When distinguishing between one’s contemporary culture and those that are foreign and in the past the English scholar and Catholic historian Christopher Dawson argues while the first is a lived experience the second is distant and difficult to understand.
Dawson writes in chapter one of Religion and the Rise of Western Culture “This involves a difference in the quality of our knowledge which may also be compared to the difference between the astronomer’s knowledge of another planet and the geographer’s knowledge of the earth on which we live”.
Such is the intimate and all pervasive nature of one’s culture Dawson writes “Western culture has been the atmosphere we breathe and the life we live: it is our own way of life and the way of life of our ancestors; and therefore we know it not merely by documents and monuments but from our personal experience”.
The difference Christianity makes
When discussing Western civilisation Dawson also makes the point that what makes Western nations like Australia unique is the pervasive influence of Christianity. The Christian religion is so interwoven with the evolution and growth of the West that to deny it is to ignore what distinguishes the West from those cultures less civilised and less advanced.
T.S. Eliot in Notes towards the Definition of Culture puts a similar argument when distinguishing between European and Asian cultures. Eliot writes “It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have – until recently – been rooted. It is against the background of Christianity that all our thought has significance”.
The reality is Australia’s political and legal systems, largely inherited from the United Kingdom, are deeply imbued with Christianity. Concepts like the inherent dignity of the person, free will and the need to love thy neighbour as thyself and promote social justice and the common good are Christian in origin.
Dumping our patrimony
Since the time Chaucer wrote Canterbury Tales and Dante The Divine Comedy it’s also true Christianity underpins and informs much of the West’s literature. Similarly in music and art to erase Christianity is to deny the essential lifeblood that enriches and sustains so many of the imaginative and creative works central to our way of life.
While Dawson describes Western culture, including Christianity, as “the atmosphere we breathe and the life we live” and characterises it as “our own way of life and the way of life of our ancestors”, unfortunately, we now live in a world where Western culture is undermined and ignored.
While the West’s concept of a university owes much to its Christian origins the academy has long since abandoned any commitment to Saint Newman’s ideal involving wisdom and truth and knowledge for its own sake.
Enter the neo-Marxists, et al…
As a result of neo-Marxist inspired critical theory, especially postmodernism and postcolonial theory, Western culture is attacked as oppressive, heteronormative and guilty of racism and whiteness. Even Western science is not immune with critics denouncing it as complicit with European imperialism.
The grand narrative associated with the rise of Western culture, based on the premise for all its sins there is much of value and much to conserve, has been replaced by a fragmentary approach emphasising grievance studies riddled with identify politics and victimhood.
Instead of literary works being well crafted and valued as having something profound and enduring to say about human nature and the world in which we live they are deconstructed in terms of power relationships and as examples of capitalist hegemony.
Degringolade: the tumbling down has come
Every week, yet another literary work is either cancelled or rewritten in the light of what cultural-left activists define as acceptable according to their woke standards. Examples include Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (racism and the nigger word), Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (guilty of heteronormativity) and even children’s stories including Cinderella (again heteronormativity) and Thomas the Tank Engine (see as reinforcing capitalist hierarchies).
Under labor and liberal governments Australia’s national curriculum, especially the revised edition released April last year, prioritises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and spirituality to the detriment of Western culture and Christianity.
At Year 7, while indigenous culture and spirituality is compulsory out of the remaining 5 cultures including Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and China only one is mandated making it possible for schools to ignore teaching what the historian Geoffrey Blainey describes as the foundation cultures of Western civilisation – Egypt, Greece and Rome.
More alarming is when studying history students encounter indigenous history and culture a multitude of times while Christianity is treated in a superficial and fragmented way. The curriculum refuses to acknowledge Christianity is one of the defining characteristics of Western cultures including Australia.
Dawson’s metaphor that culture is like the air we breathe is powerful and apt. While taken for granted, once lost it is too late.