Humanism, the collapse of faith and the need for new methods of apologetics

Mar 13, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“I used to pray before bed, but I’ve definitely become less religious. I used to go to church every week – not any more. I hugely regret not voting for gay marriage. Faith is about love, and religion is too. I should have realized that.”

So says Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP, whose feisty character and working class roots set her apart from most of her more conventional and privately educated male colleagues, and has sometimes gained her tabloid notoriety. This quotation from an interview with Dorries in the Sunday Times magazine (March 11th) illustrates two important trends in our society. Firstly, even political conservatives have become more liberal on social issues. And secondly, this appears to be connected to decline in church attendance.

Among the governing elites in the nation, wide differences of opinion may exist on political and economic issues such as Brexit and levels of government borrowing and spending, but a liberal consensus on moral issues such as same sex marriage is such that it is extremely rare for anyone in the public eye to express a conservative view publicly (such as Jacob Rees-Mogg did last year.)

But as another Christian politician, Tim Farron, has pointed out, a liberal consensus quickly moves on to an illiberal conviction that those who don’t share the liberal view are wrong, hateful and potentially dangerous. They should be marginalized and punished, and the next generation should be educated in the politically correct view only. Many with influence, such as politicians and church leaders, have decided that given this climate, the necessity of avoiding controversy and aligning with accepted opinion means the best thing is to change one’s view, or at least not to articulate the conservative view publicly.

Has this change come about naturally, through evolution, as we grow in enlightenment compared to our forebears? Increasingly people are realizing that there has been a deliberate and revolutionary re-shaping of the culture, and the minds of the populations of the Western world, by an unholy alliance of secular left and right- wing thinking.

On one hand, the proponents of neo-Marxist ideologies believe progress towards equality and mutual prosperity is hampered by the old oppressive social order of patriarchy, heteronormativity, binary gender and the nuclear family, which can be eliminated through control of key institutions, propaganda, law change and education. On the other hand, capitalist marketers have realised that getting people to buy more stuff involves removing any brake or friction in the consumer experience. Traditional moral codes and placing a high value on personal self-control would definitely act as such a brake; while a generation increasingly ‘free’ of such ‘constraints’ will be psychologically more open to marketing messages, and so create more profit for the corporations.


The second insight from Dorries’ remark is that in her case at least, changing her mind about a moral issue such as same sex marriage accompanies what is portrayed as a softer, more humanistic, more tolerant approach to morality in general, and from that to faith. Previously, belief in God and his word was an absolute from which could be derived essential beliefs about morals and behaviour. When we feel uncomfortable about those absolutes, perhaps because everyone around us is saying that they are unfair, repressive, creating false guilt and so on, this causes us to question what we thought we knew about God. Maybe, we conclude, faith does not start with positing a morally pure Creator and his communication to us, but with us, our emotions and relationships of love, and what we hope for as a better world. But for Dorries and many others, if religion is about love, then church and even prayer become optional at best.

It’s not difficult to see the implications if a right-wing politician’s journey from social conservative to social liberal has led to her stop going to church and praying to God. Many millions in the West are making the same journey. What does this say then about the continued trend of mainline churches in the West, to embrace social liberalism as an evangelistic strategy?

Associating God, Jesus, the church and the bible with a ‘thou shalt not’ morality, injustice towards minorities and the preservation of inequality has made the brand of Christianity toxic, the argument goes. Embracing inclusion and a message of unconditional acceptance is a ‘missiological imperative’ to get people back into church. But in fact the opposite has happened. As the message has been received by Dorries and millions of others that religion and faith are “just love”, they don’t see the need for organized worship, the receiving of the divine word and sacrament, and a discipleship of taking up the cross. Paradoxically, the focus on a liberal interpretation of “God is love” has proved more toxic to Christian faith than the idea that God might be against same sex marriage.


So if trying to align the message of the Gospel with contemporary social liberalism appears to be counter-productive in terms of evangelism, what approach should the church take? Many nominal Christians who used to have a basic bible knowledge, socially conservative views and go to church sometimes, now have liberal opinions and don’t go to church at all. This has not just happened naturally, but as the result of the successful propagation of ‘other gospels’ which, like the true Gospel, offer the stick and the carrot – a vision of a perfect society, and warnings of not being included for those who don’t embrace the humanist ideology.

Given such a change, simply talking about God and Jesus to those who have imbibed the contemporary worldview will result in rejection of the message at worst, and a kind of syncretism, seeing God and Jesus as metaphors for secular views of love and justice at best. Part of the essential apologetic task of the church is to show how humanistic understandings of God, humanity, love, sex, marriage, sin, justice and so on are “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8) being forcibly imposed in our culture, and then to deconstruct them with bible, spiritual warfare and the example of sacrificial discipleship.


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