In a statement that crystallized the spirit of his era, Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola declared in his Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486) that the free will granted to us by God allows us either to descend to the level of brutes or to aspire to the level of angels. Humankind is capable of cravenness and evil, or of heroism and righteousness – the choice is ours. But as humanistic as the thinkers and artists of that period were, they acknowledged that God still reigned supreme over all Creation. No one, not even the most transgressive of Renaissance occultists, argued – at least not publicly – that we could or should aspire to rise above even the angels to dethrone God Himself.
Almost exactly 500 years after Pico’s oration, the Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn accepted the prestigious 1983 Templeton Prize in a speech in which he stated that all the terrible things that had befallen his country since the 1917 communist revolution were because men had forgotten God. Indeed, he identified that explanation as “the principal trait of the entire twentieth century.”
If Solzhenitsyn were alive today he would have to conclude that 21st century Western man not only has forgotten God but, surpassing even the Renaissance magi, has tried to take God’s place. And a future stemming from that usurpation promises to be even more bleak than the blighted landscape of Communist Russia.
It is not news to note that Western civilization, the freedoms and prosperity of which we owe to more than two millennia of Judeo-Christian virtues and values, is witnessing an accelerating decline of religion. The increasingly irreligious younger generations of today likely see this as a positive development: the waning of oppressive superstition and archaic traditions. But when traditional faith declines, the void is filled not by a liberating, utopian enlightenment, but by a wretched assortment of violently intolerant, cultish political religions and a religion of the self. That is exactly where self-destructive hubris has brought us in 2023.
As I’ve written before at the Deep Dive blog, the word “religion” comes from the Latin ligare, “to bind” or “to tie together.” Faith in God is the force that binds together a community, a nation, a civilization. More than that: it binds the human and the divine. When we cast off that bond – in other words, when we believe that we and not God are the ones we have been waiting for, to paraphrase Barack Obama – then we will unleash demons that bring hopelessness and fear, lawlessness and chaos, and an empty sexual libertinism masquerading as personal freedom. That seems like a fair description of much of the Western world today.
Faith gives us, among other virtues, the humility to recognize that we are flawed and fallen creatures, that our impulse to engineer our own heaven on earth will always end in misery. Not that we shouldn’t strive to create a better world; but we must recognize that human-centered utopian visions always end in dystopian realities. When a culture rejects the humility and sense of greater purpose that faith sows in us, and turns instead to self-idolatry, it is headed toward ruin.
The reigning religion today in terms of political and cultural power is the social justice fanaticism of “wokeness,” which includes a range of sects from the end-times cult of climate change hysteria to the biological incoherence of gender ideology, culminating in the stunning ascendance of the trans movement in America.
As Live Not By Lies author Rod Dreher wrote at his Substack,
There is a logical reason why the demise of Christianity should coincide with the valorization of transgenderism. Trans could only triumph in a society and culture in which the Christian faith had been defeated — and not only because of sexual morality… [W]e live now in a world in which no one is allowed to say that there is a telos to human lives and human bodies outside that chosen by the radically autonomous individual. A moral order in which one can use law, technology, and custom to reverse their masculinity or femininity, which is woven into our very nature, is utterly incompatible with Christianity.
Indeed, wokeness itself, in all its social justice manifestations, is utterly incompatible with Christianity, with the Judeo-Christian roots of Western civilization: its nature is pagan, collectivist, totalitarian, and even – in the case of radical environmentalism – anti-humanity.
Beyond America’s shores, wokeness is marginally less ascendant in Europe, where the political religion of fundamentalist Islam is currently a greater threat than here in the U.S. Islam has exploited wokeness to further its imperialist designs in Europe, especially in France, where mass immigration has set the country on an inevitable road to Islamization. Journalist Giulio Meotti wrote recently of a new French National Institute of Statistics report which reveals that for the first time in history, “there are more practicing Muslims than practicing Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 in France.”
One and a half million Catholics pray and 800,000 attend church services, according to the report, while two million Muslims pray and 726,000 go to the mosque. Unlike Westerners, Meotti writes, “Muslim immigrants are not becoming ‘woke.’ The postmodernist virus has not corroded their minds. 91 percent of Muslims educated as Muslims remain so. They remain religious, even after two generations.”
“In forty years, France has become the nation in Western Europe where the population of Muslim origin is the most important,” wrote Vatican Radio, according to Meotti. “It is not difficult to hypothesize that we are now close to the overtaking of Islam over (French) Catholicism.”
Meotti recalls that a few years ago it was estimated that in France, there were three practicing Catholics for each practicing Muslim. Today the ratio has flipped: now in France there is currently one young practicing Catholic for every three young practicing Muslims. Moreover, 65 percent of practicing Catholics are over 50 years old, while 73 percent of practicing Muslims are under the age of 50. This does not bode well for the future of Christian France.
(For a fictional but chillingly credible vision of that future, see the insightful 2015 novel Submission by the controversial French novelist Michel Houllebecq.)
Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Observatoire du patrimoine religieux in Paris, the most important organization that monitors the state of places of worship in the country, revealed that “a mosque is being erected every fortnight in France, while a Christian building is destroyed at the same rate.” In 1976 France had 150 mosques; less than ten years later the number had grown to 900; there were 1,555 by 2001. Today, there are nearly 3,000 mosques; Meotti reports that Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal predicts that by the end of the century there will be 10,000.
Meotti describes this as “an unprecedented change of civilization in the history of a country that is the cradle of European culture.” He is not optimistic that this change can be reversed; he concludes the article with, “Au revoir, France!”
Elsewhere in Europe things are little if any better in terms of the decline of Christian belief. According to the latest official statistics, only around 28 percent of Poland’s Catholics attended Mass in 2021 – figures that indicate a “dramatic fall” in church attendance in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries. Yes, the pandemic impacted the results, but Institute for Catholic Church Statistics’ deputy director Marcin Jewdokimow explained, “[T]here is a certain reconfiguration of Catholicism and the place of religion in public space. People’s religious needs are changing and the way religious institutions function is changing.”
And as Christianity declines, Judaism is facing historically high levels of antisemitism in both Europe and the United States.
Meanwhile, in addition to political religions, the void of traditional monotheism in the West is also being filled by the narcissistic cult of expressive individualism. Author Carl Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College, explains that expressive individualism has “triumphed” as our modern sense of self. It “lies at the heart of current cultural conflicts, including abortion, pornography, the ethics of life and death, radical racial politics, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Expressive individualism holds that human beings are defined by their individual psychological core, and that the purpose of life is allowing that core to find social expression in relationships. Anything that challenges it is deemed oppressive.”
Sects of the self today include a revival of paganism and Satanism. National Geographic, for example, published a piece this March noting with approval that “Paganism is on the rise.” The article details a resurgence of interest in seemingly innocuous New Age practices such as crystals, tarot cards, and astrology, and it reports that at least 1.5 million people in the United States identify as pagans, Wiccans, witches, etc. — up from 134,000 in 2001. That’s a more than 1100 percent increase in two decades.
“There is, in general, a move away from organized religions and toward spirituality,” says Helen Berger, a sociologist of contemporary paganism and witchcraft. She adds that this movement has been fueled by feminism, LGBT rights movements, the perceived climate crisis, and the desire for a more “life-affirming” religion.
Similarly, Satanism is luring increasing numbers of disillusioned young people by offering an “alternative” to “outdated” and “dogmatic” traditional faiths. Contrary to popular assumption, only a small minority of Satanists actually worships Satan. Most of them reportedly do not believe in a higher power; they see Satan himself as more metaphorical, a symbol of rebellion. They view their religion as a worshiping of the self, and believe that each individual is free to define his or her own moral code.
In January, the UK Sunday Telegraph reported having spoken to leaders and members of Satanic groups around the world who claim that the opportunities Satanism offers people to engage in activism on such issues as gender ideology is part of the appeal for younger members.
Chaplain Leopold, a London-based undertaker who co-runs the Global Order of Satan UK, boasts of a 200 per cent increase in membership over the last five years. He attributes this to two factors: the decreasing popularity of “traditional dogmatic religions,” and “a movement towards self-identification and self-realization” [emphasis added]:
This is particularly amongst younger people who don’t want to be identified as part of a prescriptive dogmatic religion and rather want to identify as their own self-beliefs and self-realization – which is what Satanism offers. So we often say that we’re sort of the religion for those who don’t like the oppression of previous religions.
Leopold added that ritual is used as a form of community bonding and meditation to give people the time to develop “your own personal vision of yourself as Satan.” [emphasis added] He noted that the religion is almost “a form of self-actualization.”
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) census published last November, the number of people in England and Wales identifying as Satanists saw a 167 per cent increase between 2011 and 2021, up from 1,893 to 5,054. The number of self-identified “Pagans” rose from 56,620 to 73,733. At the same time, the number of Christians dropped so low that they now account for less than half of England and Wales’ population – for the first time in census history.
Malcolm Jarry, co-founder of the Satanic Temple based in Salem, Massachusetts, believes these census figures are seriously underestimated. He claimed his organization, founded in 2012, has 21,996 members registered in the UK and about a million followers worldwide.
“The appeal of a lot of new religions,” said David Robertson, senior lecturer in religious studies at The Open University, “including Satanism, is that they offer a form of religion that directly addresses the social issues that matter more to the young people, especially their willingness to be activists.”
Professor Linda Woodhead, head of department theology and religious studies at King’s College London, added that Satanism “is a young person’s religion” but that “the bigger phenomenon we’re seeing is the incredible diversification of the religious and spiritual landscape… There’s now a lot of solitary exploration, particularly with the internet, and you can find anything to fit your particular identity, interests, values or beliefs.”
And then there is the terrifying new vision of transhumanism. In the 2017 book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, philosopher Yuval Noah Harari declares that human beings are simply algorithms in a cosmic flow of data, and that we can be liberated from our ignorance about our true nature and our illusion of free will by an advanced, all-knowing algorithm that will guide us toward the next stage of humanity.
That next stage is the leapfrogging of humans over the angels Pico della Mirandella mentioned to the level of God: “Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.” Deus, of course, is Latin for god. In an echo of the serpent’s seductive promise in the Garden of Eden, the new melding of biology and technology will make us as gods.
And yet, as the next level of our evolution, transhumanism will also ultimately herald the end of our species itself. Harari writes,
We are striving to engineer the Internet-of-All-Things in the hope that it will make us healthy, happy and powerful. Yet once the Internet-of-All-Things is up and running, humans might be reduced from engineers to chips, then to data, and eventually we might dissolve within the torrent of data like a clump of earth within a gushing river… Looking back, humanity will turn out to have been just a ripple within the cosmic data flow.
A related dystopian vision of the technological future we are hurtling toward involves the seemingly sudden emergence of AI, or artificial intelligence, a field that has been active for decades but has evolved so rapidly that the AI we have fashioned has, Frankenstein-like, outstripped our capacity to understand it, much less control it; AI now evolves and morphs on its own. At novelist/philosopher Paul Kingsnorth’s Substack The Abbey of Misrule, he observes:
Transhumanist Martine Rothblatt says that by building AI systems ‘we are making God.’ Transhumanist Elise Bohan says ‘we are building God.’ Kevin Kelly believes that ‘we can see more of God in a cell phone than in a tree frog.’ ‘Does God exist?’ asks transhumanist and Google maven Ray Kurzweil. ‘I would say, “Not yet.”’ These people are doing more than trying to steal fire from the gods. They are trying to steal the gods themselves – or to build their own versions.
And even as its own makers delight in the creation of this entirely new consciousness, they fear the consequences. Over fifty percent of AI developers believe there is a better than ten percent chance that AI will lead to human extinction.
In light of all these dark developments, it is undeniably neither hyperbole nor conspiracy theory to say that there are, and have been for decades, subversive forces at work to dismantle the moral and spiritual architecture of our Judeo-Christian civilization and to usher in false gods to finish the job of destroying it. We cannot afford to live in denial about these demonstrable threats. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless as individuals in the face of this challenge – but it is not hopeless. Western civilization has faced extinction before and come back more glorious than ever.
In 430 AD, on the cusp of the fall of the Roman Empire, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the towering figures of Christian history, lay on his deathbed in the town where he was bishop. The barbarians were literally at the gates besieging the city; he must have felt then like many of us do now, that the forces of darkness were winning.
But after the Empire fell and the West entered a Dark Age, the monks of the early Church kept the flame of civilization alive. For the next several hundred years and more they devoted themselves to spreading learning and Judeo-Christian morality. It took centuries, but the seeds they planted led to the rise of cathedrals and universities and hospitals, the growth of cities and literacy, the development of the scientific method and new technology, and more – all because the monks refused to let the light of civilization be snuffed out by a culture of pagan barbarism. And the West has similarly survived other grim challenges since, from the Black Plague to the Holocaust.
We are the heirs of an extraordinary, glorious civilizational heritage, and that heritage, our cultural identity, and our future are again imperiled. The only way for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful to endure and prevail, the way to make Western civilization great again, is for true believers to embrace the responsibility and privilege of preserving those ideals and carrying their legacy forward, like monks in a new Dark Age.