Where America and Western Civilization Are Headed (Part 3)

It has come to this: the dumping of immigrant children like flotsam from the human flood crossing the Rio Grande in south Texas.

Over the last month thousands of immigrant children – plus adults – have surged at the borders of the Lone Star State and the US. Hundreds had to be flown to Arizona, where they slept on plastic cots in an old warehouse.

Immigrants, like those of the early 20th century from Europe, still come to America in the pursuit of freedom, opportunity, and hope. What will the American future be like for those children?

Indeed, what will that future be like for all our children and grandchildren?

At the moment, it's up for grabs. The great Harvard sociologist Samuel Huntington once wrote of "the fragility of nations." The late scholar penned his concerns in his book, Who Are We? There he noted that "the identity of nations is not fixed and permanent."

Will the children being born now into the US and other Western nations, as well as those migrating here currently someday be searching for freer, more promising societies?

In the previous installments of this series, we have looked at the vital roles of worldview and belief systems in forming civilizations and nations, and what happens when the best of such principles are abandoned. Old Testament Israel provided an example of the "civilizational cycle":

• A relapse of memory of God and the society's foundational values
• Rebellion, as the transcendent vision of morality and ethics is lost
• The "Refiner's" fire, as the consequences of rebellion sear across the society
• Remembrance, as people begin to understand why national crisis has come
• Repentance on the part of a significant remnant of the population
• Revival, as renewal comes to the society
• Restoration to enduring values, and "rest"

Where are America and Western Civilization in this cycle? What do the metrics tell us about our current situation, and what might be ahead? I believe they suggest America and the West are in the perilous no-man's land between rebellion and the "Refiner's fire."

Mary Eberstadt shows how what is tagged here as the "relapse of memory" stage preceding rebellion and the Refiner's fire came about with the collapse of the family. In her book, How the West Really Lost God, Eberstadt wrote of the old consensus: "Some time back, the great majority of people living in ... Western civilization believed in certain things: God created the worldHe has a plan for humanityHe promises everlasting life to those who live by His Word..." (italics in original) What destroyed this life-giving consensus? Eberstadt argues convincingly that family decline "is not merely a consequence of religious decline," but actually "helps to power religious decline."

Roger Kimball, in his book, The Long March – How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, details how the rebellion stage came to full fury in the 1960s, stoked by the "Beat" generation philosophers of the 1950s. "We owe to the 1960s the ultimate institutionalization of drugs, pseudo-spirituality, promiscuous sex, virulent anti-Americanism, naïve anti-capitalism, and the precipitous decline of artistic and intellectual standards," says Kimball.

Joseph Bottum believes the crisis started much earlier, in what I would term a "relapse of memory" phase in the 1920s. He writes about "the post-Protestant ethic" in his book, An Anxious Age. Much of the mainline American Protestant church in the 1920s succumbed to "a social gospel without the gospel." Since a major function of the church is to conserve the truths and principles essential for civilization, the result has been the loss "of a coherent worldview in the West."

Anthony Daniel is a psychiatrist and physician who has spent most of his career serving prisons and other institutions in Britain's social welfare system. His book, under the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple, is Our Culture, What's Left of It. Antinomianism, an opposition to law, especially moral law, is at the heart of the stage of rebellion, he believes. Fostered by intellectuals, "unreflective antinomianism soon communicates itself to non-intellectuals," and becomes a widespread social phenomenon, says Daniel-Dalrymple.

Critics say that those of us who warn about contemporary ominous signs are alarmists. If we would quit seeing the world through biblical lens we could be as optimistic as they are.

Such people seem to me like Holocaust-deniers. Despite overwhelming, conclusive evidence that Hitler and the Nazis sought the genocide of the Jews Holocaust-deniers persist in insisting the atrocities never happened. So there are people who argue that the current cultural path will take Western civilization into a new golden age, despite the massive body of data suggesting otherwise.

Actually, there are reasons for hope, but not in the sense the crisis-deniers believe. I use the term "Refiner's fire" with a sense of anticipation. Though we abuse the liberty God has given us He is faithful, and willing to use the tribulation we bring upon ourselves to purify and renew society. This happens as thoughtful people in the season of remembrance begin to connect the dots between social and cultural tragedy and the loss of transcendent absolutes.

Therefore, we must not live in denial in the face of the hard facts we've considered in this series, but neither should we be without hope. As Job shouted in the depths of his anguish, "I know my Redeemer liveth, and at the last He will take His stand on earth." (Job 19:25) God is always ready to "redeem the time," to bring renewal, new life and hope out of the cauldron of crisis.

That's what it means that He is the "Refiner." The Prophet Malachi tells us that God "will sit and judge like a refiner of silver, watching closely as the dross is burned away." (Malachi 3:3 NLT) God's judgments are corrective, and can lead to renewal. The church must lead the way in recovering biblical authority and doctrinal treasures it has cast aside when its own memory has faltered.

If we go forward to remembrance, repentance, revival and restoration perhaps the children "dumped" within America's borders will have a bright future after all – as well as those born to the rest of us.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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