My own sense of this is that this begins from at least the time of the Renaissance where it was said that 'man is the measure of all things'. Of course this effort to put man in a selfish sense at the centre of the universe has only grown through the centuries as a kind of cultural project. From the beginning of this it was understood that the Church (but not necessarily a generic 'christianity') represented a value inimical to this project.
But the values the Church taught are still very deeply woven into who we are in the west. What other explanation is there for the fact that so many secular reforms which consciously reject the active involvement of the Church are based on a humanism that also holds a kind of sacredness to man? Where else except in the west has this appeared in this way?
Dear Father Raphael,
Very interesting thoughts here. What you write rings true. Certainly from the time of the so-called Enlightenment, western intellectuals have often taken the patronising view that as 'rationality' increased its hold on mankind, religion (rather like the State in Marx's famous prophecy) would decay and die as the need for it passed. 19th century intellectuals like George Elliott assumed that it was possible to take the 'good' elements of religion and to keep them without the 'superstition'; the 20th century has provided an interesting commentary on such hopes.
Far from the influence of religion declining as a factor in world politics, it has, of course, increased, and instead of the narrow anthrocentric view of the nature of man winning universal consent, many people, even in the west, look towards some sort of spiritual practice to get a better understanding of how to be in this world.
If there is anything in this, then I could see why the secularists get angry with Christianity. It is OK to have a syncretic belief system and to pretend it is Christianity - Jesus is a good man, a healer, a shaman, what ever; all of that can be fitted into the teleological structure of the Enlightenment project. Call the syncretic result 'real' Christianity, align it with the secular values of a material society, and Voltaire was right. The problem here, as the Anglican Church has discovered, is that this actually empties Churches very quickly indeed. But men and women, conscious of the need for God, do not stop believing in something beyond this world, and they do not feel spiritually fulfilled by shopping, politics or even sport.
I suppose it must be very frustrating for those who thought they knew where history was going to find Christianity still there, still asking the hard questions, and still offering salvation. The least they can do, where they can, is to make sure that it is lampooned, insulted and marginalised in public discourse. The Soviets and the Nazis, of course, took their dislike of Christianity much further, but like all those who have sought to destroy the Church, it is still here and they are not.
But it is sad when bodies such as the Church of England acquiesce voluntarily in watering down the content of Christianity as it is taught in their own schools. I am all in favour of schools teaching the young about other faiths too - but that implies they also learn about Christianity, which, I fear, many of them do not.
That is why it is so important how we bear witness to this society. Treating the Faith as though it were a pearl of great price which we must not share with others but must keep close to ourselves whilst we wait for better days will not mend these broken times we inhabit.
In its own quiet way, a site like this bears witness to how Christians can be in this society.