve valued, the art I’ve most enjoyed, has been produced by unquestioning Christians. Whether I’m a believer or not, I’m a part of Christian civilization.” (Where There’s a Will)
As Christianity’s influence has ebbed, Christians have seen the danger signs. Father Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) in The Naked Public Square (1984) called for Churches to re-enter the culture, to re-inform the debate in America and the West. With the retreat of Christians from this common conversation, Western culture would revert to pre-Christian chaos: slavery, discrimination, the strong bullying the weak, tyranny to keep the peace. Western freedoms and respect for the individual would be denied in the urgency of efficiency and sameness, soon to be forgotten in the mists of time.
I wonder if Mr. Mortimer considered how future generations would fare when his own generation no longer guarded the gates of Western culture. As the nihilism of the liberal academic elite polices our public universities man’s natural religious impulse is redirected to saving the earth, saving the whales, saving the purple spotted badger. History of Western Civilization is not required so that an uneducated electorate votes by twittering soundbites and flickering images.
Generations of students have been raised with few Christian moral boundaries. If it feels good do it. Release your inner child or monster. Where Christianity defends the border between right and wrong by denouncing bad behavior, today’s creed encourages grievance tantrums, narcissistic self-pity, angry riots, silencing free speech by demanding trigger-safe zones. Today’s creed divides and incites. Achievement is discouraged in order to assure equality and lack of offense. Excellence slips into mediocrity, boredom into depression. We reach for pills and cheap thrills in our books and movies.
With the death of Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, America has moved further along the road of indecent descent to a pre-Christian world. A brilliant scholar (and Catholic) who understood the need to preserve right and discourage wrong, Justice Scalia will be greatly mourned by those who see clearly the vital importance of the Judeo-Christian foundation to democracy. Perhaps his greatest contribution was his desire not to legislate but truly interpret the Constitution, empowering we the people to pass good law through elected representatives.
The faithless and the faithful must play from the same chessboard in order for democracy to be passed on to our children. As Mr. Brown concludes,
“The chessboard will likely not be playable, because the same rules, courtesies, limits, traditions, and possibilities will not be recognized by both players, much less understood. There will be no common ground between the believer and the unbeliever – not because militant atheists will have intentionally sabotaged the match, but because Western Christians will have allowed too much accommodation to the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
One is reminded of liberal Christianity, the dilution of belief in pulpit and pew, the subtle changing of the rules of the game to accommodate all comers. Confession is ridiculed, repentance a threat to self-esteem. Unborn babies are considered the property of their mothers, owned and enslaved. To speak against these things is to invite silencing and persecution.
Tyranny is near. As we move into the Lenten season, we must carry the Cross to Easter’s resurrection. We must pray for our nation, for the survival of Western civilization, for that misty land of Camelot that was only a dream but became a reality in Great Britain and her daughter, America.
We must pray that democracy and freedom will not be lost in the mist.