Two articles that have appeared recently, and one speech just delivered, all speak to the things that matter, and the need to stop the rot. The articles come from Australian journalists while the speech comes from an overseas world leader. All three remind us of the important things, and seek to get the West back on track.
They all warn of the dangers we face, and all seek to call us back to the values and beliefs that made the West great, and can save us from those bent on its destruction. Given the importance of these three addresses, let me quote heavily from each.
I begin with Jennifer Oriel and her piece in the Australian from last week, “Faithless Australians may lose more than just God”. She looks at the new figures on religion according to our latest census and says this: “Contrary to popular sentiment, the loss of Christian faith is not a cause for celebration or apathy. Christianity is the generative principle of the free world. Without it, liberal democracy will become hollow and the light of liberty will be put out.”
For those who venerate democracy and liberty, the fall of Western Christianity is more than a spiritual tragedy. It announces the death of the world’s greatest civilisation. In his book What’s So Great About Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza explains what I regard as the basis of Western civilisation: “The preciousness and equal worth of every human life is a Christian idea.”
Despite the common belief that secular statehood, equality of opportunity, individual rights and limited government are modern creations, all took root in Christian scripture. Christ embodied a revolution against the social order of His day by recognising the worth of human beings was not dictated by bloodlines, wealth or race.
Rather, each human being had inherent worth by virtue of being created by God in His image. The idea of inherent human worth gave rise to the concept that each of us is born equal yet with an individual purpose. The balance between equality and individuality was set in scripture. Equality of opportunity (as we now call it), is necessary to manifest our unique God-given talents.
The idea of inherent human worth forms the basis of modern democracy in which the citizen rules the state, not the reverse. But the full development of the citizen was enabled by another feature of Western civilisation.
The secular state is justified by Jesus’s instruction: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: and to God, the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Christianity thus provides the ultimate defence against totalitarianism: the limited state. Despite the decline in professed Christianity, the core values of Western society are intrinsically Christian.
Yesterday Paul Kelly, also writing in the Australian, also looked at the census and the decline in Christianity. He looks at how America’s greatness was tied in with its religious roots:
Many of the virtues of the greatest generation are lost or fading. Some people fight to retain them and are traduced as a result. It is impossible, however, to separate those virtues from the Christian norms that were so pervasive at the time. Narcissism was in short supply and never rewarded. In those days Christian virtue was the norm and, critically, it was always the default position.
Christianity shaped not just the view of human nature, individual morality and how people were expected to behave. It also shaped the social norms. American sociologist Charles Murray says: “Religion’s role as a source of social capital is huge.”
Murray refers to Robert Putnam who, in his classic book Bowling Alone, says: “As a rough rule of thumb our evidence shows (that) nearly half of all associational memberships are church-related, half of all personal philanthropy is religious in character and half of all volunteering occurs in a religious context.”
As Murray points out, the post-war standards of American society were overwhelmingly shaped by religious norms. There was near universal marriage, divorce was rare, television shows mirrored “the American way of life”, in films there were no four-letter words, nudity or sex, crime was low, few people even in poor neighbourhoods had served prison time and there was virtually no problem with illegal drugs.
And he reminds us that as faith recedes, the all-powerful state takes its place, along with radical political ideologies:
As the moral status of the church declines, the moral status of progressive ideology grows. Vacuums will be filled. Because the Christian ethos was tied to the past and tradition, it became a target for the new ideology of personal freedom. This is founded in the view that settler societies such as America and Australia have failed to come to terms with the racism, indigenous exploitation, sexism, patriarchy and monoculturalism at their heart. The task of community leaders was once to uphold the values of the civilisation; now, more often than not, it is to dismantle them.
Pivotal to this transition is the progressive attack on the Aristotelian framework that made the West a success. This concept was articulated at various stages by the popes, notably Leo XIII and Pius XI. As outlined by Tulsa University professor Russell Hittinger, this envisages three “necessary” elements for human happiness: domestic society (marriage and family), faith and church and, finally, political society. A brief reflection might confirm the wisdom of this framework.
It is, however, now being dismantled in the new and manic crusade of human freedom. Progressive doctrine denies any preferred model for family structure since that would be prejudicial and discriminatory; it now approaches its ultimate objective in the realm of faith — to drive religion from the public square and reject the role of religion and church as a mobiliser of social capital in a secular society.
The final logic is that everything depends upon politics. As the society of family and marriage becomes mired in confusion, as the society of church and religion is the target of assault, so the society of politics is being asked to assume a role and burden utterly beyond its capacity and guaranteed to leave community-wide unhappiness.
The tripartite design that made the West such a workable and successful proposition is being torn apart. Once dismantled, it cannot be put back together. This is being done in the name of justice, rights and progress. There was an inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.
Finally, we had US President Trump in Warsaw reminding us of that which matters. One could never imagine his predecessor giving a speech like this. While Obama spent eight years trying to tear America down while aiding and abetting its enemies, the new sheriff in town is taking a much different approach.
Certainly unlike Obama he is happy to actually name the enemy and take a principled stance against it:
During a historic gathering in Saudi Arabia, I called on the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations to join together to drive out this menace which threatens all of humanity. We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory and their funding, and their networks, and any form of ideological support that they may have. While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.
We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism, and we will prevail. We cannot accept those who reject our values and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent. Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.
Core values that Obama never spoke about were certainly heard in Warsaw:
Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who we are, we just can’t be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.
We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.
We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.
Miranda Devine reminds us of the significance of where he delivered the speech:
It was powerfully symbolic for Trump to choose Poland to make such a speech before joining the sneering elitists of Europe at the G20, hosted by German chancellor Angela Merkel. It comes at a time when Poland is resisting pressure from the EU to take in a “quota” from among more than a million asylum seekers, mainly young Muslim men, who have entered Europe from the Middle East and Africa since Merkel opened the borders in 2015.
Trump spoke in Krasinski Square, in a city entirely rebuilt after WWII, in front of a monument to 200,000 Poles killed in the heroic Warsaw uprising against the Nazis in 1944, as described in Norman Davies’ Rising ‘44. A secret pact between Hitler and Stalin saw Poland invaded by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east, and then the Allies betrayed Poland to appease Stalin. The defeat of Hitler only plunged the Poles into nearly 50 years of Communist oppression.
But with the help of their own saint, Pope John Paul II, Trump said “the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God. The story of Poland is the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken and who have never, ever forgotten who they are.
“And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and 1 million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish pope, that day every Communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down.
“They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II’s sermon when a million Polish men, women and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer. A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles saying three simple words: ‘We want God….’ And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live.”
Articles and speeches alone of course will not save the West. But the truths expressed therein, if taken to heart and embraced, will go a long way to revitalising the West. Faith in God, commitment to him, along with a reaffirmation of the values that matter will go a long way in halting the decline the West has been experiencing for so long now.
The New York Times and Melbourne Age would never have run with articles like those I quoted above. And leaders like Obama, Sanders, Clinton, Corbyn and Trudeau could never have given a speech like the one we just heard in Poland.
It is hoped that this might help put the brakes on Western decline. At the end of the day only widespread and heart-felt repentance and revival can truly save things, but steps like this also have a role to play. As Devine puts it:
As imperfect and vulgar as Trump can be, his genius lies in his ability to create the “safe space” in which others can pursue freedom. The condemnation shows how important this speech was. It marks either our civilisation’s last gasp or the beginning of the renaissance. Which way it goes depends on us.