Unlike either the Renaissance or the Reformation, the Enlightenment had begun not as an attempt to rescue some hallowed past, but as an assault on the past in the name of the future…It was a period which sought to overturn every intellectual assumption, every dogma, every ‘prejudice’ (a favourite term) that had previously exercised any hold over the minds of men. Anthony Pagden.
As a direct consequence of this, Liberal Christianity – the bastard daughter of the Enlightenment – is now characterized by two conflicting but related features: the culture of apology, and cultural imperialism.
The culture of apology has recently afflicted both political and religious leaders; but never has its fatuousness been more apparent than at the present moment, when the bombing of Isil follows so swiftly on cringing apology for the Crusades. We view wars of religion, it seems, with unequivocal abhorrence; but a Holy War for ‘Western Values’ goes largely unquestioned.
A particularly nasty example of cultural imperialism surfaced recently on the website of the German Bishops’ Conference (where else?). Of the current state of the Catholic Church in Africa its editor, Björn Odendahl, writes:
‘Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.’
Former Anglicans will recall a similar attitude towards African delegates by American bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
Both these phenomena are symptoms of an ugly self-confidence and a contempt for the ways of faith. No one could doubt their origin.