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Timothy Larsen

Imagine There's No Christendom

Secularization and the 1960s.

It is still infernally difficult to get beyond the bombastic self-reporting that came out of the 1960s. Although recent scholarship suggests that their parents might have been kissing but not telling, it is routine even now to hear po-faced pronouncements that the Sixties generation invented sex. Likewise, it is hard to think about religion in that decade without being jostled and crowded by the self-aggrandizing claim that God died on their watch—on January 4, 1965 to be precise, if an influential book of the period is to be believed.

Nevertheless, something significant did change for the Western churches during that decade. This story is thick with multiple causation, countervailing trends, and conflicting interpretations, and it would be hard to find someone who could tell it in a more careful and responsible way than Hugh McLeod has done in The Religious Crisis of the 1960s. McLeod sees common trends across Britain, the United States, and France, as well as the other countries that he occasionally features from Western Europe (notably the Netherlands) and the English-speaking world (especially Australia and New Zealand). As to chronology, McLeod ruminates dryly: "When did 'The 1960s' begin? You can make out a reasonable case for saying '1960', but many other dates have been suggested." He discerns the span between 1958 and 1974 as the primary period of change, with 1967 as the climactic year.

McLeod's conceptual framework is the decline of Christendom.[1] He helpfully describes Christendom as "a society where there are close ties between leaders of the church and secular elites; where the laws purport to be based on Christian principles; where, apart from certain clearly defined outsider communities, everyone is assumed to be Christian; and where Christianity provides a common language, shared alike by the devout and by the religiously lukewarm." Christendom had been eroding for more than two centuries, but in the 1960s it crumbled.

To come at it by way of contrast, ...

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