Take any ten headlines. As long as they aren’t incidental, small-town, feel-good stories, any ten will do. Now, throw them into your forum of choice. You can pick any forum of debate that you like; I’m partial to Facebook, but anything will do, whether it be an internet site, a family reunion, a college classroom, or the company water cooler (do companies still have those? In mine, we just yell at each other across the hall). Now, catalog the results.
I’m betting you’ll find something interesting. You’ll find a lot of what we can generously call discussion (or shamelessly call fighting), but it will fall chiefly into two categories. The first is what should be done about X; the second is who is to blame. And boy, we love us some blame!! (That is, we love it as long as it’s not aimed at us, but I could write entire books about that.) The current popular punching bag is President Obama; and I’m not saying he isn’t to blame for quite a few things, because I believe he is. What I am talking about, though, is the need to talk, at length, about that blame.
Or maybe I’m not. See, it isn’t the blame that is interesting to me. It’s the fact that we DON’T talk about the REASONS for the headlines. We like to blame so-and-so, but we never discuss how we got to this point (whatever inevitably-bad point that may be). Why is that?
I recently finished watching Francis Schaeffer’s excellent “How Shall We Then Live?” video series. Now there was a man who tackled the question of why we’re here! I don’t mean why we exist, though he addressed that too; I mean why we are at this point in the history of civilization. It’s done without blame in a specific sense, but with the acknowledgment that everyone has a hand in what becomes of a society.
I’m a religious guy. I’ll go ahead and accept the label. It’s fashionable for us Christians to say “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a faith/relationship/way of life,” and it is. It’s also a religion, though, in the sense that it’s a system by which we attempt to give meaning to life and find a meaningful resolution to life. So yeah, I’m a religious guy. Dr. Schaeffer was, too—let’s get that out in the open. Start shooting! I can take it. In fact, go ahead and load up now, and bring plenty of ammo—but give me a minute first to finish what I’m saying, so you have a clear target to shoot at.
Dr. Schaeffer’s series (and his book of the same title from which the series was adapted) outlines the history of Western civilization as far back as the Roman empire, and in some instances to its Greek forebears. He demonstrates the progress of the concept of absolutes, and the corresponding progression in philosophical thought and morality. To boil it down, here’s the concept: One, God and His truths are absolutes that are given by revelation; Two, those revelations are in harmony with, and give meaning to, what is observable in the natural world; Three, morality is defensible and non-arbitrary when it is founded in those absolutes; Four; society decays when the absolutes are removed. That’s it, in short form.
The series goes on in great detail, with specifics that I have neither the time nor the inclination to reproduce here (although they are well worth reading or watching). It becomes quite haunting in the last few sessions as he approaches the modern era, and describes a future that is nearly identical to the desperate world we live in today. Did I mention the series was produced in the mid-70s? I’m refraining from the word “prophetic”; there was nothing supernatural about it—rather, he accurately identified the trends of the day and extrapolated based on history. The results are disquieting.
I’d like to say it was ridiculous. I’d like to say he was wrong. I really can’t, because I live in today’s world. What he said is consistent with what I’ve seen all my life. It’s a topic I’ve written on several times: the notion that without the absolutes provided by the Bible, nothing matters.
Nothing matters. What a deceptively simple statement. Sounds a little bit Disney, doesn’t it? “Hakuna Matata”, I can hear Timon and Pumba saying right now. Just don’t sweat it! Do what you want. All variations on the same theme, but it’s a theme with destructive potential.
Let me break it down into smaller units. I like conditional, if/then statements; they’re great for teaching consequences. Let’s put it in those terms. Here’s a list, to make it easier to remember:
- IF God exists (in the form that we usually imagine Him, that is, all-powerful), THEN He had to be the Creator of everything, logically. (Even Occam’s Razor, that most-popular of all logical principles, applies; it states that among hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct. The existence of God, as a theory, requires only one assumption, while any of the multiple theories that fall under the umbrella of evolution require numerous assumptions about the basic nature of the universe itself.)
- IF God made the universe and all that is in it, THEN everything belongs to Him.
- IF everything belongs to Him, THEN He decides any rules, limitations, and uses for creation, including humanity.
- IF the above are true, THEN God’s rules and determinations are ultimately inescapable; in other words, we may not like what He decides, but it’s His world, and we can’t do anything about that.
For the moment, I’ve excluded discussion of morality from that list. We’ll get to that. Conversely:
- IF God does not exist, THEN the universe lacks purpose, having been created randomly (note that I am not excluding the idea of scientific laws, such as the laws of physics, but I am saying that even those laws arose without purpose or design—the equivalent of a river flowing in a straight line because it happens to land between two parallel cliffs).
- IF there is no purpose to existence (I am refraining from using the term “creation”, but what I mean here is the whole of the existent universe and its contents), THEN there is no value, either.
- IF there is no value to existence, THEN there is no intrinsic value to me or any other human as part of existence, because we arose without purpose.
- IF there is no value to humanity, whether individual or collective, THEN there is no foundation for any law or societal order.
- IF there is no foundation for law or order, THEN law and order become arbitrary and situational.
- IF law and order are arbitrary and situational, THEN an elite of some sort—usually the strongest, but not necessarily—will inevitably arise to determine those things.
- IF an elite arises, THEN it will invariably look after its own interests first.
- IF all the above is true, THEN there is no basis on which to challenge any law or order established by the elite, other than pursuit of becoming the elite yourself. There is no right or wrong.
What a horrific statement! Do we even realize the magnitude of the idea that there is no right or wrong? Or maybe we do realize. Some do, and they embrace it. That is a chilling thought, but it happens.
If there is no right or wrong, any value you have can be shot down. We see this working out in the issues of the day, such as the marriage-equality debate, the abortion debate, and so on, but it’s more fundamental than that. If there is no right or wrong, then NOTHING MATTERS. Equality doesn’t matter, because if I think you’re not as good as me, on what basis can you say I’m wrong? Marriage doesn’t matter, because who says it does? Even life itself, the most fundamental value of all, is completely inconsequential.
So what if I abort a baby? It’s my body.
So what if I murder the elderly? They aren’t contributing anymore, so why do they matter?
So what if I kill you? You are no more important than me, and you’re in my way.
So what if I kill myself? This life doesn’t matter anyway, because there’s nothing beyond it.
Ultimately it’s not just destructive to society; it’s self-destructive. There is only one conclusion to be drawn once you take the absolutes away: I don’t matter. Nothing I do is worth anything, because it’s all arbitrary, and nothing matters. I don’t count, and searching for purpose in a purposeless world is absurd. So, why should I even bother to go on living?
Most people won’t go as far as suicide, though we know there is a frightful amount of it going on. The reason is because we’re living in the ruins of our ancestors’ world—a world in which those absolutes were accepted, and in which the freedoms we enjoy were constructed, BASED ON those absolutes. We still live in the ruins of that world, and we follow the patterns of those absolutes to one degree or another, because they were handed down to us that way. Those who embrace the notion that there are no absolutes, generally do not follow them to the inevitable end; they play around, living as though they didn’t believe that way, as long as they aren’t inconvenienced. But let’s not be mistaken as to where this idea leads: it leads to authoritarian societies that feed on their members, and it leads to individual death, in one way or another.
It leads to depression, as well. Did you think of that? We all crave meaning in one way or another. I can think of many worthy reasons to die, reasons that are acceptable to me, but they all involve dying with purpose. Yet, I cannot stand the thought of living without purpose; it’s worse than death. Now, I work in mental health. I know well that there are a myriad of causes for depression. Let’s not pretend, though, that lack of meaning is one of them. This, I think, is especially common in people who are busy with things that are worthwhile, while at the same time they themselves believe there are no absolutes; they’re chasing meaning without allowing for the possibility that it exists.
It does exist. I promise you that.
I’ll confess, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about this. You see, I’m human. Moreover, I’ve done things in my life that would make people point and call me a hypocrite. At times, I probably have been one. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve done things that I shouldn’t, but neither am I trying to pretend I never did, or never do. But that is the beauty of Christ: He asks perfection of us, but He doesn’t expect that we’ll have it up front. He knows we’re a work in progress. We don’t get to use that as an excuse, but we do get to use it as an explanation for why we aren’t there yet—why the person who is telling you that you need Christ is one who hasn’t become perfect yet, who has things to answer for in his own life. I do have to answer for them. You’ll have to answer for your own faults and your own mistakes. But with Christ, you don’t answer for them alone; He’s there with you. And frankly, if I’m a beggar and another beggar shows me where to find bread, I’m not going to fault him for being a beggar.
Let’s face it: the world needs absolutes. It needs to be able to point to something and say, “This is the truth, and on this we stand!” Otherwise, nothing matters, and no one is safe. If you’re honest with yourself, that’s not a world you want to live in.
You can leave it, or try to change it. My vote is for the latter.