An odd lead question, but the thought results from a brief quote I read some where (which I have utterly failed to find; I often read a lot in short period of time, and it is hard sometimes to track where all the bits come from) and the obvious rise of New Atheism. It is a question we need to ask as we watch our Christian culture rapidly erode.
A bit of history first; as Christianity spread across Europe, Zeus and Jupiter and Thor were all laid to rest, in large part because Christianity represents a significantly superior metaphysical system. The God of the Bible isn’t merely a glorified man with all the attendant weaknesses; He is transcendent, above and before all things, and yet intimately intertwined with the personal history of mankind. There are no squabbles in heaven; unlike Olympus and Valhalla, Christ isn’t performing in a celestial soap opera, vying with all the other gods for power and love. Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and all alternatives are obliterated in a primarily Christian culture.
As much as this is true, only one alternative is left to the God of the Bible when a culture is primarily Christian, and that is no belief at all. As the old gods no longer suffice, and as human hearts are ever seeking their own way apart from ‘the light’ as Christ put it, many are left with no alternative but to abandon religious belief all together.
This would explain the increasing secularization of Europe, and how a Russia fully ensconced in the Orthodox faith turned to the harshest form of atheism-in-practice, namely Stalinism.
Atheists also have the advantage of tolerance in a primarily Christian country. Unlike many civilizations, original Christianity understood that belief in Christ was an act of the conscious will – that is one must choose to follow Christ; it could not be the product of compulsion. As a result, atheists are free to reject prevailing Christianity, even criticize it with little fear of reprisal – a notion that would be unthinkable in Islamic countries, or many ancient theocracies.
In addition, living in a country that is predominantly Christian affords atheists cover for a lack of moral code – they can adopt the overarching morality of Christianity while maintaining the pretense that morality can be readily derived from reason. There is no history to support the notion that the moral basis of Western nations can be derived from anything but Christianity, but once established, the origin of morality is often quickly forgotten.
This understanding sounds an ominous bell for the US. Though we remain one of the most religious countries in the world, at least according to polls, the increasing secularization of our culture seems fairly obvious. And when closely explored, the religious are less likely to believe in an orthodox (little ‘o’) form of Christianity, and in what has come to be termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – basically a watered down version of Christianity meant to make us feel good about ourselves and give us hope, without all the attendant challenges of obeying God and respecting His commandments, or fearing any form of judgment.
And what this portends for the US is a potential European secularization, with all the diminishments that come with such a change; increasing hopelessness, less interest in family and future, and more concern with immediate comfort and pleasure.
In the gospels Jesus tells a parable of a man who, once free of an evil spirit, does nothing to fill the emptiness in his soul, merely orders his life without seeing it transformed:
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
I think the truth Jesus meant to impart here is that a mere veneer of spirituality is not sufficient to maintain fruits of a Christian life; indeed it can open the door to a state worse than having been a Christian culture at all.
In short, our generation in the Western world enjoys a home put into order by others before us, but to the degree we don’t experience for ourselves sincere belief and personal transformation, the emptiness that remains invites evils much worse than those Christendom originally displaced.