What Happened to Western Civilization?

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As we look around at the shambles of Western civilization, a question seems to be on everyone’s mind: What happened?

Ken Ham

illustration by Viktor Miller-Gausa

Ken Ham
Answers in Genesis

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, are looking at our Western world and asking, “What happened?” Why do they ask this question? In the USA, 56% of what’s called the greatest generation (those born before 1928) attend church, but now only about 18% of millennials do (“Religion Among the Millennials,” Pew Forum, February 2010).

In Britain, total church attendance in 2015 was down to 5% of the population (“Christianity in the UK,” Faith Survey, August 13, 2018). The percentage of millennials and post-millennials that attend church is probably much less, considering that the younger generations are much more atheistic.

In Australia, total church attendance in 2011 was only 6% (Local Churches in Australia, NCLS, 2017; NCLS Church Life Pack Seminar Presentation, Sydney, 2016). We have seen the same trends across Europe, New Zealand, Canada—across the whole Western world.

Also, we can observe the changing worldview in these cultures from a more Christianized one in the past to a very secularized/atheistic worldview of moral relativism in our present day. For instance, in America, 78% of the greatest generation believed same-sex relations were always wrong. However, in the millennial generation this is down to 43%, and it seems Generation Z is much less than that.

We see very similar statistics regarding same-sex relationships in Britain. And notably, in 1983, about 60% of those in Britain who claimed they had “no religion” (but they do have a religion—the religion of atheism/agnosticism) believed same-sex relationships were always or nearly always wrong. But by 2013, that figure was down to about 10% (“Attitudes Towards Gay Rights,” British Religion in Numbers, January 2017).

Similar changes have been observed in people’s attitude toward abortion, euthanasia, and many other issues. So many people ask the question, “What happened?”

Really the answer is simple but is missed even by many in the church. I assert four major reasons for this change:

  1. So much of the church (and its leadership) has compromised God’s Word in Genesis, thus undermining the authority of the Word of God and undermining a Christian worldview.
  2. Most church leaders and Christian academics have not taught generations how to develop a truly Christian worldview beginning with the foundation of Genesis and the rest of God’s Word.
  3. The teaching of apologetics to combat the secular attacks of our day has been largely neglected in churches.
  4. 90–95% of kids from churches have been indoctrinated by the secular education system to doubt and not believe the Word of God beginning in Genesis—but to believe the pagan religion of evolution as fact.

What happened in our Western world began 6,000 years ago in a garden—a battle between two religions. God instructed Adam to obey his Word:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely 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 surely die” (Genesis 2:16–17).

The devil successfully tempted Eve—and Adam followed her—to disobey God’s Word and be their own gods (to build their thinking on man’s word):

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” . . . . But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1–5).

Thus, the battle between God’s Word and man’s word ensued! This battle is seen all the way through Scripture (light/darkness, good/evil, for/against Christ, build house on rock/sand).

Much of the Western world’s worldview came out of the Bible. Therefore, most people believed that marriage was between one man and one woman and that homosexual behavior was wrong.

So what happened? The foundation for the dominant worldview of the West was changed.

But what’s happened is that generations of kids, now particularly reflected in the younger generations (e.g., millennials, post-millennials), have been indoctrinated against the Bible and to believe that man’s fallible word is the foundation for their thinking. So if there’s no absolute authority, then ultimately anything goes! The resulting moral relativism and the growing intolerance of Christianity is a sad reflection of this foundational change.

So what happened? The foundation for the dominant worldview of the West was changed, and as a result the worldview has changed from primarily a very Christianized worldview to a secular worldview!

Can the culture ever reverse direction and change back? Yes, but only through the power of God’s Word and the gospel to change lives so people will be committed to building their thinking on the Word of God.

Ken Ham is the founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis–US. He has edited and authored many books about the authority of God’s Word and the impact of evolutionary thinking on our culture, including Already Gone and The Lie.

Answers Magazine

January–February 2019

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