End of the Christian era?
12/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Pat Buchanan
Two thousand years have elapsed since the Birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the event that engendered Western civilization. But for Christianity, the sun has begun to set in the West.
Born in Judea, Christianity spread swiftly across Asia Minor, North Africa and on to Rome, where it was persecuted for 300 years. Then, for the three centuries after Constantine, though riven by heresies, Christianity was the faith of the Roman Empire.
With the death of Muhammad in 632, however, a fighting new faith arose. In a century, Islam had seized Arabia, captured the Holy Land, swept over Africa and conquered Spain.
The armies of Islam were only stopped at Tours in France in 732 by Charles Martel, the Hammer of the Franks, in one of the decisive battles of history.
Europe was saved for Christianity. Islam retreated back over the mountains into Spain, where it retained a foothold until Isabella drove the Moors out in the year she sent an Italian navigator named Columbus to find the western sea route to the Indies.
In 1492, all Western Europe was Christian and responsive to Rome. But with the 1500s came Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII and the Reformation, the sundering of Christendom into a Protestant north and Catholic south. The same division prevailed in the New World. Protestant England colonized the east coast of North America, as Catholic Spain colonized most of South America. Yet, Christians all professed the same God and believed in the same Savior.
With the Enlightenment in the 18th century, however, came a revolution to overthrow Christianity as well as the Church. French priests were among the first butchered in the September Massacres, even before Louis XVI and his queen ascended the scaffold.
In the 19th century, a greater challenge to Christianity arose in the intellectual realm: Darwinism. Among elites, the belief took hold that not only was Christianity a fraud, God did not exist. God is dead, said Nietzsche. And if He is dead, and there is no life after death, one must build the best of all possible worlds here on earth. And if we must sacrifice a few million of the species to build that world, so be it. For the masses have no more worth than the animals we kill for food. Survival of the fittest. Let the Devil take the hindmost.
Marx was among the first to accept the logic and urge men to act on it. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin did. But as Hegel might have predicted, communism called into existence an antithesis, fascism. And the war they fought far eclipsed in savagery all the old religious wars.
But in winning World War II and, later, the Cold War, it was the economic, technological and military power of the United States and the ideas associated with America that men said were decisive. The Americans had delivered on the promise of Marx -- without paying the price Marx prescribed, wholesale and bloody revolution.
"I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me," God said to Moses. But since the Reformation in the West, that God has given way to one strange new god after another: The king, the state, the nation, the race and, finally, the self.
Architecture is a mirror of what men worship. The first great buildings in Christendom were cathedrals: St. Peter's in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Paul's in London. After the Reformation came the palaces, with Versailles the greatest of all, as befit the Sun King.
In the 19th century came the monuments and museums exalting the achievements of nation and race. In the 20th, the American century, the United States built cathedrals to commerce, skyscrapers like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. An envious Hitler enlisted Albert Speer to erect monuments and public buildings to his 1,000-Year Reich to dwarf anything the West had ever seen.
In the late 20th century, the tallest buildings in the world, the twin towers of the World Trade Center, arose. Last year, they were brought crashing down by 10 Muslims who hated America.
In the West, the God of Christianity has been superseded by the gods of modernity: money, sex, fame, power. These gods give a good life, but they cannot sustain life. As Christianity is a dying faith in every Western nation, every Western nation is dying. Not one has a native-born population that is reproducing itself. At present birth rates, all will be changed utterly or pass away before century's end.
It is in the Third World, where populations are still growing, that Christianity still challenges Islam. Indeed, as the battle for the future is decided in this century, a once-Christian Europe will view the struggle from the windows of its nursing home. But as He told us, He did not come into our world to make us rich or powerful, but to die to give us the hope of eternal life. Merry Christmas.