How Well Does Our Post-Christian Culture Cultivate Humility and Honesty, Responsibility and Accountability?
One humble and gracious professor who left the hallowed halls of an Ivy League school to care for severely handicapped men made this observation: “Humility is the real Christian virtue. When we came to realize that … only God saves, then we are free to serve, then we can live truly humble lives.” Such Christ-centeredness that gives rise to genuine humility and honesty, responsibility and accountability, is at the core of a Christian culture.
Our post-Christian culture is focused on self-esteem and self-confidence. It licenses people to pursue their own pleasure and power without any reference to a moral code or any accountability to a Supreme Being. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky foretold how once people declare their independence from God and religion they are free to do as they please; however, he never dreamed of how deep into the depths of depravity.
Atheistic communism would take Russia. Alister McGrath reflects upon how “the elimination of God led to new heights of moral brutality and political violence in Stalinism (Russia) and Nazism (Germany).” While the post-Cold War secularism prevailing throughout Western Europe and North America might not lead to a Gulag or a Holocaust, it does have cultural consequences spelled out most eloquently in The Paradox of Our Time:
“We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; … We drink too much; … spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast, get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom. Watch TV too much and pray too seldom.”
The anguish and anger being expressed by people in this election year is symptomatic of a breakdown of trust in and respect for our societal leaders. There is a hunger for leaders who are admirably different from the cultural norm. Philip Yancey captures this fact when he mentions how Mother Teresa captivated the students at highly secularized Harvard University, speaking like a prophet:
“Gently but firmly she informed them that they lived in a culture of death, that they were surrounded by false gods of material wealth and sexual pleasure, and that most of them would probably forfeit their lives in search of success. When she finished, the Harvard students, despite having just received a sound scolding, stood to their feet and gave her a prolonged ovation. By the very example of her life Mother Teresa had shown them another way, as if switching on a light to expose a room full of junk.”
What she said, backed up by her life modeled after Jesus, was and is irrefutably true!
Jewish historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book The De-Moralization of Society zeroes in on an episode from the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She was accused of wanting to re-introduce Victorian (Christian) values back into post-Christian Britain, to carry out a cultural counter-revolution.
What gall! In the face of a secular tsunami she didn’t flinch but said, “Very much so! Those were the values when our country became great … such things as family commitment, hard work, thrift, cleanliness, self-reliance, and neighborliness.” Where are they in our contemporary education and entertainment?
We have often failed in our noble but somewhat naive attempts to transplant our “democracy” overseas, often because foreign countries do not have our kind of Judeo-Christian foundations. German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, an agnostic, has explained that “democracy requires of its citizens qualities that it cannot provide,” qualities like humility and honesty, responsibility and accountability, all of which are a “direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.”
This sets us up for the next question to ask the atheistic opponents of our Judeo-Christian Culture: How well do they explain goodness and graciousness, loving-kindness and forgiveness?