Christless corners


Evangelicals, according to survey research conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, view secularism as a greater threat to Christianity than Islam. It seems, on the surface, like a great question for the cultural curmudgeon, at least from this relatively uncultured curmudgeon's point of view. Will Christianity rot from the inside, or instead be overrun by the heathen hordes? One is tempted to consult Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the answer.

On the other hand, maybe "secularism," when you dig into it, doesn't mean anything at all other than "not Christian." This would indicate that the folks at Pew have stumbled upon a tautology, like someone who discovers that the greatest threat to peace is war.

Or maybe what respondents meant, the 71 percent of them who chose "secularism" as the major threat to Christianity, is that what they fear most is a falling away, a slow boiling of the frog. Maybe it's the gradual relaxation of standards that frightens them, the willingness of more and more self-professed Christians to pick and choose which doctrines they believe, if they care to countenance doctrines at all.

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Wouldn't it be something if the reason for this creeping secularism, if it exists, is the very notion of secularism itself? Alexander Schmemann, writing in For the Life of the World, suggests as much:

"The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world. And even the religion of this fallen world cannot heal or redeem it, for it has accepted the reduction of God to an area called 'sacred' ('spiritual,' 'supernatural')-as opposed to the world as 'profane.' It has accepted the all-embracing secularism which attempts to steal the world away from God."

In other words, maybe the greatest threat to Christianity is not that people abandon it for other things, but rather our own tendency-or mine, at least-to imagine that it has a limited domain, that there are the things of Christ and then there is all the rest of it. It's not that a man goes to pornographic sites, it's that he forgets every woman he sees is crafted in the image and likeness of God. It's not that a woman goes cold in the marriage bed, it's that she believes a Christian union is only a spiritual one. It's not that our children go to where Christ is not, it's that they imagine there is such a place.

It's not the world that threatens Christianity, it's the illusion-embraced as often as not by Christians who in turn suggest it to non-Christians-that there is such a thing as a Christless corner of the world.


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