The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

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The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
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I struggled for a long time to understand the cause of the rise and fall of Christian culture.  It is clear that Christian culture peaked between roughly 1600 and 1800, particularly in Protestantism.  The moral strength of Protestantism is well documented in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and is apparent from studying history.  During this time, Protestants were the most biblical and most moral people in history.  They more closely conformed to the spirit of the Torah than anyone else ever did, including Jews.  But what caused this to happen and what caused it to stop?

Christianity was relatively unproductive for its first 1500 years.  It produced some nice churches and art, but not much more.  Certainly early Islam was more productive than early Christianity.  During this period, Christianity was divided between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church which really weren't very different from each other.  Christianity has long debated the relationship between faith and works.  This debate can be seen in the New Testament itself.  The compromise of the early Church was to say that both faith and works counted, sort of as having independent value.  This had two serious problems.  First, for the average Christian, faith was a lot easier than works, so the Christian put their hopes in faith to compensate for their poor works, leaving them leading rather immoral lives.  And second, the corrupt leadership of the Church could twist works to mean whatever they wanted, such as indulgences to finance the church, and this took works away from its moral foundation.

The Catholic Church was plagued by corruption at the top for most of this first 1500 years.  This finally led to the Reformation which rebelled against the Catholic Church and began Protestantism.  The Reformation began rather inauspiciously led by Martin Luther who rejected works and only cared about faith.  Luther seemed to have no interest at all in morality.  I will let Luther speak for himself:

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Be a sinner and sin vigorously; but even more vigorously believe and delight in Christ who is victor over sin, death and the world.... It is sufficient that we recognize through the wealth of God's glory the lamb who bears the sins of the world; from this sin does not sever us, even if thousands, thousands of times in one day we should fornicate or murder.
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http://7dolors.com/apolofaiths.htm

Luckily Luther wasn't the only voice at the beginning of the Reformation, just the most famous (and the least moral).  Others like Zwingli and the early Anabaptists were more reasonable.  But the most important early Protestant was John Calvin who influenced virtually all of Protestantism for the next 200 years.  Calvin reintroduced works by saying that while only faith matters, faith necessarily produces good works, and therefore anyone who does not do good works cannot possible have faith.  This is a very strong connection between faith and works, much stronger than earlier forms of Christianity had.  Calvin taught that humanity is totally depraved, naturally sinful.  He taught that only a small preselected number of "the elect" were chosen for salvation, that Christ's death only paid for the salvation of this small group.  Calvin taught that who is saved, who is a member of the elect, is predestined because it has been decided by God, and that people are powerless to do anything about it.  So while people can't control whether they are members of the elect, people can try to determine whether they are.  Clearly a sinful person or a person lacking in faith couldn't possibly be a member of the elect.

All this sounds very alien to modern thought, for reasons I will explain later.  But think about the practical impact of such a theology.  People have no control over their salvation, they are at God's mercy.  This would cause extreme humility before God.  And while people can't control their fate, they may change what they believe their predetermined fate is through their actions.  This would cause serious soul-searching and serious Bible study in an attempt to understand where one stands.  A person would not consider himself saved unless he has studied the Bible and lived a virtuous life.  Only after doing these things might he hope that he is one of the elect.  So it is this remarkable theology of Calvin that caused the incredibly moral early Protestant culture.

Figuring out the cause Christianity's rise was much easier than figuring out the cause of its fall.  I knew that Christianity began to decline in the 1800s in America, so I looked for prominent American Protestants from this time period.  I was looking for someone who would break the connection between faith and works.  Since I am not Christian and know little about the various Christian denominations, I just looked for popular books written by Christians at this time.  So I started with the Autobiography of Charles G. Finney.  I had expected not to like him, but as I read his story, I became sympathetic to him.  Finney greatly valued morality and works.  Finney rejected the predestination of Calvin and said that anyone could be saved if they accepted Christ and acted morally.  For Finney, the order was to accept Christ and allow the Holy Spirit into one's heart, and then to be guided to moral works.  This is a more optimistic and seemingly more humanitarian theology than Calvin's.  Here is a long quote from this book that is worth reading to see how Finney argued against Calvin's ideas:

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As an illustration of what I have found in this and other countries, more or less ever since I have been in the ministry, I will refer to a sermon that I heard from the Rev. Baptist Noel, in England, a good man, and orthodox in the common acceptation of the term. His text was: "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." In the first place he represented repentance not as a voluntary, but as an involuntary change--as consisting in sorrow for sin, a mere state of the sensibility. He then insisted upon its being the sinner's duty to repent, and urged the claims of God upon him. But he was preaching to an orthodox congregation; and he must not, and did not fail to remind them that they could not repent; that although God required it of them, still he knew that it was impossible for them to repent only as He gave them repentance. "You ask, then." he said, "what you shall do. Go home," said he in reply, "and pray for repentance; and if it does not come pray again for repentance; and still if it does not come, keep praying till it does come." Here he left them. The congregation was large and the people very attentive; and I actually found it difficult to keep from screaming to the people to repent; and not to think that they were doing their duty in merely praying for repentance.

At the time I was in Philadelphia, and indeed throughout all my ministerial life, I have found it very common for ministers and professors of religion to assume the inability of sinners to do what God required them to do, and to encourage them to do something else. They did not dare encourage the sinner to remain perfectly still and wait God's time without doing anything; but would tell him, as I have said, to use the means of grace and pray that God would change his heart, and in the performance of duty to press forward and wait God's time to convert him.

Such instructions always pained me exceedingly; and much of my labor in the ministry has consisted in correcting such views, and in pressing the sinner immediately to do just what God commands him to do. When he has inquired of me if the Spirit of God has nothing to do with it, I said, "Yes: as a matter of fact you will not do it of yourself. But the Spirit of God is now striving with you to lead you to do just what He would have you do. He is striving to lead you to repentance, to lead you to believe; and is striving with you, not to secure the performance of mere outward acts, but to change your heart." The church, to a very great extent, have instructed sinners to begin on the outside in religion; and by what they have called an outward performance of duty, to secure an inward change of their will and affections. But I have ever treated this as totally absurd, as heretical, entirely unorthodox, and in the highest degree dangerous. I have ever taught that until the sinner's heart was changed, there could be no virtue in any of his outward actions. That no self-righteous, outward efforts could secure the favor of God, and that until the sinner changed his heart all his outward efforts were hypocrisy, a delusion, and an abomination.

Almost innumerable instances have occurred in which I have found the results of this teaching of which I have complained, to be a universal misapprehension of the sinner's duty; and I think I may say I have found thousands of sinners of all ages who are living under this delusion, and would never think themselves called upon to do anything more than merely to pray for a new heart, live a moral life, read their Bibles, attend meeting, use the means of grace, and leave all the responsibility of their conversion and salvation upon God.
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http://www.gospeltruth.net/memoirsrestored/memrest19.htm

Finney seemed reasonable to me.  And in fact he was a very successful preacher who converted many people to religion and undoubtedly improved their morality.  But then suddenly it struck me, as I thought about the political history of the late 1800s and early 1900s, that Finney is in fact the problem.  He was certainly a good man with good intentions, which just shows that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Let me explain.

Consider the differences between Calvin and Finney.  With Calvin, the Christian is plagued with doubt, studies the Bible, does good works, and only then does he have some hope of salvation which is never assured.  Calvin puts all power in the hands of God.  Finney reverses all of this.  With Finney, the Christian first accepts Christ, then is visited by the Holy Spirit, and only then does good works and maybe studies the Bible.  Finney puts all power in the hands of men, not God.  It is up to men to choose whether to accept Christ, and if they do, they can be sure of salvation.  So what is the primary effect of this change?  The primary effect is to replace doubt with confidence.  With Calvin, the Christian can never be sure of where he stands so he always has doubts.  These doubts force him to search for answers, to search in the Bible.  And these doubts force him to focus on fixing himself, not others.  This guarantees that this Christian will worry about the log in his eye before worrying about the specks in the eyes of others.  But with Finney, the Christian considers himself saved before he even begins to worry about morality.  This eliminates all doubts.  Yes this Christian may have as much concern about morality as Calvin's Christian, but since he has no doubt about his own status, he has little doubt about his own moral judgement.  So there is little need to study the Bible before moralizing.  And since this Christian considers himself saved, and therefore superior to the "unsaved", he is much more likely to see the specks in the eyes of others than to see the log in his own eye.

Finney produced the modern American character, extremely confident and self-righteous, even while being relatively ignorant.  He also produced the moralizing political campaigns of the late 1800s and early 1900s that made me see what went wrong.  I am specifically referring to the Prohibition, the campaigns against prostitution, and the campaign for women's suffrage.  Without getting into politics, I will just say that I consider all of these badly misguided moralism.  These campaigns were the result of Christians worrying about the morality of others without worrying much about their own morality.  And it is this general view that produced modern Liberalism.  Liberalism is nothing more than Finney's Christianity with God removed.  Liberals are self-righteous moralizers who campaign to impose badly misguided (anti)morals on others while never questioning the morality of their own actions.  Liberals are so filled with self-confidence that they never bother to question their moral beliefs, so they easily support all kinds of bad anti-morals.  Modern Christians are no different in this regard.

Poor Finney just didn't see this coming.  He knew the Bible and encouraged good morals, but his changes eliminated the needed doubt to ensure Bible study and sound morals.  Finney would be horrified by the modern world, but he inadvertently caused it.

It is interesting to compare humility with doubt.  Can one really have humility without doubt?  In effect, the post-Finney Christian claims to have humility while lacking doubt.  This Christian criticizes doubt as being opposed to faith.  But the Calvinistic Christian is consumed with doubt while also having supreme faith.  There is no conflict, his faith is in God and his doubt is in himself.  This is as it should be.  I am not a Christian, I don't believe in a supernatural god, and I reject faith.  I am a skeptic who questions everything.  Ironically, this puts me in a very similar position to the Calvinistic Christian because both of us doubt everything in the physical world and both of us are constantly looking for answers.  I would say that, unlike these Christians, I lack humility.  But which is really more important, humility or doubt?  While I may hate someone and consider them worthless and want to kill them, I am always held back by doubt as to whether my judgement is accurate.  But the humble Christian who lacks doubt doesn't hesitate to kill heretics because he is sure that he is right and they are wrong.  Those Protestants who followed Calvin's views were among the most peaceful and tolerant people in history because of their self-doubt.

Modern Christianity is a moral disaster.  What can be done?  As a non-Christian, I am not in a position to tell Christians what to do, but I will give my suggestion anyway.  Calvinism is not intellectually acceptable in our time because of its concept of predestination.  But doubt must be brought back and the decision of who gets saved must be returned to God.  So a reasonable form of Christianity would use the Protestant concept of faith while saying that one can never be sure that one's faith is strong enough to ensure salvation, and that faith is expressed through studying the Bible to know exactly what one's faith means, and through works which illustrate one's commitment to faith.  That is my suggestion, but ultimately it is up to Christians to either find a way back to morality, or slide into the moral abyss.
Following the Old Testament, not evil modern culture
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Cornfed
If this is valid it is interesting how a small memetic difference leads to huge consequences in designer religions.

Faith > works, as in modern Christianity = degeneracy.
IMO works > faith, as in Judaism = parasite culture.
Faith and works intertwined = moral behavior.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Spenta
This post was updated on .
In reply to this post by fschmidt
The idea of this is that Christianity itself is a religion based on faith. Calvin had some of the right ideas down, but the ideas of the lack of free will and a tyrant God (especially in the Abrahamic context) make it seem questionable. But the theological opposite of Calvinism makes less sense because it teaches people to be humble without doubt. How can one be humble if they do not doubt or somehow question themselves? It actually doesn't make much sense, to be honest here. Supposedly the humble Christian has no doubts when it comes to killing infidels. And naturally, as stated, the modern American is born, with all his negative qualities. Nothing other than the traits of modernist liberals, especially their self-righteous attitude. Humility is the opposite of Pride, that of self-confidence. Confidence is the polar opposite of doubt. By looking at it this way, the 'humble Christian' who has no qualms killing heretics and infidels really isn't humble at all. If he had an ounce of self-doubt, he'd be questioning as to why is he killing what he might consider to be infidels and heretics. Self-doubt to me is the idea of thinking of the potential outcomes and consequences of an action that might be taken. Naturally, in order to make good decisions, one must have self-doubt. Liberals tend to lack this self-doubt, pushing their own beliefs down other peoples' throats. Something that they accuse others of doing to them.

Modern Christianity is a disaster because it takes too much into account in blind faith and supernatural 'miracles'. Too many people these days join a religion expecting God will hand them a $50 dollar bill or cure some ailment of theirs upon joining the religion. They always want something out of it. And if it doesn't work, they carry that same mentality with them as they join yet another religion expecting the same thing. One also has to actually be committed to practicing their faith and understanding what it is and what it means.

Martin Luther believed that faith alone can help save souls. If people are automatically saved by Jesus Christ through faith alone, what point is there to living? Why not commit suicide to go to heaven? I would also say the same for Finney. If people are so sure that they can go to heaven by just faith alone and thinking that they did good works (without a measure of self-doubt), why can't they opt for a one-way ticket to heaven by suicide? If they object to this, then they are being hypocritical because after all, it was they who claimed that faith alone results in salvation.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

Spenta
Now that I think about it, most American women are attracted to confidence, that is being prideful and self-centered. American women see humility and self-doubt as weaknesses that no man (worthy of them) should have. Most Americans by default are depraved and evil because they are indoctrinated to become as such. Men of integrity and humility are left behind as the depraved culture of confidence and pride takes over. Human beings are not born with depravity, but most end up becoming depraved because they were raised to think that way. They do not think about the consequences and the outcomes of their actions. The only thing preventing them from becoming truly depraved is not that the rule of law is just, but that the rule of law instills fear in people. Only fear motivates them in an attempt to behave like proper human beings from time to time. But that doesn't mean that they lose their depravity.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of Christian Culture

fschmidt
Administrator
I think you are confusing confidence and arrogance.  One can obviously be confident without being arrogant as in "quiet confidence".  One can also arrogant without being confident as in the fake showoff who knows he's full of it.  Women in feminist countries are attracted to assholes, and being arrogant is one of the best indications of being an asshole which is what these women love.  Guys who are very good at what they do and are quietly confident as a result have no appeal to modern women.  But guys who are full of shit, good at nothing and know it, but talk up a storm appeal to modern women.
Following the Old Testament, not evil modern culture