Yesterday while perusing my library I found a book that I have had for years but hadn’t read in a long time. Yes it actually was made of paper and had a front and back cover; there is just something about a real book that an electronic gadget cannot replace. The book was written by Francis A. Schaeffer some 34 years ago. Schaeffer was a philosopher and religious scholar of excellence. He had an understanding of the world, and what was coming to the world, that was at least 30 years ahead of his time. He was able to articulate the concept of what a “worldview” is, and how it determines what we think and how it causes us to react to the world around us. In his book How Shall We Then Live he puts together history and the development of our current worldview, postmodernism. After reading his book you come away with a complete understanding as to why the world is the way that it is and how postmodernism is destroying the America that many of us have love so much. Does he leave us with much hope; hope will only come if we change the way we perceive and think about the world around us. Most, if not all of his writings are now available in a five volume series for a low price of about $50. I encourage everyone to get this set of books and take the time to slowly read and absorb what he so elegantly puts forth about the quandary of mankind. The following is my understanding and application of Francis A. Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live, chapter eight. It would be fitting and worthwhile for you to read his entire book.
There are three lines of thought that effect the intellectual ideas of man; philosophic, scientific, and religious thoughts. Plato understood this but had the concern that if there are no absolutes, no universal truths, then the world around us and those disciplines have no meaning. It is the absolutes that give us, and the things around us, unity and significance. The question becomes what gives import to the finite things of the universe; plants, animals, stars, and most importantly man. Jean-Paul Sartre believed that if the finite does not have an infinite reference point then it becomes part of the absurd. His concern was with morals; if there are no absolute moral principles than whom or what determines right from wrong; or can there even be a right and wrong. To correct this man has established courts with judges to determine between individuals a resolution of right and wrong when in conflict; but that is man setting in judgment of man; but this judicial process is necessary because without courts we are left with only conflicting opinions and the resulting consequences of an unsettled argument. Because man’s knowledge is limited he therefore must seek an absolute beyond his understanding; there must be an absolute that man can turn to when the ideas and rationale of men leaves them with nothing but conflict and muddled reasoning.
If our existence is to have meaning we must have absolutes in all three areas of thought and ideas, philosophic, scientific, and religious, that are given from a higher authority than man; mainly because man cannot hold long to the “absolutes” of self-reason before someone else decides they are not true. There is one absolute truth of man; there are no absolute truths of man. This certainty validates that transcendent truths are necessary because they give meaning to life and are necessary for our existence. For example, obviously without the absolute of gravity and an understanding how it controls and affects our lives we could not exist; but even more profoundly we must have absolutes that lead to a solid epistemology, an absolute that explains that our faith is real, and absolutes that allows us to be able to exist next to each other in the close quarters of this earth, etc. If these disciplines are not founded on absolute truths then things such as morals, values, the meaning of life, and the basis of knowing, are all lost to us; we have no way to bring understanding and meaning to ourselves. We would be lost in our own ignorance not understanding what the lack of knowledge of absolutes has done to us. Where would this lack of belief in absolutes lead us?
Looking at philosophers without faith, before the modern area, they came to this question with three things in common: First they were rationalist; they assume that man through the thought processes of his mind could acquire enough knowledge to institute his own set of absolute truths. Since rationalism rejects the existence of God, they therefore believed that there is no knowledge outside of the mind of man. The only thing Man could do was to determine his own truths.
Their second commonality was that man’s reason is valid; that man can come to absolute truths. If man acquires enough knowledge he can know for certain what is right or what is wrong. He can know that an apple is not an orange; he can know for sure that he exists. He can know with certainty that some things are true and others are false, that if A is A, then A is not non-A. Thus he can determine his own absolutes and know for certain that they are true and valid. This revelation seems not to be so profound until you apply it to philosophy and particularly religion as these disciplines are put forward as constructs to guide life in the way we live and relate to one another.
Third, they were optimistic; they actually believed that with enough time man would solve all the mysteries of the universe and evils of mankind. They knew that through reason alone, they could determine reality and what it means. They believed that they could find the life force principle that would unify all knowledge and all life in the universe. They believed that man would find peace for man. They would come to the conclusion that through the establishment of government man would garner his utopia.
In the modern era things have changed. Before the modern era most of man believed that there was something transcendent, something outside of man’s five senses. Not everything could be known by man through his five senses, God and even man was beyond and different than his surroundings. This is referred to as an open system of belief, that God and man are outside of the cause and effect apparatus of the universe; that they could and do influence the mechanism of the universe. The modern era has changed all of that, man now believes he lives in a close system, and that there is nothing that he can know or can be known outside of his five senses. Thus everything that exists is part of the system including him-self; that the system has a responsibility in and of itself; that the demands of the system displace the demands of the individual. Otherwise the system has a value in itself that is above the value of mankind. This leads us to believe that saving the snail darter is of more importance that protecting an individual’s ability to provide food, clothing, and shelter for his family. To say this a different way, before the modern era the mechanical cause and effect perspective was only applied to science; today cause and effect is applied to psychology and sociology as well. Therefore, science tells us that if you make a bullet and put it in a gun and pull the trigger it will fire the bullet at a certain velocity with a specific trajectory. In sociology it means that if you put a bullet in a gun and shoot someone the gun and bullet will kill that person, leaving man outside of the cause and effect. The cause of death would then be the gun or maybe the man’s environmental up-bringing; but not the man; he is a product of his surroundings. Today we believe this not because science has proven it to be true, but because we now look at our existence with a different worldview; we come to the conclusion with a different set of presuppositions. We are now naturalistic and materialist leaving no place for God or man in the way we understand the meaning of life.
From this Schaeffer draws the conclusion that for modern man God is dead; there is no longer any place for Him nor any place for man in his surroundings. When psychology and social science become part of the closed cause and effect system, along with the physical sciences, the values and doctrines of God and values of mankind have died. There is no place for ideals like love one another and morals. Concepts like freedom and independence are lost with man becoming a zero, a non-entity that cannot live off of and in the system, but rather lives as a part of the system.
The point is that man has consumed himself in his own reasoning; man as mankind is dead, life is pointless and devoid of meaning. This reasoning has resulted in the development of ideas such as evolution and environmentalism. This makes man to be part of his environment and his beginnings from natural selection and survival of the fittest. He is no better than nor has more value than say a tree or rock, or a cow, we are all part of the greater one. It is to no wonder that we then look to government as an entity that has the right and power to control every aspect of our lives. If man is not transcendent to his environment than he must develop structures that control how he lives in and uses his natural resources, even if it means giving his environment greater value than himself. Thus government has taken on a life of its own; it is now that transcendent being that determines right from wrong, it is the final arbitrator of conflict; it is what man now turns to for moral values and absolutes. Where does government acquire its absolutes? Through the compromise of consensus.
The question for you and me is this; do we want to live by consensus? Before you answer, remember this; you can be sure that consensus is not always determined by what is right and morally good; the only thing you can be sure of is that the consensus is the consensus.