Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers famously remarked that for every Christian the gospel makes, it makes ten good men.  In other words, when the dominant culture is Christian, even unbelievers act like Christians outwardly. These unbelievers may not trust in Jesus for their salvation, but they would never dream of murdering, or stealing, or committing any grievous sin. Without even thinking about it, they adopt Christian morality. But, what happens when the dominant culture is no longer Christian?

Unlike most modern-day countries, the United States was born out of a desire to form a country based on Christian thought and biblical law. Of course, not every Founding Father was a Christian, and even in the early days of our country there existed a tension between those who embraced a Christian worldview and those who at least flirted with Enlightenment humanism. But there is no question that despite the influence of some Enlightenment thought, the dominant culture of the United States was Christian. As a result, our laws, values, education, and public behavior were largely a manifestation of a Christian worldview.  People sinned. But no one expected laws or public opinion to condone and even encourage sin. Sadly, expectations have changed.

A quick scan of recent headlines demonstrates that the once-dominant Christian culture is fading fast. Legalized abortion, homosexual behavior, fornication… acts that were until very recently too shameful to even speak of, are defended, promoted, and celebrated as virtuous. How did we get here?

The answer is found in the Garden where our first parents rejected the blessings and joy of obedience and instead grasped at godhood. In Genesis 3:4-5, the Deceiver promised Adam and Eve that if they rejected God’s law they could be like God and determine good and evil for themselves. They bought the lie and brought God’s curse onto themselves and the whole creation. People have been buying that same lie—with the same disastrous consequences—ever since.

A culture is not overthrown overnight. It’s a slow process. Even in the midst of Christian cultures, there have always been individual unbelievers who were very deliberate in their war with God. But they were generally eccentric exceptions. They were the avant garde, the artists, the philosophers, the hipsters who reveled in their rebellion against God, embracing wickedness and perversity. They usually destroyed themselves in the process, but they planted the seeds that are flowering now.

For almost 400 years, writers have been seducing readers with that most ancient deception. Echoing the serpent, Enlightenment thinkers argued that man’s reason is the ultimate standard. Man can reason his way to a knowledge of good and evil. What the Bible says is, at best, irrelevant. Each man can—and should—determine good and evil for himself.

These men and their philosophical descendants, the Romantics, made evil their good and delighted in their defiance and contempt of Christian morality, living deliberate reprobate lives and embracing all manner of wickedness and perversity. To be at war with God was a virtue, because they believed that the greatest evil in the world was Christianity!

If man could be delivered from the oppression of God, the church, and the family, then man could achieve perfection. For the Romantics, man’s problem was not that he is in bondage to sin, but that he is in bondage to God! Abolish God and universal bliss will prevail.

The Transcendentalists like Emerson and Whitman promoted and popularized those same ideas in this country. But Emerson’s greatest disciple was Nietzsche, who taught that the path to happiness was to get beyond good and evil, specifically beyond the Christian understanding of good and evil, a morality based upon God’s law. Morality, for Nietzsche, was a myth. God is dead, he famously wrote. God is irrelevant, and clinging to an outdated, oppressive morality inhibits our happiness and our progress to perfection.