The fact that Christianity has lost a tremendous amount of cultural influence in the West is without dispute. What is also without dispute is that we can trace this declination through a number of key philosophers, writers, and other public figures. But whether those key figures are problematic or symptomatic is where the schism begins.
Kevin Swanson’s ‘Apostate’ is a very well-researched and engaging work that takes dead aim at the fall of the ‘Christian West’ and how the key players in the decline were able to weave their influence, and sometimes, even get away with murder. He chronicles the decline of Christian influence, beginning with Thomas Aquinas and marching all the way to John Lennon. He covers the lives and works of philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Nietzsche and Sartre as well as literary giants such as Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. Mr. Swanson attacks the subject matter with precision and clarity, with a no-compromise, no-nonsense approach. Readers that value clarity will find his prose meaningful and valuable, even if his conclusions are not agreed upon.
If the topics of religion, philosophy, ethics, and Western culture are important to you, then this book will both inform and challenge you. Clearly Mr. Swanson has done his homework and his scathing rebuke of these individuals rings loud and clear. I recommend this book because I think it is an important contribution to the discussion and because I think that Mr. Swanson’s hard labor of research affords him a seat in the conversation. But, my recommendation is not with caveats-which I will outline below:
#1-Mr. Swanson is correct in his diagnosis, but his prescription is way off. Though the reader is not informed as to Mr. Swanson’s specific theological convictions, it is pretty clear by his approach and his recommended reading that he is a Christian Reconstructionist, which for the sake of this review, means that he places a heavy premium on the Law of God. Too heavy for my liking and for what I believe to be a Biblical position. The word ‘Gospel’ appears some 38 times in the book, yet not once is the Gospel associated with the true cure for the ‘Christian West’. How is this possible? It appears that Mr. Swanson would love to have a revival of Christianity in the West, but how can that be apart from the preaching of the Good News of Christ? Instead the reader is left with the impression that if people would just stop being gay and start homeschooling their children, well, the Christians would reclaim their rightful hemisphere. For the record, I am sure that Mr. Swanson does not actually believe that, but this book often times reads like the author is exalted in his moral ivory tower, extending his long damning finger towards this arbitrary list of influential thinkers and writers. Certainly his diagnosis is correct, the Christians are losing or may have already lost the West, but his prescription should have been the pure preaching of the Gospel of our crucified and risen Savior. Instead, the reader is left with what amounts to the gospel of the pharisees. “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”
#2-Related to the previous concern is the concern that Mr. Swanson has named the wrong culprit for his diagnosis.. On pg.14, he states “The objective of this book is to identify the cause of the decline and fall of western civilization. The blame cannot rest on the Christian faith, because there is scarcely anything left of the Christian worldview in the foundations of this civilization.” This non sequitur is akin to “I did not cause the car accident because after the car accident, my car did not work anymore.” Mr. Swanson has inverted the cause/effect relationship. Our Lord declared to His Church that the gates of Hell could never prevail upon us. Therefore, in my mind, the only ground that the Church could possibly lose is the ground that we give up. Thus the above statement should have read, “…there is scarcely anything left of the Christian worldview in the foundations of civilization and that has led to the decline and fall of western civilization.” But no, Mr. Swanson will find sinner after sinner to vilify, but not once-not once, he will look introspectively at the church. So while he can blame Darwin’s night-time farting; the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, this “gospel by the sword” approach walks away from the conversation scot free. Is the reader to conclude that Schleiermacher, Rudolf Bultmann, and the other Christian Liberals bear no responsibility? After all, their movement has done more to undermine the authority of Scripture than Hemingway and Twain could have ever accomplished. I firmly believe that Satan learned long ago that the most effective way to cripple the church was not by outside influences, but rather by inside influences. And it was in that context that the Lord would warn His church to watch for “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. So while Mr. Swanson is throwing stones at the wolves that look like wolves, the real culprit is left unattacked.
#3-The ad hominem attacks are unbecoming of an intelligent, especially Christian author. Mr. Swanson is intent on informing the reader that we must evaluate each of these influential thinkers “by their fruit”. However, I have a hard time believing that this exact application is what our Lord meant when He imparted His wisdom to His church. Rather, this “fruit” inspection should probably be relegated to teachers, both true and false, within our churches where we can watch them and discern their daily conduct. It is irresponsible to apply this fruit test to all persons for all of history, what with so much of their private lives left unchronicled. How do we know that any of these thinkers did not repent and history has simply omitted this important detail? And why would a Christian author engage in such ad hominem attacks? I could only imagine the skeptic or atheist using this same test against Abraham, Jacob, King David and King Solomon. The author makes this statement on pg.4 “This is why it is important to know that Marx’s daughters committed suicide, that Rousseau abandoned his five children on the steps of an orphanage, and that Ernest Hemingway wished to kill his father and then took his own life.” I have no doubt that each of those claims are true, but I do have serious doubts that they have any place in evaluating the merits of the philosophical positions that are being evaluated. Continuing onto pg.24, the author, in reference to Karl Marx, makes the outrageous claim, “It should come as no surprise to anyone, that this man who was responsible for more mass murders than anyone else in history was possessed —at least for a time—by Satan himself.” How on earth would the author know that? I have read and researched many sources and have not seen even a hint to what the author is claiming. And to bypass demonic possession and go straight to possession by Satan himself, well, I find that irresponsible. Descartes’ fornication is chronicled on pg.45, Marx had a child out of wedlock on pg.109, and somehow the author believes that Charles Darwin’s farting at night (not kidding) is relevant to his philosophic and scientific influence (pg.128). Finally, the reader is informed that John Lennon was conceived out of wedlock, as if that fact has also contributed to the fall of the Christian West. Again, I am sure that Marx and Descartes were blatant sinners, mocking the very God that made them-but this book is about how the Christians have lost their influence in the West, and I am fairly certain that Darwin’s “nocturnal flatulence” is not a significant contributing factor and could have been left out of this evaluation.
#4-Though I would agree with many of the individuals that made the list, it is hard not to notice the individuals that did not make the list. If we continue along the line of thinking that Mr. Swanson has used, largely ignoring individuals WITHIN the church, I fail to see how Immanuel Kant (his work in epistemology is unavoidable), John Maynard Keynes (massively influential in big government economic theory), Henry VIII (his mockery of marriage etc.), and not one power-hungry US President make his list. Abraham Lincoln expands the power of the executive branch, Woodrow Wilson has visions of a US Empire and FDR shreds whatever ideas remained of a bottom-up government. And these 6 individuals are just some of dozens that are curiously absent from Mr. Swanson’s crosshairs.
In conclusion, I like the book for the research and the summary of the positions held by these influential thinkers. His prose reads smooth and is engaging. His research is to be commended. But, as I stated, the reader should be aware of the book’s shortcomings.