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Where America and Western Civilization Are Headed (Part 2)

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  • Wallace Henley Portrait
    (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)
    Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist.
By Wallace Henley, Special to CP
June 10, 2014|5:20 am

"It is the great swing of history," said Nicholas Soames of his mother's death June 1.

Lady Mary Soames was the last surviving child of Sir Winston Churchill. Her death at the beginning of the week commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion (June 6, 1944) was an "extraordinary passing," thought Nicholas Soames.

Lady Soames had an intimate, up-close look at her father in his "finest hour" (to borrow one of his famous phrases) as leader of Britain during the Second World War. Her death reminds us of the now-accelerating loss of the people who experienced the Second World War firsthand, as teens or adults.

But "the great swing of history" is not merely the passing of generations. The historical pattern is that whole civilizations rise and fall, say Arnold Toynbee and other historians.

Rafael Cruz, father of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, agrees, but sees a clear model of civilizational life and death in Old Testament Israel. In the previous installment in this series, we noted remarks he made to that effect at a public policy briefing sponsored by the Family Research Council on May 22. In Part 1, I also listed the stages of a "civilizational cycle" in ancient Israel. This example is especially relevant for America and Western Civilization, built on Judeo-Christian foundations.

Here is more detail about the civilizational cycle which is "the great swing of history" we are now experiencing:

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1. A nation is founded on values and principles centered on God. This is a period of clear truth. The culture is anchored to a solid belief system whose values form the consensus for the key institutions providing society's infrastructure. The most graphic evidence of this phase is in the scriptural inscriptions and references to God on old public buildings that powerful groups now want declared unconstitutional and removed. (Judges 2:7)

2. A relapse of memory phase follows. The old "values regime" dies, and a new one emerges.1 A new consensus forms around values alien to the original. In the United States and other western nations this stage actually began in the 1920s, and emerged even more intensely in the 1960s. (Judges 2:10)

3. There is a season of rebellion as the memory of God as the source of national blessings fades. Influential elites in the culture rebel against the founding vision, its underlying truths and values, and a critical mass of people in the society join with them. The 1960s in the US was an era of needed reform in civil rights, and the application of constitutional principles for minorities who had experienced discrimination. Sadly, though, the 1960s is also remembered for the spread of social chaos. (Judges 2:11-12)

4. Next comes the age of the Refiner's fire. The consequences of rebellion from God's ways fall on the civilization, inhabitants and institutions. The ruin of socially stabilizing institutions like centers of worship and the family become the kindling for the conflagration that begins to burn the very core of the civilization. (Judges 2:14-15)

5. This crisis sparks a desire for remembrance and recovery begins to grow among insightful people within the society. Prophets arise in the initial phase of this period, calling people back to fundamental values. They are persecuted at first, but eventually heeded by enough legitimizers to begin a slow restoration. After the Second World War many Germans and others contemplated the horrid reality of the Nazis, and how they were able to gain control of a great culture. Many people began to appreciate again the values of Western civilization for which so many had paid such a hefty price. (Judges 3:9)

6. A critical mass of leaders and the populace repents, and seeks to turn themselves, their institutions and nation back to God and His revealed truth. Repentance means a radical change of direction. In the biblical context, it means a turn back to God and His ways. In a society founded initially on biblically revealed Judeo-Christian principles, the remnant community is the critical facet of society whose repentance blesses the whole. The Normandy Invasion was the decisive event in hastening an end to Nazi dominance of Europe and their threat to the world. Nothing is more indicative of the turn to God than President Franklin Roosevelt's praying over national radio for success in the landings. (Judges 10:15-16;2 Chronicles 7:14)

7. Revival winds begin to blow across the national landscape. Substantial numbers of people within the society join the turning of repentance and move back to foundational beliefs and principles. In the mid-1940s revival began stirring in the US. Local churches were packed every night for up to two weeks all the way through the 1950s. Billy Graham's ministry touched millions across the world. (Judges 5:1-3)

8. There is a restoration of God's Kingdom principles among many within the culture. The society's fundamental truths are again revered, there is a return of respect for institutions promoting the original values, and the culture is restored to its roots. In a much earlier period, Benjamin Franklin, in the age of the Great Awakenings, wrote in 1740, following a visit by evangelist George Whitefield: "It was wonderful to see the Change soon made in the Manners of our Inhabitants; from being thoughtless or indifferent about Religion, it seem'd as if all the World were growing Religious; so that one could not walk thro' the Town in the Evening without Hearing Psalms sung in different Families of every Street." (Judges 5:9-11)

9. The land has "rest" until a new generation rises that forgets God. Rest is not national malaise. Rather, it is a period characterized by stability, peace, productivity, and prosperity. The 1950s boomed across the West and in many other quarters as the focus was on recovery and restoration. "One nation under God" was added to the pledge to the American flag in 1954. In Germany, a massive effort transformed school textbooks and other tools by which the Nazis had seeded their poison into society. West Germany became one of the world's most prosperous nations. And then came the 1960s, and another "great swing of history." (Judges 3:11)

Rafael Cruz is right: the key issue for any nation is what it worships and the belief system that arises from that allegiance. Where are Western civilization and America in particular in this cycle? What's ahead? These are questions we examine in Part 3 of this series.

Wallace Henley writes from the perspective of pastor-theologian, journalist, White House aide, college professor, and widely traveled author. More detail about the "civilizational cycle" can be found in his book, Globequake (Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2012).
 

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