How the West Was Lost Apostasy by Kevin Swanson
(Generations With Vision, 2013) Reviewed by Lee Duigon
If you are old enough to remember better times; and if you see in our nation today a seething mass of sin and folly everywhere you look-"gay pride" parades, a federal government that demands that Christians pay for other people's abortions and contraception, families dissolving as fast as the national economy ... Well, you probably find yourself wondering, over and over again, "How in heaven's name has it ever come to this? How did we ever wind up here?"
Kevin Swanson has written a book to answer that question.
The short answer is, of course, that it took several centuries and a lot of hard, persistent work to gut the Christian culture of the Western world. By now, says Swanson, that work is just about finished.
"Western civilization is over," he told Chalcedon. "We are living in its last age of decline."
But his book is not about short answers.
What Have They Done?
Swanson finds that taking down Christendom was a three-step process carried out by thinkers "who led the Western world to its present state." It took three hundred years.
The book is structured to reveal and analyze this three-step process: how apostasy originates with philosophers; how it is taken up by such culture-shapers as writers, artists, musicians, and schoolteachers; and finally enshrined as orthodoxy in the liberal arts universities, where the next generation of culture-shapers goes to be trained.
"What I want to capture in this book," Swanson writes, "is the incredible destructive force leveled by a handful of men on the entire Western world."
Destructive? As the ideas dreamed up by this handful of philosophers were put into practice by politicians, soldiers, and revolutionaries of all kinds, the modern age has seen two world wars, a multitude of dictators making war on their own people and dotting the landscape with concentration camps, genocidal campaigns waged against people deemed "inferior" for one philosophical reason or another, the rise of the drug subculture, the weakening of the very concept of the family, the global spread of AIDS, the global ruling class's infatuation with homosexuality, imploding birth rates-need we say more? And all of it hatched from seeds planted by the likes of Rousseau, Darwin, Marx, Dewey, Sartre, and the rest of Kevin Swanson's rogues gallery.
And many of them were rogues, in every sense of the word. Rousseau abandoned five children. Darwin was a sadist and a hypochondriac. Marx "fully intended to destroy mankind and consign the whole world to hell." Friedrich Nietzche ended his days in a madhouse. Sartre abused himself with drugs while proclaiming, "Hell is other people." Ernest Hemingway, whose mother called his writing "filth," once tried to murder his father and, in the end, committed suicide. And so on.
These are not smears. They are facts collected by Swanson from the historical record, and fully documented.
As for those apostates like John Dewey, the father of modern public education, who managed to lead a long and reasonably orderly life, his ideas-which have done so much to debauch our modern world-are not only both wicked and counterproductive, but also illogical and even silly, flatly defying common sense. In this he has plenty of company.
Why Did We Listen?
In reading this book, the question that rushes to the mind is, "Why on earth did anybody ever listen to these fools and reprobates?" Dewey, for instance, taught that no one can ever know anything for sure. If everyone knows nothing, does that not necessarily imply that "I, John Dewey, am an ignoramus, too"? Why ever should we take seriously the ideas of a man who virtually confesses that he doesn't know what he's talking about?
In an interview, Swanson tried to answer this question.
"It's because in the West, people are running from God," he said. "These great thinkers offered a pseudo-intellectual means to exit the house of rationality. People listened to them because they were ready to listen to them.
"I believe the gentiles of the West became proud, and Romans 11 applies: God has lopped off the branch which He had grafted onto the tree."
"Nevertheless," he added, "even while it is being abandoned in the West, the gospel is growing elsewhere in the world-in Africa, Asia, and even in the Middle East."
Might the cavalry, so to speak, someday come charging out of Africa to the rescue of the church?
"Amen to that!" he said. "As it is, in some of the mainline, failing churches, like the worldwide Anglican Communion, it's only the delegates and the congregations from Africa that have kept the church from plunging headlong into full apostasy."
Swanson fended off some potential misunderstandings of his book.
"I'm not trying to tell Christians not to read these writings," he said. "I'm trying to re-introduce their antithesis. I am saying, ‘Don't feed these books to your children if they're not prepared for war.'
"We are engaged in a war of ideas, thesis versus antithesis. Your children should read the Bible first, and then the works of great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Only then, after preparation, should we introduce the works of pagans and apostates. Otherwise, your children won't know how to answer their arguments."
In modern secular education, he said, "Their goal is always confusion, as if all ideas were equal. Their priority is always quantity over quality. So they throw these ideas at children all at once-first this, then that, until the children don't know what to think.
"Our children must learn to engage in the battle of ideas. But they're never introduced to the war of ideas in the classroom, so they don't even know there is a war. They only get the thesis-secular orthodoxy-never the antithesis. They're only taught the one side of any argument."
Many of these thinkers, Swanson said, "offer a mixture of good and bad. Much of what Thomas Aquinas wrote was good." Aquinas is criticized in the book as "deeply flawed" because he tried to reconcile the church to Aristotle and humanism, and thus "provided the epistemological juggernaut"-that is, the idea that man can know things apart from God-"that paved the way for humanism and the ruin of faith in Western society." Much the same, he added, can be said for John Locke: the philosopher whose ideas inspired the Declaration of Independence, but who also, writes Swanson, "completely betrayed his Puritan roots" and "rejected outright the doctrine of original sin." Under Locke's teaching, he writes, "‘In the name of God' [yielded to] ‘We the people.'"
Swanson's book is thorough. Even readers who have already devoted much thought and study to these matters will learn things that they didn't know before.
Speaking for myself, I somehow managed to avoid reading such highly-praised literary monuments as are analyzed by Swanson. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, in the mid-nineteenth century, voices a "psychotic hatred" of Puritanism (Hawthorne slandered Cotton Mather, for instance, by blaming him for the Salem witch trials, when in fact Mather labored to stop the trials) and did very much to turn the American public against its Puritan heritage, and so succeeded in estranging Americans from a major and vital part of their past. The Scarlet Letter has long been a staple of public high school English teaching. (Happily, my own high school skipped it.)
Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth was so virulently atheistic that it couldn't be published until fifty years after his death. And in Huckleberry Finn, Twain blames Christianity and Christians for American slavery, when in fact the Bible, although it recognizes slavery as a universal institution of the ancient world, hedges it with restrictions and, in the end, provides no justification for it at all. Those who, like me, laughed heartily while reading Huckleberry Finn, might have done well to read with some awareness of its sub-text.
John Steinbeck's prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath is a long, drawn-out cry of despair and hopelessness-just what we might expect from a man who hated Christianity and got in trouble, as a college student, for disrupting chapel services with loud outbursts of blasphemy and cursing. And to the venerated idiot savant of Massachusetts, Ralph Waldo Emerson, we owe a legacy of radical moral cluelessness. "[T]o believe what is true for you" was his great teaching-a maxim that is perpetually on the lips of every sophomoric ninny in America to this day. And I'll bet you didn't know that John Stuart Mill, glorified throughout my high school and college education as the father of modern liberalism, was the godfather (literally) of the twentieth century's leading atheist mountebank, Bertrand Russell.
On and on it goes. It couldn't have been all that much fun to write this book, but it was necessary.
Heading for a Fall
So Western civilization is sinking into dotage, because ideas like communism, socialism, radical moral uncertainty, unfettered sodomy, power politics as a substitute for virtue, welfarism as a substitute for church and family, the state as a substitute for God, and making governments, corporations, and other institutions so big, so complicated, so expensive, that they collapse under their own weight-those ideas simply haven't worked, and never will. Those are the brainchildren of Marx, Neitzche, Rousseau, and the rest of the humanist gang, and they have brought us to the brink of ruin. If it succeeds in doing nothing else, Swanson's book at least succeeds in teaching us that lesson. "This may be the first time in history," he writes, "in which so many young people are influenced to engage in gross immorality by the fantasy world of violent games, internet pornography, motion pictures, and music"-for the ideas of the reprobates, and their consequences, have moved out of the universities and are now engrained in our culture.
What are we to do about it? What can we do? It's not the purpose of Apostasy to answer those questions, but Swanson does address them.
As bad as things may look, he reminds us, Christ still reigns, and will reign, and God is still the sovereign ruler of Creation.
Christians, writes Swanson, must teach and preach the antithesis of humanism. "We could not be more optimistic about the possibilities," he adds, predicting that the Christian homeschooling population of America will soon increase to fifteen million. Those are children who have not had their minds turned into mush by John Dewey's theories and the teachers' unions' practices.
"Above all," he concludes, "we will need fathers"-fathers heading stable families, fathers seeing to it that their children grow up to be as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16).
"We must continue to have faith and confidence that Christ is king," he said.
"We are living in an age like the one that saw the fall of Rome. There is bound to be some level of chaos or decentralization."
Indeed, it seems to me, the harder the statists try to centralize their institutions, and wad them together into bigger and bigger ones, the great the tendency of those super-states and super-organizations to break down. Hence the rise of small, independent news agencies to challenge the great networks, bloggers, and people getting together, via social media, to resist their overreaching rulers.
Swanson agreed. "There are hard times coming," he said, "but it won't be all bad."
Even so-there were sighs of relief heard in many quarters when Rome fell.
We Endorse It!
Apostasy is not easy reading. The catalogue of folly and depravity can sometimes be rather hard to take. But it is vitally necessary to understand how our civilization wound up in this mess, and Kevin Swanson explains that problem exhaustively.
We recommend his book whole-heartedly. By the time this review is published, you'll be able to order Apostasy directly from Kevin's ministry, Generations With Vision, http://www.generationswithvision.com.
Editor's note: As of this reading in May 2013, the page numbers in Apostasy had not yet been finalized so none are listed in this article.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.