It is never surprising to hear a Christian leader lament the declining values of society. My guess is that people have come to expect that. What people, including Christian leaders, might not expect is non-Christian commentators lamenting what has been lost when Christianity is on the decline.
Paul Kelly, in the Weekend Australian July 8-9 2017, writes, “Christianity has fallen from 88 per cent of the population in 1966 to 52 per cent today, and seems sure to slide soon below the 50 per cent threshold. It would be absurd to pretend this epic change does not have profound consequences for society since it constitutes the eclipse of a particular conception of human nature.”
Alongside this decline in Christianity, Kelly speaks of the shattering of trust, a disintegration of community shared values, and a decline in civic virtue. He suggests the singular most important factor in this change is, “the notion of the individual - the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life, love, work, race, sex, culture and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realisation and human rights.”
“Narcissism” used to be considered a disorder but may now be a modern growth industry. Should one ever have to deal with a narcissist it quickly becomes obvious that there is no more important person in the world than the narcissist. Personally, I think “Narcissism” as a disorder should not be confused with what is simply a rampant individualism where God is removed and the most important person in the world has become “me”. How we describe the issue may be unimportant but declining communal values should be of no surprise when life is all about the individual.
In politics such narcissistic tendencies fail to produce leaders and sacrifices nations to self-interest. Even human sexuality becomes about my identity, while children are idolised by parents and grandparents - spoilt into the disaster of self-centredness.
Kelly is right to suggest a loss of a particular view of human nature that reflected a humbler humanity. A humility that sees life lived not for self but for each other in community. God designed us for such community and selflessness. Our evolution away from God may well see the survival of the fittest but how fit are we when love, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control and humility become endangered species. Remove God and will any of us survive?
What Kelly fails to acknowledge is the bias of our human nature and the sinful realities that follow when God is removed. Without God human nature always puts self at the centre of the universe. Here in lies the problem – God removed and self as the centre.
As a friend reminded me recently, Nicolaus Copernicus, realised that the sun rather than the earth was at the centre of the universe. Some have called this the Copernican Revolution. What Kelly hints at but fails to understand fully is the need for a modern-day Christian revolution that sees God as the centre of our existence and not ourselves. Humanity was created to revolve around God, not God around us and to remove God from our living would be like removing the sun from the earth.
Kelly closes his reflections with these words, “There was an inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.”
I don’t see an inevitable decline in Christian faith but the necessity of it if we are to ever escape the modern western cult of “self-worship”. Putting God back in the centre introduces us to the person of Jesus Christ and the character of God’s grace, mercy and love expressing itself in kindness and self-control and producing a community where people consider others more important than themselves.
Bishop Rick Lewers
Armidale Anglican Diocese