Issues analysis
Christianity and the vitality of Western civilization
A brief history of conservatism: part 15
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
January 5, 2009

In our walk through the history of conservatism, we have reached the period running from 1973 to 1988. In 1973, abortion was legalized, and 1988 was the last year of the Reagan presidency. That was the heyday of the culture war when the Christian right rose to challenge the powerful secular left.

Those events are close to us in memory, so rather than chronicling the rise of the Christian right, and the events of the culture war, let us consider the profound implications of a challenge by doctrinally orthodox Christianity to secular culture and politics.

This essay will deal with the link between the spiritual health of Christianity and the vitality of our civilization. The next essay will deal with the logical connections between Christian doctrinal-orthodoxy and conservative political philosophy.

Religious aspirations and the rise of civilizations

Historian Christopher Dawson (1889–1970) devoted much of his life's work to studying and writing about the interaction of Christianity and civilization over the course of history. He claimed that every rising civilization had a religion at its core, and was driven forward by religious zeal and spiritual aspirations. Dawson also wrote that every civilization that loses touch with its religious roots must eventually fall, no matter how rich and powerful it has become.

Dawson was alluding to a "higher religion" like Christianity, which is conducive to civilization, and not to pagan religions that are conducive to primitive tribalism.

If our European forbears had not converted from paganism to Christianity, we probably would still be living in barbarian tribes. If we fail to hang on to our religious roots, our civilization might fail and our posterity might live in barbarian tribes. This kind of collapse, dispersion, and degradation has happened many times in history. For example, some of the descendants of the Mayan and Inca civilizations now live in primitive tribes.

If Dawson is correct in his thesis, the secularist argument that religious concerns have no place in the political debates or in social or cultural dialogs is false and wrong-headed. If a declining civilization is to be saved from ruin, the voices calling for a return to its religious and spiritual roots must be heeded.

The purpose of this essay is to prove Dawson's thesis, to refute the secularists, and to argue for a robust role for Christianity in every area of American life. In making these arguments I shall rely heavily upon the facts of history.

Rising above the flat lands

A new civilization rises when an entire society unites in pursuing transcendent spiritual aspirations and ideals. In contrast to the powerful sense of transcendence in rising civilizations, the evaporation of that sense of transcendence precedes the decline of civilizations. A symptom of the loss of transcendence is when we have entered what C. S. Lewis called "flat land," where higher callings and upward aspirations have vanished.

In contrast to our contemporary spiritual flat land, the people of new civilizations are permeated with the sense of the transcendent. Collective focus upon God leads to the formation of strong, unifying ideals that can break the "cake of custom" and liberate people from the bondage of primitive religion.

The bondage of primitive religion is not easy to break, which is why so few new civilizations are formed. The content of pagan religion wells up from the inner darkness of tribal shamans, when they go into trances. The low religion of pagan shamanism holds people in bondage to tribal taboos with terrifying threats about the consequences of violating a taboo. The pagan melts into the tribe and his sense of personhood is lost in the din of the throbbing and demented rites of the tribe.

Tribal paganism is ugly. Higher religion is beautiful. Prior to 1880, European culture prized beauty more than any other culture ever has. Beauty was cherished because Europe had a high religion, namely Christianity. Christians regard their triune God and his creation as beautiful.

Higher religion and unifying ideals

In contrast to the dark and ugly images welling up within pagan shamans, a higher religion comes down to the people by revelation from above and is written down in sacred books by prophets or apostles. Divine revelation sheds a glorious light of truth and beauty upon the people and inspires high aspirations. Human reason is awakened by divine truth and human conscience is awakened by the universal moral law.

As the people reach above and beyond themselves to a transcendent and glorious God, an extraordinary unity of purpose can be realized. A powerful unity of this kind can break people free from their bondage to pagan forest fears and help them escape the confines of their elemental selfishness. The people are thereby liberated to work with others of like mind for a higher cause. People in rising civilizations understand that selfishness is bondage, and devotion to a higher cause in solidarity with others is a special kind of freedom.

Rapidly rising civilizations sometimes display remarkable levels of unity — in which ordinary people often cheerfully accept astonishingly heavy sacrifices to advance the kingdom of God.

Rising above the class system

In the case of Europe, breaking the "cake of custom" involved the temporary suspension of the divisions of the class system during transcendent moments of general spiritual awakening. These were the times of remarkable unity and cheerful sacrifice.

The prevailing assumption that only aristocrats and knights had "honor" was shattered — if we define honor as noble personal sacrifice for a higher cause. The "peasants' crusade" (1096 A.D.) demonstrates that devotion to high ideals and impossible causes permeated every social class. The assumption that proud Lords and Ladies will never work side by side with those from the servant class was also refuted, as we shall see. In those days, spiritual unity often trumped social class.

No new civilization is possible if a society is too heavily weighed down with the heavy apparatus of the class system. The spiritual awakening of 1050–1100 A.D. did not disannul social classes, of course, but seemed to lift the weight and transcend many of the limitations of the system. This was especially true in the new cities.

The sudden appearance of European civilization

As the city of God is pursued in a single-minded way, civilizations come into being. Such civilizations seem to emerge as the secondary benefit or by-product of a united spiritual quest.

European civilization arose quickly and unexpectedly as the people were seeking to build the kingdom of God. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:6).

Considering the conditions of the Dark Ages, Europe was one of the least likely places for a new civilization. The fact that European civilization came into existence rather suddenly is all the more amazing.

After six centuries of darkness, European civilization appeared in a fifty-year period, namely 1050–1100 A.D. The explosive growth in the infant civilization was driven by spiritual winds of almost unprecedented power. I like to call it a spiritual hurricane.

Spiritual revolutions do not come out of nowhere. The ground must be prepared. Prior to the spiritual hurricane, religious and spiritual foundations were slowly laid over a period of centuries. Let us take a brief look at the foundations that were laid prior to 1050 A.D.

Laying foundations

After the fall of Rome and the barbarian invasions, Northern and Western Europe was slowly converted to Christianity from paganism by heroic missionary monks. The monks required six centuries to complete their work of evangelism and to establish monasteries throughout the European wilderness.

The fruits of Christian spirituality worked slowly in the pagan darkness as leaven slowly works its way throughout a lump of dough.

The conversion of the Franks to Christianity paved the way for Charlemagne's nominally Christian empire. The pope crowned Charlemagne "Holy Roman Emperor" Christmas day, 800 A.D. After this ad hoc empire collapsed, it gave way to the local rule of barons, most of whom had been baptized as Christians. The barons were gradually able to make headway in fighting off pagan raiding parties, brigands, freebooters, and war lords.

From that point forward, the elaborate codes and rites of feudalism steadily evolved towards a semi-civilized, semi-Christian society of the landed aristocracy, complete with a code of honor and the ideals of the Christian knight.

These ideals were taken seriously by a few knights after 900 A.D. and by many more knights after 1050. The legends of knight-errant heroes are partly mythological, but have a solid basis in fact. After 1100, courtly romances and troubadour stories about heroic knights on quest were extremely popular throughout Europe.

During the same period, the office of bishop grew in importance and began to rival the barons in power and prestige. The ordinary people were more likely to know the name of their bishopric and parish than the name of their barony or duchy or kingdom. The church and the priesthood became a powerful new establishment, which in due time would transform the culture of Europe.

In 1000 A.D., Europe was not yet a true civilization because it lacked permanent free-standing metropolitan cities and an urban culture. The derivative and peripheral settlements in the shadow of fortresses, monasteries, or trading posts lacked permanence and were dependent for their survival upon military, religious, or mercantile sponsors.

A white mantle of churches

By 1000 A.D., Europe had an impressive network of monasteries. Monastic chronicler Raoul Glaber (985–1047) wrote, " was as though the very world had shaken herself and cast off her old age and were clothing herself in the white mantle of churches." Glaber was referring to the churches in monasteries that could be found almost everywhere in Europe. Glaber died at the Monastery of Cluny which had one of the most impressive monastery churches of the day.

After Glaber's death, Cluny began erecting the most fabulous monastery church of all time (Cluny III, or the third church of Cluny). The great church was laid out in the cruciform pattern with six towers, one for each of the wounds of Christ. The West portal had two towers, signifying the two wounded feet of Christ; the transepts had two towers, for the two wounded hands; the choir had a tower for the crown of thorns; and the East end of the nave had a tower for Christ's wounded side.

The great church had dozens of side altars and chapels located in semicircular chambers built into the walls. The multiplication of these satellite prayer chapels indicates that throngs of people were seeking a sanctified and sheltered place to pray.

Cluny III was built during the spiritual "hurricane" of the 1050-1100 period. It was the largest church in Christendom prior to the erection of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Cluniac monasteries provided the spiritual formation for a series of reform popes who would emerge as the spiritual and cultural leaders of Europe after the spiritual hurricane began.

The deep spirituality of Cluny preceded and conditioned the spiritual hurricane. Four factors made it possible for men spiritually shaped and educated by Cluny to ascend the papal throne:

1) Cluny reported directly to Rome, so that the Abbot of Cluny always had personal contact with the pope; 2) Cluny controlled her hundreds of daughter houses, making Cluny one of the most powerful and influential institutions in Europe; 3) Cluny was a source of men who were spiritually minded, were well educated, and had administrative experience — the very kind of men who have always been needed to staff the Vatican bureaucracy; and 4) the spiritual hurricane made it possible for men of lowly birth to rise to great heights — especially in the church.

Breathtaking promotions

Almost every boss in America claims to promote on the basis of merit, but in this day of mediocrity, promotions purely on the basis of merit are the exception rather than the rule. Only in a rapidly rising civilization, like Europe in 1050–1200 A.D., or societies with a flourishing culture like Renaissance Italy, are authentic merit promotions commonplace. Mediocrities in Renaissance Florence were not only winnowed out, but were subjected to public humiliation. Even coming in second in a public artistic competition could ruin the career of a promising artist. The pursuit of excellence was as ruthless in Florence as were the rough dealings of their hard-nosed businessmen.

During a spiritual hurricane, breathtaking promotions are possible. When people are passionate about building the kingdom of heaven on earth, all that matters is getting the job done — and doing an excellent job for the glory of God. The sculptors who made the gargoyles that were positioned where no human eye could see them did an excellent job, "because God sees them."

In this environment, the most able men can be used in strategic roles, and issues of rank and family entitlement can often be set aside. This is why so many extraordinary leaders emerged in the late 11th century and throughout the 12th century. The constellation of great leaders lasted until about 1220 A.D — for we cannot forget remarkable leaders like Pope Innocent III (1160–1216), Saint Dominic (1170-1221), or St. Francis (1881–1226).

The heroic reformer, Pope Gregory VII, had humble origins and had been a monk at Cluny. Two successive Archbishops of Canterbury were Italians, Lanfranc (1005–1089) and Anselm (1033-1109), and both were great monastic scholars. At what other moment in history would the English have tolerated two successive Archbishops of Canterbury who were Italians? When else could the reward for scholarship in a monastery be an Archbishop's throne?

At what other time could the most powerful and influential man in Europe be an Abbot, like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)? Kings, emperors, bishops, and popes trembled at the rebuke of Bernard. Abbott Suger (1081–1151), the inventor of the Gothic style of architecture, became the Regent of France. How is that for a breathtaking promotion?

Early harbingers of civilization

There were hundreds of Benedictine monasteries that were daughter houses of Cluny. The cluniac monasteries had an impressive literary and artistic culture prior to 1050 A.D. These civilized monasteries were not cities and therefore do not represent a civilization. Cluny offered the promise of a civilization, not a true civilization.

Culture can also blossom in the court of a great lord — as it did in Charlemagne's court and in the great ducal courts — but this was only the promise of civilization, not a true civilization. There is no true civilization without cities.

The impressive awakening of culture in monasteries and courts was the early harbinger of European civilization — and contributed greatly to that civilization. Civilized culture came slowly to the monasteries and courts, but came quickly to the new cities that sprang up after 1050 A.D.

A spiritual hurricane

The word "revival" seems inadequate to describe the spiritual upheaval in Europe in the late11th century. I use the word "hurricane," because after a hurricane has passed, the landscape is altered.

Before the spiritual hurricane, Northern and Western Europe was full of deep forests, bogs, thorn thickets, wild animals, and human marauders — with a scattering of villages and modest towns here and there. In short, much of Northern and Western Europe was a wilderness.

After 1100 A.D., many of the forests were leveled, the marshes were drained, and the land was cultivated. Proud new cities sprang up. These cities were impressive because they were surrounded by elegant stone walls that brandished battlements and citadels, like a castle. Many church spires were visible above the walls. Elegant stone castles on the hilltops replaced the old earthen and timber fortresses.

The new cities had bustling marketplaces supported by commercial networks. There was a revolution in windmills, water mills, and mechanical devices for use in construction. New universities were founded, and the scholars had great zeal in seeking truth and debating theology and philosophy.

The first breath of freedom

Some cities became "communes," which were Christian republics that had some features in common with later bourgeois democracies. The communes had craft guilds, Christian confraternities, and urban monasteries of new orders. These three kinds of institutions each included civic and philanthropic duties among their functions, and many had festive specialties. For example, the commune authorities might grant a particular guild a monopoly perform a play about Christ's birth during the Christmas season.

Although the communes had more municipal regulations than we would tolerate and offered less privacy than we would demand, the communes offered a real measure of freedom. "City air makes one free" was a popular proverb. These miniature republics offered the first tantalizing breath of freedom to European man. Without civilization and cities, there can be no individual freedom.

The serfs in the feudal countryside were not slaves, for they did have a few hereditary rights and entitlements. But the serfs were by no means free, for they were bound to the land and were loaded with heavy, inescapable duties.

The runaway serf could flee to the sanctuary of a church, where he could not be arrested. He could then skip from church to church until he entered city walls and found final refuge from the bondage to the land. A charitable confraternity might sponsor him until he could find a servant's or laborer's job or apprenticeship in a trade or craft.

Freedom came first to urban republics that were intensely Christian, and which enjoyed the energies, vitality, and culture of a high civilization. The lesson to us is that the quest to save civilization and the quest to preserve freedom go hand and hand.

Enthusiastic sacrifice

Some of the new Romanesque cathedrals were formidable constructions for any era. These great mountains of stone were originally surrounded by a cluster of thatched cottages. This offers us some idea of the priorities of the time. The exertions, expenses, and sacrifices made by people of every social class to build these immense palaces of heaven were almost unbelievable.

This was not a case of pharaoh driving his slaves to the work. The chroniclers occasionally describe the people going cheerfully and joyfully to do their share in the work to build the city walls and to build the cathedrals. The people were enraptured about building the Kingdom of God on earth. Sometimes a profound silence would fall upon them as they worked, social class distinctions would melt away, many would forgive their enemies, and the spirit of brotherhood would prevail.

I suppose that a man living in one of the cottages might have said, "What matter is it that the roof leaks and we sleep a half dozen people to a room? I live around the block from the great Cathedral where God dwells — which is decorated with gold and jewels and fine tapestries. I brought provisions to the workmen who built it. I helped to build Christ's kingdom on the earth. That is all that matters."

The phrase "Christ's kingdom" was shortened to "Christendom" in common parlance. The term became synonymous with Christian Europe.

According to art historian Kenneth Clark, this sudden civilization rose within the span of a single human lifetime — perhaps the life span of the man who lived in one of the cottages and brought provisions to the workmen. He might have been born in a hut in a tiny village on the edge of a forest during the last days of the Dark Ages and died in an impressive walled city with a great cathedral.

The forest fears of the child born on the edge of the forest must have seemed far away to the old man standing in the gilded splendor of the interior of the cathedral. To him it must have seemed as though he had begun his life's journey in a hell on earth and ended his days in a heaven on earth.

The spirituality of the cross

What kind of spirituality was typical for the people like the man in the cottage who helped to build a cathedral?

The dominant form of spirituality was the spirituality of the cross — every church had people kneeling before the crucifix as they identified with Christ in his sacrificial death. The churches were designed with an ambulatory, which was a circular walk around the altar. Lines of people formed to slowly walk around the altar to gaze with wonder upon the consecrated host — where the crucified Christ indwelt the bread and wine. Every country road had a shrine consisting of a crucifix under a shelter.

Every confessional had a line of contrite people waiting to confess their sins. The roads to the pilgrimage churches were clogged with penitents walking barefoot and wearing sack cloth. Millions of people were on the road in all weather- trying to get right with God. If they had to brave a storm, they regarded it as part of their penance. People who survived pilgrimages to distant lands and returned home were hailed as folk heroes. If they returned from the Holy Land, they wore palm fronds, and were admiringly called "palmers."

Dynamic movement

When God means to create a new civilization, his breath is like a divine wind sweeping across the land putting people in motion. Instead of the listless stagnation of the Dark Ages, there was dynamic movement across the land — movement on the roads for pilgrimage, and the movement of merchants and scholars. There was dynamic movement within the cities to build the kingdom of God on earth.

And yes, there was a great movement of armies, eager to do battle with the heathen or heretics, or to fight wicked princes. Many intrepid knights were lost, charging headlong into the ranks of death in pursuit of glory — in some cases the pursuit of earthly glory and in some cases in pursuit of heavenly glory.

King Richard the Lion Hearted (Coeur de Lion) was so fierce in battle that sometimes his mere appearance at the head of his troops turned the tide of battle. Saladin's generally victorious army once fled from the field rather than face the rage of the formidable English king, even though they greatly outnumbered the English forces. For many centuries, Arab parents threatened naughty children with their ultimate bogeyman — the revenge of King Richard the Lion Hearted.

Richard was an extraordinary warrior. He could not be defeated in a tournament. His only humiliation in personal combat came from the greatest knight at arms of all time, namely John Marshall, who faithfully served Richard's father, the storied King Henry II of England. Richard, Henry, and John Marshall were larger than life.

Larger than life

Kenneth Clark characterized the period 1050–1200, which encompasses the fifty years of the divine hurricane and the century of momentum that followed, as the "great thaw." He saw the great thaw as a time of the extraordinary outpouring of energy — like a dam burst — in his book Civilization (1969):

" every branch of life — action, philosophy, organization, technology — there was an extraordinary outpouring of energy, an intensification of existence. Popes, emperors, kings, saints, scholars, philosophers were all larger than life, and the incidents of history — Henry II at Canossa, Pope Urban announcing the First Crusade, Heloise and Abelard, the martyrdom of Saint Thomas a Becket — are great historical dramas, or symbolic acts, that still stir our hearts."

This is not a description of a thaw. It comes across as more of a dam-burst of human energy. I prefer to interpret these events as caused by a divine wind. However, there is no question that this maelstrom of action and drama involving larger-than-life men occurred during a great spiritual awakening, perhaps the greatest since the time of the apostles.

Personhood in rising civilizations

Clark said that these vivid personalities were "larger than life." How so? Let us contrast the personhood of those in rising civilizations with those in declining civilizations.

Philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941) wrote in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), that there are two kinds of souls and two kinds of society — the "open" and the "closed." The open souls and open societies are open to "the experience of transcendence." Christians associate the transcendent realm with God, his supernatural works and the heavenly realm, which are beyond human understanding. The transcendent realm is essentially different from man and his finite thoughts and works.

Man, left to his own devises, tends to close in on himself and get smaller. Spiritual transcendence opens man out to something greater than himself — and thus he enjoys spiritual and psychological growth. He becomes larger than life — that is to say, larger than those who are closed and shrinking.

The shrinking person needs crutches to hold him up and, in seeking such supports, becomes entangled in the world — in the sense of an unhealthy co-dependency. Those who are "larger than life" have a heroic capacity to break free of such dependencies and entanglements.

Bergson wrote that the experience of transcendence empowers man to break "natural cycles and processes" — such as breaking the "cake of custom." Men must break free of the customs of a primitive society before they can team up to build a new civilization.

Bergson concluded that the right kind of openness must rely upon "the Christian understanding of the person and universal brotherhood." (Source of information on Bergson and the quoted passage: The Forgotten Story of Postmodernity by Rein Staal, First Things, December 2008.)

The modern flight from God

Max Picard (1888–1965), a writer of mystic sensibility, described the "closed soul" of modernity in The Flight from God (1934), although he did not use that term. When a critical mass of men have closed souls, the culture declines.

"Picard saw the modern, secular West as a self-perpetrating system of spiritual amnesia, frantically busy yet accomplishing nothing, full of communication yet bereft of conversation, loud and bright yet at the same time mute and senseless. Love, friendship, and loyalty exist only as fragments in the world of Flight from God: evanescent, snippets of experience that come and go. That is why in modern times, words have become merely signs, disconnected from the persons that utter them." (Source: Rein Staal, ibid.)

Bergon's description of the shattered individual correlates with the shattered family of modernity. Shattered families bring forth shattered individuals. When you destroy the family, civilization falls.

The kind of fractured, fragmented, and scattered being who lives in a declining civilization brings to mind of a haunting phase from modern poetry: "These fragments have I shored up against my ruin" (T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland).

Shoring up the fragments

The "open" soul enjoys a wholeness, along with humility. The "closed" soul that is fractured and scattered is also narcissistic. A humble wholeness versus an egoistical shatteredness!

The open soul is humble for two reasons, 1) he is aware of his smallness and imperfection in relation to greatness and perfection of God, and 2) in his wholeness, he sees himself as he is. Realism about oneself breeds humility.

The closed soul of modernity is narcissistic for complex reasons. When one cannot gain a sense of himself by sifting through the fragments, one tries in vain to "shore up his fragments."

How does a shattered individual shore up his fragments of self? He summons his primeval delusions of pride to offer a schematic of the self. The budding narcissist assembles his fragments of self according to this model. He worships this great idol of self and becomes self-absorbed. Since self-idolatry is delusional, he practices magical thinking about himself.

Thus, we realize that the modern "self-esteem" movement is a futile exercise of shoring up fragments -and is a symptom of a declining culture. The mosaic of fragments one creates is futile because it is easily shattered by reality. One must live a closed life protected by layers of defenses to postpone the inevitable shattering. These layers are the cocoon of the narcissist.

The narcissist fancies himself to be the godlike center of the universe. Therefore, reminders of the transcendent God Almighty are painful, for they give the lie to his godlike pretensions. Divine transcendence is a death blow to human narcissism.

God is the epitome of wholeness and harmony. He is the opposite of a fragmented personality. As such, his presence is a painful reminder to the shattered person that he is indeed shattered. God's presence strips off the self-deceiving veil of wholeness and exposes the hideous reality of a fractured life. It is no wonder that the shattered people of modernity are fleeing from God.

The shattered narcissist is supremely selfish and therefore is essentially evil, but through the help of magical thinking, he cherishes the notion that he is good. The one thing that exposes his illusions about being good is divine light revealing the goodness of God.

"Everyone who does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds be reproved. But he who does the truth, comes to the light, so that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God " (John 3:20, 21).

Removing God from the public square

If the people with closed souls are fleeing from God, the last thing they want is to be reminded about God. They will be offended by any reminder about God. The offense they take is often disguised as anger, but in many cases it is based upon fear, because God has become a bogeyman to them.

Hollywood cleverly manipulates these primal fears by depicting gospel preachers as demented and frightening beings. Through this technique, Hollywood panders to the morbid and voyeuristic fascination of the audience with the object of their wounded paranoia — which is the God they are fleeing. The recent run of books by atheists that fulminate and rage against God caters to the same wounded paranoia.

An English woman found my internet essays that openly mention God to be "alarming." She insisted that my essays be removed from the shared computer of her rental community room. Her protests and demands were unreasonable, of course, but a closed, fractured person who is fleeing from God is not a reasonable being. Why could she not just ignore my essays and allow others to enjoy them? Her voyeuristic fascination with her bogeyman enticed her to peek at the essays, and thus she thereby became "alarmed" and indignant. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" (Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2).

Those who want to remove all trace of God from the public square are unreasonable in exactly this way. If they really did not believe in God, it would be easy for them to ignore it when God is publically mentioned — just as they ignore it when children speak of witches and goblins. But they secretly fear that God does exist, because they are afraid of him and stung by the mere mention of him. Angry narcissists who make unconvincing atheists.

They lie when they claim that they only care about the separation of church and state and the "inclusion" of all citizens. No one gets paranoid and hysterical about that. Paranoia and hysteria are reserved for bogeymen and the scapegoats of a paranoid mind.

There is no constitutional right for neurotics to be free from the thing that sets off their paranoia. Unfortunately, many of our weak leaders are so afraid that someone, somewhere, might be offended, that they will take the reassuring public mention of God away from everyone — no matter how unreasonable are the hurt feelings they are placating, and no matter how small the number of the offended.

In order to indulge a tiny number of hyper-sensitive people, God is being expelled from the public square. The next step in this paranoid agenda is to squelch freedom of speech, for fear someone might say something that offends the hyper-sensitive. Offending the hypersensitive will be defined as "hate crimes." For example, a pastor can be arrested in Sweden for preaching from biblical texts on homosexuality. When God is driven out of the public square, freedom shortly follows.

Freedom first came to Europe through the urban republics which were erected to the glory of God. Freedom is now fading in Europe as God is being cast out.

The battle before us

We have no choice but to fight the battle to turn our culture around — and not just for the sake of the souls of men, but to save Western civilization itself. Those who choose to stand up and fight will be rewarded with persecution and hatred by the perishing world system.

Unfortunately, the contemporary church is going through a prolonged lukewarm spell and is not prepared for the battle. The deceitfulness of riches and the watered-down "seeker sensitive" message at many churches has rendered many Christians soft and self-indulgent.

Many Evangelicals have quit the culture war because they fear persecution, loathe personal sacrifice, and are no longer zealous about truth. All too many crave the approval of this wicked world, instead of the approval of God. What then shall we do?

Remember the former glories

If we remember the former glories of what God can do through his people, it will give us courage and inspiration to face the battle before us. The dangers and sacrifices of building the kingdom of God on earth in 1050 A.D. were a hundred-fold greater than the cost to us of defying the secular left in America today. Yet the men of the 11th century rushed to their daunting tasks with rejoicing. Ordinary people became heroes — what used to be called "athletes of Christ."

They did not drag around the self-centered baggage that encumbers the spoiled Christians in contemporary "seeker sensitive" churches. They died to themselves and to the world as they identified with Christ in His death. Therefore, they were not burdened down with the dead weight of inordinate pride and selfishness.

The eleventh-century Christians were intoxicated with the glory of God and were united in their zeal. In sad contrast, the sense of the transcendent has long since faded from the seeker-sensitive entertainment centers (i.e., evangelical mega-churches) that pander to spoiled Christians. The transcendent God will condescend to receive worship, but refuses to be the star of the entertainment venue. I cringe when the music director says, "Give a round of applause to God."

When we look at the boldness and fury of the wicked and the timidity of the soft, self-seeking contemporary Christian, turning this society around before it shipwrecks seems impossible. However, creating a brand-new civilization during a Dark Age is infinitely more difficult. God is the same. The difference lies in the hearts of men.

The power of the cross is just as accessible to us as it was to them. The transcendent glory of God is just as ready to make our hearts sing as it was then. But the pampered Christian of our day is strangely complacent and self-satisfied.

"Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see" (Revelations 3:17, 18).

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31