In his excellent book, Postmodern Times, Gene Veith, Jr. cites the renowned historian Arnold Toynbee who, in his monumental work, A Study of History, researched the decline and collapse of 21 world civilizations. He found that “societies in disintegration suffer a kind of ‘schism of the soul.'” Seldom are they simply overwhelmed by a more powerful nation or civilization. “They commit a kind of cultural suicide.”
Among the characteristics of societies that are disintegrating are the following:
“They fall into a sense of abandon… a state of mind that accepts antinomianism (lawlessness) whether consciously or unconsciously…as a substitute for creativeness.” Their citizens stop believing in morality and yield to their impulses at the expense of their creativity.
“They succumb to truancy, that is, escapism, seeking to avoid their problems by retreating into their own world of distraction and entertainment”
“There is a sense of drift, in which people yield to & meaningless determinism as if their efforts do not after and as if they have no control over their lives.”
“There is a sense of guilt, a self-loathing that comes from their moral abandon.”
“There is a promiscuity,… the indiscriminate acceptance of anything and everything; an unfocused eclecticism and uncritical tolerance…. an act of self-surrender to the melting point… in Religion and Literature and Language and Art as well as Manners and Customs;” the triumph of a mass mind,”
Toynbee predicted our postmodern age, even though he wrote prior to 1950. He identified the Postmodern age the fourth and final phase of Western history. He suggested it would be “dominated by anxiety, irrationalism, and helplessness In such a world, consciousness is adrift, unable to anchor itself to any universal ground of justice, truth or reason on which the ideals of modernity had been founded in the past.”
Toynbee did acknowledge that on rare occasions “a civilization can rejuvenate itself by means of a religious awakening.”
It was Toynbee’s understanding that “successful societies have some sort of religious consensus. When this consensus is lost, new objects of worship rush in to fill the spiritual vacuum.” “When a society loses its transcendent faith, it turns to three alternatives… or idolatries: nationalism, ecumenicalism, and technicalism.”
In the first, the government of the nation itself replaces religion and becomes the all-powerful force that provides for its subjects and demands total submission. With its unquestioned power, its control of education and resources can force its will on its subjects.
In the second, the demand for unity becomes supreme. All are expected to conform to whatever the ruling element sets up as the official spiritual system if the nation. Enforcement of unifying system crushes out personal freedom and alternative religions and ideas that will not conform.
The third, technicalism, is when the people put their faith and trust in their technology. Today we see the first signs of this as people expect there to be a machine, a gadget or a pill for every problem. The technicians fill the role of the priests who dispense the needed blessings.
Eventually, the masses are brought into total subjection to these technicians because they cannot get along without them. At the top of this priestly line are those who deal with the mind: psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, pollsters. Certainly, not all who fill these roles aspire to such minion and not all who need their services have forgotten God, but others see themselves as of a superior genre whose skill and position demand recognition.
My purpose in sharing this doleful information is to remind us what happens to a nation, or a civilization that forgets God. “The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol, Even all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17). Thus Moses warned Israel, “Beware lest thou forget Jehovah thy God, in not keeping his commandments and ordinances, and his statutes…lest when thou hast en and art full, and hast built goodly houses and dwelt therein… and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied… then thy heart be lifted up and thou forget Jehovah thy God…” (Deut. 8: 11-14).