Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Neo-Marxism

THE HUMAN TRAGEDY OF SIN

4.2.7

Frans Hals: Young Man with a Skull

“There is a way that seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of way of death.”

(Prov. 14:12; 16:25; NKJV)

 

King Solomon was a man who had seen a lot during his lifetime, and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his collected wisdom is found in the Book of Proverbs.  And the proverb before us encapsulates a pertinent observation about human behavior.  “There is a way that seems right to a man.”  The “way” is the path of life in life down which we choose to go.  And for many of us there is a particular path that “seems right” – it looks like just the thing we want.  It looks enticing and advantageous.  It appeals to our sense of self-interest.  “But its end {final outcome] is the way of death.”  It eventually leads to destruction and death.  What started out looking very promising turned out in the end to be a disaster.

Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the course of modern Western history.  The ‘60’s were a time of radical experimentation and change.  The Viet Nam War had provoked a widespread revolt against “the Establishment” which came to a head during the Chicago riots of 1968.  Disillusioned many turned to “sex and drugs and rock-n-roll,” culminating in the Woodstock Festival of 1969.  President Nixon managed to get us out of the war by 1973, and the anti-war protests died down.  The hippies of the late ‘60’s graduated from college and became the “Yuppies” of the ‘70’s – young, upwardly mobile professionals  seeking to climb the corporate ladder.

But in many ways the legacy of the ‘60’s remains today.  The sexual revolution and radical feminism changed the way Americans looked at sex, gender roles and marriage.  In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in a decisive break with Judeo-Christian morality.  And the Stonewall Riot of 1969 marked the beginning of the Gay Rights movement.

But where has all of this led us?  Today 40% of all live births in America are to unmarried women (in 1970 it was 10.7%), and 23% of all children are living in households headed by a single female parent.  The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan could cite studies that showed that children from single parent families were far more likely to do poorly in school, live in poverty, and become involved in crime (Family and Nation, 1986).  We have created social dysfunction on a massive scale.

The underlying problem lies in the philosophical assumptions of the Cultural Revolution of the ‘60’s.  Unlike prior reform movements such as the Abolitionism of 1830’s – 50’s or the Progressive Movement of the early 20th Century, the young rebels of the ‘60’s basically took a secular approach to social reform.  There was no clear-cut, unifying ideology, but there were several influences at work.  One of them was Neo-Marxism.  Karl Marx had predicted a social revolution based on an economic class conflict.  But by the 1950’s his predictions had largely turned out to be false.  The Proletariat had not risen up and overthrown the Bourgeoisie in a violent revolution.  Marx’s theory was then redefined in terms of social and cultural conflict.  People are oppressed and dehumanized by the “bourgeois” values of middle class America.  This set the stage for identity politics: one disadvantaged group after another felt oppressed by the white, patriarchal, Eurocentric Establishment.

Another major influence at work in the ‘60’s was Existentialism.  Here the emphasis was on the radical autonomy of the individual.  Concrete human existence precedes any defining essence.  There is no divinely established order to the universe, and therefore we should be free to define ourselves as we please.  The Existential influence was especially felt in the Feminist Movement through the writing of Simone de Beauvoir.  Gender roles are artificial and oppressive and should be discarded.  This eventually led to the LGBT movement and the idea that we should be allowed to choose our own gender.

And behind all of this lies the legacy of the Romantic Movement with its emphasis on individual freedom and self-expression.  And it undoubtedly had a special appeal to Americans with our heritage of freedom, democracy and free-market Capitalism.  It suited the consumer mentality of a generation that grew up in the prosperity of the ‘50’s and could take a comfortable middle-class lifestyle for granted.

The problem with all of this, however, was its secularism.  Both Neo-Marxism and Existentialism were atheistic.  In our sin and rebellion we refuse to acknowledge God as our Creator and Lord.  We want social justice, but refuse to accept God as the source of morality.  But on a secular basis it is virtually impossible to establish any kind of spiritual reality that would allow us to escape from the materialism of modern industrial society.  We wound up replacing the materialistic “bourgeois” values of our parents with “sex and drugs and rock-n-roll.”  We replaced materialism with outright hedonism. It was hardly the triumph of idealism.

But we are still human beings created in the image of God, and we are still accountable to Him.  In the end sin never benefits anyone.  At first it holds out the prospect of freedom and pleasure.  But in the end there is a long trail of broken relationships, ruined health and wrecked finances, and eventually eternal destruction.  We live in a universe created by God; and when we ignore His laws and go our own ways, we invite disaster.  That was the tragedy of the ‘60’s, and that is the tragedy today.  Calling sin “sin” is not being hateful or bigoted – it is simply giving an honest diagnosis in hope of a cure.

“There is a way that seems right to a man,

But its way is the way of death.”

 

THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch: The Scream, 1893

 

 

This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.  While most political conventions are fairly routine and eminently forgettable, this one marked a turning point in American culture.  The country was roiled over the Viet Nam War.  The incumbent President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had decided not to run for reelection.  There were huge ant-war demonstrations in the city which turned into riots.  Hubert Humphrey won the nomination and Richard Nixon won the election.  In the process a whole generation became disillusioned.

Some of us have vivid memories of the dramatic changes that have taken place in American society since.  We remember the relative tranquility of the 1950’s, and then the turbulence of “the Movement,” the counter-culture of the ‘60’s and the Sexual Revolution.  And since then we have witnessed the rise of radical feminism, the legalization of abortion, and skyrocketing divorce rates.  The country we see today is hardly the country we knew back in the ‘50’s.

The fact of the matter is that the changes that we have witnessed in the last fifty years have their roots much further back in time.  And to understand why it is necessary to understand something about the nature of civilization itself.  Civilizations are formed when relatively large groups of people decide to share a settled existence together.  They form governments, establish cities and build infrastructure.  The engage in commerce, pass laws and prepare for their common defense.  They go on to create works of art, music and literature.  And in so doing they create for themselves a standard of living that far surpasses anything they had previously known as primitive tribal peoples with a hunter / gatherer economy.

There is a problem here, however.  Mankind, as a whole, is in a state of rebellion against God.  The motive in creating these civilizations is self-interest.  And while at first a civilization may be built around some sort of civil religion in order to encourage personal sacrifice for the common good, in the end the very success of a civilization is its undoing.  As it becomes rich and prosperous, its citizens become self-indulgent and generally lose interest in religion and patriotism.  “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“Sweet and beautiful it is to die for the Fatherland”) becomes “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

Underlying all of this, however, is a deep philosophical problem.  As fallen, sinful human beings we do not want to acknowledge God as Creator and Lord, Someone whom we must obey.  And so we will create philosophical systems to provide alternative explanations of reality.  But we must still live in a world that was created by the one true and living God.  This creates a tension between fact and theory, between what we would like to think is true and reality as we actually experience it.

In modern Western thought the problem arose through the scientific revolution of the late Renaissance and beyond, culminating in the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in 1687.  This, coupled with the reaction against the religious wars of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, led to the development of a purely secular philosophy, one based on pure reason rather than on divine revelation.  Two of the philosophers who led the way in this were Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).

What followed was “The Age of Reason” or the “French Enlightenment.”  The world would make rational sense because it was founded on certain immutable laws of nature.  God was the divine watchmaker who created it all, but does not interfere with it after it was created.  The miraculous and supernatural simply do not occur.  And it is possible to make sense of all of this through the use of pure reason alone.  Any kind of divine revelation is unnecessary.

But where does this leave man himself?  If the entire universe functions according to immutable laws of nature, if everything is based on reason and logic, where does that leave the individual human being?  He becomes nothing more than a cog in the vast machine of the universe.  But we are conscious of having feelings and emotions, hopes and desires, and an inner sense of right and wrong.  Thus it would only be a matter of time before there would be a reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and that took the form of an essay written in 1754 by Jean Jacques Rousseau entitled “Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Amongst Men,” in which he argued that human beings are good by nature and are corrupted by civilization.  This, along with his subsequent writings, helped inspire the Romantic Movement of the early 19th Century with its emphasis on individual freedom and self-expression.  The legacy of the Romantic Movement lived on in the form of Existentialism and Post-Modernism, in the bohemian lifestyle and the beat generation.  Thus the central tension in modern Western thought is between nature and freedom, between rationality and irrationality.

What brought the crisis to a head in the late 1960’s were the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War.  As more and more young people became disillusioned with the U.S. Government and the “Establishment” they came to embrace a variety of alternative lifestyles and Counter-culture philosophies, some of them rooted in Neo-Marxism and Existentialism.  Much of the protests died away in the 1970’s, but the Existentialist viewpoint lived on in the writing of Simone de Beauvoir whose famous book The Second Sex became virtually the bible of the Feminist Movement.  The basic premise of the book was Sartre’s – that existence precedes essence, that we exist as autonomous individuals and should be free to define our own essences.  The practical implication (for women) was that gender roles were artificial and confining, and should be done away with.  Later the LGBT movement would take up the battle cry and argue that gay and transgender people should be allowed to define themselves as well.  The result of all of these changes was a loss of faith in universal truths and moral absolutes.  And this, in turn, resulted in social decay.

But all of this began with the Age of Reason and the secularization of Western culture.  If we try to rely on human reason alone, we have to assume that there is a rational order to the universe. But, as we have seen, this reduces man to the role of a cog in the machine.  But if we assume that a human being exists as a free and autonomous individual, then it becomes impossible to establish a rational order to the universe.

The problem with a purely secular worldview is that if we make something other than God as the ultimate reality, we cannot do justice to reality.  We leave something unexplained.  And to complicate matters, man’s reason is finite – we cannot see the whole picture.  How did we get here?  What is the ultimate meaning and purpose of life? What happens to us when we die?  Philosophers have struggled to answer these questions, but have never been able to come up with a convincing answer – just ask another philosopher.  Secular philosophy leads to a dead end.

The only solution is to be found in God – the true and living God, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.  And we are dependent upon the revelation which He has given us in the Bible to give us the answers to life’s great existential questions.  Only then can we achieve our full potential as human being created in His image.