Dechristianization of civilization through the eyes of a Catholic bishop
In Western civilization, Christians are gradually turning from a dominant into a persecuted group. What awaits Ukraine following this path? What is to be done?
In early November 2021 the Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Horacio Gomez, spoke via video link to the Congress of Catholics and Social Workers in Madrid, Spain. He entitled his address "Reflections on the Church and America's New Religions". Though it is about the United States, many of the thoughts expressed by the archbishop are quite applicable to Ukraine and have their analogues in our country. The USA is the leader of Western civilization in the sense that the processes and phenomena that are at an early stage in other countries (including Ukraine) have already acquired a pronounced character in the United States. Therefore, looking at them, it is already possible to make conclusions about what awaits us in the future if we continue following this path.
We must say at the outset that agreement with the Catholic bishop's thoughts expressed in this address does not mean agreement with the doctrine of Catholicism itself, nor with the liberal tendencies that dominate the Catholic agenda today.
Gomez's speech is divided into three parts. In the first part, he talks about secularization and dechristianization, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on society. In the second part, the RCC archbishop assesses the social movements for a new social justice. Finally, he expresses his views on what Christians can do in the current climate.
Secularization, dechristianization, pandemic
Secularization in the modern sense of the term means a departure from faith when religious beliefs become unnecessary for a person. A person does not deny or contradict them, he simply ceases to be guided by them in his life. They become irrelevant for him/her. Much more important from a practical point of view are the laws of geopolitics, sociology, economics, etc.
If we compare the expressions "science has proved that..." and "the Holy Scripture says that...", there is no doubt which one is more relevant to modern man. Today's secular society is used to taking advantage of advances in science and technology, trusting in modern research and so on. The example of pandemic control demonstrates this very clearly. Mankind wants to defeat the coronavirus with vaccines, drugs and quarantine restrictions. When the Church calls upon people to repent of their sins and pray to God for deliverance from the pandemic, most people can only smile indulgently. But the Lord said in the Gospel: "Ask, and it will be given to you..." (Matthew 7:7). Now secular consciousness prevails not only among the masses but also in national elites, among whom ideas of globalization and cosmopolitanism are dominant. And it is precisely the elites who play a major role in building the society of the future, it is they who mainly determine what changes will be implemented in different countries to build a better and fairer world, from their point of view. And religions, especially Christianity, get in the way of the society they hope to build.
Archbishop José Horacio Gomez says the following about this: "An elite leadership class has risen in our countries that has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions or cultures. This group, which is in charge of corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments, wants to establish what we might call a global civilization, built on a consumer economy and guided by science, technology, humanitarian values, and technocratic ideas about organizing society."
Accordingly, religion is being pushed to the sidelines of both public life and every individual's consciousness. In many countries, religion has already been reduced to the level of ethnic or cultural exoticism, beautiful rituals viewed as an extraordinary theatrical spectacle or participated in as in a carnival procession. If religion claims to be something more than that to determine the behavior of people, their actions and deeds, then the modern world perceives this as an encroachment on its secular foundations.
Archbishop José Horacio Gómez said: "In your society and mine, the ‘space’ that the Church and believing Christians are permitted to occupy is shrinking. Church institutions and Christian-owned businesses are increasingly challenged and harassed. The same is true for Christians working in education, health care, government, and other sectors. Holding certain Christian beliefs is said to be a threat to the freedoms, and even to the safety, of other groups in our societies."
The archbishop claims that such tendencies have existed in Western society for a very long time. They have gradually developed and strengthened over recent years, but the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated them, giving them a major boost in the fight against Christianity.
America's new political religions
Contemporary Western social and racial justice movements, which have emerged in the US in the form of the BLM ("Black Lives Matter") movement, are identified by Archbishop José Horacio Gomez not as social or political concepts but as pseudo-religions. In particular, he says: "I believe the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs. With the breakdown of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the rise of secularism, political belief systems based on social justice or personal identity have come to fill the space that Christian belief and practice once occupied. Whatever we call these movements — ‘social justice’, ‘wokeness’, ‘identity politics’, ‘intersectionality’, ‘successor ideology’ — they claim to offer what religion provides. They provide people with an explanation for events and conditions in the world. They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community. Even more than that, like Christianity, these new movements tell their own ‘story of salvation’.’’
José Horacio Gomez briefly describes the Christian concept of salvation, which goes like this: We are created in the image of God and called to a blessed life in paradise, but the man sinned and found himself in this world full of sorrow, evil and injustice. The Lord Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross and resurrection, made it possible for the man to rejoin life in paradise by keeping the commandments and loving God and our neighbor.
The BLM lists Christianity as an oppressor and, therefore, it must be destroyed.
Modern pseudo-religions offer a different concept, which Archbishop José Horacio Gomez described as follows: “We cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin color or our position in society. We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society. We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.”
In other words, while Christianity sees the meaning of life in following Christ, the BLM movement and other pseudo-religions see this meaning in a constant struggle against oppressors. In this concept of constant struggle, Christianity is listed as an oppressor and, therefore, must be destroyed. We saw this in the USA, where BLM representatives have smashed Christian churches and burned the Bible.
There is no BLM movement in Ukraine, but we have a movement of nationalists who offer society a concept similar to American pseudo-religions. According to this concept, Russia, Putin, and Russians in general (and, even more broadly, Russian-speaking) people are to blame for all the troubles of Ukraine. To "restore justice", you need to fight them to the bitter end. At the same time, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is declared a Russian structure in Ukraine, an FSB agent, a "fifth column" and subject to destruction. All of the above statements are impossible to prove, they are simply proposed to be believed, which means that Ukrainian nationalism, similar to the BLM movement in the USA, can be defined as a pseudo-religion. The concept of "salvation" of this pseudo-religion is very simple and clear, it is easily implemented.
Supporters of nationalism, believing that the destruction of the UOC, the seizure of churches and the beating of believers will serve the good of Ukraine, do so without giving the slightest thought to the fact that the concept itself is absurd in its essence. In order to have a home, you need to build that home, not destroy your neighbor's home, let alone the fact that the UOC is not an FSB agent or a "fifth column". Not a single accusation of this kind has been proven in court. Nor has it even become the basis for proceedings in law enforcement agencies. If we look at the sphere of social ministry, we see that the UOC does much more for the people of Ukraine than all the religious organizations that call themselves patriotic put together.
Ukrainian nationalism like the BLM movement in the United States can be defined as a pseudo-religion.
What is to be done?
Answering this question, Archbishop José Horacio Gomez says platitudes, which, nevertheless, are the only right ones, namely, Christians must testify of Christ and trust in His will.
“We need to proclaim Jesus Christ. Boldly, creatively. We need to tell our story of salvation in a new way. With charity and confidence, without fear. This is the Church’s mission in every age and every cultural moment. <…> One last thought, my friends. And that is the reality of God’s providence. We need to hold onto this supernatural understanding because it is true: God’s loving hand still guides our lives and the course of nations,” says the archbishop.
Developing the thought of the Catholic archbishop and applying the proposed measures to Ukrainian realities, we can say the following. The secularization and dechristianization of Ukrainian society, as well as of humanity as a whole, cannot be stopped, it can only be slowed down. And for this, of course, it is necessary to do everything possible. For example, we need to oppose anti-Christian legislative changes in gender policy, LGBT rights, abortion, and so on. At the same time, we must realize that the times when Christianity was the state religion in many countries when it defined the principles of political and public life and people in their everyday life tried to follow the norms of Christian morality have already gone. And they seem to have gone irrevocably.
The times when Christianity defined the principles of political and social life when people tried to follow the norms of Christian morality in their everyday life have already gone. They seem to have gone irrevocably.
This means that Christians from the dominant social group are turning into one of the tolerant groups, with the prospect of becoming a persecuted group in the future. In other words, Christianity is returning to the first centuries of its existence, when it had not yet been proclaimed the state religion of the Roman Empire and then of the European states. Therefore, today it is extremely important to study the experience of the life of Christians in the first centuries, the ways of their existence in a hostile pagan environment and to learn from it. Of course, this work requires a long time and considerable effort from scholars, theologians, hierarchs and ordinary laymen.
I would like to draw attention to one distinguishing feature of the Christian Church of the early centuries. This feature was the cohesion of Christian communities and the mutual love and support of its members. The life of the first Christian communities was one of the main factors in the success of apostolic preaching. The Lord said: "By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Now in Ukraine, we see a surprising phenomenon – the communities that have to defend their churches from forced transfer to the OCU or build new churches to replace the seized ones are becoming much more united and friendly. In these congregations, the love for one another that Christ commanded, help and mutual support are most vividly manifested.
This love between members of the community and life according to the commandments is the most effective preaching of Christ in a world which is more and more slipping into neo-paganism. If we strive to live as Christ commanded, He Himself will reveal His plan more and more clearly for us: for each person, each community and our people as a whole. And in the end, He will rule everything according to His holy will.