Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive
Magazine Article

Post-Christian Era?

An idea very heavily promoted by humanists in recent years, and, unfortunately, picked up by all too many Christians, is that we are moving into a post-Christian era.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
Share this

[Reprinted from Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 824-829.]

An idea very heavily promoted by humanists in recent years, and, unfortunately, picked up by all too many Christians, is that we are moving into a post-Christian era. According to this belief, the Christian centuries have come to an end, and we are now moving into a new age. Some call it the era of scientific humanism, others of scientific socialism, and still others call it the age of Aquarius. For the occultists, as of old, this is the “third age” or third world era. The occultist Foster Bailey, in The Spirit of Masonry (1957), wrote that “the Jewish dispensation came to an end, and the Christian dispensation began with the passing of our sun into the sign of Pisces, the Fishes … Today … we are passing rapidly into another sign, the sign of Aquarius.” The theologians who get their doctrine from the popular press and the streets have echoed this humanistic chorus, and they tell us we are in a post-Christian era. Is this true?

With the waning of the “middle” ages, Europe moved into an anti-Christian era which culminated in the Renaissance. The church was largely captured by cynical humanists who treated it as a prize to be exploited. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation were reactions against this, and they strove to recapture church, state, school, and society for Christian faith. In varying degrees this was done. Humanism, however, was revived in the Enlightenment; it began its conquest of Christendom; it embarked on a deliberate and determined anti-Christian and post-Christian era. Historians have long masked and underplayed the militant anti-Christianity of the Enlightenment thinkers and their successors; it is to the credit of Peter Gay’s work, The Enlightenment (2 vols.), that he develops this aspect of their thought. It was clearly central.

With the eighteenth century, Europe moved steadily into a post-Christian era. Every area of life was steadily divorced from Christianity and reinterpreted in humanistic terms. True, there were Christian counter-movements against the humanistic culture, but, because these were largely pietistic, they did not challenge humanism as such. In fact, because pietism came to emphasize soul-saving above all else, it became thereby humanistic also: it put man at the center of its gospel, whereas Christ said, “[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). The Shorter Catechism had taught, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Now humanism and religion had come to agree that the glory of man is the end and purpose of all things.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were humanistic and anti-Christian in their basic motives, and yet they were very largely influenced by still powerful Christian standards also. In the sciences and in various other areas of study, not only did Christian scholars predominate, but the idea of an ultimate and God-created order still governed men’s minds. In philosophy, God had been abandoned; in everyday life as well as the sciences He was still the ultimate power, although receding in centrality. With Darwin and Freud, humanism abandoned the God-concept and at the same time committed suicide. For Darwin, not God but chance is essentially ultimate, although traces of providence still are strong in his system. The basic emphasis, however, was away from God’s design to chance variations and natural selection. Instead of an ultimate mind, man lived against the background of an ultimate meaninglessness, and man was depreciated. If all the area surrounding a man’s house is suddenly turned into a dump, then that man’s house is not only depreciated but possibly rendered untenable as rodents take over the area. Similarly, humanism, as it dispensed with God, dispensed also with the meaning, purpose, and dignity of life. Freud furthered this process, knowing full well what he was doing to humanism thereby. However, holding to an evolutionary position, he reduced mind to a frail late-comer whose every working was an outcropping of primitive motives from the unconscious. Philosophy could not very well survive under this premise. Darwin himself wrote in 1881 that “with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”  The effect of this collapse of humanism was apparent in every area of life. Prideaux has observed, of Delacroix, “He was the last painter in whom the humanist Renaissance conception as a totality manifested itself with poetic fervor.”  Since Delacroix, humanists have presented us with a limited world, then a fragmented world, and now an exploded and dying world. Suicidism has possessed the humanists. Fiedler has cited this weariness with life which marks humanistic writers. “There is a weariness in the West which undercuts the struggle between socialism and capitalism, democracy and autocracy; a weariness with humanism itself which underlies all the movements of our world, a weariness with the striving to be men. It is the end of man which the world of Burroughs foretells, not in terms of doom but of triumph.”  The writer William Burroughs, to whom Fiedler refers, gives us a “vision of the end of man, total death.”  Fiedler is right: modern humanistic man is “waiting for the end.”

The end of every age is marked by certain recurring interests. As meaning from God is abandoned, meaning is sought by man from below, in occultism, satanism, magic, and witchcraft. Rome in its decline was marked by such interests. As Christendom collapsed after the thirteenth century, these same movements revived and with intensity possessed the minds of despairing men. The same interests are again with us, not as signs of the birth of the age of Aquarius, but as evidences of the dying agony of humanism.

Are we facing a post-Christian era? The men who so declare are as blind as that false messiah, Woodrow Wilson, who believed that he had a better way than Christ, who held that a war could be fought to end all wars and to make the world safe for democracy, and who felt that paper documents could harness and control the evil goals of men and nations. Wilson’s great crusade did not usher in a new world order of peace and prosperity; rather, it inaugurated the armaggedon of humanism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt embarked on a similar crusade in Europe, and the breakdown of humanism was only hastened.

It is not a post-Christian era that we face but a post-humanistic world. Every thinker who evades that fact is past-oriented and blind; he is incapable of preparing anyone for the realities of our present situation. Humanism on all sides is busy committing hara-kiri; it is disemboweling itself with passion and fervor; it needs no enemies, because humanism is now its own worst enemy. We have lived thus far in a post-Christian era, and it is dying. The important question is, what shall we do?

We must realize that this is one of the greatest if not the greatest opportunity yet to come to Christianity. This is a time of glorious opportunity, a turning point in history, and the wise will prepare for it. True, the church is remarkably incompetent and sterile in the face of this crisis. It has very largely joined the enemy. This, however, has happened before. In the fourth century the church repeatedly condemned St. Athanasius, as the state listed him as a wanted outlaw. He was accused (by churchmen) of trying to stop the food supply to the capitol. He was accused of murder (but the dead man was proven to be alive). He was charged with magic and sorcery, and much else, and his life was lived in flight, with five periods of exile. All the same, it was Athanasius and not his enemies, nor the powerful churchmen of his day, who shaped the future. History then as now is not shaped by majorities but by men who provide the faith and ideas for living.

Smith has said of modern man, “How may we describe the present situation? Man is his own master, and thus aware that there are no bounds to his powers. He can do anything that he wishes to do … He is free, and come of age, but he is also the slave of ideologies. He recognizes that his existence as a man carries with it the demand to be himself, as a single personal being (in Kierkegaard’s phrase), and at the same time he finds himself continually threatened with immersion in the life of the collective—and he even desires this, in order that he may evade the hard demand to be a single person.”  This is an interesting admission, coming as it does from a modernist position. It is an indication of the paralysis and helplessness of humanistic man. Men who are at war with themselves, and resentful of life and its requirements, are not able to command the future: they cannot even command themselves.

Every day our problem is less and less humanism and more and more ourselves. Is our life and action productive of a new social order? Are we governed by principles and ideas which will help determine the new direction of history? Is our thinking still directed by sterile statism, and do we believe that the answer to man’s problems is to capture the machinery of the state, or do we recognize that we must first of all be commanded by God before we can effectively command ourselves and our futures?

Leslie Fiedler aptly titled his study of the modern mood as reflected in literature Waiting for the End. We can add that it also involves waiting for a ready-made answer. The temper of our radicals is a demand for total solutions now; quite aptly, they call themselves the “now generation.” Quite logically, magic and witchcraft are very closely tied to the “now generation.” Magic and witchcraft offer a mythical alternative to patient work and reconstruction. A few words and formulae, and, presto, the desired thing supposedly appears. In the politics of magic, a few catchphrases are endlessly repeated, some laws passed or some revolutionary action paraded, and, presto, paradise should suddenly come, but for the nasty work of the vile reactionaries. Push the right evolutionary button, such is the faith of the “now generation,” and the dream world will emerge: no sweat, only revolutionary heroics in terms of the late, late movies our radicals and their babysitters grew up with.

This generation would do well to remember the words of Christ concerning the Kingdom of God, words too rarely if ever preached on: “For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:28). There is a spontaneity of growth which is not dependent upon man: the earth brings forth growth. But man must sow the seed, till the field, and work to bring forth the harvest. There must be, first, faith that results will come, and, second, work to plant and till for that harvest. Men doubt today that God brings forth His purposed results, and they refuse to work for any goals. We live in an age when men want to harvest corn before they have planted it. We live, briefly, in a political or statist era, a day when men believe in the ability of the state and its politicians to solve problems by means of their legislative hocus-pocus.

But “first the blade,” and the blade cannot appear without a planting. This is the time to create new and free schools; Christian hospitals; independent professional societies, Biblically principled; and new enterprises of every kind. The time is now. I recall the words of a supposedly intelligent man speaking in 1939, holding that it was “too late.” No doubt those words are old as man, and still a mark of defeatism and stupidity, still a mark of waiting for ready-made, pushbutton answers. I recall vividly as a schoolboy being told of automatic, thermostat-controlled heating systems, then a new thing, as the forerunner, it was held, of a pushbutton, automatic world, in which all answers came freely. Nothing was said about the work that went into producing the thermostat, nor the new industries it furthered, nor the new kinds of work it made possible. It was seen only as step forward towards the dream of instant paradise in a ready-made world. I did not know it then, but those teachers were preparing the way for the return of a faith in magic and witchcraft.

But our Lord said, “first the blade”! Done any planting lately? Or are you waiting for someone with the right hocus-pocus? If so, you will die with this dying non-Christian era. Don’t count on us sending flowers.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

More by R. J. Rushdoony