Olivia Pierson


A large part of the success of Western civilisation was that our European ancestors saw fit to mount an enormous civil war during the Reformation and Counter Reformation to defang Catholic theocracy during the pernicious times of the Inquisition. It climaxed with the regicide of the king, Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland. The result was a political and military lurch toward religious tolerance, though nothing after that went smoothly until William and Mary of the House of Orange took the English throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Protestantism had won and papacy was intentionally blocked from holding power. It still took another two hundred years to achieve the stunning 18th Century Enlightenment when church and state hammered out the terms and negotiations to finally get an acrimonious divorce. Thank you Thomas Jefferson and America’s founding fathers. 

The civilising dominance of religious pluralism helped build our modern democracies around the thorny issues of different religious dogmas, allowing religion to become just a matter of personal conscience and very little else, besides the great hangover of our powerful Christianised institutions. These were only the nations of Judaeo-Christianity otherwise known as “Christendom” six hundred years after the Crusades had ceased to be fought in the Holy Land. We lost Jerusalem for a long time, until 1948. But then Israel, the most diversely religious country on this earth, became an important outpost of Western civilisation in the dry, Islamic Middle East. 

By the time that Europe rushed headlong into the first world war of 1914, Queen Victoria’s ubiquitous grandchildren, spread throughout every royal court on the Continent and beyond, suddenly found themselves in a war with each other, not really believing it could end up being so very bad. Everyone thought it would be a hard, sharp, short clash lasting a few months at most. 

What transpired was so bitter and exhaustively long that those hellish four years ended the very notion of any cousinly unity built upon the foundations of a shared matriarch, a common faith, long-standing trade and diplomatic institutions. For the most poignant nonfiction overview of this tragic and far-reaching outbreak, one can’t do better than reading Barbara Tuchman’s beautifully written 1962 best seller, for which she won her first Pulitzer, titled The Guns of August. So arresting is her prose that any reader sensitive to the written word will find themselves at risk of bursting into tears at various moments (I’m in mind of the chapter describing the sacking of Louvain).

As I’ve written about before for a previous Anzac Day, the young people who came of age during the Great War went down in history and generational theory as the “Lost Generation” – a generation typified by a wearied, cynical and self-indulgent attitude as portrayed in the writings of Ernest Hemingway, D H Lawrence and F Scott Fitzgerald. In many ways they ought to be forgiven for such a lack of faith or hope in human beings given what that war did to civilisation, to say nothing about the fact that the war arguably did not end properly until 27 years later in 1945. An armistice is not a decisive enough ending compared to unconditional surrender. This was probably the Allied Powers’ greatest mistake with conquered Germany in 1918.

The Great War ended four of the world’s proudest empires. The Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires fell, leaving only the wounded British staggering forward to a slower decline, after another even worse war, which thank God they won.

Here ended Christendom. A longstanding designated identity of both geographical and metaphysical significance, dating back to Constantine the Great, went into retirement – and unlike Christ – as the faith holds, has not been resurrected.

The first half of the 20th century is now remembered as a time of immeasurable bloodshed. For all the generations living today which were born after the second world war, from the Boomers to Gen-Z, the events of the previous century loom as a not so distant dark shadow, warning of what the folly of man is capable of doing to mankind, whether Christian or atheist.

Yet, as Heraclitus of Ephesus once mused in his own ancient days: War is the father of all things and the king of all. It turns some into gods, others into men, some into slaves, others into free men.

Heraclitus’ philosophical conviction was that all things were in flux all of the time, that nothing is ever static, everything moves and that reality is driven by conflicting opposites pushing toward a becoming then a passing away. Not even the same river can be stepped into twice by the same man due to the constant flow of new waters. 

The weeping philosopher, as Heraclitus was remembered for being, is a classic example of one who holds the Greek tragic world-view of human nature remaining immutable over time, as opposed to the Judaeo-Christian therapeutic world-view where human nature itself can be overcome if godly virtues and faith in redemption are held as absolutes. Western thought absorbed both views, but it can now easily be argued that wokedom, a grotesque innovation of the now secularised West, dispensed with Nature and Nature’s God so completely taking the therapeutic view to the brink of absolute evil by meddling with sexual biology in a very destructive fashion. Their therapeutic version of playing Dr Fixer-Upper is pure mutilation and sterilisation in the tender hunting grounds of youthful confusion.

We are all weeping philosophers now in the face of this human tragedy. I think I’m with Heraclitus. 

On this past Easter Sunday while out walking in a leafy suburb I heard the beautiful sound of a church bell tolling. I hadn’t heard that sound for longer than I care to remember but it gave me a distinctly atavistic sense that something was right in the world and the reassurance I received in that moment made my whole being shimmer inside.

I think the West is about to get a lesson in why religious sentiments may matter more than many of us would like to admit. 

For an entire culture to lose connection with its historical, founding beliefs and moral myths so decisively – I mean to have them intentionally torn out of longstanding cultural traditions and institutions only to be held in something close to contempt – is nothing short of devastating to the future of that culture. The chill emanating from that void is just too dark and frigid to be life affirming in any way.

The nature of human beings over the whole of time tell us tales of war, of toil, of struggle, suffering and survival. But the human imagination is the first place where stories of gods and serpents, of utopias, heroes and villains, loves and redemptions are ignited in the mind before our lives are built by the actions of our own free will. This trains our sentiments into developing character. It strikes me as no small thing that the book of Genesis reads that God made man “in his own image.” We’re meant to use our imaginations as well as our intellects when it comes to working out the depth and breadth of our moral code.

I’ve read most books that militant atheist Christopher Hitchens ever wrote (“anti-theist” he used to claim about himself just to make the point of how hostile he was to the religious impulse). As an essayist superbly well-versed in history and literature he is simply one of the best and I esteem him highly. But he aimed the prodigious weapon of his wit at the wrong target when he penned his bestseller God is not Great – how religion poisons everything. His atheistic dogma seems to me now to be strangely flawed in a similar way that I recognise Marxist dogma to be, and that is in his overt and unrelenting critical theory of all religions “being wrong in the same way”. He meant that they founded truth on faith and not reason (tell that to Thomas Aquinas), but I cannot shake the feeling that there is something slightly, culturally self-loathing and therefore off with his extremely clever rhetoric. Christopher was a man of the left after all. As much as I respect him as a witty and insightful writer worth his salt, I once sent the first book I have ever windmilled across a balcony in total disgust (to use one of his phrases of literary contempt) – and that was his pretentious memoir Hitch 22. It was unreadable in its sycophancy to leftist intellectual Marxists of the late 20th Century, as if they didn’t help to fuck us over. The only other book that received this harsh treatment from me was Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.

Hitchens committed an enormous amount of his time and energy to tearing down the already crumbled edifice of religious thought in our culture, which actually once held a much greater threat to our civilisation in check – that of wokery which is curiously now the protector of Islam, a truly toxic religion which never underwent anything close to an enlightenment, hence is not defanged but virulent, in fact very much seems to be advancing in the West of all places. God forbid!

The wars of the first half of the 20th century showed us that Christendom was not enough of a unifying identity to make the peoples of Europe always behave in decent ways toward their own kind, that’s obvious. Yet the ghastly spectre of wokedom coupled with the violent ideology of Islam stands to wreak a much greater havoc over Western man in this century if it’s not smacked down and put in its place. When the Christian church bells of Europe have fallen silent, as they have now, and instead the Islamic call to prayer is caterwauled out over loudspeakers, to appeal to the historical fact that our nations are, by and large, a product of Christian culture, instead of merely a secular one since the Enlightenment – as the atheist likes to assert – seems to me an important point to keep making. We should all understand the complexity of our own histories for the sake of soundly teaching them to our future generations.

Even if people cannot sincerely muster any metaphysical faith in the Christian God, and I for one truly understand that position very well, maybe they could muster some faith in the divinely heroic competence of 12th century cathedral builders, the sublimely inspired music of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and our courageous ancestors who not only fought for a religious Reformation in the 16th century but also more recently mounted an aggressive resistance to the Central Powers in WWI and the odious Nazis and Imperial Japanese in WWII – and won! 

These are the remembrances I will be contemplating going into this year’s Anzac Day over the coming week.

Lest we forget.

If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book “Western Values Defended: A Primer.”

I value the principles which became the hallmarks of Western democracy, made possible by the Age of Reason; religious tolerance (a wall between religion and state), a commitment to scientific inquiry,...

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