So, is Christianity 'over'?
There are days, I confess, when the news gets me down. But I hope that I’ll never be so discouraged that I’d say this:
I think we have to accept the fact that Christianity—in the sense of Christianity as the common religion, with a mass following—is over.
Yet those words were uttered this week by a Catholic archbishop!
Now surely Archbishop Coleridge does not believe that Christianity is a spent force, doomed to pass into the dusty archives of past history. No doubt what he intended to say was that we can no longer take it for granted that Christianity commands at least the nominal assent of a majority. He probably intended to convey the hard truth that we may face a long eclipse of Christian influence in society.
Unfortunately, the archbishop’s actual statement allows for a more sinister interpretation. What he actually said, stripped of the qualifying phrase, was that “we have to accept that Christianity… is over.”
No, we don’t. We can’t. A Christian will never accept that “fact.”
I don’t mean to make too much of what was, I trust, nothing more than an unfortunate turn of phrase on the part of an Australian archbishop. But I am reminded of a pointed comment by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, analyzing another unfortunate quote attributed to a prominent prelate. It was, Father Neuhaus conceded, undoubtedly just a slip of the tongue. “But that slip of the tongue,” he continued, “betrayed a slip of the mind. And that slip of the mind, I’m afraid, betrayed a slip of the soul.”*
On this earth, the influence of Christianity waxes and wanes; history teaches us that much. Christians can lose battles; the Church can be persecuted; entire nations can be lost to the faith—temporarily. But even when it is preserved by a despised minority, still the faith lives. We know, with a confidence nourished by hope, that at the end of time the world will belong to Jesus Christ. The idea that “Christianity…is over” should be entirely alien; those words should never—not even accidentally—come out of our mouths.
(*Father Neuhaus made this remark years ago, and I am quoting from memory. But his words were so striking, I feel certain that the quote is reasonably accurate.)
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