One of the things to note in Will’s post of Longfellow’s poem is the nearly-absent-today word: “Christendom.” A word whose decline began either in 1054, with the Great Schism, or 1517, on Reformation Day. That Christendom was no more was the great fear and promise that Nietzsche foresaw, and he predicted great strife over the proper replacement for it. I used to think of the period from 1914-1945 as the new 30 years’ war, when the two major forms of Protestantism would battle and destroy each other, having abandoned their roots in Christian thinking; Belloc wrote this exact thought years before I was born. To me, the tragedy is that the Protestant struggle for European domination also destroyed the great Catholic kingdoms of Italy and Austria-Hungary, the conservative Islamic empire of Turkey, and the Orthodox empire in Russia, along with murdering many millions of Christians.
I would write more about this, but I do not have to. I came across The Arch Druid, a man opposed to the secular nature of the age and an advocate of restoration of faith in Druid beliefs. While we do hope and pray for his soul, we accept that, as a religious person opposed to the Christian anti-religion of progress, he is much more ally than enemy. It does not hurt that he writes clearly, calmly, and with a wide-ranging intelligence and reading list.
Take, for one, the intro to his series on the collapse of the religion of “progress.” Some excerpts:
In Nietzsche’s time, the Christian religion was central to European culture in a way that’s almost unthinkable from today’s perspective. … The core concepts that undergirded every dimension of European thought and behavior came straight out of Christianity. … It’s indicative of the tenor of the times that even those thinkers who tried to reject Christianity usually copied it right down to the fine details. Thus the atheist philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a well known figure in his day though almost entirely forgotten now, ended up launching a “Religion of Humanity” with a holy trinity of Humanity, the Earth, and Destiny, a calendar of secular saints’ days, and scores of other borrowings from the faith he thought he was abandoning. … (L)ess radical neighbors went about their lives in the serene conviction that the assumptions their culture had inherited from its Christian roots were eternally valid. … The only difficulty this posed that a large and rapidly growing fraction of 19th-century Europeans no longer believed the core tenets of the faith that structured their lives and their thinking. It never occurred to most of them to question the value of Christian ethics, the social role of Christian institutions, or the sense of purpose and value they and their society had long derived from Christianity.In his 1793 book Religion Within The Limits of Bare Reason, Kant argued that the essence of religion—in fact, the only part of it that had real value—was leading a virtuous life, and everything else was superstition and delusion. … The triumph of Kant’s redefinition of religion was all but total in Protestant denominations, up until the rise of fundamentalism at the beginning of the 20th century, and left lasting traces on the leftward end of Catholicism as well. To this day, if you pick an American church at random on a Sunday morning and go inside to listen to the sermon, your chances of hearing an exhortation to live a virtuous life, without reference to any other dimension of religion, are rather better than one in two. The fact remains that Kant’s reinterpretation has almost nothing in common with historic Christianity. To borrow a phrase from a later era of crisis, Kant apparently felt that he had to destroy Christianity in order to save it, but the destruction was considerably more effective than the salvation turned out to be.…A strong case can therefore be made that Nietzsche got the right answer, but was asking the wrong question. He grasped that the collapse of Christian faith in European society meant the end of the entire structure of meanings and values that had God as its first postulate, but thought that the only possible aftermath of that collapse was a collective plunge into the heart of chaos, where humanity would be forced to come to terms with the nonexistence of objective values, and would finally take responsibility for their own role in projecting values on a fundamentally meaningless cosmos; the question that consumed him was how this could be done. A great many other people in his time saw the same possibility, but rejected it on the grounds that such a cosmos was unfit for human habitation. Their question, the question that has shaped the intellectual and cultural life of the western world for several centuries now, is how to find some other first postulate for meaning and value in the absence of faith in the Christian God. …The surrogate God that western civilization embraced, tentatively in the 19th century and with increasing conviction and passion in the 20th, was progress. … (emphasis added)Progress makes a poor substitute for a deity, not least because its supposed omnipotence and benevolence are becoming increasingly hard to take on faith just now. There’s every reason to think that in the years immediately before us, that difficulty is going to become impossible to ignore—and the same shattering crisis of meaning and value that the religion of progress was meant to solve will be back, adding its burden to the other pressures of our time.