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Monday, January 16, 2006

What I'm Reading

How Should We Then Live?
Francis A. Schaeffer

 How Should We Then Live:  Francis Schaeffer
This weighty tome assesses Christian impact on Western civilization and the subsequent decline of Western thought and culture.

Early in the book, Schaeffer delves heavily—and seemingly inappropriately—into Christian art, and later music, making it seem his purpose is to display his knowledge. Later he relates these details to his thesis, but this inclusion of near infinite details clouds his point. The book could have been clarified and edited to half its length without compromising his goal: the demonstration of the importance of Christianity to the Western world.

Nonetheless, the book exceedingly deserves to be read.

Schaeffer emphasizes that Christian morals and beliefs are anathema to totalitarians. He explores Renaissance Humanism and what it did to compromise Western thought, “de-Deifying” religion and over-individualizing the concepts which originated in the “word of God,” and how, proceeding into the Enlightenment, that when intellectuals excluded God and his absolutes from their reasoning, man is left alone, which offers no final way of “saying [that] certain things are right and other things are wrong.”

DaVinci noted the coming of that conclusion centuries ago. Starting from man alone, he said, mathematics leads us to particulars, which lead only to mechanics and determinism. Humanism affords no way to discover the universal in areas of meaning and values. Rousseau, in contrast, advocated freedom from God--and all other restraints or universals--and made man the center of the universe.

Schaeffer quotes one George Wald who, in a serious lecture, noted that humanism insists that: “Four hundred years ago there was a collection of molecules named Shakespeare which produced Hamlet.” In making himself autonomous, man becomes nothing more than a collection of molecules. The final value, then, is continuity in the human race. The man actually believed this! The author asks: “If this is the only final value, one is left wondering why this then has importance.”

As for the search for a non-rational explanation of life-- an escape from the logic that had brought man to meaninglessness-- Schaeffer notes that it was initiated by Goethe and Wagner, expounded by Huxley, and popularized by Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead . . . sex, drugs and rock and roll. Eastern religions so captivate moderns because they provide this "escape." As in (pantheistic) Hinduism, everything that exists is part of “God.” No morality or immorality, no cruel and non-cruel, no beginning, no end and no purpose. Don’t enquire into the big questions such as why things exist at all.

Having eliminated God, people have adopted the values of personal peace and affluence. There is no meaning for man, and no meaning for education, except that it enhances peace and prosperity. It comes as no surprise that much of the younger generation is apathetic, undereducated, and narcissistic.

Schaeffer believed we are witnessing the morning (or ought it be mourning?) of a society in which crucial decisions are made by government, informed by the scientific community it funds. These decisions are increasingly sophisticated, requiring an elite technocracy to run the apparatus. These possess no transcendent ethic and are absent a moral belief system. “Men can be remade, their behavior conditioned, or their consciousness altered. [Past] constraints will vanish” . . . and Galbraith’s vision (or Brave New World) might thus become reality. While he does not attempt to predict the vehicle by which man's freedom is finally lost, Schaeffer convincingly demonstrates that, once removed from its base, it will be.

Frighteningly, it is predictable that the silent majority will remain silent despite their loss of liberty for so long as their life style is not challenged, and personal peace and prosperity-- bread and circuses-- are delivered. Politics is no longer a matter of ideals such as liberty and truth, simply serenity and affluence. One is reminded of Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid," or of the frequent, aggressive apathy of my generation to that which "doesn't affect" them.

We are taught that man is little more than a machine, and PETA, amongst others believe he is immaterially different from the other animals.

We have come a long way since Rome. Now we are on the return trip to the specter described by Gibbon. Bread and circuses.

Crick (who identified DNA) felt that modern medicine was a menace since it left the weak alive to breed the next generation. A former governor of Colorado deemed it the responsibility of the old and the sick to die. We have recently executed a brain dead woman on no true life support. We are on the edge of the abyss of genetic engineering and few—especially those who are in charge--address any moral considerations. Without a moral foundation, if scientists can do something, why shouldn't they?

So . . . who will control the controllers? What will happen in a society without absolutes? What happens when we are so in awe what can be done, that we fail to question whether it should to be done?

People believe they can sustain their "personal peace and affluence" without Christianity-- and not altogether unlike democracy, Christianity may or not be the only way to achieve goals, satisfy deep needs, or secure peace and dignity with or without a hereafter-- but neither the West, nor any other society has found a better way to date. Much of what we value in the West- empirical science, democracy, tolerance, virtue, and natural rights- is, after all, of Christian origin! We had best be serious about considering that.

For, if Christianity was central to the development of democracy, how will Liberty now fare in the countries which have largely abandoned her foundation?


Anonymous Christine Lamech said...

You seem to have an impeccable taste in books. I have read "How Should We Then Live?" also. At first glance, the names and "infinite details" seem superfluous. However, I feel that it was important that Schaeffer listed all those details. When a lawyer presents a case to the court, he spares no expense in sharing every detail. It gives the lawyer credibility, and it also bolsters his case. One can think of Schaeffer in the same way. In order to show the validity of his claims, Schaeffer includes essential details in order to prove to those who have studied extensively on subjects that he covers that he is also an authority on the subjects. After all, he spent years compiling the information that he used in his books.
For those who would rather skip all of the names and details, I recommend "A Christian Manifesto," which was also written by Francis Schaeffer. This book covers many of the topics of "How Should We Then Live?" but it is more compact and to the point.

January 18, 2006 12:37 PM  
Blogger Daniel Christianson said...

Well spoken Christine!

I'll have to check out A Christian Manifesto next.


January 18, 2006 12:46 PM  

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