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Christianity is no longer the soul of public life: that’s why anarchy broke out last week

I felt depressed at the scenes on our streets, but not actually surprised

By on Monday, 15 August 2011

A boy stares at the aftermath of the riot in Tottenham (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)

A boy stares at the aftermath of the riot in Tottenham (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)

My blog about World Youth Day earlier this week received a mixed postbag. Some poured scorn on the event, others’ testified that their lives had been changed for the better by attending it. Like Pope Benedict, who has asked for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to be made available to the young people coming to Madrid and who himself plans to listen to Confessions when he is there, I continue to be hopeful of the good fruits that will come from WYD – reminding myself that hope is a supernatural virtue.

However, I am much less hopeful about the society I live in. Watching and reading the news this week I felt aghast and, like countless other people, I asked the question, “What is this country coming to?” Yet though very depressed at the scenes of anarchy on our streets, I am not surprised by them. More experienced journalists than myself – for example, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, Janet Daley of the Daily Telegraph and William Oddie nearer to home – have all been warning of the moral breakdown of our society for years. This is the result.

Everyone in the media has a different explanation for the roots of the recent riots in London and elsewhere. Actually, as Christians know, it is very simple. It is encapsulated in a quotation from a French cleric, Cardinal Pie, cited by Catholic broadcaster Michael Voris that I read this morning on The Vortex: “When Christianity is no longer the soul of public life, of public power, of public institutions, then Jesus Christ deals with this country in the manner he is there dealt with. He continues to give His grace and blessings to the individuals who serve Him, but He abandons the institutions, the powers which do not serve Him. And the institutions, the kings, the nations become like shifting sand in the desert; they fall away like the autumn leaves which are gone with the wind.”

If this sounds like an Old Testament prophetic warning, it is meant to. The lawlessness, violence and disrespect for property and authority that we have witnessed this week in our supposedly civilised country arises because most people have abandoned the Christian faith that once underpinned our laws and institutions, the behaviour expected in our schools and in family life.

On the Today programme last week, the teacher Katharine Birbalsingh said that if parents will no longer teach their children right and wrong, the schools will have to do it. This is a counsel of desperation. Journalist Allison Pearson in the Telegraph wrote accurately of the “divorce, dysfunction and dadlessness” that lies behind so much of youthful aggression and misbehaviour. Sir Paul Coleridge, senior family judge, has repeatedly stated the unfashionable truth that divorce is wrecking the lives of British children.

At the weekend I was looking after my six-year-old granddaughter and three-year-old grandson. From another room I heard the six-year-old say to her brother as politely as she could under the circumstances, “Please stop hitting me.” Running in to confront him I asked why he was behaving like this. “Because she won’t play my game!” he replied in an aggrieved voice. I made it clear there would be no treats that day if he didn’t apologise immediately. He did so reluctantly and civilised life was resumed. My point is that if his parents, his grandparents and his older siblings did not patiently and often correct him, this little chap could easily develop within a few years into one of the raging, anti-social and uncontrolled young men seen on our TV screens earlier this week.

Responsibility for children’s behaviour lies at home; neither the schools nor the state can repair what parents have failed to do. During the riots the acting police commissioner appealed to parents to find out where their children were. But where were the parents?

  • Paul Rodden

    The supposed ‘public theology’ think-tank ‘Theos’ (a hubristical title if there ever was one) has this as a discussion topic on its website.

    It’s topic-writer, who claims to be an atheist intern at Theos, says this is where the ‘church’ [AKA an invisible mob of heterodox Christians] has something to say.

    She, like Theos, is in deep denial of the fact that Protestantism is a collection of rival gangs with simmering resentment and factions where anarchy is prized over hierarchy, order, and obedience, and salvation of the individual in an ‘I’m alright, Jack’, mentality, is a norm.

    Theos will not accept it’s simply ‘more of the same’. In the past, the Director has repremanded me in discussions because ‘even’ the ‘faithful [AKA modernist/syncretist] Catholics’ who are researchers at Theos have found my posts offensive.

    I suppose there are more of us in England that watch ‘The Vortex’ than I thought :)

  • Mark Banks

    Francis, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, however, as indirectly inferred in the posting of one ‘Paul Rodden’ below, I rather feel that we need to stand up and proclaim the truth that it is not just the demise of ‘Christianity’ as the soul of public life in this country that is at the root of these problems, but more specifically the demise of Christianity as practised under the one true Holy Catholic Church.

    What we are seeing in our country in these days is surely the inevitable result of the abandonment of the Church as Christ intended her to be. The lone-parent families and absent fathers, as your article suggests, are the result of decades of divorce-on-demand: which itself is surely the culmination of the rejection of the sanctity of marriage by Henry VIII in his creation of his self-styled church almost five centuries ago. This is to say nothing of contraception, abortion, IVF etc which have had a far greater destructive effect upon our nation. Similarly, how are the consciences and minds of a nation to be formed with a true sensitivity to God’s will when that nation has collectively abandoned the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? How is sin in its most-virulent form to be defeated without the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

    That said, as Catholics who are indeed Christians living in this country, I strongly believe that the Lord is calling us, along with our Protestant brethren, to sort out our broken ways and unite as one; as He desires us to be. I don’t think for a minute that we should underestimate the true scandal that is the divided church. The disunity of us as Christians leads many souls astray, and in many cases we only have but ourselves to blame that this nation is not a Christian nation. We should pray for the love, wisdom and courage to bring about one united Church in this country; for when we do so many millions of our countrymen (and women) will come into the faith, and many other nations will follow where we have lead.

  • Anonymous

    Responsible parenting is obviously the most important factor in the formation of good citizens, but it does not have to involve a religious upbringing. Children do not need to believe in God, Satan, angels, devils, Heaven, Hell, miracles and resurrections etc in order to understand that assault, theft, and arson will not be accepted. Indeed, in an age of declining religious faith, it seems to me a precarious parental tactic to link morality with beliefs in the supernatural which can easily crumble away as a child grows older. My own moral upbringing, like that of millions who were not raised in a religion, stressed the importance of respecting other people and their property, and the result is that I, and millions of other non-religious people, do not riot.
    Rioting is a minority behaviour which has affected various types of society, for numerous reasons, throughout history, and it was certainly not unknown in the centuries when Christianity was at its strongest in Europe. In fact, religion has been a driving force in far bloodier mob behaviour than that we have just witnessed. Thousands were killed in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the perpetrators are not widely believed to have lacked a religious upbringing. Nor are most participants in all the wars that have blighted the history of what used to be Christendom. The decline of religion as a social influence in Europe has been most marked in the period since World War Two, but this period has been one of relative peace in most European countries. I am not, of course, attributing this peace to the decline of religion, but it supports my belief that the decline of religion does not produce violence. Conversely, a high degree of religious influence on society does not prevent it. Rwanda, for example, is a far more Christian society than Britain, but that did nothing to stop a genocide which the most aggressive British mobs have yet to match.
    For these reasons, the headline of this article makes no logical sense to me. It is true that Christianity is not the soul of public life in Britain, but the same is true across most of Western Europe, and most of Western Europe is not troubled by rioting. For that matter, most of Britain is not troubled by rioting either, regardless of nationwide secularisation. Christianity is not the soul of public life in either the village where I live or the nearest town, any more than it is in London, Birmingham and Manchester, but no shops have been burnt in my area, so we probably need to look at what is going wrong in certain major cities rather than at secular Britain as a whole. 
    Some riots have specific and easily discernible causes, such as an unpopular law, an injustice, or an economic crisis. When they do not, as in this recent case, people with various ideological agendas are quick to jump on their bandwagons and berate their ideological bêtes noires. Some well-meaning left-wingers do this when they automatically blame “deprivation” (though the rioters on my television screen looked neither under-nourished nor shabbily clothed). Francis Phillips does this when, with vigorous faith but no evidence at all, she points her accusing finger at secularisation. I think we should gather evidence, by examining the backgrounds and outlooks of those convicted, and THEN form our conclusions.    

  • Contemplative Catholic

    To blame Protestants for the mess we see in nations where Christianity was once a principle moral force is not only sending people on a rabbit trail, but increases the likelihood that the Church will continue to play an insipid and insignificant role in fixing the crises.

  • Paul Rodden

    Sorry if I was unclear, but I can’t see anything in my comment which blames Protestants or Protestantism. I thought I was pointing out that for Protestants to claim ‘the Church’ – as they mean it – had something to say, was a tad hypocritical.

    Have you been involved in the maelstrom which develops when a Protestant church splits or a town’s council of churches breaks down? There aren’t any bricks and matches, but there are plenty of Bible verses thrown about and sickly smiles plastered over the ugliness as if they’re the true sign of charity, but the underlying relativistic narcissism is the same…

    Maybe you’d say the same thing happens in Catholic circles? Well, yes there certainly are disagreements, but there’s also such a thing as dissent – a deviation from the Truth – which Protestantism simply cannot have, by definition, for each Protestant has their own truth or ‘revelation’ – just like the secularist.

  • Richmaffeobooks

    You were not at all unclear. Your first post, and your reply to my reply simply demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of Protestant Christians, and to continue accusing the root cause of the crises in the UK and elsewhere to Protestantism — as both your posts certainly imply to me — is to do a great disservice to the Body of Christ, of which (at least according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church) Protestants are a part. A house divided is still unable to stand against the onslaught of Satan’s work in the world. Unless we stop throwing mud at each other and seek ways to work with each other, the work of Christ will not be as effective as it certainly could be.

  • Richmaffeobooks

    Sorry, I meant to say, ” . . .to continue “ascribing” the root cause . . . ” (not “accusing.” Was a cut and paste error).

  • Honeybadger

    The title of this article sums it up perfectly. ’nuff said. 

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi CC,

    All I can say, then, is that my experience, when I was a Protestant, was clearly very different from yours – which is my point.

  • Richmaffeobooks

    Sure, many Christians have had different experiences in their respective churches. And so I hope we will all take that into account and learn to not “judge another man’s servant, for to his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  (Romans 14).  Peace to you and yours.

  • Paul Rodden

    “[W]hatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates
    or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of
    history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is
    this.”- John Henry Newman

    Also, many Protestants agree with my analysis themselves about the state Protestantism is now in. Their problem is where to go, and I’m discussing it with some of them I know.

    Protestantism has changed beyond recognition even from 2005 when you converted, especially in the past 5 or so years with the rise of the so-called ‘Emergent Church’. Read, for example, Kevin deYoung/Ted Kluck’s, “Why We’re Not Emergent”. Or the late Jim Packer’s,”Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-fashioned Way”.

    I’m very actively and intimately involved in ecumenism. As well as being on our local council of churches, my job is as PA to the pastor of an Evangelical Church, and he’s joked with me, more than once, that things are so bad, ‘one day I might become Catholic’, and he’s finding himself switched on by chunks of the Catechism and other material I’m giving him to read…

    Michael Voris, like myself, often get hit with the accusation of being ‘intolerant’ and ‘uncharitable’, as if charity is sentimentality. Denial and false irenicism aren’t charititable either, neither are they true ecumenism.

  • Anonymous

    That guy is a total nutjob, listen to some-one with half a brain instead.

  • Anonymous

    We had the death penalty when this country was much more Christian.
    We had the workhouse when this country was much more Christian.
    We had slavery when this country was much more Christian.
    We had riots when this country was much more Christian.

    Every generation thinks things are getting ‘worse’, but for the most part this is delusion. I hope as Catholics we can have the hope to know that society as a whole (which does have its problems), is on an upward moral trajectory. 

  • ms catholic state

    There is no centre now……no coherent philosophy which can hold Western society together.  Post-Christian secularism is a flimsy false mish mash…..that leads to a dead end (literally….look at the birthrates).  Unless Christ becomes the centre that holds our society together…..then it will gradually wither away…..and Islam will come to prominence.  At least they believe in God, so He will Bless them.

  • ms catholic state

    Things are getting worse…..and have been throughout the 20th century.  Just ask the victims of the Gulags and Concentration camps…..and the victims of abortion if such a thing were possible to do.  Civilisation is in complete meltdown.

    I’m not saying things were all rosy in the Christian past…..but it was sin and disobedience to God’s laws that led to terrible things then.  Today we have a complete rejection of the basics of life in a civilised society….and our society is on its last legs.  Even financially speaking….nothing is ‘progressing’….but collapsing.

  • ms catholic state

    Governments are bemoaning the bad behaviour…..but they have facilitated every step of the way the fatherlessness and family breakdown.  They are the ones that hand out free contraceptives to the unmarried and support divorce!  As you sow….so shall you reap.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t say I’m that skeptical.

  • paul smith uk