Each month we invite a guest reviewer to suggest and review a book for us. The simple objective is that each book should encourage the reader in their walk with Christ.
Gerard McKeown is an Irishmen and retired teacher. He lives in Kilmacolm with his wife Ros. Gerard, a Licensed Lay Minister is a member of the Heartland Episcopal Churches Ministry Team.
How the West Really Lost God
Author: Mary Eberstadt
Publ: Templeton Press. 2014
Price £12.64 on Amazon
How the West Really Lost God has elicited a great deal of controversial debate. The author has responded to the challenge laid down by Callum Brown in his 2001 book, The Death of Christian Britain: “It is in my lifetime that the people have forsaken formal Christian religion, and the churches have entered seemingly terminal decline. It matters that we understand why.”
Eberstadt’s response is nothing if not robust. She contends that the decline of church membership and attendance is the result of “assisted religious suicide” on the part of the churches themselves.
Eberstadt argues that the Church from the 1960s onward, in the name of a ‘kinder’, more inclusive brand of Christianity, has in large part gone along with the decline of the traditional family – she uses the word, ‘neglect’. It has done so by relaxing its teaching on divorce, contraception, by its practical acceptance of abortion-on-demand and by embracing active homosexuality. In adopting what came to be called “Christianity-lite”, the church itself has unwittingly encouraged people to see the values and disciplines within traditional or conservative Christianity as belonging to the “the bastions of respectability” and that the best Christianity was to be found outside the churches. The traditional family could never have thrived in a culture that has so signally failed to maintain the disciplines needed to engender and foster families. It was those very same families who week by week had filled the pews of the churches.
Eberstadt presents the relationship between strong traditional families and healthy church membership as a double helix. That helix now lies broken: when the Christian story is told through the prism of a Holy Family, how can that story make sense to those whose family life is so fractured that they have come to regard the traditional biological family with hostility; the moral codes on which it depends, with criticism and in many cases, vituperation and the church’s story with either derision or are left feeling excluded. Europe and indeed the USA have become places where right and wrong are no longer understood and a church that dares to uphold the difference will be deeply resented.
However, all is not gloom and doom: the cost to the state in terms of welfare provision will eventually spark a renewed debate about the responsibility of the individual regarding family life. Having throughout its long history seen itself as the repository of truth, being immune from the importuning of its surroundings, the Christian faith has always managed to draw people out of the pagan world; indeed, it has found no shortage of converts, martyrs and other witnesses by saying no to whatever was inimical to family life: infanticide, abortion and non-marital sex. Its history is the history of an institution that bolstered families and in turn saw families bolstered by that faith, support the Church in their turn.
Many will reject Eberstadt’s position but How the West Really Lost God remains a highly readable, deeply provocative book, totally free of assertion, thoroughly evidence based throughout. I discovered the book in the hands of someone reading it on a railway platform - glimpsed from my seat as my train pulled out of Alton Railway Station. She was completely oblivious to all that was going on about her as she turned the pages. I bought a copy within 30 minutes of my arrival in London and have since read it twice! I challenge anyone who gets a copy not to be similarly enthralled.