When once-Christian cultures turn away from the God of our fathers usually a substitute deity occupies the vacuum. This new god is supposed to function as the Living God had in the culture of former generations. People need to believe in something or someone--particularly when former generations professed a living faith in the true God.
The experience of our ancient fathers has been an apt teacher. When the northern kingdom split away from Judea at the passing of King Solomon the northern king deliberately sought to set up a false cult to fill the vacuum created, by throwing off loyalty to God. Baal was the choice. Baal was an idol of power, ministered and institutionalised and made visible through the State.
Similarly in our post-Christian, post-modern world, amidst all the nihilism and dissolution there is one authority, one locus of unity to which the people have repeatedly and persistently turned
--Baal, the god and religion of the state.
Peter Hitchens in his book, The Rage Against God documents how Baalism quickly manifested itself in Britain, once Unbelief had spread and taken hold and the God of their fathers was rejected. World War I was one of the most senseless wars of the modern period. Britain had gone to war on a whimsy. There is every reason to see the horrible outcome as an act of divine judgment upon an idolatrous, treacherous people. But Britain did not repent. It doubled down in its rebellion--as is often the case.
Britain wove a narrative of the cult of Empire, of Baal and portrayed the death of hundreds of thousands as martyrs' heroic selfless sacrifice to defend the nation, the state, upon the altar of Baal. Consider the words of this hymn--one of the most frequently sung national hymns after the Great War:
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,What is particularly offensive in this hymn is the blending of Baalism with the Christian faith--the admixture of patriotic idolatry using the motifs and terms of the Scriptures and blended with the love and loyalty to King Jesus. The spirit and cunning and ancient guile of King Jeroboam took new life and form in Britain after World War I.
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among they sons.
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by souil and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Cecil Spring Rice.
Hitchens observes that there are shrines to Baal everywhere in Britain--in every place, village, even hamlet. The sacrificial deaths to save the State, the Nation are celebrated to this day in outpourings of love and devotion for the nation, for "our way of life". Hitchens asks:
What is being worshipped in these places? It may counterfeit the majesty of great churches and imitate their mystery and grandeur. But it is not God. It is an attempt to replace God, and attempt that failed. . . . [The narrative was] "the War" . . . had been a heroic period during which our great and brave country fought more or less alone, and with all classes united, against a powerful and wicked enemy--and defeated it to be benefit of the whole world. [Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 77f.]All hail King Britain, our saviour and our god. Fast forward to Mitt Romney's recent absurd Baalist profession of faith: America, the hope of the world!
Elijah confronted the Baalism of the Northern Kingdom head on. He challenged the people, "How long will go limping between two opinions: if Baal is god, serve him. If the Lord is God serve Him." Many modern Christians in the United States are unable to distinguish between their love of country and their love for Christ. To serve Christ is to die in humble sacrifice for the State. Thus did a former generation in Great Britain once think.
If Christians do not distinguish sharply between devotion to the King of the earth and idolatrous simpering to the idol Baal, the lord, the State, God will blight the land with curses and devastations. As Hitchens warns, referring to the experience of Great Britain:
And the proper remembering of dead warriors, though right and fitting, is a very different thing from the Christian religion. The Christian church has been powerfully damaged by letting itself be confused with love of country and the making of great wars. Wars--which can only ever be won by ruthless violence--are seldom fought for good reasons, even if such reasons are invented for them afterward. Civilized countries become less civilized when they go to war. And they hardly ever have good outcomes. In fact, I think it safe to say that the two great victorious wars of the twentieth century did more to damage Christianity in my own country than any other single force. The churches were full before 1914, half-empty after 1919, and three quarters empty after 1945. (Ibid., p. 80.)The people of Britain had heard Elijah's call and had decided that indeed, Baal was god. They limped after him, leaving the churches empty. The "wisdom" of their choice became evident when 200 or so years later they fell into the tender embrace of the Assyrians in 722BC: those that were not impaled were driven out and were thereafter and forever known as the Lost Tribes. Where they and their descendant are, God alone knows. Let every Christian take heed. Let every Christian hear Elijah's words as a loud warning klaxon.