What Replaces Christianity in a “Post-Christian World”?

By Fr. James V. Schall

Fr. James Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence
Photo Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana

We often hear expressions like “the post-Christian era” to describe the time in which we live. It is not a bad phrase provided we realize that every step in rejecting a Christian teaching keeps that very teaching before our eyes. Just as Christianity preserved many pagan practices, a “post-Christian era” will retain many Christian customs and ideas without acknowledging their Christian origins. They will usually be disguised under different names or explanations. We will notice a pseudo-heaven and this-worldly hell. We will propose an explanation for sin not based on free will. We will have an inner-worldly immortality of sorts. Evil and good will appear in Manichean fashion as two separate gods. But a post-Christian age will invent new names and explanations for them. It will logically develop ideas into a new form or synthesis that is anything but Christian.  

What replaces Christianity, we can assume, will want to appear to itself, at least, to be logically coherent. It will claim to explain human life and its earthly condition, usually in what is called a scientific way. Indeed, that will be one of its basic propositions, namely, that everything can be explained by scientific method. What cannot be so explained will be said not to exist or to be worth studying. Scientific method itself depends on quantity and the mathematics based on it. If reality also contains things that are not quantifiable, that can be reached by other methods, these facts will be denied or ignored. The scientific method, on its own terms, does not explain what is not related to matter. The fact that I understand mathematics does not make this knowledge itself a matter of quantity.  

Perhaps the central idea that replaces Christianity is the idea that man can save himself, or better, that he needs no savior other than himself to be what he is. Nothing is “wrong” with him that he cannot identify and fix himself. Nor does he have any transcendent destiny, the achievement or rejection of which is in his hands. He needs no redeemer. A savior or redeemer implies the existence of something he cannot achieve by himself. None of his actions have transcendent meaning. This is the very opposite of the classical view that all of our deeds and words can reach God. Humanism thus comes to mean that man is the architect of his own being. He does not receive what he is from God or nature. He is nothing until he makes himself into something he wants to be. He especially does not want to be what classical thought and religion under stood him to be. Thus he implements changes contrary to these understandings at each step in his own actual being.  

The only conceivable opposition to such a worldview would be a claim that there is a truth in reality to which man is invited freely to know and pursue. This view would suggest that it is possible to say that some ways of life are better than others, even that some are wrong. A distinction between good and evil does exist outside our subjective estimate of what it is. It is not enough today to hold that no distinction between good and evil exists. We cannot even express any public opinion on the issue. It is perceived as prejudicial to those who practice what is disordered, against their “rights.” This very expression would entail calling things that we did not like to be evil, a calling that is not allowed expression. Hate-speech legislation is designed ostensibly to keep the peace. What it does in fact is to deny the free speech and intelligence that identifies what is evil and what is not. It prevents an examination of what is legal by any higher measure of what is true.  

The accurate calling of evil to be evil and good to be good would disturb the “peace,” which now has come to mean lack of any claim to or standard whereby truth can be identified and explained. Hence, no discussion, no dialogue can be allowed. We are locked into a welter of diverse opinions about which we cannot meaningfully speak. There is no objective answer to any question. The suggestion that some fundamental difference between good and evil exists would be considered to be hate speech. It is thus not surprising that the rise of subjectivism paradoxically involves a decline in any forum wherein the case for truth might be spoken. This is as true of universities as it is of politics and media exposure. The wars of the world are now first in the language of the world.  

Such is the general outline of what has replaced Christianity as the public order of the old Christendom and its overseas enclaves. We now witness a general effort to eliminate as much as possible all legal and cultural references to anything Christian and to penalize its expression. While some Christian presence is found outside of Europe and its offshoots, some two-thirds of the world’s population is not Christian in any case and is not usually open to its influence.  


Fr. James V. Schall is a Jesuit priest, teacher, writer, and philosopher. He is the author of over thirty books, including Catholicism and Intelligence, which challenges the reader to see God in the reality of the world.