Is Culture without Religion Possible?

Speaking for myself, I don’t believe that it is possible. Others are coming to the conclusion that the Dead Atheists’ Club is unable to sustain a culture as well. Please take the time to read this thoughtful essay from The Telegraph.

A society that persecutes Christ is heading for terrible trouble

Politicians in the West – and atheists – ignore at their peril the benefits and power of organised religion.

Source: The London Telegraph

This week before Easter, I chanced upon the following two quotations. The first says: “Not for 2,000 years has it been possible for society to exclude or eliminate Christ from its social or political life without a terrible social or political consequence.” The second says: “Religion taught by a prophet or by a preacher of the truth is the only foundation on which to build a great and powerful empire.”

The first is by Margaret Thatcher, opening her foreword to a book called Christianity and Conservatism, which appeared in 1990. The second appears in Tom Holland’s outstanding new book In the Shadow of the Sword (Little, Brown), which traces the rise of Islam from the ruins of the Roman and Persian empires. It comes from Ibn Khaldun, the great Muslim historian and political counsellor of the 14th century.

The grocer’s daughter from Grantham and the sage from Tunis seem, despite their differences of faith and time, to be saying something comparable. I found myself asking a simple question about both statements: are they, factually, right?

Note that neither is insisting – though they probably believe that it is – that what the religious leader preaches is necessarily true. Note, too, that neither is saying that a religion, let alone a religious organisation such as a church, should hold political power. But what they are saying is something like the message of the parable of the house built on rock and the house built on sand. They have seen a good bit of how the world works: they recommend building on rock.


Read the rest of the article on the The London Telegraph website.


  1. I thought that it was something of a commonplace (well, maybe among some anthropologists and philosophers) that “cult” (as in faith) is the root of culture — that it is the “cult” that provides the essential assumptions upon which any culture ultimately rests.

    This article takes that understanding seriously and points to the fact that culture and it’s “public square” ultimately depend on the very framework provided by faith in order to function and endure. To say, then, that the Church must provide that framework while not being permitted to speak to what is built upon it is an absurdity. The inability to see this seems to be a uniquely modern phenomenon. It is important to note that recognizing that these assumptions are vital to our cultural existence is not the same thing as promoting a union of (specific) Church and State; it is, however, a recognition that we can not and must not silence the voices of those who speak about public issues from a position of faith. In fact, this view recognizes that these very public arguments serve to secure the culture to its essential foundations. This also means that the desire to silence the voice of faith is a fool’s errand: while secularists may wish it to deny the Church a place at what is essentially Her own table (!), it becomes evident that they do so only so as to silence that which exposes their own bankruptcy.

    Of course, the world remains the world and these insights are horribly inconvenient to a self-serving existence, so opposition (or at least ridicule and hostility) is to be expected. (That said, it is equally essential that the voice of faith is not undermined by the hypocrisy of arrogance, coercion or self-conceit.)

    Even so, it should not come as a surprise that God designed our existence so that it ultimately must rest on faith. Even those who claim to rely solely on reason ultimately rely on a wide range of unproveable assumptions (such as the sufficiency of human apprehension, or the reliability and efficacy of human reasoning)–which is to say: on faith.

    • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

      The field of cultural anthropology is often agitated by partisan argument about such things as the definition of “culture,” so it is impossible to generalize, on the basis of anthropology, on the topic of the relationship of religion, cult, etc., to culture. Leslie White, for example, was a “Cultural Determinist”, and in his book, “The Science of Culture,’ he clearly lays out a theory of cultural evolution: all cultures evolve and invent the same things according to their ages and rate of evolution etc., He would say our “religion” is determined by our culture, and we have no “control” over it. So, no, Chrys, it is not something of a commonplace at all, except perhaps at church colleges, that “cult’ as in fatth is the root of culture. And it’s not a commonplace, either, that culture, ultimately or otherwise, rests on any such “cult” provided assumptions.

  2. Lola J. Lee Beno says

    Yes, culture without religion is possible. In Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. But these are work of fantasy, though.

  3. Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

    I am also an admirer of Ibn Khaldun; however, the quotation by him, which does applies crookedly to the Persian and Arabo-Islamic Empires, does not apply to the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was “a great and powerful empire” but it was NOT founded on “Religion taught by a prophet or by a preacher of the truth.” Presumably, the Persian Empires (Achaemenid, Sassanid, Safavid) were devoted to Zoroastrianism and then (Safavid only) on islam, but none of them were founded ON Zoroaster or his religion or ON Mohammad or Islam.
    Islam is, rather, unique in its being a religious empire founded on religion.
    Why, SOME historians might find that religion was at the basis of the decline of most empires, the Roman Empire having the longest decline of all of them. Perhaps some would say that religion can keep the flames of empire “flickering”, but it’s even anti-Christian to think that Christ or Christianity founded or supported any Empire at all. In fact, the Christian Empire or Kingdom is NOT of this world at all!

    • Carl Kraeff says

      Christ is risen!

      It is indeed a season of miracles! Your Grace–Much to my surprise, I find myself in complete agreement, not that this would impress you.

    • Good point, Your Grace. I believe that Ibn Khaldun was in fact talking about Islam, but I think the larger point is that a great society cannot function without a vivifying cult. We see this even in ancient Israel and if one wants to stretch the point further, with the continued existence of the Jews as a nation even though they lost their homeland and cult in AD 70.

      If I may somewhat disagree about Rome. There is “Rome,” and then there is “Rome” (Byzantium). I was always under the impression that Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium in order to start afresh, with none of the pagan trappings and making his empire a Christ-centered polity.