Monday, April 27, 2015

Defending Christian Culture and the Fall of Secularism

Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Photographer Unknown
Just as Communism was unsustainable, so too is Secularism, collapse is inevitable.
'I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.' 
-- Cardinal Francis George (1937-2015)
The word 'culture' derives from the Latin word cultus, meaning 'religion'. Thus, the English meaning of the word is that which derives from religion. Culture and religion are intertwined in an inseparable way, for culture comes from the way a religion interacts with a certain people and their environment. Over the last three-thousand years, the Western world has known three dominate cultures, and each were developed by three religions that spawned them. The first of course was Paganism. Various Pagan religions surrounded the Mediterranean Sea, and from these came the cultures of antiquity. The second major culture that developed was Christendom, expressed in two forms (eastern and western), derived entirely from the religion of Christianity. Nobody can deny that there are considerable differences between the Christian culture of the middle ages and the Pagan cultures of antiquity. The third and final culture to develop was Islamic, which derived from the religion of Muhammad, and thus took root primarily in the Middle East and Northern Africa. So there are only three major cultures in this history of the Western world over the last three-thousand years: Paganism, Christianity and Islam. There have been no others of any major significance.

As I said, culture derives from religion, and it is upon cultures that civilisations are built. Imagine, if you will, a pyramid to illustrate this. The pyramid is divided into three sections; a base, a middle, and a top. The base section would be labelled 'religion', as it is upon the beliefs of man that everything else is built. The middle section would be labelled 'culture', as this is how religion interacts with people and their environment. Finally, the top section would be labelled 'civilisation', as civilisation is built atop culture and religion.

When we look at the last three-thousand years of Western history, we can see how this played out. Ancient Roman, Greek, Semitic and Egyptian civilisations were built atop various Pagan cultures, and these cultures were built atop various Pagan religions. The only exception of course was the ancient Kingdom of Israel, which was a small civilisation, built atop a Hebrew culture, which was built atop the belief in the one, true God. All of these civilisations looked radically different, and the reason why is because their cultures were radically different. Likewise, the reason why their cultures were radically different, was because their religious belief systems were radically different.

The ancient Romans, like the Greeks before them, and to a smaller degree the Babylonians and Persians before them, wanted to unite the world under one grand civilisation. Yet to do this, they understood the culture pyramid. In order to unite the world (or one large region of the world) under one civilisation, you could have various cultures, but they all had to be linked by a common religion. The Babylonians attempted this first, by imitating the Egyptian practise of king worship. People would be allowed to worship and serve whatever gods they desired, so long as they also agreed to worship their king as a god too. Later the Greeks attempted something similar by uniting everyone under a common pantheon of gods. However, it was the Romans who really took the Babylonian idea of universal king-worship to a whole new level. Again, anyone could worship whatever god they wanted, so long as Caesar was also worshipped as the supreme god above all gods. Now, nobody can deny the culture created by the Roman imperial system had a particular look and feel to it. While various corners of the Empire had their own unique culture, the common link was Caesar worship, and this common creed united the various bands of Pagan religions under one umbrella. Thus the Romans created an entire civilisation, uniting various cultures, by injecting a common religious belief at the base of the pyramid. Get the people to worship Caesar as a god, then their cultures will adapt to this, resulting in a united civilisation under Caesar. It worked marvellously, that is, until the whole thing fell apart. What killed it? Christianity, in part, brought about its demise.

With the rise of Christianity in the ancient world, the imperial Pagan system crumbled. Saint Augustine of Hippo argued that the imperial Pagan system was destined to fall anyway, because it was immoral at its very foundation. He was right, and it was already falling on its own, but Christianity provided a quick and convenient replacement for a dying system who's days were numbered. Christianity laid a completely new religious foundation of the pyramid for an entirely new culture to develop from the old. Upon this was built a new Christian civilisation. Nobody in their right mind can deny that medieval Christian culture and civilisation looked entirely different from ancient Pagan culture and civilisation.

Some centuries after the rise of Christianity, came the rise of Islam in the Middle East and Northern Africa. With the rise of a new religion, the foundation of the pyramid was changed again, this time from Christian to Muslim, and with that, the culture radically changed as well. This in turn resulted in the rise of a whole new civilisation that is still with us today -- Islamic civilisation.

So in the last three-thousand years there have been only three major types of civilisations in the Western world. The first was Pagan. The second Christian, and the third Islamic. All three were built on three different cultures, which were derived from three different religious systems. I hope you'll excuse me for digressing into this so far, but it's important to understand the principle of how things work. Cultus (religion) creates the culture, and the culture in turn creates the civilisation. It is very much like a pyramid. The top (civilisation) is built upon the middle (culture) which is built upon the base (religion).

Now once we understand this historical precedence, which is based on the natural law of human behaviour, we can begin to see how futile and impossible the Western experiment in Secular Humanism really is. The creation of Secular culture is an vain attempt to erase religious influence from civilisation. When I say 'religious' here, think Christian, because it is only in Christian societies that Secularism developed. So Secularism was primarily designed to erase Christian influence from Western civilisation. It began ideologically with the Enlightenment and French Revolution. It took on a militant form with the communist revolution in Russia. In Western Europe, it spread quickly. While in North America more slowly. The gist of it however, is the same. The influence of Christian religion will be erased from all aspects of public life (government, schools, public squares, commerce, etc.) and as a result, a break will be made between religion and culture, allowing a godless government to reign supreme. This opens the door to all forms of moral relativism. State sanctioned sexual liberation is the 'holy grail' of promise made to those who will conform, and in the West, this temptation has worked very well.

So now moving beyond the history lesson, let's skip to the present. It is not enough to say this experiment into Secular Humanism will fail, because you see, it's already failing, and it's failing fast. We need look no further than Western Europe, which is leading the way. Secularism in general, the idea that we can separate religion entirely from public life, is failing because it produces a childless culture, filled with a small remnant of youth who have no religious or moral underpinning. Seeking guidance and direction, many of these remaining youth turn to whatever religion presents itself as a solution. Some are fortunate enough to find their way back to Christianity. Some wander around in occult Neo-Paganism for a while. Some discover Islam. The point I'm making here is that Secularism is, by its very nature, a religious vacuum, and vacuums must be filled. It leaves behind it an infertility wake, that wipes out most of the youth. The result is an ageing population that must rely on immigration to keep its economic and social systems afloat. Secularism is not any kind of a foundational base to build a culture and civilisation on. It is rather an empty vacuum. With no foundation base, the rest of the pyramid will crumble, or as in Europe's case, just as it was with ancient Rome, it will simply be replaced. Secularism is not a religious foundation upon which anything can be built. It is rather a simple transition stage, as a people change from one religious foundation to another.

As immigrants pour in to fill the void created by Secular infertility, they bring their religions with them. In North America, the dominant religion these immigrants bring with them is Catholic Christianity, but in Europe, which is much further along in this process, the dominant religion these immigrants bring with them is Islam. In time, if things are left alone with no change, the dominant religion of North America will gradually become Catholic. While the dominant religion of Europe will gradually become Islam. With the change in the religion, will come a change in culture, as the middle step of the pyramid is altered to accommodate the changed foundation. Once the culture is changed, it is only a matter of time before the civilisation is changed too. New laws will replace old laws, and new governments will replace old governments. The pristine Secular state the West has foolishly sought after will never materialise. It is already dying. In Europe it will be replaced by an Islamic state (if nothing changes), and in North America it will eventually be replaced by a Catholic state, and that is pretty much guaranteed. This is because Secularism is a self-destructive system. It is a victim of its own success. As it teaches indulgence to its citizens, it creates citizens unwilling to sacrifice, and you see, raising children requires self-sacrifice. So they just don't have any, or at least, they have very few. We are already witnessing the final stages of Secularism play out in Europe. It has about another twenty years at most, before it must make significant concessions to the rising Muslim populations. Within another twenty to thirty years after that (so about forty to fifty years from now) many countries in Western Europe will essentially become Islamic states. That is, if nothing changes. That is, if Europeans continue down this foolish path of trying to create a pristine Secular state that is devoid of religion. That seems unlikely to me, as at some point, European youth will have to wake up and realise that Secularism just isn't working. When that day comes, whenever it will be, European youth will have to choose, between finishing the transition to Islam, or reversing the trend and going back to what they know works -- Christianity. In Europe the road ahead is a harsh one. Any attempt to transition back to Christianity now will be met with force by the Secular institutions hell-bent on creating a pristine Secular state. Any attempt to transition back to Christianity in the future will be met with force by the emerging Islamic population that sees a takeover of Europe within their grasp. For European Christians, the road ahead will be a treacherous uphill battle.

North Americans, on the other hand, don't have it quite as bad. Europe is at least twenty years ahead of us in the advancement of Secularism. However, that doesn't mean Secularism's influence hasn't been felt here. It has. However, the United States has answered the fertility problem by opening the floodgates of immigration from Catholic Mexico and Central America. Not all Latin American immigrants are good practising Catholics. In fact, a large number of them are not. However, there is still a cultural tie to Catholicism that many of them bring with them, and it is this cultural tie the U.S. Catholic Church hopes to capitalise upon in the years ahead. As the situation continues to deteriorate in Europe over the coming decades, North Americans will watch in horror, and it is likely a religious revival of some kind will take place here in reaction to what is happening in Europe. That revival will be predominately Catholic, simply by the demographic shift in North America over the next two decades.

Understanding that it is not us, but our children, who will inherit the gift of religious revival in North America, the goal of our generation at this point is to simply carry the torch of faith for them. Part of that means preserving not only our religion, but our culture as well. We must defend orthodoxy within, and build a solid cultural platform for our children to build upon when their day arrives. If we can do that within the construct of our current Secular laws and government than we should work to preserve that relationship. If our Secular governments choose to make that impossible, than we should work to preserve our culture outside of our laws and government. The point I am trying to make here is that we only need to wait Secularism out. Within twenty years, the failure of Secularism in Europe will be so glaringly obvious to any rational soul, that only the insane will advocate its continued advancement. A return to Christian culture and civilisation will be the only remedy, and while our Western governments will likely be the last to admit this (because they are insane), Christian culture can flourish beneath the surface until Secularism finally gives way. Whatever punishment Secular governments can dish out on us in North America, it will be small in comparison to the punishment that will be dished out on Christians in Europe, both by their secular governments and then by their Islamic rivals. The message here is patience and courage. Patience, because the days of Secular civilisation are coming to an end. Courage, because preserving our Christian religion and culture will require us to resist Secular movements and governments for a while longer.

Our first strategy should be to try to preserve those social institutions that were built by Christianity for as long as we can. This unfortunately is fading fast, and when what seems to be inevitable happens, the complete separation of Christianity for the laws of our land, the duty of Christians will then be to preserve our religion and culture outside of the laws of our land. We will have to create a counter-culture of some kind, a society within a society, that is separate from the Secular state and social institutions. The Amish and Mennonite communities provide a type of example to follow. While we probably wouldn't want to become plain-people like them, we can draw upon some of their ways as an example. On the issue of marriage, churches may have to fully emancipate sacramental marriage (matrimony) from the legal system, as same-sex marriage, polygamy and incest rapidly become legally recognised. Christian businesses may have to completely reorient themselves to serving only the Christian community, isolating themselves from the population at large, so as to avoid prosecution and lawsuits for unlawful 'discrimination' when asked to service immoral behaviour. In the worst case scenario, Christians may have to simply remove themselves from cities where extreme immorality and perversion abounds, especially if they are raising families. In such cases, Amish-like communes might be one possible solution. Among Catholics, these could be built around existing monasteries and convents. Another possibility might be for Catholics to buy up all the homes and businesses surrounding an existing Catholic parish, effectively creating a Catholic community within a city that is recognised as such, much like many Muslims are doing right now in various cities in Europe. Then, as Muslims demand the government to make concessions to their Sharia Law in those communities, Catholics can make similar demands for recognition of Canon Law in their communities. As I pointed out above, however, even if drastic circumstances ever call for such drastic measures, it would only be temporary. Secularism is dying. It will die in Europe sooner than North America, but I suspect when it finally breaths its last gasps in Europe, the scene will be so terrible that North Americans will watch in horror, and begin to make amends rather quickly, so as to prevent similar tragedy from happening here. Yes, Christian culture is worth preserving, just as much as Christian religion is, because in the end, when Secularism finally breaths its last (and that day is coming), we will need to have the cultural foundation laid well, so that we can begin rebuilding our Christian civilisation again.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Saint George - Patron of England

Saint George Slays the Dragon
Painted by Paolo Uccello between 1456-1460

Today is Saint George Day. Do you speak English as your native language? If so, than this day means something to you whether you realise it or not. Five-hundred years ago, a tiny little country on an island in the North Atlantic began the most dramatic expansion in the history of the world. English culture, religion, law, language and heritage, was exported first to North America, then Central America, then Africa, Australia and New Zealand. For a time, it became the largest empire in the history of the world. The sun never set on the British Empire, because it controlled a portion of every corner of the globe. The empire fell apart rather quickly, just a hundred years ago, but it's legacy remains. The reason why we speak English today is because of its influence. Long before its imperial expansion, and long before its break with Rome, England was a Catholic country, and its Patron Saint was (and still is) Saint George. The identity of England is so intertwined with Saint George that we could say Saint George is England, and England is Saint George.

Painting depicting the martyrdom of Saint George
Now Saint George was actually a martyr who was born in ancient Palestine, but died in Asia Minor in about AD 303 under Caesar Diocletian. He was a soldier and commander in the Roman army, but he was also a Christian. So when Caesar Diocletian ordered that all Christians within his army be executed, it turned out that George was a among them. Seeing as how George was such a trusted officer, and his father before him was so well respected in the Roman army, Diocletian made every effort to save him from death. He tempted him with riches, land and women, if he would only deny his faith in Christ and conform to emperor worship by throwing a pinch of incense on a Pagan altar and saying aloud 'Caesar is Lord'. George refused, promising lifelong loyalty to Caesar, but he could only worship Jesus Christ as Lord. Unable to persuade George, Diocletian ordered his execution.

The tomb of Saint George in Lod Israel
It is said that George was martyred in the most inhumane way imaginable. This painting (above right) on a choir stall in Germany depicts the macabre contraption they used to torture him. He was tied to a wheel and rolled over spikes or swords, that slowly pealed away his flesh. It is said he fainted three times from the excruciating pain, and was revived all three times, before he finally died of blood loss. This act of tremendous courage, combined with his resistance of extreme temptation to save his life and be rewarded with riches and pleasure, caused him to be revered as one of the greatest martyrs and saints in antiquity. As a result of his sacrifice, Christians were emboldened in the area, many more converts were made, people resented Caesar's treatment of one of his most honoured and loyal soldiers. The result was that Caesar began losing control of the area, and Christianity became more entrenched. Within a decade Diocletian would be dead, and his successor Caesar Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan, ordering that Christianity be tolerated and that all persecution of Christians cease. Within a decade after that, Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Saint George had fallen victim to the last great persecution of Christianity by the Roman Empire, and his martyrdom played a role in securing the end of all Roman persecutions and the end of Caesar worship in general. Saint George was entombed (above left) in the City of Lod, which is currently south of Tel Aviv in Israel.

The Flag of England
Nearly a thousand years later, knights returning from the crusades in Palestine brought the devotion to Saint George back with them, and he subsequently became the Patron Saint of England. Figurative legend developed around him as a 'knight' who slew a 'dragon' to save a 'princess' from its evil clutches. The imagery was designed to draw attention to the way George's martyrdom robbed power and influence away from the Pagan cult of Caesar worship. The dragon represents Caesar, or the Pagan cult that worship him, which was threatening to kill the Church, represented as the princess in distress. In historical reality George gave his life for Christ, but in doing so, he figuratively 'killed' the 'dragon', because his act of courage and virtue secured the collapse of the Caesar worship cult in the area. It's a story that every English-speaking Christian should be familiar with. Even if you're not a Christian, it gives insight into the culture of the language you speak. Because you see, the story of Saint George, whether you choose to look at his literal martyrdom or figurative adventure, embodies the type of virtue sought by the English. From a very early age, English children are taught the figurative story of Saint George, and later told its historical meaning once they mature to an appropriate age. It is meant to teach them the virtues of courage and self-sacrifice in the name of all that is true and good.

The Flag of the United Kingdom
The flag of England is white, for purity, with a red cross representing martyrdom. We are familiar with it both as a traditional English flag (above right), which is also overlaid on the British flag (below left). The British flag depicts the red cross of Saint George up front with a white backing. Behind the cross of Saint George is the cross of Saint Andrew, which is a white X-shaped cross (or saltire) on a blue field. This is the flag of Scotland. The red X-shaped cross (saltire) is also for Saint Andrew, which represents Ulster Scots of Northern Ireland. Often the simple red and white flag of England is depicted in artistic representations of Saint George, as we see in the top painting above by Paolo Uccello. Saint George is widely venerated in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. His feast day is April 23, which commemorates the day of his martyrdom on April 23, 303 AD. He is even known and respected among Muslims in the Middle East, from Egypt to Asia Minor, but particularly in Israel/Palestine. It has been said that the popularity of Saint George could be gauged by simply yelling his name in the middle of a crowded Middle Eastern street to see how many men will turn their heads to see who's calling them. George has also been a popular name for English kings, and even the great general who led Americans in rebellion against the British Empire was named George (Washington). Saint George is also the patron saint of: soldiers, cavalry, scouting, Palestinian Christians, horses, a host of various cities and countries.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Was There Death Before The Fall?

The Fall of Man by Jacob Jordaens
painted in the 17th century

The notion that physical death did not exist in the universe before the fall of man, may not have originated with Protestantism, but today it is promoted primarily by Evangelical Protestantism. This presents some very big problems for theology, Biblical interpretation, science, and reason. That Catholic Church, for the most part, has rejected this way of interpreting the Fall of Man.

When I was an Evangelical, I was taught that prior to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, there was no physical death in the world. The law of entropy did not exist, and everything was in a perfect static state. The common Evangelical teaching today is that death entered the universe through mankind's rejection of God's command, and this in turn set the whole universe into a rapidly decaying state of entropy. The only problem with that idea is that it is unbiblical, illogical, and denies all scientific evidence.

Thomas Aquinas stated it clearly centuries before Charles Darwin ever wrote his 'Origin of Species', physical death existed before the fall...
In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede's gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals. They would not, however, on this account have been excepted from the mastership of man: as neither at present are they for that reason excepted from the mastership of God, Whose Providence has ordained all this. Of this Providence man would have been the executor, as appears even now in regard to domestic animals, since fowls are given by men as food to the trained falcon.
-- Thomas Aquinas Article I, Objection 2, Summa Theologica
In other words, way back in the 13th century, some 600 years before Charles Darwin, the greatest Christian philosopher of all time stated that death existed in the world even before the fall of man. We see hints of this in the Bible...
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
-- Genesis 2:15-17
Now let's do a close examination of this Biblical passage. First, the Lord God tells the man (Adam) that he may 'eat of every tree.' STOP! What did he just say? He said 'eat of every tree.' What does eating involve? It involves chewing, swallowing and digesting, but more than anything else, it involves the cellular death of that thing which is being eaten. For example; if a man is to eat an apple, the apple must first be plucked from the tree. That cuts off the sap circulation to the apple, which means that it is now beginning to die. Now suppose the man changes his mind, drops the apple and walks away. That apple will slowly decay, as the cells within the apple are deprived of sap for nutrients. The cellular structure of the apple will die, and the apple itself will rot. So simply plucking the apple from the tree insures its death. However, the Scripture goes on. It specifically says the man may eat the apple, which accelerates the death process of the apple. Now the cells that make up the apple no longer need to wait for decay to set in. Rather, they will immediately be broken down, first by the gnashing of the man's teeth, and next by the acid within his stomach. By the time the nutrients of the apple are absorbed by the man's gut, the cellular structure of that apple is totally dead. Not a single cell remains alive. So here we are at the beginning of the Bible. The fall of man has not happened yet. Indeed, the woman hasn't even been created yet. Yet what we have here in the command to eat is a clear reference to death. Yes, death did exist! It was in the world before the fall of man, and man relied upon it in order to eat and gain nutrition. Now let's look at the rest of the passage. In the next breath, God tells the man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, because if he does, he will die! STOP! What did God just say? He told the man he would die if he did something. So tell me, how can the word 'die' have any meaning if man was introduced into a world where death did not exist? Surely, if God warned the man that he would 'die' then the man must have known what that meant. That would mean he had seen death. He was acquainted with it. So right from the earliest passages of the Bible, it becomes apparent that death did indeed exist before the fall of man, and probably before the creation of man entirely. If death existed for cells, then it existed for complex organisms too (such as animals), as those of us in the medical field know, real biological death does not actually occur for complex organisms, until the cellular structure of those organisms dies. For example; a man does not really die until about five to ten minutes after his heart stops beating. This is how long it takes for the cells in the brain to suffocate once deprived of oxygen enriched blood from the heart and lungs. Death, in reality, is a cellular thing. Complex organisms (such as mammals for example) just announce that it happened by ceasing to move and assuming room temperature.

Plants and animals die. It is natural and proper for them to do so. They are natural organisms that serve a specific and limited function in this world. They have not the gift of reason, nor do they have immortal souls. Their lives are extinguished upon death, and their souls recycled in some way, which is natural to this world. Their entire existence is subject to the cycles of this universe, and all of their historical existence parishes with the death of planet earth, and finally the consummation of this universe.

Contrary to the Evangelical claim that death did not exist until the fall of man, it would appear that physical death has always existed in this universe, and is indeed part of God's creation. We see hints of this in the Book of Genesis. Man, however, is a different story...
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
-- Romans 5:12
Here we see that man (mankind) was the one affected by the fall in the garden, not the animals, nor plants, nor earth, nor the stars, nor the universe, just man and man alone. Death spread to 'all men'. It doesn't say 'all things' as if to include animals, plants and all of creation. You see, man was not meant to be subject to death, but rather to be 'assumed' like Mary, Enoch, and Elijah upon reaching a terminal age, when the physical body had run the course of its natural life. The figure of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden symbolises this. Thus the penalty for eating from the Tree of Knowledge was to be barred from the Tree of Life...
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
-- Genesis 3:22-24
Original sin in the fall robbed us of the immortal destiny for our bodies, thus subjecting man's body to the same kind of death the plants and animals suffer. It is natural for them, but not natural for us. Their souls and bodies are recycled. Our bodies can be recycled, but our souls cannot be, nor would we want them to be, because they are immortal. The key to understanding the mystery of physical death is simply to understand the nature of this universe. It is temporary. The whole thing -- all of it -- the stars, galaxies, everything, it is meant to be temporary. We (our souls), however, are not meant to be temporary, but our bodies have become just that -- temporary. Man is a hybrid creature. We have physical bodes like animals, so we can interact with this universe in a physical way. Yet we have spiritual souls that are immortal, like the angels. We are not angels. We are different creatures all together because we a hybrid beings -- both physical and spiritual. So we must have both a soul and a body to be complete. Yet now, thanks to the fall and original sin, the death which was common only to plants and animals has now spread to us. Our souls cannot go through eternity without a body. This is unnatural for us and leaves us incomplete. The horror of death is that the soul goes on, without a body, and that is a completely unnatural state for a human being. Angels are spiritual creatures, not humans. Unlike angels, we need our bodies to be complete. Animals have mortal bodies with mortal souls. Men (and by that I mean mankind) have bodies that have become mortal and yet we retain immortal souls. It was never meant to be this way. This is a dichotomy that puts us in a paradox which only the resurrection solves. That however, is a subject for a different essay. This one deals with the subject of death before the fall -- before original sin.

It's an extremely important thing for Christians to understand. It's an important piece of our theology that is often neglected, and because of this we have some Evangelicals who go about telling the world that death did not exist before the fall, and then we have certain atheists who make a hobby tearing down the futility of that argument, triumphantly conquering an aspect of Christian theology that never really existed outside of the Evangelical world. Proper understanding the origins of death in Christian teaching also helps us deal with scientific matters, such as evolution and dinosaurs. Once those are tackled, we can begin to apply it to our understanding of the universe and the remote possibility of plant and animal life on other planets. It all comes down to a proper reading of the first chapters of Genesis. For the Catechism teaches us...
The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.
-- Catechism of the Catholic Church 390
The Catechism teaches us that the Bible uses figurative language in these chapters, to explain primordial events that are true in essence, but have through the centuries lost their historical narrative. Adam and Eve were real people, to be sure. They were our first parents, and what they did was a real rebellion against God. The garden, trees and serpent may be figurative. They convey the nature of how the rebellion happened, but it is unlikely that these were literal events. Serpents in ancient history were representative of Pagan religions, so there may be some kind of connection there. Most directly however, the serpent represents the devil (Satan). The serpent's temptation of Eve is particularly symbolic of Pagan religions. The serpent lied and told Eve she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit, but that she would become like a god, 'knowing good from evil' (Genesis 3:4-5). In other words, the devil tempted the woman (and the man together with her) to act like gods, and decide for themselves what is good and what is evil, meaning they would create their own morality. The Hebrew word for 'god' is synonymous with 'judge'. To judge for yourself what is right and wrong, without consulting the Creator, is to play god. This gives us tremendous insight into what the real cause of original sin might have been. The trees of Life and Knowledge may also have some kind of symbolism in Semitic folklore as well. The events of Genesis 3 need not be literal. We know what happened. Satan, the fallen angel, tempted the woman (Eve) to sin against God, and the man (Adam) failed as a leader and went along with it. The result was rebellion against God. The penalty was physical death for the body, and even worse, separation of the soul from God. One thing is certain though, physical death (for plants and animals) already existed before all of this. There is nothing in Scripture that says it didn't, and in fact, quite the opposite is true. The Scriptures seem to suggest death had been present in the world all along, because this world is temporary, and it was always intended to be.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Red Planet = Dead Planet


Mars, as pictured by the Hubble Space Telescope
Courtesy of NASA
We've known it for years, but NASA is now beginning the learn the reasons why. (Warning! Geek Alert. I'm getting my geek on here.) Mars is dead, and it's dead for some very good reasons. Yes, there is water there. Apparently NASA is finding out that water is abundant throughout the solar system, and probably the universe. But water alone is not good enough to support life. Temperatures on Mars are cold - damn cold! -- and that's a big part of the problem. The atmosphere is thin too, and that's another part. However, the real problem Mars has, which is causing a lot of these other problems, is the lack of a magnetic field. You see, Earth has a magnetic force field that completely surrounds it. It is believed that this force field is caused not only by the rotation of our planet's inner core, but also the orbit of the moon, which acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on Earth's subsurface magma. These two things working together keep Earth's magnetic field youthful and strong. This is what blocks out both cosmic and solar radiation, giving us a wonderful spectacle of northern and southern lights. However, that magnetic force field does a lot for us. It prevents cosmic and solar radiation from killing us. Furthermore, it prevents our atmosphere from being degraded and evaporating into space. This helps to keep our temperatures within reason, and all of this together makes Earth a very hospital planet for life. Mars, so it would appear, has a lot of things going for it, except for that magnetic force field, and without it, the planet goes dead. Not even microbes can survive there, because if the extreme temperatures don't kill them, the cosmic and solar radiation most certainly will.

So, that being said, is there any chance of terraforming Mars (making Mars more like Earth)? The short answer is NO. In order to make Mars a habitable world, we would have to give it a magnetic force field, and there is no technology that can do that for an entire planet. The red planet is a dead planet, and it will stay dead, indefinitely. NASA is now looking for signs of life elsewhere, namely on Jupiter and Saturn's moons. This however, is a long shot, and even more unlikely than life on Mars. Many scientists have resigned themselves to the fact that aside from Earth, there is no possibility of life within our solar system, which is why the search has shifted in recent years to exoplanets (planets around other stars). NASA has even gone so far as to predict they will find signs of life on these exoplanets within 20 years. This is a bold prediction, and an unwarranted one. Even if they develop instruments sensitive enough to determine if water exists on such worlds, that doesn't mean life exists there. Water exists on Mars, and the moon, but there is no life. I think such predictions are designed to garner funding. I don't think it's wrong to look, but I do think it's futile to get our hopes up. Could there be life out there somewhere? Sure! Why not? Is it intelligent life like us? Probably not. If there is life in this universe, outside of Earth, I'm sure it's filled with plants and animals. People however, well, that's an entirely different matter.

Putting all religious explanations aside, just for a moment, lets look at what science alone has told us so far, just so we can begin to appreciate our uniqueness in the universe.

According to scientific theory, the Earth has been around for billions of years, and during that time, life has existed here for almost as long. However, in each epoch of Earth's history, it has existed in different forms. In a previous epoch, such as during the age of the dinosaurs for example, the Earth was radically different than it is today. It is theorised that Earth's atmosphere was much thicker, and the climate was much warmer. That all changed with a massive asteroid impact, which killed off the dinosaurs, shed a portion of the Earth's atmosphere, and made room for the rise of mammals. It is within that age of mammals that mankind arose. Okay, regardless if you believe any of this stuff or not, think about what science is telling us here. It's saying that the evolution of human beings took place under very specific and unique conditions. In order for similar intelligent life to exist elsewhere, one would expect similar conditions have taken place. One would have to see the rise of reptiles, followed by massive extinction, then the rise of dinosaurs, followed by massive extinction, and then finally the rise of mammals. Why mammals you say? Because looking at life on Earth. mammals are the only type of animals that have the capacity to develop higher brain function. Reptiles and birds (including dinosaurs) are limited in their brain capacity. Mammals are smart critters, much smarter than reptiles and birds, in that they have a higher brain function. If you're looking for animals that can think and reason, like human beings, you're going to need mammals. Yet, mammals developed on Earth under very specific conditions, according to science, that required the massive extinction of other types of animals first. Do you see what I'm getting at here? Science is telling us, and has been telling us for decades, that intelligent life is extremely rare, even here on Earth. Could it exist elsewhere in the universe? I suppose anything is possible, but in all likelihood, if life exists anywhere else at all, it is most likely plant and animal life. The odds of there being intelligent life like us, are extremely unlikely.

The lesson of science, real science, is that life itself is rare. Of the three most likely habitable planets in our solar system (Venus, Earth and Mars), only one (Earth) actually supports life. Even that is by a fluke, because of our unusually large moon that acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on our planet's magma core, keeping the planet's magnetic force field young and healthy for billions of years. Neither Venus nor Mars have these conditions, so their magnetic fields are virtually non-existent. This makes the development of life (all life) impossible on these worlds. The solar and cosmic radiation would kill the first cell before it even developed. Meanwhile on earth, where our robust magnetic force field keeps most harmful radiation away from the surface, life has developed abundantly. Yet the history of life here on Earth confirms that we (human beings) are unique, even for this planet. The rise of mammals was not a natural event. It was coaxed by specific conditions, that brought about the development of higher brain function to evade dinosaur predators. Then the dinosaurs were wiped out, along with a percentage of the earth's atmosphere, clearing the way for another food chain wherein mammals could rise to the top. This could not happen if the atmosphere had remained thick, which would have given reptiles and dinosaurs an advantage again. In order for mammals to rise, the earth had to have thinner air and a cooler climate. That's exactly what happened, and after the rise of mammals, came the appearance of man. None of this is natural folks. Even when we go by the witness of cold, hard, scientific theory, what we see is that our species is a unique brand, brought about by very unique and specific conditions.  Animal and plant life, on other words, is not too far fetched. Theoretically, all you need are the right temperatures and a good, strong, magnetic field. That is rare, even in our solar system, but it is remotely possible under the right conditions. However, coming up with an animal that has higher brain function, such as the ability to reason, is an extremely rare event, that even this planet has only seen once in its four and a half billion year history. Science itself is telling us that intelligent life is an extremely rare thing, if not totally unique to Earth alone. Popular culture, fuelled by science fiction, wants to believe that intelligent life is abundant in the universe. Space agencies play on this popular mythology for funding, promising to find signs of life elsewhere, if only governments will just cough up a few billion more dollars. As I said, there is nothing wrong with looking. What is unreasonable however, is getting our hopes up for a discovery that is extremely unlikely to ever happen.

END.

------------------------------------------------

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why Religious Tax Exemption Helps Politicians More Than Churches

King Louis VIII bows in submission to the Archbishop of Reims at his coronation, circa 1223 AD.
Painted in the 1450s, kept in the National Library of France

Lately there has been an awful lot of talk about religion and politics, and by that I mean, not in a good way. A lot of this centres around same-sex 'marriage' and religious liberty. In the midst of all this ruckus I hear left-wing voices shout 'end religious tax exemption!' Some have even gotten so bold as to put conditions on it, by saying if churches won't support same-sex 'marriage' they should have their tax exemption removed. In the face of such threats and ultimatums, I have to laugh. Mainly because if these people actually got what they wanted, it would be the end of them, politically speaking. Their political momentum would come to a grinding halt. When they decry religious tax exemption, what they are unwittingly advocating is the victory of religion over politics. Be careful what you wish for.

The irony to this is that such cries are meant to be a threat. When they're made, those who make them hope to silence their religious opposition. The idea is that fear of losing tax exempt status will result in religious institutions cowering into silence about whatever social issue is causing the ruckus in the first place. Why do they think this? Because it's worked in the past, and actually, it's worked fairly well. Most of the time, when Christians (for example) are confronted with the argument that tax exemption should be revoked for their churches, they back down, and in that very cowering we see the power the religious tax exemption holds over churches and religious people.

You see, so long as the tax exemption status exists, for religious institutions in America, politicians and political hacks hold this power over them. However, if it actually is removed, everything changes. As soon as it's gone, all bets are off. Religious institutions will no longer be compelled to restrain themselves on any political issue, party or candidate. Religious leaders will be able to speak freely on all of them, without fear of losing anything, because you see, they've already lost their tax exempt status. So they have nothing left to lose. Removing the tax exempt status would effectively make religion the most powerful political influence in the United States. Churches would be free to endorse particular candidates for elections by name, and particular parties for voting blocks. In fact, it goes further than that. Not only could they endorse certain candidates and parties, but they could also condemn them too. I'm not just talking about the typical negative campaigning one sees on television these days. I'm talking about the hell, fire, and brimstone preached from pulpits all over the country, in which pastors warn their congregations of national perdition, and the loss of salvation, if they vote for certain candidates. No longer fearing any loss of tax-exempt revenue, and subject to no election laws (because they won't need to spend a dime on advertisements), they'll have a captive audience in their pews every Sunday, and they'll drive the fear of God right into their voting habits. There won't be a darn thing anybody can do about it, because you see, it's all just 'freedom of religion' and historically (as well as legally) speaking, the ONE AND ONLY THING that has so far kept religion out of politics, is that little 501(c)(3) status on their annual tax forms. If you think religion is too involved in the political process now, go ahead and revoke that religious tax exemption. You haven't seen anything yet!

Then of course there is that little tool churches have, which up to this point has been kept relatively quiet, but you can bet it will be trumpeted from the rooftops just as soon as religious tax exemption is revoked. It's that little thing called 'excommunication'. Some churches call it 'disfellowship' but whatever the name, the result it the same. It is a penalty that religions use for members who refuse to repent of sin, after being repeatedly warned, and thus bring scandal upon the church due to their obstinate refusal. It is a punishment reserved only for the most egregious offenders of religion. Would it surprise you to know that many of America's federal politicians have received such a sentence, or something equivalent, from their various religious affiliations? Yes, that's right. Many of America's federal politicians, along with a good number of state and city politicians as well, actually cannot legally receive holy communion in their own churches, because they've either been formally or informally excommunicated. I bet you didn't know that. But do you know why you didn't know that? The reason why you probably didn't know that is because most churches keep it private, or at least very low key. The politician is notified, usually by a phone call or private letter, that he/she has been excommunicated, and this matter is just kept between the politician and his/her religious organisation. It's done this way primarily for two reasons. First, churches usually don't want to publicly humiliate those who have been excommunicated. This is primarily because the goal of excommunication is to shock the person being excommunicated into repentance, thus ending the scandal, so they can be received back into the church with open arms. Second, when it comes to politicians, there is another reason. It has to do with that little 501(c)(3) status again. You see, informing everyone in a church that some particular politician has been excommunicated, could possibly be misinterpreted as electioneering or campaigning for his opponent, especially if this has been done during or near an election cycle. So once again, churches keep it quiet. However, if you get rid of the tax exempt status for churches, all of this will end. Churches will be free to openly declare which politicians have been excommunicated, even during an election cycle, depending on the level of scandal they are bringing upon a church, and the prerogative of the religious leader in charge. Again, nobody will be able to do anything about it, because it is after all just freedom of religion. It's covered under the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and now that there is no longer a tax exemption for religious institutions, its open season on political parties and politicians. So you see, the biggest beneficiaries of the 501(c)(3) religious tax exempt status are not really churches. They are rather politicians and political parties, because you see, allowing churches to keep that status, in exchange for their silence on candidates and parties, helps certain candidates and parties remain politically viable.

I find the whole thing both ironic and amusing really. While revoking tax exemption for a particular denomination, or all religions in general, would cause a temporary mess, churches would recover. If you think tax exemption is the only thing keeping people going to church, well, you're in for a surprise. I for one would continue giving money to my Church, regardless of its tax exempt status, and I think most religious people feel the same way. The only thing it would accomplish is to make us angry at the government for no longer letting us write off that money. I wouldn't be angry at my Church, my priest, or my God. I would be angry at the government, and especially the politicians responsible for this. I suspect most religious people would feel the same. So I say to all of my politically left-leaning friends, if you're really serious about revoking tax exempt status for my church (or any church), than go ahead and bring it. You'll cause a little trouble for us in the short-term, but in the long-term you'll be putting yourselves out of business. Like I said, if you think religion is too involved in government now, go ahead and revoke tax exemption for churches. You haven't seen anything yet.

END.

------------------------------------------------

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Are We Living in the Last Days? Part I

Apocalypse
Painted by Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, circa 1831

The previous century saw the most monumental changes in human history. These changes were primarily in technology, education and quality of life. Overall, living conditions have vastly improved for people living all over the industrialised world. Simultaneously, it was also the bloodiest century in human history. It has been said that more people have died as the result of 20th century wars, and their aftermath, than in all the previous wars in human history combined. I don't know if that's true, but even if it's only half-true, it's still remarkable. In the 20th century, we also saw the greatest threats to Christianity take shape, outside of the traditional Islamic threat, which has always been with us for over a thousand years. I'm speaking of the great communist threat, and its two offspring ideologies, fascism and militant secularism. All of this has caused honest and sincere Christians (Catholic and Protestant alike) to raise a perfectly understandable question. Are we living in the last days?

Just to clarify terms, I should probably explain what the 'last days' really are from a Christian perspective. First of all, the term is different from the 'latter days' or 'end times.' These two terms could simply apply to the last two-thousand years of history, from the time of Christ until now. Typically, the phrase 'last days' is understood as a specific time period immediately preceding the Parousia, which is an ancient Greek word meaning 'arrival' or 'presence' or 'official visitation'. According to Christian eschatology, (derived from another Greek word meaning 'study of last things'), the end of our human experience on planet earth will be marked by an official visitation from the risen Lord Jesus Christ, a 'Second Coming' if you will, in which Jesus Christ will return to earth a second time, with all the power and glory of God Almighty, to bring about the consummation of human history. All wars, struggles and conflicts will be brought to an end. The dead will be raised and given new incorruptible bodies. Those who are alive and remain will be transformed instantly, given the same incorruptible bodies, not made with material from this universe. So all humanity, living and dead, will be raised and given new bodies that cannot die. At that time, everyone will be judged according to their deeds and their trust in God in this present life. The good will spend eternity with God in paradise. The wicked and selfish, who hate God, will spend eternity dealing with the consequences of their own evil. This is what is called 'hell'. What happens to the world and this universe is unknown, only that as far as humanity will be concerned, the old world will fade away, and the new world will begin. Humanity will no longer be what it is today, and everything we know today will be no more. All humanity will participate in this new world without end, in one way or another, either in paradise or perdition. The 'last days' are commonly understood as that final epic of world history that leads up to this Parousia (Second Coming of Christ). It is seen as a turbulent period of world history, in which humanity struggles against itself, goaded by the devil into self-destruction. During this time, Christians will suffer martyrdom for their faith in greater numbers than in all of history. The Christian faith will be nearly lost in this world, and a strong delusion in the form of a false messianic promise, based on human achievement and pride, led by a false messiah (or 'Antichrist') will take over the entire planet. Only after this Antichrist has been defeated, and exposed for the impostor that he and his religion are, will the Parousia of Jesus Christ occur.

So are we living in the last days?

In this multi-part series of essays, I'll explore some reasons why I don't think we're there yet. We may be close, but as of this date in history (2015), I don't think we are nearly as close as some people think we are. We may be living in a time of a full-dress rehearsal for that era, but I don't think these are the times, and I don't think the Parousia of Jesus Christ is immediately at hand. I admit that I could be wrong about this. Because as Jesus Christ himself said: 'no man knows the day nor the hour' of his Parousia (Matthew 24:36). In all honestly, I must acknowledge that Jesus Christ could arrive tonight, because as a Catholic Christian, I must accept the possibility that he could return at any time, without notice. Also as a Catholic Christian, I must acknowledge the real possibility that I could personally go to meet him at any time -- through my own death -- which really would be the 'end of the world', for me anyway. That being said however, these essays will be about the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, and whether or not they really point to the immediate return of Jesus Christ and if we are currently living in the prophesied 'last days' as many Christians (particularly those in the United States) believe. At this time, I have no idea how many parts there will be in this series, as I'm just writing off the cuff. All I know is it's going to take more than a single essay.

THE GREAT APOSTASY

In this first part, I'll explore one of the greatest signs that Christian eschatology tells us will precede the Parousia, and that is an event known as the 'great apostasy'. The Sacred Scriptures tell us...
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.
-- 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-12
While the Catholic Church teaches us...
675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
676 The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.
-- Catechism of the Catholic Church 675-677

Apostasy is a word that comes to us from both Greek and Latin. It means 'an abandonment' or 'renunciation' of religious belief. In this context, we are talking about a great abandonment or renunciation of Christianity. Throughout history, there have been various periods when Christian populations have abandoned the faith in one way or another. Usually such apostasies were localised and involved a practical or functional abandonment in practise, without necessarily abandoning their Christian identity. What has made our time unique is the perception of the greatest abandonment in all of history. Is this perception real though? Or is it just a perception based entirely on our particular Western perspective?

There was an incredibly vast abandonment of Christianity about a thousand years ago. It happened in the East, in the once-Christian areas we know today as the Middle East and Northern Africa. All the land, stretching from the Balkan countries, through Asia Minor (Turkey), around the Middle East as far as Iraq, down into all of Northern Africa, was originally Christian. This was known as the Byzantine Empire. It lasted about a thousand years, from about AD 300 to about AD 1400. It's gradual fall began, however, with the rise of Islam in about AD 700. Islam swept thought the Middle East, into Persia, and down into Northern Africa. Christian populations initially fell by the sword, and then gradually converted though social pressures. What we witnessed a millennium ago was a massive apostasy from the Christian faith, spanning a territory much larger than all of Europe. Islam even began to reach into Europe, with the conquest of Southern Spain, and areas in Eastern Europe. Only the Reconquista and Crusades pushed the advance of Islam back, when it looked like Christianity might be wiped out completely. So complete was this great apostasy from Christianity that it caused Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-749) to describe Islam as the 'forerunner to Antichrist'. Now this is important. He didn't actually call it the Antichrist, but rather the 'forerunner' to Antichrist. There is a difference. Because Saint John of Damascus understood that what he was witnessing in his time was not the end of history. It was a forerunner, or a dress rehearsal, to the end of history. He knew that while Christians had quickly bowed their head to Mohammed's disciples in the East, Christians in the West were still holding strong, and they would not bend so easily. Indeed they didn't, as history shows, and when it looked like the end was in sight, they fought back with such courage (in the Reconquista and Crusades) that Islam would keep to its Eastern and African dominion for centuries.

In between the rise of Islam, and the modern era, there were little apostasies in Europe. Some of them involved theological dissent on the divinity of Christ, but these did not last long, and the adherents still considered themselves 'Christian' in spite of their aberrant theology. Probably the largest apostasy came about in France, during the late 18th century, at the height of the Enlightenment Era, and was a logical result of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. This was known as the French Revolution, in which a Neopagan goddess of 'reason' was openly worshipped in place of Jesus Christ. In some places, even a statue (idol) to her honour was erected in churches and cathedrals. This theatrical apostasy, which was really just an overt form of militant atheism, quickly died out, but its long-term aftermath remains with us today.

The apostasy that began in our modern era started in the East and quickly spread to the West. We can say that it started in earnest in the Christian Empire of Russia, back in 1917 at the height of World War I, with the embrace of communism (full-blown Marxist socialism). This eventually led to institutionalised atheism. Religion was not necessarily 'banned' per se', but it was so severely discouraged, marginalised and mocked, that it became a social handicap to be a religious person in that society. In the Soviet Union, religion was only for 'crazy people'. Only the 'mentally disturbed' went to church, and children were taught from a very young age, 'you don't want to be like them'. The Soviets used a combination of social and legal pressures to keep Christianity small and weak. It worked well for the seventy-five year duration of their evil empire.

Meanwhile in the West, we saw a clever reinvention of communist atheism, incorporating facets of capitalism, to create what came to be known as European fascism. Historically speaking, there was a strong Neopagan element to this, in what was called 'folk religion', particularly seen in Nazi Germany. Many Christians in the West quickly bowed the head to this fascist apostasy, just as Christians in the East submitted to communist apostasy. All of this occurred just in the first half of the 20th century, in a span of time much quicker than the rise of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, a thousand years prior.

The apostasy of Europe in the first half of the 20th century is what led to the Second World War. While the apostasy of Russia in the same half of the 20th century is what led to the Cold War. However, these apostasies did not disappear with the close of the 20th century. The European fascist apostasy simply morphed into secularist apostasy and quickly spread all throughout Western Europe and into North America. Meanwhile Soviet Russia collapsed, and Western secular apostasy is now trying to pick up where their communist apostasy left off. This is the age in which we live. As secular apostasy is in the process the deconstructing the remnant of Christian civilisation in the West, historical irony now finds Russia pushing back, with the attempted re-creation of their old Christian empire. Whether or not such a reconstruction will be successful is unknown at this time. Currently, Russia is run by criminals, or so we in the West have been told, but the reconstruction efforts are still young. It remains to be seen what will come of this vision for a revived Christian Russian Empire. Will it succeed, or will it fail? Only God knows the answer at this time. Socially it is not very strong, at least as of the date of this writing (2015). So far, it is driven primarily by legal policy alone. Such a regime cannot survive unless there is a cultural shift within the population. If Christianity eventually sees a social revival in Russia, it may be successful. For the time being however, the secular West is pushing back hard to prevent this from happening.

Those few Western Christians who remain in Europe, and the declining number in North America, are faced with the harsh reality that we are all living in a post-Christian West. The dominant 'religion' of the West, at this time, is secularism, which is really just a practical form of atheism or agnosticism. The civil law of such a religion is moral relativism, and this is gradually being enshrined into our political institutions. In all likelihood, this will continue to advance for the foreseeable future. The harsh reality is that we Western Christians no longer have control of our Western civilisation. It is now ruled by secularists (practical atheists and agnostics) who are constructing our laws in their image. The harsh reality is that we Western Christians have now been relegated to mere observers of our society, rather than active participants in it. The little political victories Christians may see in cities and states, here and there, are temporary and will be short lived. The advance of secular apostasy, the watered-down offspring of communism, marches on, and the one thing we can be truly certain of is this. No matter how bad things may seem today, they are sure to get worse tomorrow.

The only thing that is left for Western Christianity to do is evangelism, for what was once Christendom is now 'Seculardom', a godless society based on a warped understanding of liberty and reason. The Church must re-evangelise what once was hers. Is this apostasy? You bet is it! And it's a big one! It's probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better, but there is the catch you see. It probably will get better -- eventually. This is because the type of apostasy the West is engaged in, is one that is a little different from the usual apostasy. This one is unsustainable. Unlike Islam, for example, which encourages children and large families, for the expansion of its borders, secularism is a selfish apostasy that encourages infertility, lust, greed, vice and social self-destruction. We are now starting to see the early signs that it is spiralling out of control. Secularism encouraged childlessness in Europe, and look where that's gotten them. Every year European governments have to import new taxpayers from Africa and the Middle East (most of the Muslim) to shore up the fertility gap of their own native populations. If Europeans won't make babies to support the system, the government will simply import foreign baby-makers to do it for them. Some have feared this will lead to the 'Islamification' of Europe, and indeed, those are reasonable fears when you look at the number of Muslims now populating the streets of: Paris, Rome, Berlin, Stockholm, and London. Could Europe fall to Islam? Maybe. I don't think it will though. Right now those sounding the alarm are being labelled as racists, and maybe some of them are. Give it time however, and as the number of Muslims grow, what we will see is the alarm grow as well, far beyond the rantings of a few right-wingers. In the end, I think Europeans will realise that the only effective defense against the 'Islamification' of Europe will be the abandonment of secularism in total, because they will realise that secularism encourages selfishness, and selfishness results in no children. The re-embrace of Christianity not only as a social construct, but also as a way of life, will be the only answer. That may still be a long way off though. Usually such social realisations are made only in the midst of crisis. We may have to reach a tipping point of some kind, a real crisis, before Europeans awake from their secular slumber and return to their Christian roots. That may be a while yet. For the time being, I expect some European nations to try limiting Islamic influence through laws and regulations of some sort. These efforts will fail, and truth be told, such efforts are a shallow product of a bankrupt ideology. The secularist apostasy has no answers to these problems. It's an apostasy all right, but it's a dying apostasy that is unsustainable. It may be the first time we've ever seen an apostasy from Christianity with a built in self-destruct timer. It will collapse eventually. The only question that remains is: 'what will replace it'? The only solution that has a proved track record is a return to Christendom, and that must be accompanied by massive evangelism, not only of secular Europeans, but of Muslim immigrants as well. Throughout his pontificate, Saint John Paul II promised us a coming 'new evangelism'. He was speaking of the re-evangelism of Europe, the Americas, Russia and the currently unreached parts of the world. I don't think we've see it yet, not fully, and I don't think he expected it to come in his lifetime. It will happen though. It has to, and I suspect the youth of today will live to see it. In the meantime though, it has already begun in some places we probably wouldn't have suspected.

I am going to echo the words of Saint John of Damascus here, and call communism, along with its children of fascism and secularism, a 'forerunner of Antichrist'. It is not the religion of Antichrist itself, but rather a full dress rehearsal of what we can expect whenever that fateful day of Antichrist arrives. The reason why I'm saying this is because the delusion of secularism, fascism and communism are too weak. Each one has its own built-in, self-destruct timer. Each one is unsustainable. Sooner or later, each one is guaranteed collapse. Islam has much more staying power, but even that religion is just a 'forerunner' of the 'great apostasy' of Antichrist, as far as Saint John of Damascus was concerned. No, the real 'great apostasy' that is foretold to accompany the coming of Antichrist, according to Christian eschatology, will likely be far more powerful that communism, fascism, secularism, and Islam combined! As the Scriptures say, it will be so great, so deceptive, and so overpowering, that even all Christians might be deceived, if that were possible. (Matthew 24:24) It is not possible by the way. The great apostasy of the last days will sweep over the entire globe. No place on earth will be left untouched by it. We won't just see Christianity subdued in some regions here and there. No!  We will rather see it subdued literally everywhere! It will be subdued on every continent, in every nation, in every city and region. Not even the most remote island will be safe. The entire planet will fall under the spell of a strong delusion. Christianity will be reduced to almost nothing, virtually overnight, and this will be the final 'great apostasy' foretold in Christian eschatology (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) before the Parousia of Jesus Christ.

So one of the signs of the times we are to look for, before the Parousia, is the 'great apostasy' which will be universal and global in nature. There are two things we must understand about this. First, it must be global. Any regional apostasy does not count. Second, it must be an apostasy -- which means an 'abandonment' or 'renunciation' of the Christian faith. Now bear with me here, just for a moment, and think this through. In order for one to 'abandon' or 'renounce' the Christian faith, doesn't one have to be a Christian first? Now that doesn't necessarily mean such an apostasy has to happen to every individual. It could be a corporate apostasy of nations and cultures, but still, that implies that these people (or at least a large number of these people) were once Christian. You cannot have a global apostasy, renunciation or abandonment of Christianity, if large segments of the world's population were never Christians to begin with. You must first have a worldwide evangelism, and a sustained worldwide Christendom, at least for a brief period of time (a minimum of a generation or two, but possibly longer), before you can have a worldwide apostasy or 'renunciation' of the Christian faith. Guess what folks? We're not there yet. We're not even close! We are moving in the direction of worldwide evangelism, but we still have a long way to go. This is especially true in North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, India, China, remote countries, isolated regions, and now we have to re-evangelise areas we've lost in Europe and North America too! The prospect of worldwide (global) evangelism seemed impossible in the apostolic era and middle ages. It seemed extremely difficult and unlikely in previous centuries leading up to the modern era. However, now with the advent of mass communication, it is within reach. Still, that technology has not been utilised to its fullest, and we still have many obstacles to overcome in the way of governments and cultures that are hostile to the Christian faith. There will come a time when the gospel is preached to the whole world, at the same time, and the majority of the world will embrace it. Until then however, a worldwide 'great apostasy' does not seem possible.

There is another thing that causes me to believe this secular darkness, the West now finds itself in, is not the foretold 'great apostasy' of Christian eschatology. This has to do with our narrow perspective as Westerners. You see, as Westerners, we tend to focus exclusively on the Western world. We often think and act as if our region of the world is the only world that exists. That simply isn't the case. If we focus on the Western world alone, consisting primarily of Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent South America and Oceania, things look pretty grim. Secularism rules the day, and it looks like it's going to be a long time before anything changes for the better. However, as I mentioned above, Russia is in the midst of a possible Christian revival. We will have to wait and see how it turns out, because it appears that Russian leadership is infested with criminals, but time will tell. Will Russia once again become a great Christian empire? Only God knows the answer to that. Then we have Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, which has remained fairly strong in the Christian faith, while Western Europe has bent the knee to secularism. We have yet to see what becomes of them. However, the biggest region of the world that Western Christians often fail to consider is Africa. What used to be called the 'dark continent' -- Africa -- is now becoming a shining beacon of light, insofar as Christianity is concerned. In fact, one of the reasons why radical Islamists are slaughtering so many Christians in Africa is because a hundred times as many Muslims are converting to Christianity there every year. What particularly catches my attention is a recent study done by the Pew Center, showing how the demographic centre of the Catholic Church has radically changed over the last century. While Latin America remains a large and growing percentage of Catholic Christianity, the real shift has been between Europe and Africa. Over the last hundred years, Europe as lost more than half of its Catholic population, while the population of Catholics in Asia-Pacific have more than doubled, and the number of Catholics in Sub-Sahara Africa has more than tripled!

Source: Pew Research Center
Yes, we are living in the midst of a great apostasy -- primarily in Europe -- and to a lesser extent North America. Even to a much lesser extent South America and Oceania. But whatever apostasy we see in these places, it is counter-balanced by Catholic evangelism and growth in South America, Oceania, Asia and especially Africa. When we look at just the Catholic Church alone, it presents a very mixed picture. This apostasy we are now suffering in the Western world is a mixed bag. We're losing Catholics in some regions by the droves, but in other regions, we're gaining them in great numbers. In addition to that, the rate of Catholicism's growth over the last century, globally, has been pretty consistent with the rate of growth in the world's population. The places where that growth is occurring has changed, but globally, it's remained about the same.

However, when we factor Protestantism into the equation, it changes the picture dramatically. The greatest decline in faith is in Europe, and while the number of Catholics has not grown proportionally with the population there, the number of practising Protestants has rapidly declined in proportion to the population. All across Europe, Protestant denominations are experiencing a collapse. When you combine this with the stagnating number of Catholics in Europe, it makes for a very bleak picture. North America has a similar story, but it's just not as bad. What we are really witnessing here is the collapse of mainline Protestant denominations. In North America, this loss has been shored up by a rise in Pentecostal and unaffiliated Evangelical denominations, but Europe doesn't really have such denominations to speak of. With the decline of mainline Protestant denominations in Europe, comes the decline of Protestantism in general there.

When we consider the time in which we live, we have to step back and look at the big picture. Yes, we are experiencing a period of decline in Christianity, a very large apostasy, but this apostasy is centred mainly in Europe. North America is experiencing it too, but to a lesser degree. South America and Oceania even less so. Demographically, the problem seems to really be centred in Protestantism, which is suffering the real collapse, particularly in Europe. Catholicism on the other hand, has continued to grow with the worldwide population, though its centre of growth has moved away from Europe and toward Latin America, Africa and Asia. So is this really the 'great apostasy' foretold in Christian eschatology?

Well, no. When you step back and look at the big picture, it doesn't really seem like it.

It is a nasty apostasy to be sure, one of the worst we've seen in a very long time, but its not the 'great apostasy', namely because Christianity is still growing worldwide, and of all Christian affiliations, the Catholic Church appears to be the most stable, as well as the world's largest. It's just Catholicism in Europe that is haemorrhaging, but in comparison, Protestantism in Europe is nearly dead. As for the future of Europe, as I said above, it can't keep going on like this indefinitely, because its demographically unsustainable. Sooner or later, the people of Europe will have to decide; do they want to be Christian, or do they want to be Muslim? Because remaining secular will no longer be an option. A similar question will eventually be put to North America too, but probably much later. As for the type of Christianity that will eventually prevail, the answer should be obvious. It will be Catholic Christianity, because it has held its ground the most firmly against both apostasies of Islam a thousand years ago, and secularism today.

END.

This concludes Part I of this series. Since I published this first part after the Easter celebrations of 2015, I'll probably publish Part II after the Pentecost celebrations of this year. Check back regularly for updates. I may publish it sooner if I can.

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Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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