Apostate: The Men who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson
Kevin Swanson, Pastor of Castle Rock OPC in Castle Rock, Colorado has written a disturbing and controversial book about men he believes helped destroy the Christian West. Swanson looks at philosophers, churchmen, writers, and thinkers in his book (men from Aquinas to Steinbeck) who at some point were externally connected to the Christian past but who self-consciously rejected it for a materialist or anti-Christian worldview. Swanson examines these ‘nephilim’ from a literary, cultural and philosophical framework and hopes to trace the destructive framework these men had upon society (18). There are many things in the book that ring true from Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Dewey that are elements of thought that are inimical and antithetical to the Christian faith. Yet, as a whole this book was an utter failure and disappointment both in its method, message, and approach.
Swanson begins with a foray into the degradation of Western society through its acceptance of homosexuality, witchcraft, and other immoral actions. He mentions Harry Potter being ‘immersed in witchcraft and being trained by a homosexual,’ and at the end of the paragraph says that this trend is an example of a ‘macro-shift away from the Christian faith’ (14). This is a factual inaccuracy to say the least. Harry Potter is not being trained in witchcraft in the Rowling books but in sorcery and magic. Secondly, his training is not designed to advance evil ends but to defeat dark arts, including those promoted by Voldemort. Rather than advancing evil activities, Harry continually sacrifices his self not only for his friends but for those whom he loves. Tolkien and Lewis were both roundly condemned for their use of magic in their books as well. Yet, loud and vociferous condemnation does not mean that magic was used for immoral and evil ends in Tolkien, Lewis or Rowling. A closer reading of the Harry Potter books would reveal that the magic is used in Harry’s life and the purpose of the books as a whole.
Swanson constantly throughout the book quotes from Wikipedia and sources like Fox news. In their own rights, these sites are not the best information for good research on people like Descartes, Marx, and other writers he cites. Learning how to cite quality academic sources and engage with their argument is something you learn very early on in education and I think Swanson has missed the boat here. Furthermore, Swanson makes the point in his chapter on Shakespeare that there are 2,000 biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays but he says, “this is to be expected of any 16th century playwright” (206). Rather than examine how Shakespeare references the Bible in his plays, Swanson is quick to point out that Shakespeare’s metaphysic is a fatal oversight (211). He fails to see that Shakespeare has a very robust biblical idea of sin and the way evil deeds are self-destructive. From Macbeth we see:
But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly. Better be with the dead,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy. (act 3, scene 2)
I think Swanson’s major inaccuracies in the book are due to a wrongheaded understanding of how to read literature. He constantly refers to the life of an author and their dark deeds and then purports that meaning upon their work and then draws connections to the destruction of the Christian west. He makes the comment that, “It is abundantly clear that Hemingway has no confidence in the resurrection” (259). I don’t believe either that Hemingway had a belief in the resurrection but how does one understand this from the Old Man and the Sea? Swanson is at times trying to read literature written by Hemingway, Steinbeck and others like a systematic theology textbook, finding only what doesn’t match up his theological rationale rather than seeing how their work at times mirrors a biblical worldview even if the author fails to believe in God. Lastly, Swanson’s idea of apostasy does not seem to hold because many of these philosophers and writers were not really believers from the beginning, rather they just grew up around a family who were believers.
I agree with Swanson’s assessment that the West has been radically affected by some alien and unbiblical philosophies. Could this be the reason for the destruction of the Christian West? This could be a possible explanation but cannot be the entirety of the reason for the decline of the Christian West.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Generations with Vision for the copy of this book in exchange for review.