G. K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man that Christianity has died many times but always somehow – miraculously – renewed itself .
The first death, of course, was the literal death of Christ, the next when Roman Emperor Constantine made it a Court Religion because it suited him politically – it should have disappeared when the Empire fell.
There was the sundering of the whole fabric with the Reformation, more deaths with the French Enlightenment, the Age of Ideologies, and other fatal episodes.
Now, churches in Britain are emptying at the incredible rate, according to Damian Thompson, of 10,000 per week (I find this hard to believe, but the rate is certainly very large).
The Pope urges Europe to accelerate its religious, social and cultural suicide before the immigration jihad. The Archbishop of Canterbury takes tea at Lambeth Palace with the supporters of Islamic murder of the defenders of a persecuted Christian woman. He claimed it would strengthen ‘interfaith relations’ and ‘address the narrative of extremism and terrorism’. Ugh!
In St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow a passage read from the Koran denies Christ’s divinity (leaving him not a prophet or a moral teacher but a crank or criminal). It may be said that Christianity in the Western Europe which it made is in dire straits indeed. None of Chesterton’s previous ‘deaths’ of Christianity was like this one. However, setting aside the conditions of the major churches in the West, Christianity still seems to be putting forth some green shoots. It is growing in China, though it is still a small minority religion there, and some Chinese scholars have concluded that it was the principal cause of the West’s success.
Most importantly, in contrast to its decline in Western Europe, Christianity has been growing strongly in parts of Africa. The trouble in the African case is the unremitting attack by Islam. It was estimated that in 2017 an average of more than 10 Christians a day were killed by Muslims. In much of Africa, of course, accurate figures are impossible to ascertain. In Nigeria and other North African states, attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamist groups on Christian worshippers are too numerous to be worth reporting.
In the Sahara and the North African states between the Mediterranean coast and the equatorial forests, and in much of the Middle East, Christianity was wiped out centuries ago. Only the Egyptian Copts, because of their considerable numbers, manage to hang on, though subject to persecution and the constant threat of massacre. On Palm Sunday last year, 44 people were klled and 126 wounded in Egypt in bomb attacks on Coptic churches. In 2016 an attack on Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 and wounded dozens more, President Sisi’s appeals for pluralism notwithstanding.
The group Open Doors estimates that internationally each month more than 200 Christian places of worship are destroyed. How many know that the Al Asqua mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount was a Crusader church, taken by Saladin in 1187? What if the descendants of the crusaders would like it back? Or Turkey’s vast Hagia Sophia, whose defenders were impaled alive by the victorious Ottomans?
In one instance Muslim gunmen killed at least 14 churchgoers returning from a midnight service in Nigeria’s Rivers state, an incident virtually ignored by the mainstream media. This violence is now almost entirely one way. In Western countries an additional cohort for the militant Islamists is provided by the flocks of the left-wing politically correct, who help intimidate and silence speakers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The only Middle East country where Christians can feel safe is Israel, although many of their Western European brethren, including parts of the Anglican Church, are prominent in attacking it.
If Africa is the seed-bed of a Christian revival in the world, it is an extremely imperilled one. Obviously, in many parts of Africa police services to protect the citizens impartially and effectively from violence and murder are, for various reasons, very poor or non-existent. That figure of 10-plus a day might turn out to be a great understatement if the true figures were known. The attacks on Christians, Jews and other infidels are so unremitting that one commentator, Robert Spencer, is able to find material to publish a daily Jihad Watch, and the Gatestone Institure a daily newsletter online.
Further, we see in Western Christianity not only a great disinterest in the plight of African and Third World Christians in general, but an Eloi-like reluctance to exert political pressure on governments to defend them or – to speak openly – to fight back. The end-goal of the militant Islamists is to obliterate Christianity and Judaism entirely and globally. Thus ‘interfaith dialogue’ is useless.
Europe seems bemused that the immigrants and asylum-seekers from whom it has a reasonable right to expect gratitude show such an unremitting hatred and violence towards its people. Like one kind of battered wife, it passively comes back for more.
The Popes once saw that passivity would solve nothing and the way to prevent attacks of Christians was to defend them. The orders of chivalry – the knights of St. John and others – were founded to protect Christians in the Middle East on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Could beleagured Christianity in the Third World, especially in Africa, be defended more aggressively? How long can it go on passively absorbing these blows? Where there are no efficient police, and no general ethical law or social liberalism, is there no role in protecting fragile and beleagured Christian communities for the strong man armed? National governments will only intervene reluctantly when things have gone to extremes and the skull-pyramids are rising.
Given the present resumption of the great Muslim onslaught against Christianity, and the weakness of the UN, is it completely unreasonable to suggest something like a revival of the military orders to protect Christianity? Some of the churches have plenty of money. And are Muslims the only ones who can recruit foreign fighters?
Chesterton also pointed out that Christianity gave rise not only to St. Francis of Assisi, but to Richard the Lionheart as well. Difficulties for the creation or some sort of new military order seem overwhelming. Where would it recruit and who would pay, for a start? Most if not all governments would forbid them. Powerful and wealthy patrons would be needed.But people still look to heroes.