The first half of Peter Hitchens’ book concludes with a short summary of how the Christian faith declined in England over the course of the last century or so. From here in the deep weeds of secularism, it is easy to forget that the two great industrial wars of the twentieth century were wars that took place between nations that had belonged to the last tattered remains of Christendom. And the hollow shell of a faith that was still impressive to look at from a distance was shattered by those wars.
A big part of the problem was that the leaders of the national churches had given themselves too readily and too fully to “the war-making of democratic politicians” (p. 116). The wars, and the ways they were conducted, seared the consciences of several generations and the church was not unaffected. On the spiritual plane, this was indeed a Pyrrhic victory.
“But in general the Church of England suffered the decay in authority and the loss of trust and deference that affected every established pillar of English society” (p. 117).
After the second of these great wars, the economy of England staggered into a ditch, and lay there drunk.
“This dismal period made talk of victory seem especially hollow in a country that was still damaged and exhausted by six years of total war” (p. 119).
It was not as though nothing was happening on the religious front, but whatever was happening was not good news for the old order. What used to one of the great orthodox pillars of the global church became an effeminate mess.
“At around this time, the great missions of Billy Graham to Britain laid the foundations of a new evangelism that has in recent years become a major force in the English church. And the Roman Catholic Church, with its comparatively uncompromising position, seduced many thoughtful English Christians from the increasingly relativistic and agnostic established Church of England. But that established church itself lost authority and, though still present in every corner of England, spoke to and for fewer and fewer people” (p. 119).
All this set the stage for a newer, militant form of unbelief. Some forms of unbelief are willing to keep up the appearances, but other more virulent forms are content with nothing less than a total overthrow of the whole business.
“These things have happened, not because of the rage against religion in Britain . . . but because the British establishment has ceased to be Christian and has inherited a society with Christian forms and traditions. It does not know what to do with them or how to replace them” (pp. 122-123).
The new atheism proposes to solve the problem rather neatly by razing the whole thing to the foundations and sowing it with salt. Christus delenda est. But the next section addresses whether or not their atheistic wrecking balls and bulldozers work nearly so well as they would like to assume.