James's post about the collection of church taxes in Germany led me down interesting paths. Summary: C of E - what we would call the Episcopal or Anglican church here in North America, has been The great vessel of Western Civilisation these past three or four centuries. Yet it has not been an especially good bearer of Christianity. It has been one among many. It has had its moments and his shining stars, to be sure. But even terrible churches have produced Christians of stunning brightness, so that is not in and of itself evidence of spiritual strength.
Christians since the Roman Empire have believed that surrounding culture is important for the preservation of the faith, though there has always been a solid minority which has held it is irrelevant. I think the former idea is closer to the truth but fear the day that the latter opinion is no longer firmly, even fanatically espoused among us.
I will hold all posts for a few days. I would like my readers, a diverse and - really - quite brilliant bunch, to give their thoughts on this large issue. Some of you have your own sites, and I encourage you to link to same in the comments. But this is the sort of overview question that changes slowly in our lives, but has large effects down the road.