FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2016
In the history of Western religion, what we are living through today is, I strongly suspect, a moment historians may eventually label the Era of the Liquidation of Christianity. In its power of liquidation, it is reminiscent of the age of the Protestant Reformation, which might be labeled the Era of the Liquidation of Catholicism, at least when it came to England, Scotland, Holland, Scandinavia, and most of Germany. Beginning in 1517, the old religion was suddenly and rapidly eliminated.
Something similar has been happening over the last fifty or sixty years in the USA, Canada, and Western Europe. The old religion, in both its Catholic and Protestant forms, has largely collapsed. Church attendance has shrunk dramatically. Hardly anybody takes the old Christian sexual morality seriously.
Of course, the elimination of northern European Catholicism in the 16th century wasn’t a total wipeout. Certain residues of the old religion persisted: certain doctrines, rituals, moral standards. The leaders of the Reformation even went so far as to emphasize these residues. They insisted that theirs was an essentially conservative process.
They were not getting rid of the old religion; they were purifying it, freeing it from corruptions, bringing it back to what it had originally been in the days of the Apostles. They didn’t call the process by its correct name, the Protestant Revolution, a name that would have underlined the radical nature of what was happening. They called it the Protestant Reformation, a name suggesting that this was a conservative phenomenon.
And this mis-description of the great religious revolution was not a dishonest propaganda trick on the part of the revolutionaries; it was a perfectly honest belief. One of the most influential of these revolutionaries, King Henry VIII, believed to his dying day that he was a quite orthodox Catholic.
We see something similar today. The makers of today’s religious revolution indignantly deny that they are getting rid of Christianity. They concede that they are getting rid of some of the antiquated forms of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, especially its out-of-date moral teachings. But they are preserving its central teaching, the thing that constitutes the essence of Christianity, namely, its teaching that we must love our neighbors.