The Demise of Western Civilization – a historical perspective

How did the United States get to the point where murderous attacks against students in schools have become common? Too many of these horrific events have occurred in the past decade. Everyone is asking: “Why is this happening?” The answer is not simple, but may I suggest to you it has a lot to do with our history.

History teaches us so much about who we are today, and after reading a history book on Western Civilization’s culture during the past 500 years, it’s evident that our society is decadent. Let’s see how we’ve gotten to this point of decadence — an excessive indulgence and moral decay.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses challenged the authority of the Catholic Church in the 1500s, and rightly so. The Church had become too powerful, and this led to corruption. Luther’s “protests” resulted in throwing off old church rules that oppressed, as citizens eagerly absorbed the revelatory information. The printing press spread the news into the hands of the people much faster than Luther could have imagined. This led to many different sects of religious thought, splintering the once universal Church.

Now instead of a church-led society, the monarch took more authority and nationalism spread. Eventually, common man saw the monarchy as being too much like the Church in its overarching control. Kings didn’t have much of a desire to relate to their constituents, and lived luxurious lives while the regular folk were often impoverished. After some time, this contributed to the formation of democracies.

Establishing democracies in Western Civilization gave people a chance to pursue what they believed to be right, and this was largely led by Puritans in the United States. The preference of the individual became highly valued. Some prized themselves over community. Instead of finding honor in contributing to the world around them, many sought after individual gain, not always considering the effect that their actions may have on those around them. This played out in many ways.

In the mid 1600s, a shift occurred from religion as the establisher of truth, to science as the truth tellers in the modern era. Critical of the church, rational thinkers used reasoning over the soul (heart).

These natural philosophers began to discover that nature was regular or uniform, something testable and observable. They made great advances in mathematics and physics. They focused on the immediate, and tended to disregard the eternal. Scientism, or the belief that science would ultimately answer all questions, became a type of “new religion.”

This reduced life to parts, calculations, methods, criticisms, and experimentation. This is a form of ‘abstraction’, which in due course, pointed to lawlessness and meaninglessness. Truth was no longer viewed as static. There was no apparent eternal laws. If there is no meaning in life, and no apparent lawgiver, then to whom are we ultimately accountable?

Truth is viewed as no longer static. Share on X

When Darwin published his Origin of Species, expanding the idea of Evolution, there is no way he could have foreseen how his theory would be applied by some in what is called “Social Darwinism.”

Social Darwinism played out in wars – could we “engineer” better societies?

After the devastation of World War I, a sense of lawlessness ensued and violence erupted in communities more frequently. Modernity, with all its promises to solve the world’s problems, failed. Science didn’t stop the senseless loss of life. Then World War II began. Atrocities never before committed to the extent Hitler did horrified people. Had the world gone mad?

Many began to accept the absurd. It was expressed in artwork in the 1900s through abstraction, and a loss of excellence. Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.” People began to celebrate the ordinary, mediocre and average.

Today there is a deep desire to abandon rules in personal lifestyles, as well. People want to be free to “love who they wish,” pleasure seeking is loudly applauded, and is profitable, for example, for companies producing pornography (it’s a multibillion dollar industry). The sex-slave trade is probably the worst example of a society gone decade—this industry dehumanizes people as “objects.” There is a rise in violence, as prisons are at capacity. We’re spending ourselves silly as indebtedness (personal and governmental) is at an all-time high. We also have really bad examples of art. The latest being Lady Gaga’s recent concert where she had a someone vomit on her as an expression of so-called “art.” People seem bored with “life as usual,” and that’s why news and entertainment is often based on extremes: Extreme Makeover, Survivor, superhero movies, Biggest Loser, etc.

It doesn’t take much to see that we’re headed in a disturbing direction. There is an absence of hope, the proliferation of violence and perversion, unsustainable practices affecting limited resources, and no longer an adherence to a common moral objective.

A poster from a movie made called “Decadence.”

How can we survive this demise? We need to maintain a Biblical worldview despite the pressures around us, and offer hope through Jesus Christ to those who seek truth. With faith in God, hope lives. And don’t forget the power of your prayers—God has called His faithful to partner with Him in this, and with God, all things are possible.


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