The Gathering Storm over Western Civilization

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
June 23, 2020

This article is an excerpt from the introduction of Dr. Mohler’s newest book, The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. For more information, click here. To order a copy of the book, click here

It was as if Western civilization was burning, right before our eyes. The great cathedral known throughout centuries as Notre-Dame de Paris burned through the April night, and the damage was catastrophic. The majestic cathedral that had symbolized Paris for more than nine hundred years was a smoldering ember.

Notre Dame’s iconic image is more than a feat of architectural genius; the cathedral stood as an essential monolith of Western civilization, signifying the central role of Christianity in the development of European identity. Indeed, the very design of the structure itself marked the emergence of Gothic architecture–an architectural style intended above all to communicate the transcendence and glory of God. Gothic architecture intends to make a person entering through its space feel small, almost infinitesimal. The seemingly endless perpendicular lines lead the eyes upward even as the magnitude of the space appears breathtaking. The message sent by the architecture of the cathedrals was clear–the cosmos is all about the glory of God.

The great cathedrals of Europe, and their successors elsewhere, were intended to make a huge statement of Christian identity for the entire society. For centuries, the landscape of Europe would be dominated by the cathedrals and their soaring towers and spires. The message would be clear.

The relevance of Notre Dame’s fire to the crisis of Western civilization was there for all to see, but few seemed to see it. The story of Western civilization cannot be told without the cathedrals of Europe. The fact that cathedrals like Notre Dame would for centuries dominate the skyline of European cities points to the central role of Christianity in providing the worldview that made Western civilization possible. The basic tenets of Christian theology and ethics constructed the superstructure of European culture, providing its morality, basic truth claims, understanding of the cosmos, and language and meaning.

And all of that was burning, but the threat to the values of Western culture had already been burning for some time.

Notre Dame’s history chronicles the erosion of Christianity’s dominance over Western civilization. The gathering storm of secularism can be told through the narrative of arguably the most recognized cathedral in the world. More than mere bricks and mortar, Notre Dame’s story captures the sorrow of secularism and its corrosive determination to exterminate the influence of the Christian worldview…

When the storm of secularism thunders on the horizon, it often seems unassuming, undaunting, a mere change in the weather. But secularism will seduce a civilization away from the very foundations that it stood upon for centuries. The tale of Notre Dame points to the endgame of secularism: what was once a testament to Christianity’s centrality to the culture, is now mostly a civic monument and symbol of French nationalism…

Something fundamental has reshaped our entire culture. In Europe, the process is now very advanced, and the dechristianization of European societies is now largely true in Canada, where the society is in this respect far more like Europe than the United States, which is right across the border. In the US, we can see the same process now in play, and accelerating. Eventually, this process will reshape the entire culture. It is happening right now, right before our eyes.

The Secular Advance

The West’s new cultural and moral environment did not emerge from a vacuum. Massive intellectual changes have shaped and reshaped Western culture since the dawn of the Enlightenment. At the heart of this great intellectual shift is a secular reframing of reality.

Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief. It is both an ideology, which is know as secularism, and a consequence, which is known as secularization. The latter is not an ideology; it is a concept and sociological process whereby societies become less theistic, and in our context that means less Christian in general outlook. As societies move into conditions of deeper and more progressive modernity, they move out of a situation in which religious belief–and specifically, belief in the God of the Bible–provided the binding authority that held society together and provided a common morality, a common understanding of the world, a common concept of what it meant to be human. Secularizing societies move into conditions in which there is less and less theistic belief and authority until there is hardly even a memory that such a binding authority had ever existed…

This article is an excerpt from the introduction of Dr. Mohler’s newest book, The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. For more information, click here. To order a copy of the book, click here.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).