A Secular West?

Living in a truly non-Christian country has given me some perspective on my own home and its connection with Christianity. While few in Canada would call it a “Christian nation,” it has a historical connection with Christianity and to an extent all Western countries are seen as “Christian” by Asia, the Middle East & Africa.

In China, it is brought home to me how many symbols of Christianity are given precedence in Western culture. Imagine a calendar of public holidays that did not include Christmas, or Easter! Unthinkable in the West, but the norm in countries lacking a predominantly Christian background – like China. In Canada, we sing “God keep our land, glorious and free!” as part of our national anthem, and our cousins south of the border have “In God We Trust” emblazoned on their coins. The symbols of Christianity are cherished, and given precedence over the symbols of other religions.

However, we often see Christian values in visible conflict with the mores of Western society. The nature of families, the murder of babies in the womb, the identity of men and women… all of these issues are in the media frequently, and the media tends to adopt the language and assumptions of a “secular” perspective and perceive that as a neutral or normal starting position. I put “secular” in quotations because that secular perspective is still suffused with assumptions that are the unique product of a history with Christianity. These Christian convictions swirl beneath the surface of Western nations.

Christians are criticized for not accepting others, for hating science or for oppressing women. Ironically, all these criticisms are focused on areas where Christianity introduced great improvements into Western societies. Romans were highly superstitious, as were the Germanic tribes that invaded Roman territory. It was Christianity that set to work dismantling these superstitions and expressing its own faith in a rational way, framed by Greek philosophy and science. The Christian view of God as a lawgiver who created an orderly universe provided a basic assumption of modern science: the universe is orderly, and we can understand it. It was Christianity that transformed attitudes towards women, including eliminating polygamy. It was Christian thought that Hitler hated when he began to persecute the Jews, and largely Christians motivated by their faith who provided a limited and timid defense of the Jews in the face of Nazi oppression. We could make a much greater list than this, but Western society is so indebted to the radical transformation that followers of Jesus wrought in it that we would be hard pressed to sum it up. So secularists are criticizing Christianity largely not for what it teaches, but for what individual Christians often fail to live up to!

It is easy to see in China these Christian influences in Western society by their complete absence here. In China, most businesses contain a shrine to the ancestors and on Tombsweeping day masses of burnt offerings are made for those ancestors. This is superstitious, not religious, practice as many of those same people would describe themselves as atheist. Women are not valued as much as men; boys are given more privileges, much has been written about the one child policy and the resulting abandonment of baby girls, and many men keep mistresses in addition to their wives with no real cultural backlash. The Japanese are fiercely hated, with no cultural understanding of racism being wrong.

Canada and other Western nations may want to be secular, but they will never be secular. God has touched history; and those marks will remain. Even if secularists win every dispute of public policy, Christian symbols and assumptions have forever changed the course of history in our country and will continue to do so.

Ad maiorem dei gloriam.

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