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THE WEST IN THE WILDERNESS
The Australian March 12-13
A BRITISH HISTORIAN WITH AMERICAN INVOLVEMENTS
In an article in The Australian, Niall Ferguson, a British historian speaks of the plight of The West, that is the Western nations often spoken of in this phrasing. His relevant book is "The West and the Rest," and the article is an edited extract.
In this, he seeks to identify what has been the criterion which marked the Western democracies, Western civilisation. Even today, he indicates, this is "about political pluralism as well as capitalism; it is about the freedom of thought as well as the scientific method; it is about the rule of law and property rights as well as democracy."
He notes that some nations have got bits of this, at least in part. For example
|Russia has got
democracy (to some extent, one might add, in view of national prerogatives
of the President at tumultuous levels,
where even law seems to stumble, and drive can readily become 'reverse'),
|Iranians have got
|the Turks have a
|China has capitalism (this
distortion, more than Australia for example,
|where as in many nations, free enterprise is the imperfectly found,
but nevertheless practical situation, all factors of production
having considerable emphasis, including labour),
|the Africans, he
adds, are slowly getting modern medicine.
In this way, he sees Western ways not in decline but in progress, prospering.
However, the Iranians still lack democracy,
the Chinese lack political competition,
Iran does not have freedom of conscience,
they vote in Russia but the rule of law is a sham.
Because of such lacks as these, he considers that all of these listed countries lag in terms of qualitative indices to measure both national innovation development and capacity. For all the many Western faults, he considers this array still offers, as to type, the best social, economic and social institutions.
The array, he considers, is there; but the internal recognition, the confidence and knowledge of what you are and have, seems to be missing. Islam still has some allegiance to the Koran, China once had Confucius, he declares. "But what are the foundational texts of Western civilisation that can bolter our belief in the almost boundless power of the free human being ? And how good are we at reaching them, given our educationists' aversion to formal knowledge and rote-learning ?" In other words, he appears to be seeking where he finds it hard to set foot, and others seem to find it harder still to set heart.
This edited excerpt in the newspaper leaves a question. It is of course this which we are considering. Let us answer it.
A DEVELOPMENTAL RESPONSE
1. FOUNDATION TEXT
The foundation text is the one which moved into the Roman Empire under Constantine. It moved into the Empire of Charlemagne with his own vast interest in scholarship though no scholar.
It made vast impact as it came into the Middle Ages, though often muddied and muddled with the improper power aspirations of popes like Boniface VIII with his ludicrous Unam Sanctam*1, so like so many other mandate pronunciamentos of more recent dictators in self-assurance and sweeping assumption of powers.
The latter claims (often backed by actual use of force) however, not only were not granted by the Bible (but most rigorously denied cf. Matthew 23:8-10, John 18:36), or its Christ, but were extended by pope.
This even reached the case where the Bible itself was chained by prohibitions on its being read by the laity, just as it was later excavated in other circles by Liberals, or re-drafted in intent by neo-orthodox sects; for it is the Bible which is that famous, imposing, vastly read and long revered book. It is the sole, divinely authorised communication of Almighty God to man and repeatedly throughout the prophets makes this clear (Revelation 22:18-19, Isaiah 34:16, 59:21, I Corinthians 2:9-13,Matthewe 5:17-20 cf. SMR Appendix D). Without doubt this book of the Lord has deeply moved into Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, and of course indirectly into much of the British Empire, originally at least, as in what became the USA.
Reaching back for 20 centuries, before now, in its New Testament fulfilment in Jesus Christ format, and in much far more before that, it was no new thing in essence even when Jesus Christ came. Seen by many as a great treasure further millenia into the background of history amid the nations, this has been the ground for toleration in love and grace, for free enterprise, since love allows much without being too possessive, in political plurality, since Christ in this Age did not seek to be 'king' in any directive sense over nations (fled far from it - cf. John 6:15, in practice, John 18:36 in principle), but rather sought that the salt, the leaven should be transmitted into hearts. These might then find and apply relevant principles of concern, compassion, pity, fairness, justice, restraint, righteousness AS A RESULT, according to the case and the stage and state of development.
He will rule soon enough (cf. Answers to Questions Ch.5 ); but till His return, that is the way. This world has been given already many centuries for Western or other modes of approach to be formed, even reformed, revealed and emplaced or imposed, as the case might be.
The most real threat, then, we might agree with Ferguson, is not the rise of China or CO2 emissions. On the positive side, however, we must be far more defined. What is missing in essence ? It is NOT "the loss of faith in the civilisation we inherited from our ancestors." Western nations have had many ancestors. One of the missing elements for its effective continuance may indeed be found, as he asserts, in pusillanimity along with historical ignorance that feeds it, as children are inadequately factually (and fervently, one might add) educated.
However there is a specialised pusillanimity, if you want to use that word at all. It is that which, in the lives of many naming Christ, many churches also, fails to confront governments as we have been forced to do, to challenge educational institutions, to INSIST on not carrying out ruthless, materialist, distortive lines of education, whatever the cost. There has been a spirit of compromise WITH the Bible for 80 years in major ways in major churches in this - as in many another - land, which having weakened what the 'faith' is all about, has made it much less obvious to many, how to APPLY it! This white-anting has been largely responsible for the rotting of the wood, of the pews, of those in them, as far as practical action is concerned.
Nor has it stopped at that. In fact, one had dealings with both an independent Baptist group (presumably rather keener on the Bible than some major denominations, a pep-group) as with some missionary Presbyterians from abroad, and found an amazing readiness to compromise, to gain little bits of concessions without majoring on the main issue, or distancing themselves, not clearly seeking to go beyond pettiness, to the heart of it all. Indeed, in one case we had proceeded far into the governmental ear, when one of the missionaries suddenly, unaccountably pulled out. It seemed a catastrophe for the children whom we had been trying to deliver.
Many are willing, moreover, to teach in situations where the Bible is not to be presented as quite simply the word of God, since many 'churches' do not want to be offended by such doctrine, and the administration of the school programs wants to indulge them. I myself lost a lecturing position rather than cut out what was critical to a good understanding of the topic, in the realm of rationality, scientific method and creation, and found a vexatious if not antagonistic attitude on the part of the person in charge.
In other words, firstly, assault ON the Bible in many churches was treacherously not dealt with, many allowing compromise where in terms of our past, far more could have been done; and if the churches in good numbers began to fail, how much more did the testimony to and IN politics do so. Experience became more and more important, like those who enjoyed day to day living in a family, to the point of forgetting what a family is FOR, its principles, its character, just as the nation, Australia, increasingly has forgotten what the nation is FOR, its principles, its character. It uses increasingly delusively, the tag 'multicultural' as if this MEANT that toleration must become indulgence, and pleasantly become pollution, that past principles must yield, as if earth-quake building instructions were no longer apt; though the earth-quakes in higher categories are recently more apt to happen!
Does every nation make limitless adaptations for every migration component ? Is national character a myth ? If it is treated as one, it soon will become one.
That is the first point. It comes in terms of lost 'Western' vitality with church failures, national failures, educational failures and courage failure, faith failures and sleepiness failure, where ease replaces energy of ideal, and ideal yields to whatever goes, or some agnostic institution feels like opining, with lots of gods wafting around, with or without names, and nothing in charge but the thoughts of man. Even history becomes all but inconvenient in many sensitive areas, and modern practice becomes close to prescriptive. Freedom ? Hardly. Reason for it ? Foregone. Desire ? present, discipline ? absent in abundant measure. Why discipline ? because of reality, which demands it. Why not ? It is because, as Isaiah said of Israel at a time of appalling lapse in that ancient nation, as now is in many Western ones: " truth is fallen in the street."
Reading the rest of Ch. 59, where this is found shows a remarkable parallel then and there, to the present here. There are spiritual diseases (as also to be found in Romans 1), and these are not only repetitive, but specifiable in terms of syndrome, leading to a similar one, the moribund, the demoralised, the spiritually asthenic.
2. THE DISTANCING OF GOD, DIFFUSED AMONG PHILOSOPHIC VAPOURS
The second point is this: that this being so, God Himself is distanced, without whom no rationale stands as has been assiduously shown (cf. SMR, TMR, Light Dwells with the Lord's Christ, The gods of naturalism have no go!), so that no reasonable society CAN be built on such a ditched foundation. Sooner or later its inherent weakness, its resting on foundations which have rested on foundations which are no longer there, exposes it in a storm or tempest which duly arrives. That is the nature of test; it has its points!
Elements derivative in large measure as distinctive from the Bible, whether directly or indirectly, sometimes new applications for oncoming events, sometimes bringing about adjustments, refinements, removals, are not the basis of Western civilisation. It is the Bible from which they came in these various ways and measures. That has the package, the premises, the profundity, the reasonings, the testimonies, the applications as in Britain not a little, and that formally, and in the USA, informally but powerfully for generations, which make for complete distinctiveness and operability. WHEN and IF there is a movement away from the Bible, as now categorically in the USA, where Islam is lauded by the Presidents - something very different from simply being just and kind in heart towards all - then the past principles, NOW lacking rationale and reality for the people, no longer excite, either courage or glory. This is of course a TREND, but it is a richly developing and diversifying one.
Remove the ground, and the horse gallops but little!
When the nations increasingly do not WANT to acknowledge the Bible, or the Lord, or Christianity, but prefer to have some pusillanimous concoction which will not 'offend' this party or that, and is a kind of syncretic inclusivism, with due submissions to force where it manifests itself (as now so prominently so in many Islamic quarters), and when simultaneously, they DO want peace in order to live: then things happen. Thus, institutions, societies like the UN issue pseudo-Mosaic pronunciamentos, ludicrously anti-Christian BECAUSE insistently are found persistently pushing a matter of all being brothers, whereas Christ emphasised that for that, you need at any cordial level, the same father. YOU, he told many who were even religionists in His day, "are of your Father, the devil," John 8:44. So far from having the same father, they have an entirely contrary and contradictory one, as far separated as it is possible to be from the Creator, who is the Father of those who He redeems, spiritually.
Such componencies, such mixtures are like mixing explosives till they duly break out and ruin much. Whether it be pope or Islamic nation or Communist Commissar, variably mixed as fear or hope dictate, there is no limit to the deplorable depersonalisations which may be practised even when ostensibly, as in the former USSR, religious liberty is announced. There must be NOTHING to upset any nation, and as little is done even to secure what could be just, other forces being operative in their own domain, so great is the ineffectiveness of international compliance in this new moral mating. Since reality has been dumped, appearance is all.
There is as a result, something close to confusion and horror; which we now have, as for example in nations like Iran, Afghanistan, increasingly in Pakistan, in Libya and more and more, in other Middle Eastern nations. If nice words wander out of officialdom, grievous deeds come in a frenzy, including an apparent near indifference to suffering, unless the resultant of numerous simultaneous equations of desire and fear, indicate otherwise. If this is not entirely so, it is nevertheless difficult to find it otherwise. Lovely things are in this world, but not by courtesy of spiritual confusion, illusion, yieldings to convenience and martial lust.
Many do not know what to do as political explosions proliferate; to use force, they fear, not to do so, they fear. Their oral morals are not up to it; their actual morals are slow to get down to it. That is what happened in Libya, where precious days were wasted after the Arab nations announced their desire for a people-saving no-fly zone to be required before the dictator killed too many. The days even after this, before action, which had been in view for weeks, could prove most costly both to those under the dictator, and to the hopes of removal of unelected power and vainglory. Where do people enter!
Thus not only is there a reason for the relative exaltation of Western civilisation, but there is one for its comparative weakening in diluted doctrines, forsaken spirituality, godliness turning to goofiness, sanctity into syncretism as into synergies of various types, including virtual idolatry of 'nature', as if it made itself and could make more, when its testimony is of ingenious making and cessation of the same, as the Bible announces in the beginning. Events therefore erupting, man is tried, and being tried, alas, is on the verge of judgment. The test room of history is becoming rife with challenge, results accruing, judgments being prepared.
Drugs of political folly are being used to stop the final agonies, which are becoming more and more actual, and not just another name for angst, that sense of loss and uncertainty combined with seeking, which is so common since its cause is so common: simple departure from God as source and sovereign, and from Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer. Multiplied sects further increase confusion and efforts to excuse spiritual delinquency; and as with all delinquents, do not equate to removing it. Thus the time comes when the destiny and the dynamic begin to close in on each other, and to become revelatory in a very different way, from that of inspiration such as led multiplied explorers, solders and scientists to works of faith. The pincers for and from evil, come closer and closer together, like the fangs of a giant spider. If poison is not neutralised, attempting to move it about can still do nothing to reduce the fatalities.
Meanwhile, poison weakens.
3. ANGST AND ANXIETY
The third point is this: ANGST has become a more sensitive expression for a spiritual endothermy, a lack of fire, a lack of knowledge of God, of peace and understanding, and where drugs and intoxication have not formed an alliance with the desultory mind and the sensuous spirit, then superficiality has lent its normal lethargic, and sometimes erratic and violent, heritage. PM Cameron of Great Britain has seen the need for a national character, engaging liberty for the task: they WILL have a meaning, inspiration, ideal, he declares, and it is a love of liberty!
Yet liberty may not be found without its foundations, bringing it to an actuality which is more than conceptual, for the human mind and heart. Moreover, liberty to be wrong, where zest is disappearing, and superficiality is increasing, readily becomes the greatest tyranny of all. This readily becomes the prescription of what OF COURSE you may not do, seen in the darkness of fear, apprehension and efforts without any basis but desire, to control the people, quieten the nations and have a livable earth once more.
What is 'liveable' without truth, even amid a passion to defile it, deny it, and in its absence tell us what it is, from reductionist relativists, becomes what in all truth, is unlivable, erupting like volcanoes the marred magma from heat and pressure without light.
Angst, anxiety and spiritual lethargy merge with religious and political violence, arising like a sudden tornado, one here, there, in multiplying venues, in a world increasingly dedicated to the irrational, in the most appalling proportions. Of this, Islam, famous from the first for its territorial gains by violence and subjugation, in the name of submission, is one major, but by no means the only exponent. The biblical prediction of "men's hearts failing them for fear" is becoming more and more apparent, along with the "terrible sights" courtesy of TV, mobile phones and the like (as in Luke 21). The heart as well as the head is betrayed; many churches, as also foretold (cf. II Timothy 3-4, II Peter 2, Matthew 24:24), or bodies bearing that name, are acting as distant cousins of Judas, by violating their faithfulness in favour of another doctrine, another Lord, one normally at this stage, not named, but in control of the approach to the Bible almost as much as the priests for Rome.
The fountains are being closed, polluted and by many, even disregarded. The thirst is becoming endemic: felt rather than measurable. Seediness sets in. Valour departs. Rewards become more categorically central. Patriotism lapses as grounds of character in the nation are ruthlessly disregarded. Multi-culturalism becomes characterless apathy, chameleon shambles, without the power to resume the original colour! Ruthless forces (precisely as happened to Israel, as directly stated by God - Deuteronomy 32:21) begin to become paramount. Oil nations begin to dictate (amazingly, Saudi Arabia told the US at the time of the Gulf War what religious actions they could not do when in the land, despite their deliverance for that country). Power in this earth is becoming the sounding brass and cowardice the tinkling cymbal.
4. THE ALIENATED MIND FINDS ITSELF IN THE MODE OF ALIEN
How much in 'the West' is becoming parallel to Israel, as it 'declines' in vigour and fortitude! Consider the passage just noted (emphasis added).
"They have provoked Me to anger by what is not God;
They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols.
But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation.
I will move them to anger by a foolish nation."
We have already seen the concept of 'jealousy' is a figure*2 in a marital parable. It is as IF there were jealousy in a marital context, where faithfulness of each spouse to the other is fundamental to the relationship. Since Israel made God increasingly just ONE of their likings, this violated reality, for THIS God IS the Creator and only Redeemer for man whom He has made. That is what makes man's infidelity wholly sickening! Hence as you DEVALUE what is right and inspiring, because both right and lovely in itself, in God Himself, then you are left to find the essential cheapness of substitutes, and marvel at the eminence trivial-seeming nations can gain. You are shown up, as your values, morals and realisations in faith, are marked down. The Lord did this with Israel: is He doing it with the Gentile nations now, similarly, many of them!
In this way, our fourth point is that some of the taming down, dumbing down of the West is this, that in its flummery instead of faith at the religious level, with an increasing appetite for spiritual confections and ices, there is a positive alienation from God which has spiritual impact from above, as well as from below. Discipline can be active, and its absence is not necessarily unproductive. It can awaken some, when the cold water of reality is thrown, like sea-water on Japanese nuclear reactors, on their dreams. It would be unkind NOT to show up such lassitude and spiritual asthenia; and it IS being shown up, as the national lift goes down, to the basement.
A better way lies as ever, above, theologically above, logically above the alogisms of spent minds and self-contradictory models, which bring reactions as varied as drowsiness of heart, superficiality of mind and violence of body, when frustration brings agitation, and lust produces abortive drama. If there is hope that this may lead to world government, tried in such intimate terribleness by Hitler, Stalin and Mao, then that hope at least is sure to be fulfilled. The NATURE of such a superficial and frustration- and fear-driven enterprise would not be less gaunt and grievous than what was worked by those dictators, and the need to control all (as in Revelation 13) would the more help the mission of ultimate presumption: man to rule man without God in God's world.
It is inspiring just to see it all happen, this sense of nostalgic grief from the historian, looking at the remains of what was once visionary to no small degree, the more lucid and lovely times of higher vision. It is worthy and impelling if not imposing to behold the dissipation of the lie, of the pretence to do without God, as the prophetic wheels turn with their customary precision. It is far more so to realise that not only is the Book of the Lord, the Bible, the basis on doctrine and principle of the best of the West in its quest, but that it is also the exposure of its current syndrome, predicted, powerful and increasingly fateful.
What is MOST inspiring is this, that NO ONE need participate in this misrule, misery, maudlin or mocking, no one need trifle between cynicism and scepticism (cf. SMR Ch. 3), since the truth not only WILL OUT, but is out, and is happening. Salvation is also happening (Luke 15:7, Revelation 6:9ff.), as is happiness in restoration to the God of creation and redemption, while the judgment of His truth is imprinted on this world like a stamp on a convict's forehead, for those who will not believe, and its salvation is sealed on the hearts of those who know Him, like an imprint of possession on timber (Ephesians 1:11-14).
See for example, SMR pp. 903, 1032-1039.
See Ch. 9 of
REDEMPTION OR REVOLT
Dilettante or Disciple.