The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
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This post was updated on .
I struggled for a long time to understand the cause of the rise and fall of Christian culture.  It is clear that Christian culture peaked between roughly 1600 and 1800, particularly in Protestantism.  The moral strength of Protestantism is well documented in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and is apparent from studying history.  During this time, Protestants were the most biblical and most moral people in history.  They more closely conformed to the spirit of the Old Testament than anyone else ever did, including Jews.  But what caused this to happen and what caused it to stop?

Christianity was relatively unproductive for its first 1500 years.  It produced some nice churches and art, but not much more.  Certainly early Islam was more productive than early Christianity.  During this period, Christianity was divided between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church which really weren't very different from each other.  Christianity has long debated the relationship between faith and works.  This debate can be seen in the New Testament itself.  The compromise of the early Church was to say that both faith and works counted, sort of as having independent value.  This had two serious problems.  First, for the average Christian, faith was a lot easier than works, so the Christian put their hopes in faith to compensate for their poor works, leaving them leading rather immoral lives.  And second, the corrupt leadership of the Church could twist works to mean whatever they wanted, such as indulgences to finance the church, and this took works away from its moral foundation.

The Catholic Church was plagued by corruption at the top for most of this first 1500 years.  This finally led to the Reformation which rebelled against the Catholic Church and began Protestantism.  The Reformation began rather inauspiciously led by Martin Luther who rejected works and only cared about faith.  Luther seemed to have no interest at all in morality.  I will let Luther speak for himself:

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Be a sinner and sin vigorously; but even more vigorously believe and delight in Christ who is victor over sin, death and the world.... It is sufficient that we recognize through the wealth of God's glory the lamb who bears the sins of the world; from this sin does not sever us, even if thousands, thousands of times in one day we should fornicate or murder.
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http://7dolors.com/apolofaiths.htm

Luckily Luther wasn't the only voice at the beginning of the Reformation, just the most famous (and the least moral).  Others like Zwingli and the early Anabaptists were more reasonable.  But the most important early Protestant was John Calvin who influenced virtually all of Protestantism for the next 200 years.  Calvin reintroduced works by saying that while only faith matters, faith necessarily produces good works, and therefore anyone who does not do good works cannot possible have faith.  This is a very strong connection between faith and works, much stronger than earlier forms of Christianity had.  Calvin taught that humanity is totally depraved, naturally sinful.  He taught that only a small preselected number of "the elect" were chosen for salvation, that Christ's death only paid for the salvation of this small group.  Calvin taught that who is saved, who is a member of the elect, is predestined because it has been decided by God, and that people are powerless to do anything about it.  So while people can't control whether they are members of the elect, people can try to determine whether they are.  Clearly a sinful person or a person lacking in faith couldn't possibly be a member of the elect.

All this sounds very alien to modern thought, for reasons I will explain later.  But think about the practical impact of such a theology.  People have no control over their salvation, they are at God's mercy.  This would cause extreme humility before God.  And while people can't control their fate, they may change what they believe their predetermined fate is through their actions.  This would cause serious soul-searching and serious Bible study in an attempt to understand where one stands.  A person would not consider himself saved unless he has studied the Bible and lived a virtuous life.  Only after doing these things might he hope that he is one of the elect.  So it is this remarkable theology of Calvin that caused the incredibly moral early Protestant culture.

Figuring out the cause of Christianity's rise was much easier than figuring out the cause of its fall.  I knew that Christianity began to decline in the 1800s in America, so I looked for prominent American Protestants from this time period.  I was looking for someone who would break the connection between faith and works.  Since I am not Christian and know little about the various Christian denominations, I just looked for popular books written by Christians at this time.  So I started with the Autobiography of Charles G. Finney.  I had expected not to like him, but as I read his story, I became sympathetic to him.  Finney greatly valued morality and works.  Finney rejected the predestination of Calvin and said that anyone could be saved if they accepted Christ and acted morally.  For Finney, the order was to accept Christ and allow the Holy Spirit into one's heart, and then to be guided to moral works.  This is a more optimistic and seemingly more humanitarian theology than Calvin's.  Here is a long quote from this book that is worth reading to see how Finney argued against Calvin's ideas:

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As an illustration of what I have found in this and other countries, more or less ever since I have been in the ministry, I will refer to a sermon that I heard from the Rev. Baptist Noel, in England, a good man, and orthodox in the common acceptation of the term. His text was: "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." In the first place he represented repentance not as a voluntary, but as an involuntary change--as consisting in sorrow for sin, a mere state of the sensibility. He then insisted upon its being the sinner's duty to repent, and urged the claims of God upon him. But he was preaching to an orthodox congregation; and he must not, and did not fail to remind them that they could not repent; that although God required it of them, still he knew that it was impossible for them to repent only as He gave them repentance. "You ask, then." he said, "what you shall do. Go home," said he in reply, "and pray for repentance; and if it does not come pray again for repentance; and still if it does not come, keep praying till it does come." Here he left them. The congregation was large and the people very attentive; and I actually found it difficult to keep from screaming to the people to repent; and not to think that they were doing their duty in merely praying for repentance.

At the time I was in Philadelphia, and indeed throughout all my ministerial life, I have found it very common for ministers and professors of religion to assume the inability of sinners to do what God required them to do, and to encourage them to do something else. They did not dare encourage the sinner to remain perfectly still and wait God's time without doing anything; but would tell him, as I have said, to use the means of grace and pray that God would change his heart, and in the performance of duty to press forward and wait God's time to convert him.

Such instructions always pained me exceedingly; and much of my labor in the ministry has consisted in correcting such views, and in pressing the sinner immediately to do just what God commands him to do. When he has inquired of me if the Spirit of God has nothing to do with it, I said, "Yes: as a matter of fact you will not do it of yourself. But the Spirit of God is now striving with you to lead you to do just what He would have you do. He is striving to lead you to repentance, to lead you to believe; and is striving with you, not to secure the performance of mere outward acts, but to change your heart." The church, to a very great extent, have instructed sinners to begin on the outside in religion; and by what they have called an outward performance of duty, to secure an inward change of their will and affections. But I have ever treated this as totally absurd, as heretical, entirely unorthodox, and in the highest degree dangerous. I have ever taught that until the sinner's heart was changed, there could be no virtue in any of his outward actions. That no self-righteous, outward efforts could secure the favor of God, and that until the sinner changed his heart all his outward efforts were hypocrisy, a delusion, and an abomination.

Almost innumerable instances have occurred in which I have found the results of this teaching of which I have complained, to be a universal misapprehension of the sinner's duty; and I think I may say I have found thousands of sinners of all ages who are living under this delusion, and would never think themselves called upon to do anything more than merely to pray for a new heart, live a moral life, read their Bibles, attend meeting, use the means of grace, and leave all the responsibility of their conversion and salvation upon God.
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http://www.gospeltruth.net/memoirsrestored/memrest19.htm

Finney seemed reasonable to me.  And in fact he was a very successful preacher who converted many people to religion and undoubtedly improved their morality.  But then suddenly it struck me, as I thought about the political history of the late 1800s and early 1900s, that Finney is in fact the problem.  He was certainly a good man with good intentions, which just shows that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Let me explain.

Consider the differences between Calvin and Finney.  With Calvin, the Christian is plagued with doubt, studies the Bible, does good works, and only then does he have some hope of salvation which is never assured.  Calvin puts all power in the hands of God.  Finney reverses all of this.  With Finney, the Christian first accepts Christ, then is visited by the Holy Spirit, and only then does good works and maybe studies the Bible.  Finney puts all power in the hands of men, not God.  It is up to men to choose whether to accept Christ, and if they do, they can be sure of salvation.  So what is the primary effect of this change?  The primary effect is to replace doubt with confidence.  With Calvin, the Christian can never be sure of where he stands so he always has doubts.  These doubts force him to search for answers, to search in the Bible.  And these doubts force him to focus on fixing himself, not others.  This guarantees that this Christian will worry about the log in his eye before worrying about the specks in the eyes of others.  But with Finney, the Christian considers himself saved before he even begins to worry about morality.  This eliminates all doubts.  Yes this Christian may have as much concern about morality as Calvin's Christian, but since he has no doubt about his own status, he has little doubt about his own moral judgement.  So there is little need to study the Bible before moralizing.  And since this Christian considers himself saved, and therefore superior to the "unsaved", he is much more likely to see the specks in the eyes of others than to see the log in his own eye.

Finney produced the modern American character, extremely confident and self-righteous, even while being relatively ignorant.  He also produced the moralizing political campaigns of the late 1800s and early 1900s that made me see what went wrong.  I am specifically referring to the Prohibition, the campaigns against prostitution, and the campaign for women's suffrage.  Without getting into politics, I will just say that I consider all of these badly misguided moralism.  These campaigns were the result of Christians worrying about the morality of others without worrying much about their own morality.  And it is this general view that produced modern Liberalism.  Liberalism is nothing more than Finney's Christianity with God removed.  Liberals are self-righteous moralizers who campaign to impose badly misguided (anti)morals on others while never questioning the morality of their own actions.  Liberals are so filled with self-confidence that they never bother to question their moral beliefs, so they easily support all kinds of bad anti-morals.  Modern Christians are no different in this regard.

Poor Finney just didn't see this coming.  He knew the Bible and encouraged good morals, but his changes eliminated the needed doubt to ensure Bible study and sound morals.  Finney would be horrified by the modern world, but he inadvertently caused it.

It is interesting to compare humility with doubt.  In effect, the post-Finney Christian claims to have humility while lacking doubt.  This Christian criticizes doubt as being opposed to faith.  But the Calvinistic Christian is consumed with doubt while also having supreme faith.  There is no conflict, his faith is in God and his doubt is in himself.  This is as it should be.  I am not a Christian, I don't believe in a supernatural god, and I reject faith.  I am a skeptic who questions everything.  Ironically, this puts me in a very similar position to the Calvinistic Christian because both of us doubt everything in the physical world and both of us are constantly looking for answers.  I would say that, unlike these Christians, I lack humility.  But which is really more important, humility or doubt?  While I may hate someone and consider them worthless and want to kill them, I am always held back by doubt as to whether my judgement is accurate.  But the humble Christian who lacks doubt doesn't hesitate to kill heretics because he is sure that he is right and they are wrong.  Those Protestants who followed Calvin's views were among the most peaceful and tolerant people in history because of their self-doubt.

Modern Christianity is a moral disaster.  What can be done?  As a non-Christian, I am not in a position to tell Christians what to do, but I will give my suggestion anyway.  Calvinism is not intellectually acceptable in our time because of its concept of predestination.  But doubt must be brought back and the decision of who gets saved must be returned to God.  So a reasonable form of Christianity would use the Protestant concept of faith while saying that one can never be sure that one's faith is strong enough to ensure salvation, and that faith is expressed through studying the Bible to know exactly what one's faith means, and through works which illustrate one's commitment to faith.  That is my suggestion, but ultimately it is up to Christians to either find a way back to morality or slide into the moral abyss.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Andromeda07734
Perhaps we should approach it from another angle and argue that law should reflect morality. After all, what would be the point of it not reflecting  morality.

We would then be asked which morality our laws should reflect.  

The only kind of morality worth its name would be patriarchal moral values found in the Bible and Koran. This would be what is also known as Natural Law, God's Law or Theocracy.  

Laws falling outside that category are Positive Law.  

http://thevoiceofreason-ann.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/redefining-terms-of-natural-law-v-legal.html explains my position on this.

Societies that uphold patriarchal moral values have more social cohesion that societies that do not. Indeed, it could be said that policies that promote the opposite of adhering to the gold standard of marriage, ie policies that condone and tolerate extramarital sex in all its varieties, actually erode and dissipate social cohesion.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Andromeda07734
In reply to this post by fschmidt
The great difficulty of Christianity is the absurdity of the Trinity, which Christians are required to believe to be Christian. Types of Christian:

1) Believing Christians who do indeed believe that Christ is also God and His son

2) Christians who say they believe, but don't really.

3) Christians who say they are having difficulty believing it.

4) People who identify with Christianity because they are neither Jewish nor Muslim, but don't even know they are supposed to believe in the Trinity.

It is for this reason that Christianity and Hypocrisy so often go hand in hand.

Only Christians go to heaven and only people who believe that Christ is also God and His son are really Christian. It is their get out hell free card and knowing how the system is clearly corrupting.

Imagine spending an entire lifetime concentrating on convincing yourself that you do believe in this nonsense and agonising over your immortal soul if you don't when you could be reading so many good books.

Most people already have difficulty believing in God, but asking them to believe that Christ is also God Himself and His son is a different order of faith required. It is therefore easier just to lie.  

The Trinity is therefore the Achilles heel of Christianity. Achilles is now dead and the West is now as Christian as a skeleton used to be human.  

Into this vacuum shall therefore move Islam, because Nature abhors a vacuum.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
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Absurdity has never been much of an obstacle for most people.  I mean are modern liberal beliefs really less absurd than the Trinity?
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
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In reply to this post by Andromeda07734
Law always reflects morality.  The debate mentioned on your blog about Natural Law versus Legal Positivism is some combination of hypocrisy and stupidity.  The West effectively lives in a liberal theocracy where the religion of secular humanism and its morals are fully imposed with the force of law.  Historically, America in the past wasn't a theocracy when the American Christians realized that a decentralized government would allow communities with different forms of Christianity or other religions to impose their own morality on themselves through religion institutions or local government.  I personally find this system of government most appealing.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Andromeda07734
In reply to this post by fschmidt
Can you name a modern liberal belief that you consider as absurd as the Trinity?
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Andromeda07734
In reply to this post by fschmidt
That debate you referred as "some combination of hypocrisy and stupidity" was what I had to study as Jurisprudence in the final year of my law degree. It wasn't until years later that I realised I had been duped into wasting my time by liberals who chose that question.

Then I discovered the background of H L A Hart.  http://thevoiceofreason-ann.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/what-debate-between-natural-law-v-legal.html

If Natural Law had been defined as "law said to be God's law as found in the Bible and Koran", we would not have wasted our time getting our minds bent trying to write something sensible about it.  
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Will
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In reply to this post by Andromeda07734
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Why church and state was separated by the Americans

Andromeda07734
In reply to this post by fschmidt
Because the Pilgrim Fathers suffered religious persecution by the Established Church and fled the Old World to escape to the New World because of it, the desire to avoid the same unpleasantness in their adopted country was the reason for this rule.  

But that was all it meant: there would be no Church of America ie no established church being the State Church to persecute or marginalise anyone who was not of it.  

Islam does not have this separation because the idea that law should reflect the religious morality of the land is obvious, logical and simple. Islam did not have the same turbulent history of religious schism as Christianity. All who fell to Muslim invaders simply had to obey Islamic law while Christians were always asking themselves whether they really really really believed if Christ was also God because if you didn't believe Christ was also God you weren't Christian and only Christians go to heaven.

http://thevoiceofreason-ann.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/think-and-grow-rich-author-napoleon.html Napoleon Hill was a secret Muslim, it appears.  
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Law and morality

Andromeda07734
In reply to this post by fschmidt
"Law always reflects morality."

Are you in fact saying that you agree with all the laws of your land which reflect all the morality of your land?
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Re: Law and morality

fschmidt
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Morality is like taste.  One can have good taste or bad taste, and one can have good morality or bad morality.  The bad laws of my country are based on bad morality.
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Re: Law and morality

Andromeda07734
Let us go back to first principles, or at least the first principles of my propositions.  

1.  The distinction between religion and politics is a distinction without a difference.

2.  Religion comes from the Latin religare, which means to bind [society].

3.  Politics comes from polis which is about deciding what rules and principles etc are necessary to sustain a city state.

4.  Morality is about rules that tell us what to do and what not do for the good of the group, however that group is defined and whatever the conditions of admission into that group.  Note that morality has to be for the good of the group. If what is allowed and encouraged does not increase group solidarity then those rules are by definition immoral. If you take that position, you can easily argue that Liberalism is by definition immoral because liberal policies in the 21st century are only about encouraging and condoning extramarital sex, which has already been declared immoral by God.

What I am suggesting, therefore, is that only patriarchal moral values can be said to be morality.  Anything that departs from that is by definition immoral.  

Patriarchy can only exist if marriage is practised but everything about feminism undermines marriage.

How does feminism undermine marriage?

By encouraging and condoning extramarital sex and affirming the right to sexual liberation of both men and women. This means saying women have the right to have premarital sex.  If women are allowed to premarital sex, then men are of course also allowed it.  

Once fornication is allowed then adultery, sodomy, incest and paedophilia etc will soon follow in the slippery slope argument. This has now come to pass.  

The Kantian principle of universalisability beautifully illustrates the immorality of allowing extramarital sex. If everyone committed incest, paedophilia, fornication, adultery, bestiality and sodomy, the human race would become degenerate and eventually die out.

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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Ruryse
In reply to this post by Andromeda07734
Andromeda07734 wrote
The great difficulty of Christianity is the absurdity of the Trinity, which Christians are required to believe to be Christian.
"Equality without differentiation is bad equality. Differentiation without equality is bad differentiation." - Zen buddhist saying

To have equality is to have neither attachment nor aversion to this or that. When I cease to have differentiating thoughts, I become God, Christ, they become me and each other, and we become One with the entire infinite whole.

To have differentiation is to know what is appropriate or inappropriate for this or that. Doing the right thing at the right time means having good morals.
http://www.intelligentpeopleforum.com
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
Administrator
Ruryse wrote
To have differentiation is to know what is appropriate or inappropriate for this or that. Doing the right thing at the right time means having good morals.
To have differentiation is simply to be alive.  Even an ameba or a plant differentiates between what it moves/grows towards or away from.

But differentiation can actually be negative.  This is evil.  As Isaiah 5:20 says "Woe to those who call bad good and good bad."
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Ruryse
fschmidt wrote
To have differentiation is simply to be alive.  Even an ameba or a plant differentiates between what it moves/grows towards or away from.
Zeno wrote in Politeia that in an ideal society, unisex clothing should be worn as a way to obliterate unnecessary distinctions between women and men. This is equality without differentiation - bad equality.

Forced eugenics, in the form of not allowing clueless people to have a chance at reproduction, is differentation without equality - bad differentation.
http://www.intelligentpeopleforum.com
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