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Are We Living in a Post Christendom or Post Christian Society?

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Are we living in a Post Christian or a Post Christendom Society?

Jaime Rosique Mardones


May 3, 2016

Abortion, same-sex-marriages…many “anti-Christian” legislation is spreading quickly in the Western world and in countries not long ago referred as “catholic”. My native country Spain, - once considered “the spiritual reserve of the West” or, as the late Saint John Paul II put it on the last hours in his last visit to Spain, “Land of Mary[1]-; or countries such as Ireland, and in a lesser extend Poland, have suffered a certain “de-Christianisation”, which mirrors the general shifting of Europe from its Christian roots. As more immigrants, bringing with them their culture, values and religion, call to our doors, many people fear what they call a post-Christian society. But is it really a post-Christian society, or it is more appropriate to speak about a post-Christendom society? In this paper we will try to argue the later and how this may not be such a bad thing after all and how, if understood properly and dealt with accordingly can help Christianity to grow stronger.

        To illustrate the difference between Christianity and Christendom I would like to point out the statistics produced by the Sociologic Investigations Centre (CIS in Spanish) in Spain as at February 2016 with regards the amount of people who consider themselves catholics and the percentage of which attends to Mass regularly. According to the data compiled, 70,2% of the people asked call themselves catholics, 2,1% believers of other religions, 15’6% non-believers/agnostics and 9,6% atheists, not responding 2,5% of those who had been asked. Of those who responded to be catholics or believers from other religions, 59.5% would admit not going almost never to Church (social occasions such as weddings, baptisms or funerals aside), 13.2% would go a few times a year, 10.1% a few times a month, 14.2% almost every Sunday or Feasts of obligations, 2.2% several times a week and not answering 0.9%.[2] These figures reveal a gap between “social” or “cultural” catholics (70.2%) and “practising” catholics (16.4% who go to Mass once or more a week), which in turns reflects the impact of Christendom and Christianity in Spain, a country which -as we will see-contributed to a great extend to the expansion of Christendom.

        When we talk about Christianity we refer to the followers of Christ, those who try to follow his footsteps, living by his example as presented in the New Testament and especially in the Acts of the Apostles. It was more a Way of life than a religion as such and they draw many people to themselves through their example. Certainly,

all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed…they shared their food gladly and generously, they praised God and were looked up to by everyone[3].

It was their attitude, their Way of living, which captured the imagination of their fellow neighbours and prompted them to follow them, to follow their example. The early Christians were commanded by the standards, by how they lived in the world, without belonging to it. In the famous letter to Diognetus, we get a glimpse of the way the Christians in the 2nd century lived and the impact they had on those around them:

Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe (…) And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life (...) they obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life (…) they are insulted and repay the insult with honour (…) they are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.[4] 

Like Peter and many of the Apostles, they didn’t have much intellectual knowledge, but their neighbours would easily say that

Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth. They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbours as themselves”[5]

Is this how we live our faith now? Not really if we read the headlines of so-called Catholic/Christian countries. In fact, the data picked up on the survey I have used earlier in this work would suggest the opposite. This is one of the effects of Christendom. But what is it exactly? The dimensions and scope of Christendom are twofold: it is a religion, and it is a culture.

Its origins can be traced back as early as the second century, when Clement of Alexander and Justin Martyr reconciled philosophy with Christianity and further developed in 312 when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. This was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it contributed to the expansion of Christianity and gave a well-deserved break to the persecuted Church of the time, after losing its illegal and outlawed status and gradually becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.  On the other hand, by people becoming Christians for the mere fact of being born on a certain place at a certain time, not down to free personal choice, somehow lost gradually the courage and authenticity, the enthusiasm of the first days, and became a watered, diluted practice with little meaning to most of them.  In other words, it became a social religion in which one was born into, without conviction. It became comfortable being Christian.  This can be illustrated by the situation of countries close to my heart, like Ireland and Spain, where being baptised has become more a social occasion than a significant sacrament in the life of a person which opens the door to eternity.



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