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July 2, 2005

How Should We Then Live?

Francis A. Schaeffer – ISBN 158345364

This weighty tome assesses Christian impact on Western civilization and the subsequent decline of Western thought and culture. He treats his subject over amply in my judgment.

Early, he delves heavily—and seemingly inappropriately—into Christian art, and later music, making it seem his thrust is to display his knowledge. Later he ties it up, but his inclusion of near infinite details beclouds the point(s) he is making. The book could have been clarified and edited to half its length without compromising his goal: the elucidation of the importance of Christianity to the Western world, and how this has been jeopardized and diluted over the millennia. Nonetheless the book deserves to be read.

He emphasizes that Christian morals and beliefs are anathema to totalitarians. He explores Renaissance Humanism and what it did to compromise Western thought, “de-Deifying” religion and over-individualizing the concepts which originated in the “word of God;” and how during the Enlightenment intellectuals rationalized things in a way that left man starting from himself alone, which offers no final way of “saying [that] certain things are right and other things are wrong.” In this he is extremely effective.

DaVinci noted its coming centuries ago. Starting from man alone, he said, mathematics leads us to particulars, which lead only to mechanics. Humanism affords no way to the universal in areas of meaning and values. Rousseau, in contrast, advocated freedom from God--and all other restraints --and made man the center of the universe.

The Reformation removed the “humanistic distortions which had entered the church.” Erasmus, etal, were principally trying to reestablish authentic Catholicism, that is, a return to biblical teaching, restoration of freedom without chaos, eradication of corruption within the Church, and reestablishment of the concept that all individuals were answerable to God. Not incidentally, it authored the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin.

Early scientists were unsurprised to discover truisms about nature and the universe using reason. While not necessarily Christian, these scientists accepted the concept of God, which humanism undercuts. Darwin complicated the matter by describing the origins of life without even a hypothesis regarding how things actually work, or commenting upon how pure chance could result in ongoing and increasing complexity. (See my initial blog on Darwin vs. Intelligent Design.)

He quotes one George Wald who, in a serious lecture, noted that humanism insists that: “Four hundred years ago there was a collection of molecules named Shakespeare which produced Hamlet.” In making himself autonomous, then, man becomes nothing more than a collection of molecules. The final value, then, is continuity in the human race. The man actually believed this! The author asks: “If this is the only final value, one is left wondering why this then has importance.”

As for the search for a non-rational explanation of life--the very reason Eastern religions so captivate moderns—he notes that it was initiated by Goethe and Wagner, expounded by Huxley, and popularized by Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead . . . sex, drugs and rock and roll. I was perplexed that he omitted Scientism. As in (pantheistic) Hinduism, everything which exists is part of “God.” No morality or immorality, no cruel and non-cruel, no beginning, no end and no purpose. Don’t enquire into the big questions such as why things exist at all.

Having eliminated God, people have adopted the values of personal peace and affluence. There is no meaning for man, and no meaning for education, except that money enhances peace and prosperity. It comes as no surprise that much of the younger generation is apathetic, undereducated and narcissistic.

We are witnessing the morning (or ought it be mourning?) of a society in which crucial decisions are made by government, informed by the scientific community it funds. These decisions are increasingly sophisticated, requiring an elite technocracy to run the apparatus. These possess no transcendent ethic and are absent a moral belief system. “Men can be remade, their behavior conditioned, or their consciousness altered. [Past] constraints will vanish” . . . and Galbraith’s vision (or 1984) will become reality.

Frighteningly, it is predictable that the silent majority will remain silent despite their loss of liberty for so long as their life style is not challenged, and personal peace and prosperity are delivered. Politics is no longer a matter of ideals such as liberty and truth, simply serenity and affluence.

We are taught that man is little more than a machine, and PETA, amongst others believe he is immaterially different from the other animals.

We have come a long way since Rome. Now we are on the return trip to the specter described by Gibbon. Bread and circuses!

Crick (the man who identified DNA) felt that modern medicine was a menace since it left the weak alive to breed the next generation. A former governor of Colorado deemed it the responsibility of the old and the sick to die. We have recently executed a brain dead woman on no life support. We are on the edge of the abyss of genetic engineering and few—including none who are in charge--ask if there aren’t at least a few moral considerations.

So . . . who will control the controllers? What will happen in a society without absolutes? What happens when we are so in awe what can be done, that we fail to question whether it should to be done?

Not altogether unlike democracy, Christianity may or not be the only way to achieve goals, satisfy deep needs, and secure peace and dignity with or without a hereafter, but neither the West, nor any other society has found a better way to date. The West is, afterall, of Christian origin! We'd best get serious about considering that.

Posted by respeto at July 2, 2005 4:50 PM