“Post-Christian society” is a common expression used among academic social commentators these days. According to them, we’re living in it. In a sense, these pundits are correct. The monolithic moral authority and unified worldview of the Church died long ago, probably as early as the 18th century with the advent of the so-called “Enlightenment”. Today, the voice of the Gospel is only one among many and it is far from the dominant one. The secular halls of power and academe extol the all-important virtue of “tolerance” (aka, “nihilism”), while society crumbles under the weight of the siren call of unencumbered “freedom”. This is why R.R. Reno’s new book with the audacious title Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society caught my eye.
In it, Dr. Reno points out that our society over the past half century has been growing in two diametrically opposite directions – one toward greater affluence, more education, improved physical health, and general well-being; the other toward worsening poverty, poorer education, substance abuse, violence, and family disintegration. Of course, Charles Murray, Robert Putnam and others have pointed all this out before. In fact, all one really needs is 50 years under the belt to know this is all true.
But, Reno’s contribution has a unique twist. He asserts that the first group – he calls them “post-Protestant WASPs” (PPWASPS)– have unwittingly foisted on the second group many of the problems they are experiencing. But, get this. They have typically done so without falling victim to these problems themselves. It turns out that many, if not most of the PPWASPs have managed to navigate the waters of their own non-judgmental tolerance pretty well. Their marriages are statistically almost as stable as Christian marriages. Few of them suffer from extreme substance abuse. They have not become captives to the entertainment culture that they themselves have created. They inculcate their children with their own secular worldview in the same way that Christians pass along their faith to the next generation. He contends that the PPWASPs are generally sincere and well-intentioned people.
It is on this last point that Reno pegs his hopes. He states, “given the sincere moral purpose that animates most post-Protestant WASPs, they will start to have their own misgivings, at which point the Christian leaven will go to work on the lump.” Only time will tell whether or not he is right. But, there is reason to believe he may be. The “Establishment” – both Democrat and Republican – just lost the election. And, while many in the Millennial generation have swallowed the secularist pill, they are willing to look in unorthodox directions to find the truth. In our world, it is Jesus who is now unorthodox. Who else can claim that he is the way, the truth, and the life with any credibility? Who else stands in defense of the weak and promotes solidarity with the hurting? Only Jesus.
Yes, we do live in an anti-Christian era. But, perhaps, just perhaps, it is also an ante-Christian era.