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Archive for May 12th, 2020

Intro: In his essay, “The Decline of Religion”, Mr. Lewis begins by observing that in 1900, English university chapels were full but in 1946, the chapel attendance went to almost empty. He points out that prior to 1946 the simple reason for the change: compulsory chapel attendance was dropped, but this did not explain the precipitous decline. C. S. Lewis believed this,”…only revealed the situation which had long existed.” He explains the reason(s) for this sudden shift and the preexisting condition for the radical shift.

We have seen in our nation, when Christian religion was melded into society, culture and the family, attendance was high on Sunday, as Christian religion was considered almost obligatory for a sound family and nation (and it is!); but when the de facto obligation to “go to church” was seen as optional, people stopped going to church. We have spent much hang-wringing about it, and also hands in needed prayer over this and we still need to pray and think about this. There were obvious societal shifts occurring under our feet, if you will: a preexisting condition.

As I write, the governmental lock down because of covid/wuflu, is still going on. Virtual church has replaced actual and bodily Church. When we can go back to Church, how many will not? I think many will not go back again, and many churches and congregations will aggravate the rot by acquiescing once more to the flesh, this time, in a false virtual ‘church’.

The quote below gives C. S. Lewis’ cogent reasoning behind this change in England, and I think it is applicable to the United States, and please note : the rot in church and society has been more advanced in the UK and Europe than on our shores, but we are sadly catching up, or sadly we already have. Mr. Lewis gives his reason for this change in church attendance as actually good for the Church’s s clarity in the Lord’s battle for souls.

“…the `decline of religion’ becomes a very ambiguous phenomenon. One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the `World’, was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability. Hence a social pressure, like the withdrawal of the compulsion, did not create a new situation. The new freedom first allowed accurate observations to be made. When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered. It should be added that this new freedom was partly caused by the very conditions which it revealed. If the various anti-clerical and anti-theistic forces at work in the nineteenth century had had to attack a solid phalanx of radical Christians, the story might have been different. But mere `religion’, ‘morality tinged with emotion’, `what a man does with his solitude’, `the religion of all good men’ has little power of resistance. It is not good at saying No.

The decline of `religion’, thus understood, seems to me in some ways a blessing. At the very worst it makes the issue clear. To the modern undergraduate (in college) Christianity is, at least, one of the intellectual options. It is, so to speak, on the agenda: it can be discussed, and a conversion may follow. I can remember times when this was much more difficult. `Religion’ (as distinct from Christianity) was too vague to be discussed (‘too sacred to be lightly mentioned’) and so mixed up with sentiment and good form as to be one of the embarrassing subjects. If it had to be spoken of, it was spoken of in a hushed, medical voice. Something of the shame of the Cross is, and ought to be, irremovable. But the merely social and sentimental embarrassment is gone. The fog of `religion’ has lifted; the positions and numbers of both armies can be observed; and real shooting is now possible.

The decline of `religion’ is no doubt a bad thing for the `World’. By it all the things that made England a fairly happy country are, I suppose, endangered: the comparative purity of her public life, the comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of some mutual respect and kindness between political opponents. But I am not clear that it makes conversions to Christianity rarer or more difficult: rather the reverse. It makes the choice more unescapable. When the Round Table is broken every man must follow either Galahad or Mordred*: middle things are gone.

Mr. Lewis ends his essay in an ominous and yet challenging way:

“Neither our armor nor our enemies’ is yet engaged. Combatants always tend to imagine that the war is further on than it really is.”

(Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock . Harper One. Kindle Edition; God in the Dock, Print Edition, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pages 239-240)

*Galahad was the Knight of Purity and goodness, whereas Mordred was cunning and evil and plotted to undo King Arthur.

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