The most dangerous people, said the twentieth-century Christian essayist G. K. Chesterton, are those who have been cut off from their cultural roots. Had he lived long enough, he would have seen his observation hideously fulfilled. At the time of his death in 1936, Germany, one of the greatest of the Christian nations, had been amputated from its Christian origins and was embracing instead wild doctrines founded on sheer nonsense. Thus deluded, the Germans set off the world’s worst-ever war. People who don’t believe in something, Chesterton also said, can be persuaded to believe in anything. How right he was.
Today, we are just such a people. That America, indeed the whole western world, is being wrenched away from its cultural origins has become a self-evident fact. For half a century, our literature, our popular music and drama, the visual arts, Hollywood and much of the film industry have been disseminating a genre of nihilism that debases almost every form of human virtue and exalts sensual gratification beyond anything the senses could possibly fulfill. Meanwhile, the liberal arts faculties of our universities work zealously to cut off the branch they are sitting on, diligently destroying the very foundations upon which the whole concept of higher education rests. The result of all this is a culturally dispossessed people, the very situation in which Chesterton saw such mortal danger.
What are our foundations? Though it has of late become intellectually unfashionable to even think it, let alone say it, the fact is that our cultural origins are almost wholly Christian. Our founding educational institutions, our medical system, our commitment to the care of the aged and infirm, our concept of individual rights and responsibilities, all came to us through Christianity. Our best literature, our most enduring music, our finest sculptural masterpieces and many of the greatest paintings in every age are those of professed and dedicated Christians. Finally, our concept of democracy came to us from the Greeks through Christianity. Is it by mere coincidence that all those nations that have best instituted and preserved democratic government emerged from Christian origins? I don’t think so.
The purpose of this series is to describe these foundations, to say who we are and how we got here. That is, to establish our real roots. It has been a long journey, two thousand years, and neither it nor we have been uniformly benevolent. But this is our past, this is our family, and knowing who it is and what it has done is the first step in finding our way home.
To read any of the stories contained in Volume One of The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years click on its title on the menu to the right. If you prefer to experience the stories beautifully laid out in print with hundreds of magnificent illustrations of the period then we encourage you to support this project by ordering the book from The Christians website.