Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Roe v. Wade

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.”

 

GOD’S LAW V. MAN’S LAW

 

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The United States Supreme Court has legalized abortion.  It has legalized same-sex marriage.  Both decisions have placed religious organizations in an awkward position.  What should the churches do?  Conform to the changing mores of society?  Or risk marginalization by clinging to the older standards of morality?

The question is not a new one, and Jesus made it clear that the conflict existed in the First Century.  The underlying question is this: what exactly determines morality?  The consensus of contemporary society?  Or some eternal, transcendent standard or moral law?  Are there such things as moral absolutes?  Jesus answered in the latter.

The Gospel of Luke records an incident in which Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day.  At one point Jesus made the statement, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Luke 16:13; NKJV).  “Mammon” is an Aramaic word that means wealth or profit.  Here it is personified into a kind of pagan god.  The Pharisees, Luke tells us, “were lovers of money” (v. 14), not unlike certain religious leaders today, and when the Pharisees heard Jesus’ statement “they derided Him.”

Jesus’ response was sharp and to the point.  He pointed out that “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (v. 15).  They has a high opinion of themselves based on their standing in society.  People looked up to them; they were honored and esteemed.  By all outward appearances they were successful.   But God knew better.  He looks on the heart, and knew what they were really like inside.  And the inward reality did not match the outward appearance.

Jesus then went on to make a telling statement: “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v. 15).  What He is saying here, in effect, is that there is a difference between a morality based on the standards of human society and one that is based on the will of God.

Every civilized human society has standards of human behavior that it expects the members of that society to meet.  But these standards are usually based on a pragmatic consideration: this is what we need to do to be able to work together to achieve a common goal.  It is a morality based on enlightened self-interest rather than any regard for the will of the Creator.  Aristotle could actually go so far as to say that ethics or morality is a branch of political science.  “Whosoever therefore would achieve anything in social or political life must be of good moral character; which indicates that the discussion of character not only belongs to social science, but is its very foundation or starting-point” (Magna Moralia, I.i).  It was only later that men began to ask the question, what ultimately makes a given human action right or wrong?  Is there any universal or transcendent standard of morality?  And even then philosophers could not admit that there was only one, infinite, eternal Creator-God to whom we as human beings are accountable; they had recourse instead to the concept of natural law.

But the Bible begins with the obvious question, how did we get here in the first place?  And the answer is that we were created by an intelligent Supreme Being who made us in His image and gave us rational and moral faculties.  Everything, then, is supposed to conform to His creative purpose; and that, in turn, determines the nature of morality.

So great, however, is the disparity between God’s standards and man’s that Jesus could say that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Human society admires success.  We look up to people who have education, wealth, good looks, athletic prowess, political standing.  We encourage ambition and gratify pride. But Jesus uses an exceptionally strong word to describe all of this: it is an “abomination” in the sight of God – literally something that is disgusting or detestable.  What God requires of us is that we love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves; not push and shove our way to the top and then pat ourselves on the back for our good success.

That, of course, places the individual human being in an awkward position.  When God’s law and man’s law conflict, what should he do?  Jesus went on to tell His listeners that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (v. 17).  A “tittle” was the tiny little overhang or projection that would distinguish one letter of the Hebrew alphabet from another.  Legislatures, courts and monarchs may all have their ideas about what they might like to see happen in the world; they might seek to impose their will at the point of the bayonet; but in the end it will all come to naught.  In the end every human government passes from the stage of history.  But God’s throne is eternal; His rule over the universe is never-ending, and in the end He will be the final Judge.  His word is the only one that counts.  As human beings we dare not disobey Him, no matter what men may say.

In modern Western society Judaeo-Christian morality may seem old-fashioned.  We are accused of living in the past.  But we are really living in eternity, while the surrounding world is self-destructing.  The path of wisdom is obvious.

HOW DEMOCRACIES DESTROY THEMSELVES

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History is apt to repeat itself, and during this time when an American presidential campaign season gets underway and “The Donald” has captured all the headlines, it might be worthwhile to see how other democracies have fared in the past. The lesson is sobering.

We, of course, did not invent democracy – others have gone before us. The honor of being first probably belongs to ancient Athens, which reached its apogee under the leadership of Pericles between 461 and 429 B.C. Then there was the Roman Republic which arose about the same time and lasted almost until the time of Christ. Then, in more modern times, we have the French First Republic of the 1790’s and the German Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Athens eventually fell under foreign domination; the last three all ended in dictatorships.

In a democracy it is the people who supposedly have the last say. But that, unfortunately, does not guarantee that the decisions that they make will be wise. In order for a democracy to work successfully several factors must be in place. Pericles, in fact, explained the working principles of Athenian democracy in a funeral oration he delivered for the fallen soldiers of the early stages of the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians, he said, treated each other as equals under the law. Public service was based on merit, and lawfully constituted authority was respected. People took responsibility for their own personal affairs and also for the affairs of the state. “We treat wealth as an opportunity for activity rather than as an opportunity for boastful words.” As a result of these basic civic virtues it was possible to carry on a civil discussion about issues that affected the entire community, and wise decisions were the outcome. “When people have the clearest understanding of what is fearful and what is pleasant, and on that basis do not flinch from danger, they would rightly be judged to have the best spirit.”

But things were already beginning to change in Athens. As the city became wealthier and more powerful, traditional values began to erode. Higher education was committed into the hands of “sophists,” professional tutors, really, who tended to take a rationalistic approach to knowledge. And one of the problems with rationalism is its inability to define morality. Some sophists even went so far as to maintain that might makes right.

All of this had a corrosive effect on political life. Politicians tended to become motivated more by personal ambition and greed than by any sense of civic duty. And that, in turn, led them to become more unscrupulous in their tactics and methods. Demagoguery inevitably led to tyranny. In the case of Athens the military began to falter and the city fell under the domination of foreign powers – first Sparta and then Macedonia. The city lost its independence.

With the Roman Republic things turned out slightly differently. As Rome went from one military conquest to another, successful generals came increasingly to dominate the political stage. But as in Athens, personal ambition led to factionalism, violence, and eventually dictatorship.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It is being played out now right before our very eyes. We have already started down the path to social disintegration and eventual tyranny.

Our recent troubles can be traced back to a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 that removed prayer and Bible reading from our public schools. Whatever one may make of the constitutional questions involved in the cases, the practical effect was to secularize our culture, making it implicitly atheistic. At about the same time large numbers of students began attending state universities, which were also thoroughly secular. And, as noted above, one of the problems with secularism is its inability to define a coherent set of moral values and social norms. If God doesn’t determine what is right and what is wrong, who / what does?

The resulting moral ambiguity was then reflected in the court’s disastrous decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. According to the logic of the “pro-choice” position, a woman’s right to choose here own destiny takes precedence over her unborn child’s right to live. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” no longer applies. But that fundamentally changes the way people think about morality. Instead of looking at morality as a universally binding set of behavioral norms, many people came to view it as merely a set of personally held beliefs that are optional for everyone else, and can change over time. What was “wrong” yesterday could be “right” tomorrow. All that is needed is the sanction of the government, in many cases it seems, a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court. And, of course, governments themselves have been known to practice such things as torture and genocide. Does that make these things right?

These developments have left American society profoundly divided over core values, with many on the right increasingly frustrated and angry with the direction of the country. And when a country loses its sense of community, politics degenerates into a power struggle between competing special interest groups, with each side increasingly resorting to obstructionist tactics. And with a loss of public morality social disintegration sets in as people become increasing unable to govern themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.

George Washington, in his First Inaugural Address, with keen foresight put it like this: “. . .there is not truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxim of an honest heart and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; . . . We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. . .” Have we not already lost our sense of virtue and duty? Can we still expect to enjoy “the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity”?

America is showing every sign of being in an advanced state of decline. Our family structure has crumbled; our “service economy” is non-productive; our federal government is drowning in debt. And in the political sphere voices are increasing strident, with various factions increasing willing to use obstructionist tactics to gain their own way.

Will Donald Trump be our Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte?