The soul of the West in eclipse

A recent book asserts the primary importance of Christianity in the complex structure that we call Western civilization
David Daintree | Nov 24 2015 | comment  

Soul of the West: Christianity and the Great Tradition    
by David Daintree  
Connor Court Press, 90 pages.  
ISBN 9781925138818

Christianity is not an optional extra, a supplementary subject for those who want to earn a few more marks in the school of life! On the contrary, you can’t begin to understand Western culture in isolation from the story of Christ and his Church. Those who claim they can are deluding themselves. The last laugh, surely, is on Richard Dawkins: he is the man who has delusions about God.

The influence of Christianity on science, law, government, philosophy, literature, language and on our sense of mutual obligation has been quite literally immense.  Today we are in the midst of a struggle sometimes known as the Culture Wars: powerful elements in our society want to minimize or even extinguish the influence of Christianity in education and to downplay its role in history.

In fact most opinion makers in the West have no understanding of any kind of religious impulse. If it were not so serious it would be almost amusing to observe the incapacity of the commentariat to understand the Paris killings. Stubbornly denying that such deeds have any connection with Islam, and accusing the killers of cowardice or insanity or both, is clear evidence that much influential opinion in the thoroughly secularized West simply cannot grasp that fact that courageous young Islamists are willing to give their lives for their faith, that they count the riches of this world as nought compared to the glories to come, and that there is a crystal-clear logic to their actions. All that is invisible to anyone who has lost, or has never possessed, the faculty of thinking in spiritual categories.

If some of the language in the preceding sounds familiar it should do. A willingness to lay down one’s life for others, a desire to be with God, has been fundamental to Christian spirituality. Arguably it has never been possible for Christians, in the clear light of the New Testament, to kill the innocent (though many have sought to justify such deeds), but Christians ought to understand at least some of the impulses that drive Muslims to contempt for the world, and contempt for worldliness in others.

For another illustration of the great gulf that divides the religious from the secular mentality consider the Lindy Chamberlain case of 35 years ago. Lindy completely lost the sympathy of her peers when she made it plain that she had absolute faith in her child’s survival after death. To most people it was simply inconceivable that a bereaved mother could be anything other than inconsolable: her joy was an affront and an outrage. Of course she was guilty of murder!

Thirty-five years later the dominant atheism of the secular West has moved on and gained ground. How long will it be till Christians and other religious people are brought to justice simply for teaching their beliefs to others? But wait. Hasn’t that already happened to Archbishop Julian Porteous, in Tasmania?

The traditional culture and civilization of the West has never before been in such grave danger of being overwhelmed and cast aside. Equally imperilled is the Christian faith that has been its creative principle, its very soul. By a sad irony the greatest threat to the Western tradition is in its heartland.

Wearied of our past we seek solace in alternative ideas: using renewable energy, saving endangered species, extending human longevity, striving for a clean and healthy planet are honourable aspirations in themselves, but on their own they do not adequately meet the needs or match the eternal destiny of men and women created in the image of God.

Far less honourable and much more sinister is the commodification of life that arises out of a denial that creatures possess any absolute value: babies and old people past their use-by date have no intrinsic value at all as children of God. Such value as they do have is entirely dependent on the valuation applied to them by others. To the secular mind the child in the womb is a bundle of disposable tissues – until a decision is made that it will become somebody’s baby.  

This book is a modest attempt to encourage those who are determined not only to resist the negative winds of change but to go on the offensive against them. It is an apologia for the Great Tradition.

David Daintree, formerly President of Campion College Australia, established the Dawson Centre in 2013 as a means of asserting the importance of the Catholic intellectual tradition. For more information about the Centre visit

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