Do any of us know what we believe in?
Perhaps all writers ought to be encouraged to be able to express their ideas in smaller and shorter books. Richard Coch and Chris Smith achieve both clarity and brevity in their book Suicide of the West (Continuum, 2006).
A hundred years ago most Westerners felt tremendous pride and confidence in their civilisation. They knew what it stood for and they believed in it. Today that sense has gone. Coch and Smith identify six key pillars of Western civilisation: Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, liberalism and individualism. They show how these ideas have suffered a century of sustained attack from within and no longer inspire or unite the west, making a drift towards collective suicide appear almost inevitable.
They carefully examine each of these six factors and show that they have great resilience. They argue, convincingly, that much of today’s hostility to the ideas –is based on fashionable concepts which a great deal of scientific evidence rebuts. It is their theory that a more sophisticated synthesis of the six ideas could provide a way for the west to recover its nerve and integrity.
In this pocket-sized book horizons really are expanded and I was particularly interested to read chapter 2 about Christianity where the authors argue that nothing is more fundamental to the successes, excesses and failures of the West than Christianity. They describe the origins and development of Christianity with some skill, highlighting some of the core beliefs of this religion. They also show that Christianity is, in the end, a religion that has action implications for the believer.
1. Take Responsibility.
2. Use Christ’s power to change.
3. Help the under-dog.
4. Save the dammed.
Reflect on this conclusion and its implications for those who struggle to keep Christianity alive with any sense of truth or integrity:
“God is doing better than the Churches.
The liberating spirit of early Christianity; its invention of the inner self; its stress on individualism, rejection of authority and love in personal relationships; its demands for compassion and equality for the downtrodden; and its promotion of self-discipline and self-improvement, have had a determining influence on the whole of the West, making it not just more successful than other civilisations, but also, at least to western judgment, far more pleasing. Christianity has burst the banks of the church, even of all religion. A sense of responsibility derived from thinking for oneself, and emerging from one’s struggles in life, is likely to be deeper than one derived from obedience to authority, and , what ever one’s beliefs, be closer to the spirit of Jesus” (page 48).
I wonder what all this church-going means for an individual and their lives and actions? I wonder what this radical message might say to those within the church who seem set on destructive internal conflict?