“What Can the Righteous Do?”

Photo: lincolninst.edu Photo: lincolninst.edu     

I sometimes find that it is very depressing not to live under a rock. If I lived under a rock, I would not know how bad things are progressing in the western world, but as it is, with newspapers, Facebook, and the six o’clock news, one gets a very full and depressing picture of how western civilization is currently faring. And the picture is not good.

It is true that the media does not give one the full picture. But given the western media’s left-wing bias (at least in Canada), together with its almost total blackout of news reporting the persecution of Christians occurring now throughout the non-western world, I have no trouble believing that the picture is not fully accurate. Rather, I believe it is probably worse. In a word, I believe that western civilization is in the process of undergoing a total collapse, like the implosion of a building that is being detonated to remove it from the landscape, with the difference that this implosion takes a generation or so, not just a few seconds.

If you doubt this, or think I am over-reacting, meditate on the fact that in England lately two women, one calling herself a man, just had a baby (see inset photo of the woman in the last stage of her pregnancy). She was married to her female spouse who had her breasts removed and refuses to identified with either gender. The sperm donor was also transgender, as was the attending doctor. The whole spectacle was celebrated, complete with photos, and anyone speaking against it as unnatural or insane could be denounced by a court for expressing opinions “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. Remember: this was not California or Vancouver, the proverbially wacky west coast; this was England, where the Head of State still bears the title “Defender of the Faith”.

As the Psalmist says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). Western civilization has been built almost entirely upon a foundation of Christianity. In an earlier day, this foundation included the spiritual inheritance of the eastern part of Christendom too, though for some time now the western part of Christendom has parted company with the eastern part. (To read all about it, see the excellent book by Strickland, The Age of Paradise.) But even after the parting of west from east, western civilization was Christian civilization. Its understanding of gender, marriage, God, the sanctity of human life, the role of religion, and the importance of reason were all informed by the Christian faith, so that its ethics, by and large, were Christian ethics. And when it erred (e.g. in accepting slavery) the errors were later corrected on the basis of Christian principles.

As anyone who like me does not live under a rock can see, the Christian foundation is being radically eroded, if not violently overthrown. When one steps back a bit to survey the total landscape, this becomes clear. What do such diverse things as the pandemic of child pornography, violence against women, transgender confusion, gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, opposition to traditional piety in the public square and in schools, and rampant gun violence have in common? They all share an antipathy to the values of traditional Christianity. These things are not the root problem, but the fruit of the root problem. They are signs that western civilization is collapsing. The West, having effectively rejected the traditional Christian faith, is losing the superstructure of civilization which was built upon it.

This should not come as a surprise. Any architect knows that a building is only as secure as the foundation upon which it is built. The Lord said the same thing: if one builds upon a foundation of sand, the building will not survive the coming storms. It is only by building upon the rock that the building can stand secure and endure. And the rock upon which to safely build is His divine teaching (Matthew 7:24f).

It might be argued that my jaundiced view of our current state is the result of me living in highly secularized Canada, and on the even more highly secularized west coast of Canada. It is sadly true that Canada is very far advanced in its anti-Christian secularism. In Canada there is no real right-wing, but only left-wing, further left-wing, even further left-wing, and the Green Party. (The Marijuana Party has, I think, disbanded since the legalization of marijuana. Its supporters will have to find something else to protest. Maybe global warming? Bring on the Swedish children.) We are all very anti-traditional here (or “progressive”, as we bill ourselves), so that no politician in Canada dare voice opposition to gay marriage or abortion. Some might argue that it is my location that has made me unwarrantedly pessimistic and that I just need to get out more.

I have been out a little, and visited the American South. In spots it was refreshingly different than my native Vancouver, where no one ever wished me “a blessed day”. But even there I witnessed the same symptoms that afflict us here in the Great White North, leading me to conclude that the disease is not confined to my home and native land. The disease has (happily) not progressed as far down there as it has up here, but I suggest that we both suffer from the same affliction, and that the ultimate prognosis is the same for all of us. To vary the metaphor, the flood water is rising all over North America; the water level is just a little higher in some places. The foundation has been eroded all over the continent, which will suffer the same final disastrous results.

I suggest that the proof of foundational erosion lies not in the answers given to certain questions, but to the presence in society of the questions in the first place. When a cultural foundation is secure, no one thinks of asking the question, (for example) whether two men may marry each other. The question can only be asked if something fundamental has shifted in the underlying culture. Once the shift has taken place so that the question may be asked, it is only a matter of time until the non-traditional answer is given to the question and which then finally replaces the traditional answer.

We have seen this occur in our lifetime. That is why the destruction of traditional culture (i.e. western civilization) begins not with the man in the street making assertions, but with academics in ivory towers asking questions. The process does not begin by someone shouting, “Gay marriage is possible!”, but by someone quietly asking, “Is gay marriage possible?” Once the question is allowed as a real question, the liberal answer is ultimately assured, for the question can only be asked once the traditional foundation has been eroded or destroyed.

That is also why the call for “dialogue” is dangerous as well as more than a little disingenuous. What is demanded in the call for dialogue is not true dialogue, but acceptance of a new cultural foundation. There can be no dialogue over things that are clearly wrong when a traditional cultural foundation is in place. For example, if someone wants to open a dialogue over whether or not National Socialism has merit and should be adopted, the call for dialogue will, quite properly, be refused. The cultural structure built upon a traditional Christian foundation refuses to acknowledge that this is an open question. Of course National Socialism is wrong; there is no need for dialogue about it. It is only when the Christian foundation has been dislodged that anyone regards this as a genuine topic for discussion.

I have been speaking about the collapse of western civilization in the West and not just in North America because I see the same disease and opposition to Christian dogmas and ethics in Europe as well. This reveals that the cause of the collapse is not rooted in specifically North American developments, but in the rejection of the Christian faith, for it was only the Christian Faith that was common to North America and Europe.

Some people, alarmed at these developments, have sought an answer in immigration—in other words, in flight. I do sympathize. The Psalm cited at the beginning of this essay alluded to the counsel “Flee like a bird to the mountains” (v. 1)—or possibly, like a bird to Russia. Some Orthodox families in America have indeed decided to take flight and have made the move to Russia. I do not judge them. But I think it is a mistake.

I do share their sorrow over the present and escalating collapse of traditional western civilization. I could murmur like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “I wish all this need not have happened in my time”. But that would provoke the obvious reply, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” And for good or for ill, divine providence has placed us where we are in these times. Western civilization has collapsed before, and doubtless those who lived through those days of increasing darkness and ultimate collapse similarly lamented that they lived to see such times.

But God’s providence has placed us all where we are, and with it, given us the obligation to fight for the truth in the battleground in which we find ourselves. The results of our striving are not ours to know in advance. Perhaps we shall prevail; perhaps we shall go down in flames. Perhaps western civilization may again arise like a phoenix from the ashes to build upon the foundation that we preserve in secret. Perhaps we live at the end of days, and the changes we see represent the final apostasia/ rebellion foretold by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. We cannot know. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. We need not fly like a bird to the mountains. Now is not the time for flight. Now is the time for battle, for standing our ground, for truth-telling, for generous deeds, and perhaps for martyrdom. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can do what we have always done: love and sing and serve the Lord. And lift up our heads when the powers of the heavens are shaken, for our redemption draws nigh.

Used with permission.
See also
Is US Orthodoxy Going Pro-Gay? Is US Orthodoxy Going Pro-Gay?
Rod Dreher
Is US Orthodoxy Going Pro-Gay? Is US Orthodoxy Going Pro-Gay?
Rod Dreher
By now, it’s crystal clear that whenever theological liberals invite theological conservatives to “dialogue” about sexual ethics, what’s really being negotiated is the terms under which conservatives can be persuaded to surrender.
Holy Tradition in the Trenches of Our Daily Lives. A Reflection on the Recent Oxford Sexuality Conference Holy Tradition in the Trenches of Our Daily Lives. A Reflection on the Recent Oxford Sexuality Conference
Archimandrite Demetrios (Carellas)
Holy Tradition in the Trenches of Our Daily Lives. A Reflection on the Recent Oxford Sexuality Conference Holy Tradition in the Trenches of Our Daily Lives
A Reflection on the Recent Oxford Sexuality Conference
Archimandrite Demetrios (Carellas)
May the conference attendees, and all of us, be blessed with tears of repentance, so that we all seek God’s grace to become both practitioners and defenders of the Patristic Orthodox “phronema”—given by God’s revelation to the pure hearts of our holy Church Fathers and confirmed by the blood of tens of millions of martyrs, both known and unknown!
Remission of Sins, and False Christian Love and Forgiveness Remission of Sins, and False Christian Love and Forgiveness
Abp. Averky (Taushev)
Remission of Sins, and False Christian Love and Forgiveness Remission of Sins, and False Christian Love and Forgiveness
Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
How understandable this is, how logical and how completely opposite this clear and definite, pure Gospel teaching is to the propaganda so fashionable today of some pseudo-Christian love and unconditional all-forgiveness, just too all-encompassing, which supposedly extends even to the enemies of the Christian faith who actively war with the Church and faith in God itself and are undoubtedly the servants of the coming Antichrist!
Archimandrite Gregory (Valentine)11/7/2020 4:30 pm
Persons are Christian or not. Nations embody both znd genrrally reflect a simple majority. Modern Russia is a good example.
Filip1/27/2020 11:15 am
Rdr Andreas Moran Yes, natural law. I agree that certain things are right and wrong whether you are a Christian or not (that in and of itself is a Christian principle) but that doesn’t mean that it is self-evident what is right and wrong. We, both individuals and societies, tend to follow our passions more often than not and often justify things we know are wrong. Also - America was a great experiment but I think we have to contemplate Oscar Wilde’s words “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
Matthew1/25/2020 4:45 am
Fr Lawrence makes some good points, but I think two things are worth noting, rather as general points on the whole conversation than direct criticisms: - While it seems that leftists are dominating the cultural sphere, it is clear that neo-liberals are running economies and governments. Competition, individualism and consumerism appear to be the prime drivers of societies and economies. I wouldn't call these 'leftist' and they are so pervasive that we scarcely notice them. Fish don't notice water and never question it. It's the way things are. It's easy to criticise to extremes manifesting themselves in the 'lunatic left' but how often do we see scrutinised the economic foundations (now that that word is an issue) of the post-Thatcher / post-Reagan world? Or would doing so instantly place one in the 'other camp'? It's a shame things are so polarised now. - Secondly, we really need to pay attention to language. The language we use structures our thoughts. When the meaning of words is changed, so are the kinds of thoughts that they order. One such change in meaning that has taken place lately has been the confusion between the terms 'sex' and 'gender'. 'Sex' refers to people, whether they are male or female. 'Gender' is a grammatical category and refers to nouns and adjectives. This isn't really noticeable in English, but Spanish, for example has two genders, masculine and feminine, while German has three, masculine, feminine, neuter. Now, here's the interesting point. Besides when nouns or adjectives refer to people, there is really nothing inherent in a noun, or rather, the thing that it refers to, that determines its gender. In German, der Löffel (spoon) is masculine, but die Gabel (fork) is feminine, and das Messer (knife) is neuter. Here is where the slight of hand comes in: when the changers of culture started using the word 'gender' instead of 'sex', what they suggested was that just as there is nothing inherent in a thing that makes it grammatically masculine or feminine, so also there is nothing inherent in a person that makes him or her male or female. It is all 'gender roles' and social conditioning. My point is that when we unthinkingly reproduce this lexical sleight-of-hand we are unwittingly promoting an aspect of a world-view we don't endorse, and thus undermine our own position. Words matter.
Rdr Andreas Moran1/24/2020 3:37 am
Filip, there is an argument (with which I agree) that there are principles or standards for determining what is right and what is wrong based on natural law (which is, after all, the basis of the US Declaration of Independence), so that might is not always right even where Christian principles have been eroded.
Filip1/23/2020 9:12 am
Rdr Andreas Moran - I think you’re missing the point. No one has ever claimed that Christian societies in the past were perfect, nor is it the goal of Christianity to create “perfect” societies or utopias since that is not possible in this fallen world. However, Christian societies in the past had a basic understanding of reality based on Christian principles which could be called on if there was any wrongdoing. Today, we don’t have any objective principles to call on, which is why all we are left with ultimately is “might makes right” - those with power dictate what is right and wrong. As I implied earlier, that tendency has always been there, of course, but it could always be corrected along the lines of Christian morality. Now, there is no such objective standard. Also, just as a side note, I don’t know why you put such emphasis on Victorian England - I certainly would not say that is necessarily the best example of a Christian society. But in any case, many of those same evil you mentioned were fought against and defeated (or at least alleviated) precisely by dedicated Christians. Sure, most people have never been involved in the “extremes” (whatever that means) but a huge percentage of people have done drugs, had abortions, engage in all forms of illicit sex and a whole host of other things so... I’m sure those, and many other, things would be considered pretty “extreme” from a Christian perspective.
Nun Irinea1/22/2020 10:51 pm
All this should not surprise us nor make us afraid, since the Lord has clearly foretold us everything. Have we forgotten Matthew chapter 24? The Book of Revelation? This world obviously has already received antichrist, and this means the Day of the Lord is drawing near. Therefore we should rejoice, for it will bring the final end of all evil and the final salvation of the faithful. The only thing required is that we remain true to God and live according to His Will.
Rdr Andreas Moran1/22/2020 12:19 pm
I ask myself how Christian our societies (I am in England) really ever were. I recall a discussion panel once debating this, and one person opined that we should return to ‘Victorian values’. This drew the retort from another person, ‘yes, let’s have infants working in factories twelve hours a day and being sent up chimneys to sweep them’. Even in the 1920s and ‘30s, there were parishes in London with two churches, one for the rich and another for the poor. When the Empire was at its height, there were children here without shoes. Surely, though, today the great majority of people lead ordinary lives without the extremes of conduct Fr Lawrence mentions. And no one needs Facebook.
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