I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I am currently reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace. At the beginning of his book, Metaxas describes the cultural context of Wilberforce, one that provides an interesting critique/insight into our culture today.
It is worth dilating for a moment on George Whitefield and the state of the Christian faith in England in the middle of the eighteenth century. Since the time of the Puritans and the religious wars of the previous century, England had decidedly turned its back on any expressions of what we might call serious Christian belief. Having led to so much division and violence, religion was now in full-scale retreat. The churches of mid-eighteenth-century England all but abandoned orthodox, historical Christianity and now preached a tepid kind of moralism that seemed to present civility and the preservation of the status quo as the summum bonnum. And so, understandably, people looked less and less to the churches for the ultimate answers to their questions, and a fog of hopeless and brutal superstitious spiritualism crept over the land. The poor, as is ever the case, would suffer the most from these changes in Britain’s religious atmosphere.
Without getting too political, it is undeniable that the number of adherents to Christianity have decreased over the past decades. It’s also undeniable that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased over the past decades as well. I’m no sociologist (nor is Metaxas), so I am not necessarily arguing for causation when there is simply correlation, but it is an interesting insight. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more on the parallels between William Wilberforce’s day and our own context, and a few things that we can learn from him.