Christopher Dawson and the Krisis of Culture

All culture derives from cult, organically developing from the common religious belief and practice of people.  Consequently, every civilization is the embodiment of a particular culture, and thus of an inseparable religious heritage.

Religious beliefs and moral sentiments are bound in symbiotic relationship with the governance and customary practices of society.  However, the modern world has been confronted with a krisis, a critical moment in which the meaning of religion, culture, and civilization hang in the balance.

In his book,  The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, Christopher Dawson argues that, throughout history, citizens’ religious sentiments have molded the outward forms of Christian society.  Concepts such as orthodoxy and orthopraxy explain this mutual development, whereby inward orientation guides right practice, and correct practice builds a proper spirituality.

While this model has been a consistent theme of Western society in the past, modernity has introduced the artificial dichotomy between belief and practice.  Culture thus finds itself in peril, orphaned amidst the divorce of religion from society.  Furthermore, social organs of this secular power coalesce in tyrannical oppression of religion, superseding its rightful domain and replacing moral sentiments with political allegiance and arbitrary values.  In a sense, then, Western society has distanced itself from inherently Christian roots, progressively widening the separation until only empty secularism remains (35-42).

Rather than passively enabling the travesty of decadent cultural decay, Dawson argues that the West is in desperate need of resurgent Christian orthodoxy.  The Kingship of Christ must be embodied by the community of believers, suffusing the whole of their lives in society.  Ideally, the newly inspired faithful shall proceed to affect corresponding, tangible reforms of civilized structures (44-46).  Dynamic Christianity demands much, yet genuine effort reaps the redemption of modernity and the salvation of culture.

Review of Christopher Dawson’s essay, “What is a Christian Civilization?” which appears as a chapter in “The Historic Reality of Christian Culture.”

Get the Collegiate Experience You Hunger For

Your time at college is too important to get a shallow education in which viewpoints are shut out and rigorous discussion is shut down.

Explore intellectual conservatism
Join a vibrant community of students and scholars
Defend your principles

Join the ISI community. Membership is free.

You might also like