It is a challenging time to be a Christian. A real Christian, I mean, not one who has comfortably succumbed to the Zeitgeist. The vestiges of Christian culture seem visibly to shrink by the year, and remaining faithful to God and his word when the whole of culture is pulling in the opposite direction can begin to take its toll. Some, I am sure, will thrive on the thrill of standing up and standing out for Christ. Others (or perhaps the same people at different times) will feel the force in secular objections to Christian belief and sense their resolve weakening. Most will experience the temptations of worldly ways of living and the pressure to conform for the sake of getting on and fitting in. Faithful witness will be hard-won.
The great idols of our age are sex and autonomy, often combined. The most sacred thing in our culture is the freedom to define your own sense of who you are and to live it out, especially in the area of sex and sexuality, though also in others such as race and culture. Even our children at school are invited to consider what their sexual preferences are, what sex they think they are, and to live in accordance with those self-conceptions. Ethnic and religious minorities, and other people regarded as historically oppressed, such as women, are encouraged to live according to their own values and beliefs, their own conception of what is right and wrong for them. Meanwhile those regarded as historically dominant and the oppressor – typically some combination of Christian, white and male – are required to lay down their claims and ‘get out of the new road if you can’t lend your hand’, as Bob Dylan memorably put it. Any concerns or objections about this agenda of ‘liberation’ for those deemed oppressed – even concerns grounded in empirical evidence and rational argument – are regarded as evidence of bigotry and hatred and are responded to with the full force of social condemnation and, often, law. It is a one-sided liberation, then: freedom for groups deemed historically oppressed or disadvantaged, authoritarian strictures for those deemed to be privileged and to have contributed to the oppression and disadvantage.
This essentially Marxist narrative of oppressor and oppressed is aided and abetted in its war against biblical Christianity by a version of liberalism which seeks neutrality in social and political affairs. It is a neutrality understood in terms of a studied scepticism towards all forms of religion and morality, and most commonly manifesting as a militant secularism and amoral permissiveness.
Caught between these hostile ideologies, orthodox biblical Christianity, along with the traditional moral beliefs that go with it, is subjected to almost constant derision and marginalisation in public life. Christian opposition to abortion, for instance, upheld for centuries on the perfectly sound grounds that there is no empirical or scientific difference between a human being before and after birth, is now dismissed as outdated religious nonsense opposed to the autonomy of women to choose for themselves whether to have a baby. Christian opposition to radical gender theory, on the what-should-be uncontentious grounds that human beings are by nature (that is, biologically) male or female, is likewise treated as the bleatings of bigots. Again, Christian opposition to same-sex marriage and parenting, on the understandable basis that marriage is fundamentally about the coming together of the sexes for the purposes of starting a family, and that children need a (and really their) mother and father, is regarded as the height of benighted prejudice.
Not only are such rational Christian arguments rejected in the public sphere, but appeals to religious freedom and freedom of expression and association to protect Christian organisations and individuals from coercion in respect of their beliefs are rejected as covers for prejudice, as little more than special pleading for bigotry. The knives of those who fashion themselves progressive are out for any not fully on board with their latest ideas.
What binds all this together is relativism. The Western world, when it abandoned Christianity as its public philosophy over the course of the 20th century, replaced it with a postmodern ideology of relativism – relative to the individual and to the individual’s subjective sense of identity and happiness. This relativism was defined against what were held to be the dominant forces of the day, principally the Christian religion, men, and the white European race. Christianity, men and ‘whiteness’ have thus been cast as the enemy, and not only excluded from the postmodern scheme of ‘equality and diversity’ but actively attacked by it. All identities are acceptable in the new ‘inclusive’ vision – except those of the putative oppressor. This rotten source has spewed forth all the toxic nonsense of identity politics, multiculturalism and diversity quotas that have been progressively poisoning our society and culture these past several decades. We find it in the BBC and media, in government and the judiciary, in education and the universities, in the corporate world, in the Labour Party, in the not-so-Conservative Party, and even in the churches – it has marched through the institutions of the West and taken hold of them all.
To be a Christian today – and even more, a male Christian of European descent – is to inhabit this deeply unfriendly cultural reality. Nevertheless, the response of Christians must be not to assert the supremacy of Christianity (though we do of course think it is true, and that society does better when it acknowledges God and the Gospel), of men (though men will always have an essential role in leading their families and society), or of Europeans (though European countries should always remain the home countries of the European peoples). But it is to commit ourselves to be faithful to God’s call, his word and his ways, in our lives, both private and public, and to bear the cost, whatever it is, even while we benefit from its blessings. In public this will primarily involve continuing to advance the cause of human freedom and thriving under God.
Ultimately, this means remembering and reminding one another that God is there, and living as though He is, not as though He is not. He made the world and everything in it, and He created humankind and set down the patterns for our lives to follow if they are to go well and do right by Him and one another and be free. In these uncertain times, it is unchanging truths like these that Christians need to hold on to if we are to stand above the cultural chaos and confusion that surrounds us and overcome it, not be overcome.