The latest post at Upon Hope is an interesting defence of the Middle Ages. I have considerable sympathy for the view that the medieval period was not an era of ignorance and backwardness.
This raises the question – at what point did western civilisation make its fatal wrong turning?
Mark suggests that it was the Enlightenment. I think there’s no question that the Enlightenment had a baleful influence on our civilisation. But why was the Enlightenment so successful in undermining traditional values and more particularly in undermining Christianity? Could it be that Christianity had already been fatally weakened by the Reformation? The Reformation destroyed the concept of Christendom. It destroyed the idea of a universal church. Henceforth there would be dozens of Christian sects. Surely all these competing sects can’t all be right? And once you accept the idea that they can’t all be right it’s only a small step to accepting the idea that maybe all of them are wrong. The Reformation made the growth of scepticism inevitable and scepticism slowly but surely ate away at the foundations of Christian belief.
Once you are prepared to accept that everyone has the right to follow their own conscience when it comes to choosing a church then logically you must accept that they also have the right to choose no church, in other words to choose atheism.
Without a concept of Christendom and without a universal church western civilisation was poorly placed to fight off the challenge of the Enlightenment.
Once Christianity was dealt its fatal blow (and I believe Christianity was already doomed by the early 19th century) then all the other pillars of traditional society that Mark mentions in his post – hierarchy, monarchy, a sense of permanence – were similarly doomed. The Enlightenment prepared the way for democracy and socialism.
Was there any way western civilisation could have saved itself? By the 19th century the forces that would ultimately destroy us were already well established – capitalism, democracy, mass media and government involvement in education. These forces would in turn produce the most malevolent civilisational disease of all – liberalism.
Unfortunately while the 20th century would see liberalism seriously challenged it would also see liberalism’s challengers totally discredited. Liberalism not only emerged triumphant but with a halo of entirely undeserved sanctity.
Is there any way we can rebuild the traditional values that we have lost? To do so we would have to reject the false god of liberalism. It is possible that this might happen, but unfortunately it’s not likely unless things start to get very bad indeed. Of course it’s entirely possible that things will get very bad indeed.