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Succumbing to evil is most often a gradual process. This is true for an individual, a group, a nation, and even a culture. Often, transformation is imperceptible to those being transformed – until the rot in their soul is too advanced to be easily reversed. In William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the play’s namesake is the loyal cousin and supporter of King Duncan of Scotland. Macbeth heads home a hero after winning a great battle for King Duncan and Wales against the armies of Norway and Ireland. During his triumphant travel home, he met a trio of witches who prophesied to him that he would become king, and the dark whispers of evil began growing in his heart.

Initially, he thought the witches meant he was merely destined to become king and that he should wait for that prophetic fulfillment. But when he told his wife about this odd prophecy, she immediately began furiously fanning his newly woke ambitions and lust for power. Soon, his moral moorings began to unravel under the pressure of his own ambitions fanned by his wife’s promptings to act on the prophecy. It wasn’t long before he undertook to do what was “needed” for his destiny to be fulfilled – and killed his cousin, King Duncan, in his bed. Torn between the heavy moral guilt of this dastardly deed and the rampant evil growing large within him, he increasingly gave in completely to his evil impulses and soon became mentally unstable, almost unrecognizable to those around him. Even his wife was taken aback by the alarming downward slide in his character and personality. In Act 4, Macbeth was making his way to ask the three witches for yet more prophecies concerning his future power. In Act 4, scene 1, the second witch speaks thus before his arrival:

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes

The “wicked” she was referring to was Macbeth himself, who, once an honorable man, had become a monster. He was wicked alright, even killing the entire family – wife and small children – of a former comrade. Macbeth’s wife could not live with the monster he had become and committed suicide herself. Shakespeare’s plays were, of course, based in Western culture, which is steeped in and shaped by a Judeo-Christian worldview. Macbeth is a study of human nature, self-deception, and the tragic downward spiral of displacing biblical morality for personal gain.

Our nation (and indeed most Western nations) is suffering a sort of Macbeth-like character “meltdown” as it appears to be collapsing in on itself. Vestiges of our Christian heritage remain but have been twisted into an almost unrecognizable new and improved “Christian worldview” without much of the “Christian” part intact. The foundation is all wrong, tilted, and cracked, and we don’t seem, as a society, to be able to recognize that we have lost much of our former strength and apparently a sizable chunk of our sanity!

George Barna points out in American Worldview Inventory 2024 that the current prevailing worldview is Syncretism (92%), and the second most popular is a Biblical Worldview (4%). According to Wikipedia, religious syncretism is the blending of religious belief systems into a new system or the incorporation of other beliefs into an existing religious tradition. Effectively, we’re now killing the baby while worshipping the bathwater.

This turn of events is even giving atheists pause. Almost four years ago, we wrote, Atheists Need Christianity. In it, we quoted a 32-word Tweet that famous atheist Richard Dawkins had posted a few days earlier:

“Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let’s not forget Hilaire Belloc’s menacing rhyme: ‘Always keep a-hold of nurse — For fear of finding something worse.’”

Dawkins and the once merry band of atheists were growing genuinely concerned. Culture, it seemed, was shedding itself of Christianity – FAST! It began dawning on some of them that Christian morality comes from, well, Christianity. What follows once the source of culture’s morality is thrown out of the picture? Dawkins was suddenly faced with the “fear of finding something worse.” Perhaps much worse! In the past four years, he has publicly shifted to defending Christianity as a social good and has been referring to himself as a Cultural Christian. In Atheists for Christianity, Conn Carroll quotes a recent comment from Dawkins:

“I do think that we are culturally a Christian country,” Dawkins told Leading Britain’s Conversation, a British talk-radio station. “I call myself a cultural Christian,” Dawkins continued, “I’m not a believer. But there is a distinction between being a believing Christian and being a cultural Christian. And so you know I love hymns and Christmas carols and I sort of feel at home in the Christian ethos. I feel that we are a Christian country in that sense.”

Carroll gives the statistics on the percentage of American adults who believe the United States is a Christian nation (33%) and those who think it should be (45%). In Richard Dawkins has some regrets, Kaylee McGhee White comments:

If Dawkins is willing to admit that the Christian faith offers the best chance at a well-ordered society, the first thing he should ask himself is how he is able to determine which values might make for a well-ordered society in the first place. As C.S. Lewis put it, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.”

The second question he should ask is: Why? Why is this faith the most conducive to a free and just society? Indeed, why are its tenets undeniably linked to human flourishing? Could it be because Christianity is rooted in an unchanging truth about who we are and what we need?

Historian and author of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, Tom Holland, is an atheist. He now refers to himself as a Christian Atheist. In his 2016 article, “Tom Holland: Why I was wrong about Christianity,” he ends with:

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

In his book, he demonstrates that the Roman-Greco world was ruled by one thing. Powerful males held complete dominance in society. Women, less powerful males, and children were little more than vessels for sexual pleasure. The weak and deformed were regarded as less than human, and unwanted newborns, especially females, were often disposed of.

In the November 17, 2022 Edictum Conferences: Tom Holland – Why I changed my mind about Christianity, near the end, Holland was asked by the moderator, “How do you see the future of Christianity in Europe in the next 100 years so.” Holland’s response is instructive:

I guess three possibilities. The first is that liberal Society in the West; I think the liberal secular society in the West, which I see as very much being the heir of Christendom, will maintain itself without a Christian faith. That, in a way, Christianity was kind of like the, you know, the rocket that’s broken through the atmosphere, and now it’s kind of peeled off, and Liberal Europe will just continue floating through space under its own velocity. So, that’s one possibility.

The other possibility is that the myth of the Second World War that I talked about and of Hitler [being enormously evil] will fade and that as it does and as Christian teachings start to fade, it will be possible for people to re-enshrine the values of the ancient world that the notion that power and glamor and swagger are to be valued and praised and that weaknesses [are to be] despised will re-emerge.

The third is that perhaps people will recognize what does seem to me absolutely the truth discerned by Nietzsche, who argued that you can’t really have Christian values without Christian belief and that people in Europe will perhaps come to recognize that and return to a sense of the value of Christianity which I think is not a huge trend, but I think it is a trend that’s happening at the moment. And it may well be that all three of those things will happen, but I don’t know. I’m not a prophet like Isaiah… I think that you only really perhaps start to value something when you sense that you’re losing it. I think a lot of people, certainly in my country and perhaps further in other Western countries as well, there is a sense that something is being lost as Christianity diminishes and a recognition that a lot of values and assumptions that people had assumed were just kind of hardwired into our brains. That they were just human nature, that, actually, they’re quite culturally contingent, and that they’re dependent on Christianity. I think there is a kind of growing sense of that.1This quote was copied from the transcript beginning at 57:50 and ending at 1:00:34 and is slightly edited for readability

Catch his observation, “There is a sense that something is being lost as Christianity diminishes.” Well, it surely appears to us and many others that, as the witch said of the utterly debased MacBeth, “something wicked this way comes.”

Scriptures never called on the people of God to transform culture. The early believers understood that and embraced their calling as ambassadors to carry the transforming gospel of salvation to those who needed to hear and receive it. As individuals were transformed, they, in turn, shared the gospel with others, who were in turn transformed. The fruit of this effort was that culture itself was radically transformed because of the redeemed. Interestingly, as the influence of their faith radically changed the societies around them, their behavior even transformed the behavior of the unredeemed – through social pressure and expectation. The Apostle Peter pointed this out to the Jewish believers in 1 Peter 2:11-12. David Stern puts it well in the Jewish New Testament Commentary. Peter first reminded them that they are:

Aliens and temporary residents not only in the Diaspora but on earth.

He then instructs them on how to carry themselves in this foreign culture. They are:

Not to give in to the desires of your old nature. Live such good lives among the pagans (or “Gentiles”) that even though they now speak against you as evildoers, they will, as a result of seeing your good actions, give glory to God.

The impact of the gospel was so great early on that the first recorded “Seeker Sensitive” outreach was instituted by a pagan emperor trying to compete with the obvious benefits of Christianity. Toward the end of the Fourth Century, the last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate, was attempting to restart pagan worship as he funded the rebuilding of the temples. The venture was struggling, and Julian wrote the following to the pagan priest in Galatia:

Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

Our present challenge may seem difficult to carry out, but it is simple to understand. Christian churches should stop imitating culture, and train their people to be ambassadors to a lost world, and faithfully live biblically in an antagonistic culture, knowing the days are short.Ω

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