If we accept this conclusion, it opens up what may seem a rather startling view of history. If civilizations are the handmaids of religion and if the Greco-Roman civilization served as a good handmaid to Christianity by bringing it to birth before that civilization finally went to pieces, then the civilizations of the third generation may be vain repetitions of the Gentiles. If, so far from its being the historical function of higher religions to minister, as chrysalises, to the cyclic process of the reproduction of civilizations to serve, by their downfalls, as stepping-stones to a progressive process of the revelation of always deeper religious insight, and the gift of ever more grace to act on this insight, then the societies of the species called civilizations will have fulfilled their function when once they have brought a mature higher religion to birth; and, on this showing, our own Western post-Christian secular civilization might at best be a superfluous repetition of the pre- Christian Graeco-Roman one, and at worst a pernicious back-sliding from the path of spiritual progress. In our Western world of to-day, the worship of Leviathan –the self- worship of the tribe– is a religion to which all of us pay some measure of allegiance; and this tribal religion is, of course, sheer idolatry. Communism, which is another of our latter-day religions, is, I think, a leaf taken from the book of Christianity –a leaf torn out and misread. Democracy is another leaf from the book of Christianity, which has also, I fear, been torn out and, while perhaps not misread, has certainly been half emptied of meaning by being divorced from its Christian context and secularized; and we have obviously, for a number of generations past, been living on spiritual capital, I mean clinging to Christian practice without possessing the Christian belief –and practice unsupported by belief is a wasting asset, as we have suddenly discovered, to our dismay, in this generation.
If this self-criticism is just, then we must revise the whole of our present conception of modern history; and if we can make the effort of will and imagination to think this ingrained and familiar conception away, we shall arrive at a very different picture of the historical retrospect. Our present view of modern history focuses attention on the rise of our modern Western secular civilization as the latest great new event in the world. As we follow that rise , from the first premonition of it in the genius of Frederick II Hohenstaufen, through the Renaissance to the eruption of democracy and science and modern scientific technique, we think of all this as being the great new event in the world which demands our admiration. If we can bring ourselves to think of it, instead, as one of the vain repetitions of the Gentiles –an almost meaningless repetition of something that the Greeks and Romans did before us and did supremely well– then the greatest new event in the history of mankind will be seen to be a very different one. The greatest new event will then not be the monotonous rise of yet another secular civilization out of the bosom of the Christian Church in the course of these latter centuries; it will still be the Crucifixion and its spiritual consequences. There is one curious result of our immense modern scientific discoveries which is, I think, often overlooked. On the vastly changed time-scale which our astronomers and geologists have opened up to us, the beginning of the Christian era is an extremely recent date; on a time-scale in which nineteen hundred years are no more than the twinkling of an eye, the beginning of the Christian era is only yesterday. It is only on the old-fashioned time-scale, on which the creation of the world and the beginning of life on the planet were reckoned to have taken place no more than six thousand years ago, that a span of nineteen hundred years seems a long period of time and the beginning of the Christian era therefore seems a far-off event. In fact it is a very recent event –perhaps the most recent significant event in history– and that brings us to a consideration of the prospects of Christianity in the future history of mankind on Earth.
On this view of the history of religion and of the civilizations, it has not been the historical function of the Christian Church just to serve as a chrysalis between the Graego- Roman civilization and its daughter civilizations in Byzantium and the West; and, supposing that these two civilizations, which are descended from the ancient Graeco- Roman one, turned out to be no more than vain repetitions of their parent, then there will be no reason to suppose that Christianity itself will be superseded by some distinct, separate, and different higher religion which will serve as a chrysalis between the death of the present Western civilization and the birth of its children. On the theory that religion is subservient to civilization, you would expect some new higher religion to come into existence on each occasion, in order to serve the purpose of tiding over the gap between one civilization and another. If the truth is the other way round –if it is civilization that is the means and religion that is the end– then, once again, a civilization may break down and break up, but the replacement of one higher religion by another will not be a necessary consequence. So far from that, if our secular Western civilization perishes, Christianity may be expected not only to endure but to grow in wisdom and stature as the result of a fresh experience of secular catastrophe.