There is a lot of hay to be made–and book royalties, and speaking fees–with the message that one’s country is flying fast toward perdition. “Leading cultural indicators” are deployed to show that this important social something is worse than it used to be, and so is that…and look over here at all these things that are worse also!
Some of this bemoaning of cultural decline can be simple nostalgia. A New Yorker cartoon shows a grandfather, father, and (grand)son walking together down a city street. The grandfather is declaiming loudly, to the others’ discomfiture, “Everything was better when everything was worse!”
But was everything better in the good, or at least not so bad, old days? Is Canada less Christian than it used to be? Or America? Or Britain, Australia, New Zealand, etc., etc.?
Yes, in some important ways the prophets of declension are right. Of course they are.
Marriages and families are in trouble in lots of ways, including in the very definitions of “marriage” and “family.”
Religious observance, notably church attendance, is declining or remaining low in all of these so-called western countries. Clergy are in disrepute and as likely now to be feared as respected. Theology is sidelined as a crazy old babbler rather than the queen of the sciences. And popular morality, whether as serious as sexual purity or as merely irritating as public (dis-)courtesy, is everywhere in disarray.
And yet: History never moves in straight lines for long, and never in a single straight line anyhow. Things change for the better as well as for the worse, and often for the better while also for the worse.
More particularly, Canada, the U.S.A., and a number of similar societies actually demonstrate some key Christian values today much better than they did 50 or 100 years ago, when in many respects they were both more officially and more actually Christian.
Let’s put it this way. If you are a poor person needing social assistance, would you be treated better in any of these countries in 2007 or in 1907?
If you are a person of colour, would you rather live in 2007 or 1907?
If you are a woman, all things considered, is it better for you and your sex today or a century ago?
How about if you’re handicapped? Or homosexual? Or a recent immigrant? Or mentally ill? Or Jewish? Or Mormon? Or in any other way just different?
In fact, I daresay that the less you look and sound like me—a white, Anglo, middle-class, healthy male Christian—the more Christianly you will be treated by our societies today than in the past.
My fellow Christians and I therefore should not only mourn and fear some of what’s going on today—as we certainly should, and then redouble both our prayers and our efforts to make things better—but we should also celebrate the work of God’s Spirit in cultivating shalom among us.
Some things are better now that some things are worse—praise God!