In the United States, the forces of the cultural left have been particularly aggressive in seeking to diminish the influence of our Christian heritage on American society.

The Obama administration has led the campaign for the complete separation of religion from the public square.  It has used executive orders, regulatory rule-making authority, and the bully pulpit to promote policies that are antithetical to the Christian traditions of our nation.  More ominously, it has attempted to force Christian businesses, nonprofits, and public officials to affirm the core elements of its social agenda.  That includes the requirement of abortion coverage in health-insurance policies and the acceptance of same-sex marriage on an equal plane with marriage between a man and a woman.  Failure to comply with the Obama administration’s social agenda—an agenda shared by the President’s allies at the state level—has bankrupted businesses, caused individuals to lose their jobs, and resulted in non profits having their government funding removed.  Violate your religious principles, or pay a heavy price financially and personally if you choose to resist.

All of this is taking place in a so-called liberal democracy.  This is not just an attempt to build a wall of separation between Church and state: It is an expression of active hostility toward Christianity, reminiscent of the French Revolution.

The examples are numerous.  In Oregon, Christian bakers who declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of their religious beliefs were fined $135,000 by the state and driven out of business.

In 2015 the Indiana state legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law designed to protect businesses like the aforementioned Christian bakers from legal liability for declining to provide goods and services to individuals and groups in a manner that would violate their religious beliefs.  Major corporations and leftist activists waded into this political battle in Indiana, vowing to boycott the state and refusing to do business there.  Under such immense pressure, state lawmakers passed new legislation that gutted the RFRA, and Gov. Mike Pence, ostensibly a conservative Republican, capitulated and signed it.

In both Massachusetts and Illinois, Catholic adoption agencies, which had been in business for decades helping married couples adopt children, have been forced to shut down because they refused to place adoptive children with same-sex couples.  Under ObamaCare, Catholic nuns were forced either to pay for insurance that provides for birth control (including abortifacient) coverage, or be subject to punitive government fines.  That case remains undecided, the Supreme Court having remanded it to the lower courts in a bizarre per curiam opinion.

In another case (Obergefell v. Hodges), the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that all 50 states are obligated to recognize “same-sex marriage” as the equivalent of marriage between a man and a woman.  The rationale of the Court rests on a dubious claim that somehow same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.  As a result, all locally elected or appointed officials who issue marriage licenses are required to comply with this edict or risk losing their jobs.

And last spring, the Obama administration began directing all public schools in the United States to allow transgender access to public bathrooms or face the loss of Title IX federal funding.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress—which has the final say in any constitutional disputes with the executive and judicial branches of government—offers little more than lip service and empty political rhetoric in challenging these aggressive attacks on our traditional religious values.

This, then, is the ongoing Culture War between the defenders of our traditional Christian values and those who demand a purely secular state along the lines envisioned by the leaders of the French Revolution.

At the moment, the Christians are losing—and losing badly.  The counterculture of the 1960’s has effectively become the dominant voice of American culture today.  The secular left has followed the advice given by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who argued that, if you capture the culture, you will capture the country.  The secular left has done just that—in Hollywood, the mass media, the academic community, the foundations, big business, and the courts.

What is happening in the United States is not taking place in a vacuum.  It is endemic in the liberal democracies of the West where the secular left has captured the culture.  Even Ireland—which just generations ago was viewed as a stalwart of the Catholic Faith—has succumbed to the forces of secularism and materialism.  Irish Bishop William Crean recently said, “Ireland through its political and media establishments seems determined to eliminate the engagement of the Catholic Church in the public sphere.”  That is precisely what is happening in the United States at a rapid pace.  Just substitute the word Christianity for the Catholic Church.  How different this America is, with respect to its attitude toward the role of religion in the public square, from the America I knew as a child in the 1950’s.

Why didn’t we see the coarsening and secularization of our culture coming sooner than we did?

One man who clearly noticed what was happening to our culture was the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  The man, who told the truth about life under communism in The Gulag Archipelago, was a prophetic voice of opposition to the communist regime in the Soviet Union.  The Russian author lived in exile in Vermont for many years.  He warned us that what had gone wrong in his beloved Russia could happen to us in the West as well.

In his Templeton Lecture delivered on May 10, 1983, Solzhenitsyn told a story from his childhood under communist rule:

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all of this has happened.”

The Noble laureate went on to describe how he spent 50 years studying the Russian Revolution, only to come to the same conclusion:

In the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval.  But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all of this has happened.”

We in the West listened to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he spoke out about life in the Soviet Union.  But we didn’t pay him much attention when he warned that we were not immune to the temptations that led to the tragic political developments in Russia.  When he focused his critical eye on the West for succumbing to the dangers of materialism and the loss of our religious essence as a society, the intelligentsia in Western Europe and the United States turned against him with a surprising ferocity, ignoring or denigrating his warning that we, too, are susceptible to the “deadly virus” of a culture that has forgotten God.

Solzhenitsyn described what happens to our children as the cultural elite of the Western world forget God:

Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism.  If a blasphemous film about Jesus is shown throughout the United States, reputedly one of the most religious countries in the world, or a major newspaper publishes a shameless caricature of the Virgin Mary, what further evidence of godlessness does one need?  When external rights are completely unrestricted, why should one make an inner effort to restrain oneself from ignoble acts?

While an American president aggressively promotes a social agenda that undermines and further diminishes the role of Christianity in our “liberal democracy,” Russian President Vladimir Putin is moving in the opposite direction, seeking to enhance the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russian society.  A former KGB operative under communist rule and onetime atheist, Putin now calls himself a Christian and even wears a cross, given him by his mother, around his neck.

Although many remain skeptical of Putin’s “conversion” to Christianity, his words and actions reflect support for the rebirth of religion in a country governed by the principles of atheistic communism for most of the 20th century.  In a 2007 interview with Time, Putin said,

First and foremost we should be governed by common sense.  But common sense should be based on moral principles first.  And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values.

One certainly cannot imagine hearing words like that in any speech given by President Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called for the West to return to its Christian roots.  In a speech at the Valai Club in 2014, Putin stated,

Many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization.  They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even secular.  They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan . . . And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world.  I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

It is no surprise to learn that Putin has a high regard for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Following a ceremony honoring the celebrated Russian writer, Putin went to Solzhenitsyn’s home and praised him for his “work and dedication in improving Russia.”  According to the Kremlin’s reporting of the visit, Putin said of the famous author, “Even today as you continue your activities you never compromise your principles.  And you abide by those principles in your own life.”

Similar expansions of the role of religion in the public sphere are occurring in other Eastern European nations.  The Law and Justice Party, with strong ties to the Catholic Church, has come to power in Poland.  Its leadership is challenging the secular-liberal outlook and global-capitalist economies of the previous regime.  Critics now refer to the government of Poland as “hyper-Catholic.”  The new president is Andrzej Duda.  As reported by John L. Allen, Jr., on the website Crux, “politically, Duda and his ‘Law and Justice’ party are strongly anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, and anti-gay marriage . . . ”  The new government rejects both communism and unbridled capitalism.  And, it makes no apologies for its various initiatives to increase the role of religion in public life.

Hungary is another Eastern European country that has embraced the idea that religion needs to be supported and encouraged by the state.  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the leader of this proclaimed “illiberal democracy,” is enormously popular.  He has called the influx of Muslim immigrants to Europe a threat to the Christian identity of Europe.

Like Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán was once an atheist.  In the early days of postcommunist Hungary, Orbán was viewed as a secular liberal.  That is no longer the case.  A nationalist, Orbán is now a strong advocate for the central role of religion in the public sphere.  As reported by the Washington Post, Orbán’s government has encouraged the revitalization of Hungary’s Christian roots.  He has established a new financing system that “has allowed church-owned schools to proliferate since 2011.”  In his own words, “I am led by the firm conviction that only on the basis of these traditions—these national, Christian and European traditions—can a strong and successful Hungary be built.”

Something fascinating is happening on the political stage.  So-called illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe recognize the importance of cultivating religious values in societies long dominated by atheist, communist regimes.  Meanwhile, Western Europe and the United States, with cultural roots that spring from the Christian Faith, are increasingly abandoning the core values of that tradition and replacing them with a secular, materialistic worldview.

We can only wait for the next chapter to unfold.