The more things change, the more they stay the same.
We live in an era of pessimism and self doubt. Empires rise and fall and the Western Empire is now itself showing signs of advanced decay. It looks like the Roman Empire before it, at the end of its cycle. Then a man named Hannibal marched over mountains with Elephants and struck at the heart of Rome. A symbolic gesture to show to the world a chink in the armour of the once unbeatable giant. It sent shock waves through the globe and Rome’s self doubt exacerbated until it fell. A once mighty Empire collapsed on itself completely.
For us it wasn’t elephants but aeroplanes sent crashing into twin towers. A strike at the heart of the West, to underline our own growing vulnerability. The terrorists hoping to increase self doubt and one senses their success in all the chaos and division regarding Trump, Brexit and the wider collapse of trust in mainstream media and politics. We are a culture in meltdown and panic is evident. The Judea-Christian faith, which built and sustained us, is rounded on and rejected. And, as happens at the end of Empires, moral decadence kicks in; resources freely given to sustain the vision in the public square diverts to the pockets of the wealthy.
Pilate famously asked ‘what is truth?’. Ever the question of oily politicians who fail to exercise justice. Of those who have lost faith in the central vision of the culture they inhabit but who nevertheless feed off it parasitically. (As modern atheistic secularists gorge on what remains of a once Christian nation, claiming its virtues and accomplishments, its sense of justice, liberalism and tolerance, for their own.)
When we lose all faith in moral certainty the world grows grey. There is no black or white, no ideal to strive for, no dream to sustain or ultimate goal to achieve…so each may do as he pleases. Always birth rates dry up and economies fail. The only point to life becomes the hoarding of wealth for transitory pleasure. The chasing of hedonistic fantasy. Relativism becomes the new religion for pleasure demands no boundary or restriction. The culture falls into chaos and confusion for it is never good news for a nation to find itself without faith or shared purpose.
This loss of faith then leads to rejection of identity and history, to self doubt and capitulation of all that went before. As the founding Christian vision fades in the West we witness everything being thrown into question. Why the very notion of truth crumbles before our eyes! “What is truth?” the West asks Christ once again. Consider the rejection today even of scientific facts regarding men and women. Obvious truths determined by wombs and willies give way to a confusing notion of multiple genders based on sentiment alone. From cis-queer to agender, to trans-this or that. Be whoever or whatever you desire. Because the old order is discarded and there is rebellion against God. Who is he to impose the natural law upon us? Welcome to 1984.
This self doubt is also evident in the Western church. Where the plain facts of scripture and tradition, doctrines unquestioned for thousands of years, are suddenly doubted and rejected. Relativism runs amok amongst the liberalising voices of our day especially amongst the hierarchs of a certain generation. Sure Jesus taught marriage was for life… but we who believes it or can live it anymore?
This questioning voice, like the wider culture we inhabit, stems from despair. The modernist loves the church, his/her hope is that worldly reform might save it! But they no longer hold enough supernatural faith in God- and in his eternal word- to sustain it. So they seek to save it themselves, modernising and changing, watering down and appeasing… because they no longer believe that its own teaching can sustain it. It is a voice of rebellion, echoing the culture of despair, shouting out against the founding principles of Christianity – against her teaching on marriage and the family, against the creation of man and woman as equal but different, against God himself!
Should it surprise us when it also hits out, with scorn and derision, at the opposing voice of orthodoxy- at those who would urge us to remain faithful to the teaching of the church? No because firm faith in this age of growing despair seems alien and impossible, rigid and out-dated to those losing faith. They spurn the only medicine that might save them. The relativist loathes strong faith for he himself no longer believes! Yes- at the heart of modernist thinking is fear- a loss of faith. A desire for a church that conforms to world not one that might conform the world to Christ.
An indulgent self doubting culture can have no happy ending. Nor an indulgent and self doubting church. Before long the lean and vision driven will prosper and overtake. So if the West wants to halt decline it MUST somehow re-disover its founding principles. The same is true for the Church in the West. To stem decline- it too must re-discover a sense of confidence in Christ and his eternal word. It must defeat the challenge of modernism- the greatest heresy of all time.
But here is the sting in the tail. Many of the current leadership in the church represent the problem not the cure; they witness to the chaos and confusion. We might consider here the growing division caused by the current papacy which seeks to re-introduce relativistic agendas of the 1970’s. That which attacks orthodox faith as too rigid whilst ever emphasising doubt over faith, sentiment over reason and a worldly sense of mercy over clarity and fidelity. The bar set to meet man where he is not elevated to raise him up to the standards of Christ.
What does it say when we have a Pope who is flavour of the month amongst those who attack the faith, from within or without, whilst he only bewilders and dismays those whose desire is to be faithful? Why does his teaching resonate not with the voice of the church in all ages, but with prevailing attitudes of a decaying culture and its sexual revolution? With the greatest respect one must question, at this time, the direction of the Church since Pope Benedict resigned. For what is there to conclude about the current refusal to answer the dubia save fear about what such answers reveal? Not firm unquestioning faith in Christ – I suspect- but that modernist desire to conform to the culture at plain cost to the faith.
I end with words of encouragement for those confused and dismayed. The Christian faith has survived many crises, has stood the test of time as empires rise and fall. It may be dying in the West and in some of its current leadership- but it flourishes in the East and on the ground where orthodoxy is enabled to flourished. The church has been thrown to the dogs before and each time it was the dog that died. So hold the line, be faithful and pray. We are a resurrection people and need not fear death of any kind. And looking to the grass roots and to the future, I suspect the swing in the pendulum is coming….till then stand by the cross and weep. Stand by and for Jesus Christ and the Gospel, even as he is again rejected, question, mocked and attacked. The dawn will come, the approaching feast of Easter guarantees it.