Gone With The Winds
Over the weekend, Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, declared at a conference of the Anglican Church that the Church is “one generation away from extinction.” In Britain’s premier broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph, this was appropriately reported yesterday with the headline “Christianity at risk of dying out in a generation.” The weight of such a statement, coming from the former head of the Anglican Communion, that the church of which the Queen is the leader might very well go extinct within a generation, is such a profound argument that it cannot be comprehended at once.
More than a generation ago, T.S. Eliot had written how the Christian principles of British society were eroding and what its consequences would be (vide T.S. Eliot, “Christianity and Culture”). Most interestingly, Eliot wrote that people do not easily “believe that things will ever be different from what they are at the moment.” Yet Europe’s culture, which is the result of 2000 years of Christianity, is in the words of Eliot “advancing to something else,” as evidenced in the warning of Lord Carney.
The problem described by Lord Carey is, however, not a peculiar British issue. It affects all of Europe to varying degrees. It probably is even worse in the Lutheran north and post-communist east of Europe. Yet it is important to note that at the present stage, Europe has still a fully Christian culture. Irrespective of the majority of Europeans having abandoned faith, the resonance of that faith lingers on with society and will do so for a long time, even when the Church might go extinct.
Yet with European culture ceasing to be nourished by Biblical principles, this resonance will eventually fade as well. And that will be the moment when the social practice in Europe will change. While it is speculation to answer the question what will supplant Christian Europe, C.S. Lewis’ work, “The Abolition of Man,” provides the interested reader with an answer to what will be lost.
From within, from inside Europe, the often miniscule societal changes from generation to generation do not occur to the contemporary man. Only in their aggregate are the changes apparent. Yet such perspective requires erudition and education, which many people do not have. To the outsider however, the changes I described are easily discernable.
Not even a year ago, Erdoğan Bayraktar, The Turkish Minister for Urban Planning and Environment, was quoted in Turkey’s premier newspaper Hürriyet with the following: “Christianity has ceased to be a religion. It has become a culture. That is not the same as a religion.” Again, a very profound statement, if you think about it.
To the outside observer, such as the devout Muslim in Turkey, the incremental changes in Europe are clearly visible. Bayraktar’s statement evidences the (probably terminal) decline of faith described by Lord Carney. Yet for the European, who is entirely secularized, and even the nominal Christian, who nonetheless does not have the slightest notion of what it means to have faith, the problem Lord Carey and Bayraktar describe is not an issue at all. It is thus a historical irony that those who understand Lord Carey are those outside of Europe, who know what he is talking about. Those inside, however, are blissfully unaware of that change and to what it will lead them. Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis.