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The Shape of Things to Come
These “forerunners” of the Antichrist also direct that world-wide process which the Apostle St. Paul called “apostasy” (II Thess. 2:3). The essence of this process is Christian mankind’s ever greater departure from the genuine, uncorrupted teaching of the Gospel and the replacement of the Gospel commands with other ideals. The destructive nature of these ideals proposed to mankind by the Antichrist’s forerunners is that they sometimes seem acceptable for Christians, compatible with Christianity, while in reality they are profoundly opposed to it…
– Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
A Post-Christian World
It is beyond doubt that the modern world has decisively rejected Christianity. Although billions continue to name themselves as Christians, it is undeniable that the zeitgeist, the “spirit of the times,” is deeply and bitterly hostile towards the Christian faith. For a time it was perhaps possible to believe that the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War was a signal of the triumph of Christianity over atheism, but the progression of events since that time has shattered any such possibility and led inescapably to the conclusion that Solzhenitsyn was, as ever, right in his famous Harvard address: the war between East and West was far less terrifying than the similarity of the disease which had infected both. That disease is the worship of man.
It is very much worth quoting him at length on the subject:
There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen. Indeed, sometimes the warnings are quite explicit and concrete. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.
But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?
How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing steadily in accordance with its proclaimed social intentions, hand in hand with a dazzling progress in technology. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.
…The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man.
…And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims.
Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.
…I am not examining the case of a disaster brought on by a world war and the changes which it would produce in society. But as long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we must lead an everyday life. Yet there is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness.
The profundity of this analysis of the condition of the modern world can scarcely be overstated. And yet even so it was nevertheless only an analysis, and not a prophecy. Solzhenitsyn concluded his famous address with the words: “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.”
If only it were so.
It is all too common for Christians to look upon the devil merely as the Enemy, the Adversary. But far more sinister is the title given to him by St. Augustine: Simius Dei, “the Ape of God.” Satan seeks not only to kill and to destroy the sheep of God, but also to steal them.
Solzhenitsyn looked on the depths to which humanity had sunk at the close of the twentieth century, and in truth they were such that he can be pardoned for thinking that there was nowhere further to sink. It is easy for us, too, to believe that the growing state of spiritual bankruptcy and total moral degradation which we see around us is the ultimate goal of the devil for mankind.
But the truth is that the devil has been working for centuries to create a spiritual void in the heart of man not only to expel God, but also to fill it with something else. He demands not only that we refuse to worship God, but that we also bow down to him instead.
Scientific materialism is not the ultimate enemy of Christianity, and it is not scientific materialism that we see around us at the heart of modernity today. It had its role to play, to be sure, in the progress of the Apostasy. It was necessary to destroy the old foundations, but scientific materialism was only ever intended to be one of the tools used to destroy those foundations. It was never meant to replace them itself. The devil is not only in the business of destroying Christianity. He is also in the business of building Antichristianity, his own religion, the religion of the Antichrist.
The Imitation of Christianity
And this Antichristianity is indeed the zeitgeist, the “spirit of the times” which we see beginning to solidify all around us. Though it despises Christianity, it cannot help but imitate it as well. The devil is the ape of God, the Antichrist is the ape of Christ, and Antichristianity is the ape of Christianity.
What are the most universal and unquestioned ideals, beliefs, and values held by the modern world? They are, without exception, “improvements” made upon the Christianity.
Tolerance is simply a debasement of the supreme Christian virtue of love. Love means to embrace all people despite their sins, but tolerance means to embrace all people for the sake of their sins, which are now held to be not sins but virtues. And this is made so much the worse because the reason that sin must be called virtue, the reason that people must be loved for their sins, is because the devil has so thoroughly convinced people that they are their sins. And therefore if sin is not blessed, then I can never be blessed. If sin is not virtue, then I can never be virtuous. And if sin is not loved, then I can never be loved. It is one of the most cunning and most destructive of all the lies that the devil ever told.
Freedom has, in Newspeak, come to mean the precise opposite of actual freedom, one of the greatest gifts given by God to man. True freedom, the freedom embodied by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, is the ability to choose the good, in all circumstances and even despite oneself. But the modern freedom is nothing other than the abject enslavement of the will to that cruelest of all masters: Desire.
Authenticity is the wholesale replacement of the concept of Virtue with the principle of untrammeled gratification of that same Desire. Being “true to oneself” replaces all struggle to improve oneself, and indeed removes any reference to any good higher than oneself.
Equality masquerades as Humility but is in fact nothing but Pride. The principle of total equality is the principle that I do not need to bow down before anyone or anything, or even acknowledge that there is anyone or anything out there that is in any way greater than myself.
Progress is simply a word for blind faith in a Providence that somehow exists without any reference to God. To believe in Progress is far stranger even than to believe in the idea that the universe sprang into existence for no reason whatsoever: it is to believe in the idea that the universe sprang into existence for no reason whatsoever, and that it is also somehow destined to become continually better, also for no reason whatsoever and moreover without any frame of reference by which we are to know what “better” even means. It should be noted that this mythology (for surely such a belief system cannot be called anything else) provides the alluring advantage of a deity which promises everything, and yet apparently demands nothing in return.
The Shape of Things to Come
I could continue to add to this list, and indeed in the future I intend to both add to it and also to expand upon each individual topic in much greater detail. But for now I wish only to point out three extremely important characteristics shared by all these expressions of modernity. The first is that, in their outward aspects, every single one of these virtues and ideals seems to be totally sympathetic with Christianity. The second is that in each case, man has replaced God. The third is that every single one of them is concerned solely with this world.
Because what is fundamentally happening today is the same thing that happened at the Tower of Babel: we are trying to build Paradise, rather than return to it.
That is what is so dangerous about Antichristianity. It is so easy to mistake it for the real thing, because it imitates the beauty and goodness of Christianity and promises a world so similar to the one we ourselves seek. It is, as Fr. Seraphim (Rose) once wrote, the most clever substitute for Christianity ever devised.
The spiritual void at the heart of a world wracked by scientific materialism, globalism, and soulless consumerism is crying out to be filled. But the world has already been vaccinated against Christianity: it has been exposed to a debased and weakened form of it, and so it has rejected it, and now turns to something new. This new religion has not yet taken on its final form. But we can see it beginning to grow and take shape.
I think one of the main reasons why Christians have generally been so unsuccessful in what has often been termed “the culture wars” is that we do not understand that we are competing against another religion. And we do not understand that people are converting to it very often for fundamentally moral and aesthetic reasons. Absurd though it may seem to us, this new religion, Antichristianity, appears to many to offer a more beautiful view of life and a more compelling moral framework than our own. Our response has been woefully misdirected in that it has chiefly consisted in attacking (real, but misunderstood) error, rather than in attempting to purify the witness of our own lives and our teachings, so that the goodness and beauty of Christ can more clearly be seen.