Category Archives: Ideas

How The West Lost Its Story

“The entire project of the Enlightenment was to maintain realist faith while declaring disallegiance from the God who was that faith’s object. . . . Modernity was defined by the attempt to live in a universal story without a universal storyteller.”

– Robert W. Jenson, “How The World Lost Its Story,” First Things (October 1993).

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The Irony of Modern Intellectual Progress

Richard Tarnas provides some helpful insight into the dehumanizing effects of modern scientism:

The more modern man strove to control nature by understanding its principles, to free himself from nature’s power, to separate himself from nature’s necessity and rise above it, the more completely his science metaphysically submerged man into nature, and thus into its mechanistic and impersonal character as well. For if man lived in an impersonal universe, and if his existence was entirely grounded in and subsumed by that universe, then man too was essentially impersonal, his private experience of personhood a psychological fiction. In such a light, man was becoming little more than a genetic strategy for the continuance of his species, and as the twentieth century progressed that strategy’s success was becoming yearly more uncertain. Thus it was the irony of modern intellectual progress that man’s genius discovered successive principles of determinism — Cartesian, Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, behaviorist, genetic, neurophysiological, sociobiological — that steadily attenuated belief in his own rational and volitional freedom, while eliminating his sense of being anything more than a peripheral and transient accident of material evolution.

~ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped Our World (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1991), 332.

The Temptation to Practical Atheism

” . . . one of the most consequential ideas embedded in modern institutions and traditions and habits of thought is theological. Stated bluntly, it is the assumption that even if God exists he is largely irrelevant to the real business of life. To put this somewhat more tactfully, contemporary society and culture so emphasize human potential and human agency and the immediate practical exigencies of the here and now, that we are for the most part tempted to go about our daily business in this world without giving God much thought. Indeed, we are tempted to live as though God did not exist, or at least as if his existence did not practically matter. In short, one of the most insidious temptations fostered within contemporary secular society and culture, a temptation rendered uniquely plausible by the idea and assumptions embedded within modern institutional life, is the temptation to practical atheism.”

~ Craig Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Eerdmans, 1998), 2.

Ideas Have Consequences

Birkenau_gate

“If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment — or, as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

~ Viktor Frankl, quoted by Ravi Zacharias in The End of Reason (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Zondervan, 2008), 62-63.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): Prophet of Postmodernism

nietzsche

“No one comprehended the stark contrast between belief and unbelief like Nietzsche, and therefore none of the secular prophets depicted the implications of atheism as clearly as he did. Nietzsche brought the tradition of the secular prophets to its conceptual end by proclaiming that atheism was extremely costly. After Nietzsche, easy belief and easy unbelief proved impossible. As the culminating voice of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche foreshadowed the postmodern tradition that effectually eradicated the easy confidence in human nature and in rationality that was trumpeted by his Enlightenment predecessors.”

~ Richard Lints, “The Age of Intellectual Iconoclasm: Revolt Against Theism,” in Revolutions in Worldview, ed. W. Andrew Hoffecker (Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R Publishing, 2007), 301.

Ideas Have Consequences

“It seems that the ideas with the most profound consequences are frequently taken for granted. They are ideas that lie just behind conscious thought, providing a kind of foundation for the deliberations of everyday life. They are the ideas that define ‘the way things are’ and demarcate the possibilities of life. Indeed, the more consequential an idea is, the more likely that it is deeply embedded in institutions and traditions and habits of thought. This is why the most important ideas are often the most difficult to weigh and to reflect upon.”

~ Craig M. Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eermans, 1998). 1.