Congratulations! Cool Britannia has finally reached a common core of belief. We are unanimously agreed that we believe in not believing in anything. After ‘40,000 years of believing and belonging’ we will become the first society in the world without religious belief at its core.
In a BBC Radio 4 series, Living with the Gods, Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, will broadcast daily a 30-part programme over the next six weeks, featuring objects from the museum’s archive that show how religion has shaped society.
‘In a sense, we are a very unusual society,’ says MacGregor. ‘We are trying to do something that no society has really done. We are trying to live without an agreed narrative of our communal place in the cosmos and in time.’ As the Beatles would sum it up: ‘We are nowhere men, in a nowhere land, making all our nowhere plans, for nobody.’
Asked if he was referring to the disappearance of religious faith from the lives of people in Britain, MacGregor replied: ‘Yes, exactly that. As a country, we no longer have an agreed narrative of that sort.’ He’s right. Christianity, which provided Britain with a shared narrative, is the fastest dying religion in the West.
Islamic scholar Patrick Sookhdeo emphatically shares MacGregor’s realism. Sookhdeo, who is a Muslim convert to Christianity and a prolific author on Islam, has hurled his most incendiary grenade on to the playground of the morally and spiritually decrepit Western church.
Hot on the heels of Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, Sookhdeo points his prophetic finger at the Western church that has shamelessly prostituted its identity and made a Faustian bargain with 300 years of the Western zeitgeist. Sookhdeo titles his book The Death of Western Christianity: Drinking from the Poisoned Wells of the Cultural Revolution.
He traces the gangrenous rot spreading through the church under the categories of atheism, moral relativism, postmodernism, pluralism, hedonism, consumerism and materialism, individualism, globalisation, existentialism, indifference and cultural Marxism. He punches the Western church in the solar plexus for its capitulation to the morality of the dominant culture in areas such as divorce and sexual behaviour, and critiques the ‘Health and Wealth Gospel’ and the new religion of ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’. The church has acquiesced to post-truth and truth decay, he argues.
Sookhdeo then turns his big guns on society, citing example after example of the totalitarian interference of the state in family, parenting and education, from almost every European country, Canada and the USA. He demonstrates how the state is orchestrating the marginalisation of Christianity and how the West is ‘now actively anti-Christian and profoundly intolerant of the Christian faith’. While the Left are actively challenging so-called Hate Speech, they are actively promoting Christianophobia.
This hatred is most pronounced in academia. ‘I want them all to die in a fire,’ says one man with a doctorate when asked about his views on Christians. ‘Sterilise them so they can’t breed more,’ says a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. ‘The only good Christian is a dead Christian,’ says another under-45-year-old man with a doctorate. ‘A torturous death would be too good for them,’ says a college-educated man between the ages of 36 and 45.
The West is dead. Europe is dead. The genre of writing on this theme dates back to 1964 when American philosopher James Burnham published his book Suicide of the West. In 2006 two British authors, Richard Koch and Chris Smith, published a book also called Suicide of the West. The title of Chapter 2 is just one word – Christianity. ‘Nothing is more fundamental to the successes, excesses and failures of the West than Christianity,’ is how the chapter begins.
Is this causation or correlation? Has the death of Christianity led to the death of the West? Or have the two deaths unhappily coincided in the ebb and flow of history? Murray believes that it is causation rather than correlation. Murray, an atheist, and Sookhdeo, a believer, both find a common bullseye as the problem and resolution – the crisis of identity.
Douglas, who happily accepts the role of Christianity in shaping Western civilisation and giving it its unique identity, observes that human beings ask: ‘What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?’ He says: ‘These are questions that have always driven human beings, questions that we have always asked and ask still. Yet for Western Europeans the answers to these questions that we have held on to for centuries seem to have run out.’
Sookhdeo punches home the point with his unique trilogy of identity derived from his own Islamic background. Why is Islam growing and why is Christianity dying? Because while ‘today’s Western Church is once again trapped in a crisis of identity’, Islam offers a distinct and discernible ‘clarity of identity’.
There is a faint hope that the Western church can rise again from the dead if it regains its identity. Islam frames its identity through its trilogy of belief, belonging and behaviour. Islamic creed – the shahada – ‘there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet’ is non-negotiable. Islamic community – the umma – is global and all-encompassing and the mosque is central to the local actualisation of the umma. Islamic behaviour is prescribed by law – Sharia – and covers every part of a Muslim’s life, including diet, marriage, dress, education, finance, war and worship. ‘Society can easily identify Sharia-observant Muslims,’ notes Sookhdeo. Muslims have ‘distinct identity markers which strengthen the sense of individual and communal sense of identity, purpose, direction and belonging to Islam.’
In shocking contrast, Western Christianity has jettisoned its identity. Once upon a time most Christians believed in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed or the 39 Articles of Religion or the Westminster Confession. Today, not many churches even bother to recite a creed during services and Christians can pick ’n’ mix. Even though ‘creed without community empties the creed of its content’ and the lone ranger Christian is a grotesque anomaly found nowhere in the pages of the New Testament, a new breed of ‘unchurched’ Christians are quite content to claim that they belong to no church or that they do church on the internet! Most lamentable is the wholesale rejection of the absolute morality found in the biblical commandments. Is it any surprise that Islam is growing and Christianity is dying?
Dr Sookhdeo is best known for his work on Islam and the persecuted church. He ends his book with a call to metanoia – a radical change of mind – but also for the faithful remnant in the Western church to prepare for serious persecution and to mount a guerrilla resistance against the dominant culture.
If the church does not wake up and heed this call it will be like the Beatles’ Nowhere Man – who ‘doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?’