A little while ago I posed the question:
“In the next 20 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge faced by the Coptic Orthodox Church?”
Your comments have been most interesting, as have your votes on the poll (still open at:
Well, here’s my 2 cents’ worth…
I have little doubt that each of those issues I mentioned in the blog will pose a challenge that will need to be met by the Church in coming decades. Some will be more dangerous than others, but the most serious one to my mind; the one that threatens to destroy the very fabric and meaning of the Church is the challenge of Atheism.
For the last 1,700 years, the Christian Church of Alexandria has lived in a society that believed in God in some form or other. From the Edict of Milan in 313AD, when the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal and brought an end to the persecution of Christians by pagans; through the post-Chalcedonian period (451-642AD) when Chalcedonian Christians ruled Egypt; and into the Islamic period where the Muslim rulers and eventually the majority Muslim population still worshipped the Muslim Allah, we have always lived in a society that has taken deity for granted.
At the dawn of the 21st century, however, we face a situation that presents unique challenges. What is new is that the whole mindset of Western society is changing. I have written before on WHY atheism is irrational, but here I would like to focus on the subtle effects that the spread of atheism is beginning to have on the society around us.
Firstly, there is no fear of God, nor love of God to impose limits to human behaviour. If there is no objective moral law, no Lawgiver to obey, then life becomes a free-for-all. Societies without faith will obey the law of the land, but only through self-interest; so long as it is good for them or for those close to them. But what stops the rogue individual from “playing the system”? Why not cheat or steal for personal gain, even if it means that others lose? It makes perfect logical sense in an atheistic society to steal $10 from a 100,000 people. Each of the victims suffers little harm but I become a millionaire! Of course, if everybody thought like that society would collapse, but there is no MORAL reason not to do it. The question only becomes “can I get away with it?” not “Is this right?”
Selfishness is attractive. Even today we continue to fight against materialism among our Church flock. And yet deep down, I think most Christians acknowledge that the Christian faith is, in the words of its Founder, “not of this world”. Thus do we fast and keep vigil and give away our hard earned money to those less fortunate than we are. Thus do we share our blessings with one another and contribute to the community both within and without Church. But then you always have that little devil whispering in your ear … enjoy yourself … forget about anyone else … you are not responsible … The day that selfishness infiltrates the Church it will become a terminal case, for love is the heart of the Church, but selfishness is love’s cardiac arrest.
Where there is no God, selfishness becomes the rule. Those who adhere to an atheistic evolutionary origin of humanity state this clearly. “Survival of the Fittest” is guiding principle of evolutionary theory. Each individual lives in order to survive and reproduce copies of itself – that is the driving force behind life. An interesting scientific concept, but what if it becomes a philosophy of moral life? Although some have questioned it, it seems to me that this was very much the philosophy underlying the greatest human catastrophes of modern history.
Adolf Hitler’s genocide of the Jews was publicly backed by the propaganda of the superior Aryan race: the fittest deserve to survive, the unfit should die. Today, rational western minds fight for the right to kill the disabled foetus (abortion) and the sick adult (euthanasia). These are a burden on society, so why should they drag the species down and consume resources that fitter individuals must give up? Why should we waste our time on them? We seem to be heading for what the Catholic Pope John Paul II aptly called the “Culture of Death”.
Can you see how different this mindset is to that of Christ? For the Christian, life is not about survival, it is about sacrifice; not selfishness, but selflessness; not utility, but love. Can Christians maintain the Christian mindset while engaging in a secular society that is moving farther and farther away from that way of thinking?
For the moment, the gap is not so great, for western societies like Australia were founded on deeply ingrained Christian ideals. Today’s critics of Christianity usually fail to acknowledge this debt. But that is slowly changing. If Christian faith is thrown out, how long will Christian ideals and values hold on without the faith to sustain them?
Having said all of that, if history has taught us anything it is that tomorrow is always full of surprises. Who would have predicted the incredible changes that computers have wrought in our lives a hundred years ago? Perhaps there is some other challenge lying undetected and waiting to jump out and change the rules.
And so, with even our best efforts to be prepared, we find that in the end, we have no other course but to continue to throw ourselves upon the mercy and care of our loving Lord from day to day.