The Cheshire Cat

The let’s-destroy-Christianity project has been underway for more than three centuries now, but it is only in the last half-century that the anti-Christians discovered their most effective weapon.

The project began around 1700 with the emergence of Deism as an alternative to Christianity. Deists came in a number of varieties. Some (e.g., Voltaire and Tom Paine) detested Christianity. Others (e.g., Jefferson and Kant) didn’t detest Christianity. They just considered it an inferior system of belief, a system that contained not only some fine moral principles but also some pernicious superstitions. Voltaire tried to destroy Christianity (calling for the elimination of “the infamous thing,” – Ecraszez l’infame) by making fun of it: see his Philosophical Dictionary. And since he was a very witty man, he had a fair degree of success. Jefferson tried to destroy Christianity by showing what a fine fellow Jesus was – once you freed the image of Jesus from the many superstitious extras that Christians had hung on him, the way you might hang ornaments on a Christmas tree. See Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which is literally a scissors-and-paste editing of the New Testament.

Attacks of this kind caused some people to defect from Christianity, but not vast numbers. For to be affected by attacks of this kind you had to read books, and read them with some attention. In other words, you had to be an intellectual or a semi-intellectual.

In the second half of the 1800s came another great attack on Christianity. This time the anti-Christians used Darwin’s theory of biological evolution, Spencer’s philosophy of agnosticism, and the German “higher criticism” of the Bible to batter the old religion. Once again, this was a somewhat intellectual attack, appealing to persons who read books and serious magazine articles. However, thanks to the great growth in economic prosperity during the 19th century, the world had many more intellectuals and semi-intellectuals than it had a hundred years earlier. And so this fin de siècle attack produced a great many defections from the old religion. Nonetheless, Christianity continued to be, by far, the dominant belief system in the European-American world.


A byproduct of this Victorian-era attack was liberal Protestantism, which believed it was adapting Christianity to make it more palatable to modern man, but led in the first sixty years or so of the 20th century to vast numbers of defections from classical Protestantism, many of them unwitting. For if you were a liberal Protestant you could gradually drop one after another article from the traditional Christian creed – such articles as the Virgin Birth, the Divinity of Christ, the Atonement, and the Resurrection – while still calling yourself a Christian, and more or less honestly believing yourself to be such. (Another liberal byproduct was Catholic Modernism, but this was effectively killed in its cradle by Pope Pius X.)

The greatest blow against Christianity, however, the blow that appears to be largely successful in reducing Christianity to minority status in the European-American world, was the sexual revolution that commenced in the 1960s. You didn’t have to be an intellectual or a semi-intellectual to participate in the sexual revolution. You didn’t have to read books or magazine articles or attend learned lectures.

All you had to do was to commit what the Christian world had hitherto called a sexual sin – while at the same time feeling that what you had done, far from being a sin, was in fact a good deed. And you didn’t even have to commit this “sin” personally. All you had to do was to give your approval to such sins. The revolution was only in part a great change in sexual behavior. Even more it was a change in the moral evaluation of sexual behavior, changing the minus signs to pluses.

Of course, liberal Protestantism (joined after Vatican II by neo-Modernist Catholicism, which had recovered from the apparent death-blow Pius X had hit it with at the beginning of the 20th century) did its usual thing, saying that you can be a Christian even while repudiating a Christian sexual morality that went back to the earliest days of Christianity. In an astonishing act of self-deception, many Protestants and Catholics have actually succeeded in convincing themselves that this is true. But this self-deception has little staying power. It is so obviously ridiculous that it’s not the kind of thing you can pass on to succeeding generations.

We are living in an era when Christianity, like the Cheshire Cat, is gradually fading away in the world’s most modernized countries. The Cheshire Cat left only a smile behind. Liberal Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, is also leaving something like a smile behind, a smile that says, “I’m a great fan of Jesus, the guy whose deathless message is summed up in the magnificent words, ‘Judge not, that you may not be judged.’”


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David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America and, most recently, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist.