At the end of part 3, I wrote:
But now see it from the viewpoint of the Christian Church trying to size up the problem and come up with a response. How exactly is the Church going to compete against a set of ideologies and attitudes presented to young people as true for the first eighteen years of their lives, day in and day out, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year? What does the Church have to put up against that?
The ideologies and attitudes presented are wide and diverse, but nearly all of them undermine Christianity.
Chief among them, as argued, is Darwinism–or, as Dennett puts it–the ‘universal acid.’ Why? Because it eats through everything. (Dennett doesn’t realize that as a universal acid, it also eats through itself, but that’s a different essay). It is easy to think that the extent of Darwinism’s reach is limited to questions of origins, and thus its main attack on a Christian worldview would be an attack on Genesis 1-11. It wouldn’t be a ‘universal acid’ if it had such a targeted effect, though, would it?
Not to dismiss the challenges of Darwinism to Genesis 1-11, but the problem is that these challenges are not abstract. If people really believe that Darwinism is the correct account for the rise of biological life on this planet, there are extensive ramifications. And frankly, I just don’t think the Christian Church has come to grips with this fact.
One of those ramifications is that man is just an animal.
Well, if you really believe that man is just an animal, many things follow. It means, for example, that he can be conditioned like an animal. Think Pavlov and his dog.
For those who are inclined to look, you will find a great many people operating on this assumption. I’m talking about people in the media, curriculum designers, globalists, etc., etc. Whatever you might think about the ‘purpose of education,’ the ones actually designing it and carrying it out view it as a conditioning process.
That’s one ‘top down’ application of the belief that we are animals: more advanced animals think they have the right to mold the other animals as they see fit, and they actually are about doing it.
A ‘bottom up’ application is manifested in the wide spread laissez faire attitude towards sex and sexuality we are seeing in the West, combined with a general dismissal of the idea that there are any ‘real’ morals and values. This has manifested in behaviors that even proponents of such things find reprehensible.
But honestly, its not hard to see how the logic will play out. If people are but animals, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they act like animals. And where did people learn that they were animals?
Science class. Movies. Books. Science class.
Contrast this perspective with the Christian belief that people have intrinsic value because they were made in the image of God and then redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Heck, contrast it with any belief that supports the notion that people have intrinsic value and dignity. Darwinism eats through them all. Not every Darwinist has the courage to concede it, or the courage to act on it, but no rational, consistent Darwinist, could believe that people are special in any way. Why, therefore, should we treat people in a special way? Or even treat ourselves in a special way? Or regard our lives as having any importance or meaning whatsoever?
It’s not easy to find a rational Darwinist, let alone a consistent one, but most people don’t think of themselves in those terms, anyway. They don’t talk in those terms. They simply act like animals without thinking much about it, and shy away from other ideas (eg, Christianity) that they consider ‘disproved by science.’ And by ‘disproved by science’ they mean, chiefly, Darwinism.
How is the Church to compete when it only has 2 hours a week (max) to influence a young person?
Well, obviously the Church cannot compete.
This is no doubt one of the reasons why there has been a great exodus from the Church, beginning in the 1990s. (See parts 1-2 of this series so far).
What the Church had to put up against 18 years of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year conditioning was presented in cartoonish diagrams when presented to the young, and dogmatic assertions when presented to the old.
Now, obviously a robust apologetics program is one of the most important correctives to that that we can conceive of. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it and why it is true, and why the other things are almost certainly not true, and then explaining that all of the time, as a rule–not as an exception–is obviously going to have a profound impact.
And it would have had a profound impact, had it actually been acted on when it mattered. The ‘defense of the faith’ has been carried out by Christians for two thousand years (or more, if you’re willing to go back to Genesis). Most recently, however, the Church had little to offer beyond dogmatism since, say, 1859, up to, say around 1990.
Sure, there were folks like Josh McDowell, John Warwick Montgomery, and of course C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton… maybe 30-50 more… but in the main, the churches just kept doing the same thing they had always done. What they had ‘always done’ had only worked because the culture at large was sympathetic. But the culture changed, and the churches didn’t. Or, if the churches did change, they didn’t change in a way that reflected the most important parts of the cultural shift.
As an example of what I mean by that, consider all of new worship styles that have emerged over the last 30 years or so. You’ve got rock bands and video screens and all sorts of gimmicks meant to entertain people and therefore, theoretically, attract and retain people.
But if your congregation or denomination eschewed the entertainment mentality, I wouldn’t get too excited. Pretty much every Christian denomination is in collapse. So, if this is ‘you’ then guess what, what you’re doing isn’t working, either.
This goes to illustrate my point that the most important parts of the cultural shift away from Christianity has not been addressed by the Church. The culture doesn’t believe Christianity is actually true… many Christians don’t actually believe Christianity is true (rather, its a matter of ‘faith’ or personal opinion, etc)… and the Church has done little, systematically and robustly, to explain that it is very much true. It has the correct account for reality.
I detected a change in this attitude, in favor of apologetics, starting around 1990s. But since Christians have left the faith in droves since then, it is too little, too late. You can (and should) implement apologetics programs now, but a great deal of damage has been done, and it cannot be reversed.
Have I not been clear?
People are involved in their church for 2-3 hours a week at most–if you’re lucky–while people are literally drenched in worldviews that are hostile to the faith for almost the entirety of their upbringing, 40-50 hours a week.
When the culture was 40-50 hours a week leaning your direction, then your robust transmission of the faith in the 2-3 hours a week might have maintained that sympathetic culture. No more, if only because 30,000,000 have left the faith in the last thirty years, and for the bulk of them, you don’t even have the 2-3 hours a week to work with them. You might now–if you’re lucky–have them 2-3 hours a year.
Obviously, whatever programs or philosophies you might put into practice are only going to impact those still within your reach, and 30 million or so have left the Church’s reach. They are ‘already gone’ so there is nothing you can do for those folks. And those folks, by the by, are feeding back into the culture their anti-Christian perspectives.
This being the case, am I advocating for giving up the ship?
Not at all. I am, however, arguing that we need to come to grips with the fact that A., how we’re doing things is not working, B., why that is, C., what we’re going to do about it and… this is important… D., how we got in this mess in the first place.
How we got in this mess in the first place was ever thinking that the Church could hold the line with just 2-3 hours a week of influence.
Here is what we know about faith formation and transmission… stand by to be shocked by a statement of fantastic obviousness:
A person raised in a healthy ‘traditional’ family (eg, a happy mom and dad) where the parents are well-grounded in the faith is much more likely to grow up to be a Christian and remain one.
Which means that the greatest ‘apologetic’ that we could possibly have are healthy, intact families where the parents know what they believe and why they believe it, and are able to share that with their children in a robust way.
Makes sense, right? I mean, you live with your family, right?
The Church can only put up 2-3 hours a week to compete with 40 hours a week of entrenched secularism, but time with family far exceeds that 2-3 hours and even comes close to matching that 40 hours. (I am aware of the obvious implication here re: schooling, but that’s another essay.)
Moreover, research shows that it is profoundly crucial that the father in the family is the one that spearheads the transmission of the faith. (There are obviously going to be exceptions. We’re looking at the aggregate, here.)
The obvious implication is that if we wanted to reverse course, we would be investing our 2-3 hours a week in equipping Christian parents with deeper understanding of the truth of Christianity, especially the men. And… and this is important… we would be investing our time in ensuring that those parents have healthy marriages.
As soon as we put it that way, we are confronted again with the question, “how did we get in this mess in the first place?”
There are many answers to this, most of them deserving our attention. But I have chosen to focus this essay series on some of the most fundamental issues, and there is, in theory and in practice, nothing more fundamental than the importance of healthy, intact, ‘traditional’ families for the effective transmission of the faith to the next generation.
Thus, it may be said that the collapse of the Church in the West is just the trailing result of the collapse of the Family in the West–a process that did not just start with the tyrannical, anti-democratic victory of the gay marriage movement.
Indeed, once again, the universal acid that is Darwinism plays a prominent role.
More on that to come.
I am available to speak at length on these issues. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.