Why did Christianity in the Western World collapse so quickly in the twentieth century? The reasons that are usually given: the effects of enlightenment due to education, advances in technology, urbanisation, and the two world wars. These may all be part of it. However, it may also be argued that it is also due to the collapse of the traditional Christian family. This collapse is a critical element in examining the decline of Christianity in the Western World in the twentieth century.
The Christian story starts with a family – the Holy Family: father, mother and child. And through the centuries, Christianity relied heavily on the transmission of its faith from one generation to the next within families. Is there something about being married and having children that makes one inclined towards Christianity, or belief in God generally? Or perhaps, the family is not simply a consequence of religious belief but rather a conduit to it. Regardless, it could be said that there is more religion where traditional families exist, and less where it does not.
The sexual revolution of the latter half of the twentieth century clashes directly with the template of the Christian family. The sexual revolution saw the acceptance of intercourse outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriages, the availability of contraceptives, and the rejection of typical gender roles. This encouraged a loosening of family bonds, and a corresponding weakness of religious activity and belief.
Thus, in the West today, families are now smaller, more scattered, less bound by marriage, more “varied”, and with more working parents. The state has picked up the pieces, contributing in its own charity, to the further weakening of the natural family. What chance is there of the Christian story penetrating the average modern Western household?
There is a great lesson to be gleaned for the African in the Western experience of the decline of religious belief. I regard the family as the one grouping in society that provides the care, support and protection that people need. Therefore, we should be weary of embracing the Western culture lock, stock and barrel in its neglect of the value of the traditional family.
I also do believe Christianity is, and can be, a force for good in modern society. True believers tend to lead healthy and happy lives. In the midst of the present African state characterised by less than ideal standards of living, the family and the Christian ethos is thus valuable in the sustenance of companionship and morality despite the difficult realities of living.