The Moral Poverty of the West, part II

A few weeks ago we wrote about the riots in England last summer. Since then we have seen more news related to the growing lawlessness in our societies. We are seeing more and more flash mobs forming in US cities to terrorize people on the street, or rob convenience stores or high-end clothiers.

What is happening? Societies which once were civil, which had long been shaped by a relationship with the living God and the Judeo Christian worldview, have abandoned their roots. They have preferred Atheism and Materialism. As a natural consequence of this worldview, morals become relative, the concepts of sin and virtue are dropped from our vocabulary. As a result, we market evil through music, movies, and the internet. Lawlessness grows and societies begin to descend into anarchy.

Almost no one in the United States government–and that includes President Barack Obama—seems to recognize that America’s growing disorder is rooted in the moral breakdown of our society. And where does the moral breakdown come from but the grievous exchange of a Biblical worldview for an Atheistic worldview?

However, British Prime Minister David Cameron continues to make the connection in England. He acknowledges that the Bible, not the Enlightenment, was the foundation of Western Civilization. A few months ago he called on the British government to re-moralize England; now he has called upon the Church of England to lead a revival of traditional Christian values. He has properly recognized that the re-moralizing  of a society is primarily the realm of the church and only secondarily the role of the government.

Kudos to David Cameron. But two wrong assumptions seem to be driving his thinking. First, he seems to believe the Archbishop of Canterbury can drive such change from the top down. Second, his action suggests it isn’t important whether Christianity is true, only that it is useful. It is as if Cameron were saying: “We have a problem so let’s introduce religion to fix it.”

God cannot be used pragmatically, as if He were a technique. God is God! He is not to be approached because he is useful. We must come to him in a spirit of repentance recognizing that he is the wellspring of all that is true, good and beautiful. At the time of John Wesley in England and the founding of America, people understood that God was infinite, holy, and real. Today, God is reduced to the size of our imaginations and bound by our language of discourse. We diminish the God of creation to the level of the pragmatic by calling on Him only when we believe he is useful, to the psychological when we expect him to simply fix us, and to the material when we primarily appeal to him for things.

C.S. Lewis opened his essay “Man or Rabbit?” [now published in God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970), pages 108–113] with these words:

“Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” This is the question on which I have been asked to write, and straight away, before I begin trying to answer it, I have a comment to make. The question sounds as if it were asked by a person who said to himself, ‘I don’t care whether Christianity is in fact true or not. I’m not interested in finding out whether the real universe is more like what the Christians say than what the Materialists say. All I’m interested in is leading a good life. I’m going to choose beliefs not because I think them true but because I find them helpful.’

Now frankly, I find it hard to sympathise with this state of mind. One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any of you have really lost that desire. More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christianity is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of facts—to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.

How do you re-moralize a society?  By pursuing Truth.  Disorder in society springs from disorder in the soul. To arrest the growing lawlessness in society, one must begin with the souls of the nation’s citizens.

National reform begins with the preaching of the Word of God, and a prophet’s call to personal and national repentance, coupled with a movement of the Spirit of God. We see the living God challenging the nation of Israel to this repentance: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Note several things here. First, if the land is to be healed, the first step is repentance. We need to be reminded about who God is – Real and Holy, and who we are – separated from God by our sin and rebellion, trying to live outside of the order that God has established.  Second, note that it is God’s people, not national government, who must repent. And third, it is God, not man, who will heal the land. The nation will be healed by God through the obedience of his people.

At the time of Wesley, the Church of England was largely part of the problem. Wesley reluctantly went outside the Church of England to spark the revival and begin the reform. Without limiting what a sovereign God may choose to do, today’s Church of England seems no more likely to be the agent of true revival that it was in Wesley’s day.

The church must be revived and then through her obedience, society must be reformed from the inside out through an acknowledgement and application of Kingdom Culture, i.e. Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The internal world of the heart must be renovated before the external world of behavior can be reformed. Revival without reformation is sentimentalism. Reformation without revival is a humanistic effort. England witnessed such revival-reformation over 200 years ago. The Wesley revivals of 1736-1768 were followed by the profound societal transformation led by the sons and daughters of Wesley through the Clapham Sect 1790-1830. This same pattern—revival leading to reformation—must occur in the West today whether in Britain, continental Europe, or the United States.

The concept of a moral universe is the product of three monotheistic religions that trace their roots to Abraham. This may be described as “moral monotheism.” Each of these Abrahamic faiths acknowledges a transcendent God who created the universe and who has revealed himself to man. Because the God of Abraham is moral, the universe he created has a moral frame.

On the other hand, consider the natural consequences of other religious systems. The atheistic materialism of the West is a religion that begins without God, thus has no basis for morality. The same is true of polytheistic beliefs such as African tribal religions, or those religions that declare that nature is God  (e.g. neo-paganism). None of these provides a foundation for moral absolutes. Without an objective standard for right and wrong, there is no possibility for human freedom, moral responsibility or the rule of law. We see this in so-called “primitive” societies that seldom demonstrated a concern for moral absolutes, and thus rarely embraced the concept of human freedom and personal responsibility.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all affirm but one God who is moral, and believe in a moral order in the universe. But the way each of these faiths see obedience to the law is very different. Bill Whittle, a writer, director, photographer, video editor, blogger and the host of the video commentary Afterburner shows the distinction between Islamic, Jewish, and Christian obedience to the law .

Many western nations (America, England, and other European countries) nations were formed from cultures that flowed from the worship of the God of the Bible. The language of discourse was theological, not the pragmatic, psychology language of today. Theology was known as the queen of sciences and considered the foundation for the arts, humanities, science, and all of life. Education was an integrative process; students studied broadly and each subject was related to a comprehensive Biblical framework. Today, education is fragmented, subjects are isolated, and students learn more and more about less and less. At one time educated citizens were not only knowledgeable, they were also moral. Wisdom and virtue were the primary values. Today we seem to bow at the altar of ignorance and vice.

Western culture has cut herself off from her roots. The result is a growing lawlessness in individuals and societies. May God raise up a prophet to call our nations to repentance!

–          Darrow Miller with Gary Brumbelow

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About disciplenations

Equipping the Church to transform the world
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