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Civilizational Self-Destruction: How the West Is Dying by Its Own Hands

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  • Wallace Henley Portrait
By Wallace Henley, Special to CP
December 20, 2013|6:06 am

"The West is losing faith in its own future," reads the headline in a recent report by Gideon Rachman appearing in Financial Times. (December 9, 2013) Only 33 percent of Americans believe their children will live better, and the pessimism about the future is even worse in Europe, according to a poll noted in Rachman's analysis.

The "decline in western living standards," says Rachman, is not "simply hype." Rachman cites Brookings Institution research that shows a 19 percent slide in average wages paid to America's men of working age when compared to 1970 and adjusted for inflation. Women have gained in average wages paid during same period, but the gap between rich and poor is getting wider.

Why is this happening? Why is the life draining out of the West?

Globalization is among the possible causes. In fact, while there is fading confidence in the West there is rising optimism in developing nations. But economic manifestations are not the reasons nations and civilizations die. It's much deeper than that. To paraphrase historian Arnold Toynbee after his study of 22 civilizations: Civilizations die from within, they die from self-inflicted wounds, they are not murdered.

"I do not believe that civilizations have to die because civilization is not an organism," said Toynbee. "It is a product of wills."

And therein lies the problem. A critical mass of the "wills" of Western Civilization – both institutionally and individually – have made the conscious decision to reject "life" – the worldview and values that inspired and energized societies with unprecedented freedom, creativity, and opportunity.

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The death of the West at its own hands follows the same pattern: the death of the spirit through the rejection of the founding Judeo-Christian worldview, the weakening and subsequent loss of psychic-soul energy, and at last the physical manifestation, which is what the Brookings Institution research on economic hope revealed.

Adam, for example, self-destructed, though it took a while for death to consume his whole being. Eden was a wholesome feast for the whole human being – spirit, soul, and body. There were many trees supplying physical fruit, but, said God, "from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17)

Genesis shows us Adam eating the forbidden fruit, but on that "day" he seems not to die. However, death began to spread within him.

One of the most haunting scenes in modern literature is Solzhenitsyn's depiction of the aging Stalin, alone in his Kremlin apartment. "That sensation of fading memory, of failing mind, of loneliness advancing on him like a paralysis, filled him with helpless terror. Death had already made its nest in him, and he refused to believe it." (Emphasis added.)

For Adam and Stalin, death was sown in the soil of the spirit. Adam did die in that "day" he ate the fruit: his spirit died to God, died to God's Kingdom, died to God's paradise.

In his youth, Stalin had been a seminarian, but ultimately he concluded there is no God, and the man who once aspired to be a priest became master of a regime promoting official state atheism. Like Adam, death advanced in him, moving from his spirit into his psyche – his soul – the region of thought, emotion, and choice.

Ultimately death catches up with the body.

Heart stops.
Blood-flow halts.
Brain function ceases.

The spirit of Western Civilization was formed and empowered by the spirit of Judeo-Christian revelation. That rich life flooded into the soul of the West, sparking its philosophy, literature, science, and inspiring its emotional delight with music and art we now call "classics," and ennobling the will to reach higher and progress farther. The life-flow produced a physical vibrancy that is still magnetic: the dream still "makes illegal immigrants risk their lives" to get into the U.S. or Europe, and "the lure of the West remains intense," writes Rachman.

This has happened throughout history, of course. Biblical Israel is for many the prime example. The nation moved from a relapse of memory in which she forgot God and her heritage in Him, to rebellion, to the Refiner's fire, to remembrance when desperate remnants of the society tried to recover what was lost, to repentance, a turning back to God, the worldview and values of His Kingdom, to revival. And the land had "rest" for 40 years. (Judges 3:11)

Then the slide to the bottom started all over again when a new generation forgot God.

Revival will resuscitate the dying West too. And it does not require the participation of the whole, but of the remnant. God still says, "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV, emphasis added)

"Pray for America," says a sign on a road I travel often. But I don't pray for America. I pray for revival in the Church in America, and every nation.

That alone will bring energy, faith and hope back to a weary people, their institutions and civilization.

Wallace Henley has lived and worked both in Europe and the United States. He has studied the dynamics of nations for more than 40 years as a journalist, White House and congressional aide, and lecturer globally. He is Senior Associate Pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church and Adjunct Professor in Worldview Studies at Belhaven University. He writes about how to maintain stability midst change in his book, Globequake, published by Thomas Nelson.
 

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