As one looks around the world and back beyond the last half-century, it seems that Catholicism and Christianity have been in a centuries-long retreat. In the mid-19th century, Matthew Arnold wrote in "Dover Beach":
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar ...
In Christianity's cradle, the Holy Land and the Near East, from Egypt to Afghanistan, Christians are subjected to persecution and pogroms, as their numbers dwindle. In Latin America, the Church has been losing congregants for decades.
In Europe, Christianity is regarded less as the founding faith of the West and the wellspring of Western culture and civilization, than as an antique; a religion that European Man once embraced before the coming of the Enlightenment. Many cathedrals on the continent have taken on the aspect of Greek and Roman temples -- places to visit and marvel at what once was, and no longer is.
The Faith is Europe, Europe is the Faith, wrote Hilaire Belloc. And when the faith dies, the culture dies, the civilization dies, and the people die. So historians and poets alike have written.
Surely that seems true in Europe. In the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Western Man, under the banners of God and country, conquered almost the entire world. But now that Christianity has died in much of the West, the culture seems decadent, the civilization in decline.
And the people have begun to die. No Western nation has had a birth rate in three decades that will enable its native-born to survive.
Dispensing with Christianity, Western peoples sought new gods and new faiths: communism, Leninism, fascism, Nazism. Those gods all failed.
Now we have converted to even newer faiths to create paradise in this, the only world we shall ever know. Democratic capitalism, consumerism, globalism, environmentalism, egalitarianism.
The Secular City seems to have triumphed over the City of God. But in the Islamic world, an ancient and transcendental faith is undergoing a great awakening after centuries of slumber and seems anxious to re-engage and settle accounts with an agnostic West.
As ever, the outcome of the struggle for the world is in doubt.
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