It is only Western Christian readers who have to explain why the decline of the Church proceeds inexorably. In the rest of the world this is a time of expansion and, in many places, real vitality. In Western societies, Church leaders declare, the ‘spirit of the age’ is against them; they believe themselves unable to resist the pervasive secularisation and materialism. And there is truth in their opinion. But it is a truth which they usually express discreetly, and many Christian leaders still announce that the health of the Church is sound, and that green shoots of growth may be discerned upon the scorched earth. They are self-deceived. The Church, as Michael Hampson puts it in Last Rites, is in ‘terminal decline’, beset by ‘collapsed morale at every level’. It is, he goes further, in reference to aspects of its Moral Theology, a ‘disgrace to all that is decent’, and ‘a warped and sickening organisation’.
His contention, it turns out, is that the Church has not embraced enlightened liberal ideas and practices; instead, it has actually accommodated the ‘spirit of the age’. So in one sense he shares the explanation of decline promoted by the current