Is America/Canada/Britain/[Your country here] Going to Hell?

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!

0 Responses to “Is America/Canada/Britain/[Your country here] Going to Hell?”

  1. Eric

    It is amazingly easy to get caught up in the “glass half empty” thought process with all that is thrown at us throughout our day. Thanks for showing us that in many, many, ways our glass is truly “half full” (if not overflowing in many cases). Case in point: I’ve a special needs son who, even as late as 25-50 years ago, would probably would have been institionalized and not had near the sevices he now receives. Sometimes it takes some looking around to see the good in spite of the bad.

  2. Heidi Renee

    I have also heard this in a general societal disgust and not just a geographical discussion one.”Oh the world is just getting worse and worse”. I am shocked by the lack of historical knowledge in these kind of statements. The early church dealt with people being dipped in oil and turned into candles to light the parties of those in power. Bear baiting was a sport on the streets of the cities. Temple prostitution was a wide spread accepted form of worship. So much in our world (and definitely in North America) is tame by those standards.

    I think we like to demonize our own society so that we have the excuse to escape and not engage in it. To build the walls higher and live in fear of being polluted by this horrible world, instead of doing all we can to participate in it’s redemption.

  3. Henry

    I appreciate your point that cultural pessimism is often selective in the way it portrays the present. But your rhetorical questions are loaded. I take the point about blacks preferring to live now rather than in 1907. But homosexuals? Accepting for the moment that that’s a category of person, comparable to race and sex, do homosexuals really seem happier today than they were in 1907? There’s no way of knowing, but I’m not convinced that today’s openness with respect to sexual practices has made anybody any happier; indeed my guess is that the opposite is true. And what about women? If you count only career-oriented women (a minority), maybe. But I suspect many women — especially mothers — feel far less confident and secure in 2007 than was the case in 1907.

    I don’t buy your remark 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.” That could only be true if you attach much more importance to instances of bigotry or prejudice than to other forms of contempt or discourtesy. But why should we do that? Other forms of reprehensible behavior between human beings may well have gotten worse over the last century. Indeed I wonder whether the culture of self-absorption ushered in by the countercultural revolution of the 1960s hasn’t allowed people more freedom to step on each other in a variety of unattractive ways — in the workplace, say, or in marriage — than was the case 100 years ago.

    I don’t know that I really have a point here. Mainly just questions.

  4. Benentt

    One of the first things a seminary professor told my class in seminary was that one in four of us would not be involved in ministry in four years. Or something like that. The first time I heard it I thought, “Wow, that’s bad. I need to be focused so that doesn’t happen to me.” The 1,000th time I heard it I thought, “Dang! They need to figure out why a quarter of all seminary students don’t end up in ministry.” The billionth time I heard it (toward the end of my second week) I was envious of the “one-in-four”.
    I got really sick of the gloom and doom approach to motivation. It’s everywhere. Atheist are even using it to discredit religion, claiming most of the evil in the world’s history was because of religion. They fail to look at the facts that the largest and longest atrocities happened outside of religion or with just the facade of religion.

    Anyway, I think there are more Christians alive now that there have ever been before. And I once heard (without proof) that there are more people alive right now than have died throughout history. So really, we’re just getting started anyway.

  5. remy

    For many of us here in Australia, there’s a feeling that public opinion on culture is going through yet another swing.

    Since the 1960s+70s up til the 1990s, Australia’s been on a trajectory of (amongst other things): (1) recognition of the resilient cultural identities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; and (2) growing acceptance of racial and cultural diversity.

    These cultural movements have gained momentum from a recognition of the mistakes of the preceeding decades (or dare i say ‘sins’) such as the forcible removal of indigenous children from their parents in order to ‘assimilate’ them into ‘mainstream’ (white) society; and the ‘White Australia Policy’ of immigration/social engineering. [Both types of policy were in operation up till the 1960s]

    Yet despite the gains of the past few decades, there seems to be a resurgent nationalism in Australia premised on the ‘white’ heritage. This may be a reaction to the gains made by multiculturalism (which despite all its silly idiosyncracies was perhaps well intentioned).

    Public rhetoric in recent years seems to be entirely based on notions of ‘our heritage’ (read: Settler). Young people drape themselves in the Australian flag, get nationalist tatoos and drive around with bumper stickers that read “Australia: If you don’t like it… Get Out!” Schools are made to conform to a series of ‘Australian Values’ that reflect majority cultural values.

    So… as a non-white Australian Christian male, I don’t think it has become intolerably uncomfortable for me (unlike for some of my middle-eastern looking students and friends). A part of me feels like this nostalgia for the stable “good old days” is a red-herring for the rollback of some good things.

    As you say, we should praise God in all things. Yet when I see media and popular demonisation of middle-eastern people + indigenous people, there arises in me a slight unrest.

  6. Christian

    Good Day 🙂 God is Love, May you experience God’s Love this Day, may we really learn to Praise him in all things 🙂 Lets Share God’s Love today 🙂 You are Loved!

  7. Sue

    I appreciate your comments on the truth that today we do take better care of those in need, racial relations are far better, and women are making great strides in our culture. All of this is surely God-pleasing. Having said that, there is still a fear in my heart concerning our cultures. Christ as a great guy, a good teacher, a loving human being, a wonderful model to follow, is popular. But, what about the Christ as Savior of a fallen world; The Christ who offers us the only path to God (according to His own words)? That Christ is belittled, reinterpreted, rejected, and often ignored. What we do in the world for others is essential, but nothing that we do will result in an eternity with God. That is only possible through Christ the Savior, not Christ the example. There is a tragedy in our cultures’ advance in good works if the goodness ends in eternal separation from God.

  8. Tim Perry

    John:

    How about a blog on why substantial opinions on vital issues generate only 8 comments while a worthy opinion on a more peripheral matter produces comments now numbering in the 90’s. Does this suggest that Canadian evangelicals have lost a sense of priority?

    Cheers,
    Tim

  9. jdavidb

    If you are a poor person needing social assistance, would you be treated better in any of these countries in 2007 or in 1907?

    1907. And you need to learn a little bit about economics, and the difference between socialism and charity.

    YES, you would be treated better in 1907. Absolutely.

    Let us not do evil that good may come.

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