318 Christian Ethics

As is evident in the New Testament, from the beginning Christians have been concerned with both theology and morality—what we believe and how we behave.  Commending Wayne Grudem’s just-published Christian Ethics:  An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, c. 2018, Kindle edition), Al Mohler Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says:  “Insightful, encyclopedic, biblical, and distinctively evangelical, this new book from Wayne Grudem is a massive contribution to Christian ethics. It will stand as one of the most important and definitive works of this generation.  Readers should engage it chapter by chapter, and then keep it close at hand for continuing consultation.”  High praise from an esteemed evangelical scholar!  As the book’s title indicates, Grudem endeavors to set forth a biblical ethic, saying:  “I have written this book for Christians who want to understand what the Bible teaches about how to obey God faithfully in their daily lives.  I hope the book will be useful not only for college and seminary students who take classes in Christian ethics, but also for all other Christians who seek, before God, to be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,’ with the result that they will live ‘in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Col. 1: 9– 10)” (#334).

Grudem follows the pattern he established 25 years ago in another valuable work, Systematic Theology, “asking what the whole Bible says about various topics” (#560).  Thus every chapter ends with questions to consider, books to consult, a verse to memorize, and a hymn to sing.  He’s little interested in historical or philosophical or theological or natural law ethics inasmuch as he’s persuaded that “only Scripture has the final authority to define which actions, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God’s approval and which ones do not, and therefore it is appropriate to spend significant time analyzing the teaching of Scripture itself” (#573).  Thus he sets forth what ethicists label a “divine command” ethical system.  As embedded in the Bible, God’s moral standards illuminate His moral character, and He “could not have made other moral standards for us than the ones that he made” (#1425).  

God’s moral standards are clear, for Grudem believes one of Scripture’s hallmarks is clarity.  Though recorded only in the Bible, they are applicable to all men at all times.  They are absolutes—and they never conflict.  Though they may demand careful thought to implement we never need to choose the “lesser of two evils” as some Christians, such as Norman Geisler (who thinks there are times when we must choose, for example, to save a life while destroying property) have averred.  Gruden champions what he calls “the nonconflicting biblical commands view” and insists “that God requires us to obey every moral command in the entire Bible that rightly applies to us in our situations” (#4715). 

He believes that problematic passages—such as Rahab helping the Hebrew spies in Jerico—can be fully explained without justifying sinful behavior (such as lying in Rahab’s case).  So if a Christian were asked by Nazi soldiers if he was hiding some Jews he must always tell the truth—for in such situations “there are always other options besides lying or divulging where the Jews are hidden.  Silence is one option.  Inviting the soldiers to come in and look around for themselves is another option.  In a comparable situation, several other possible responses might present themselves, including offering hospitality and refreshments to the soldiers” (#4508).  Here Grudem joins the Kantians who insist one must always both intend to do what’s right and then do it, regardless of the consequences, since you cannot control them.  In a frequently cited and debated passage Immanuel Kant declared that if your friend takes refuge in your home, fleeing from a man intent on murdering him, you cannot lie to save your friend’s life.   

Some apparent dilemmas find resolution in Grudem’s Old Testament hermeneutic.  The material included in Genesis 1 to Exodus 19, he says, is relevant to all people at all times.  Thus the “Noahide Covenant” with its seven “laws” is ever and everywhere valid.  Obeying these laws, as prescribed by the Jewish tradition, all of us must (1) refrain from denying God’s Oneness or (2) cursing Him.  We are not to (3) murder, (4) eat the flesh of a living animal, or (5) steal.  We must (6) rightly channel our sexual drive and thereby maintain the family.  And we are to (7) establish civil laws and authorities to maintain justice.  These OT moral imperatives, Grudem says, are for all mankind.  But, he contends:  “The Mosaic covenant, which began when God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20), was terminated when Christ died, and Christians now live instead under the provisions of the new covenant.  Nevertheless, the Old Testament is still a valuable source of ethical wisdom when it is understood in accordance with the ways in which the New Testament authors continue to use the Old Testament for ethical teaching and in light of the changes brought about by the new covenant” (#5034).  Thus the sacrificial, ceremonial, dietary, and civil laws of the Hebrew scriptures carry no mandate for Christians.  Nor do the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books, as part of the Mosaic Covenant, provide normative laws for Christians.  So too for the Decalogue:  “Although the Mosaic covenant was terminated at the death of Christ, the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20: 1– 17; Deut. 5: 6– 21) still provide a useful summary of ethical topics.  However, all of these commandments (except the Sabbath commandment) are reaffirmed in the New Testament and should be thought of as part of the ‘law of Christ,’ which should guide the lives of Christian believers in the new covenant” (#6068).

Consequently, Grudem structures his Christian Ethics in accord with “protecting” (1) God’s honor, (2) human authority, (3) marriage, (4) property, and (5) purity of heart, seeking guidance from the Ten Commandments, which provide “a useful framework for studying all ethical topics” (#6113).  Thus, for example, the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” can be followed by urging moments of prayer in public schools, and the second commandment, prohibiting “graven images” can be applied to deviant notions of God.  “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” should prompt us to treasure “purity of speech” and avoid cursing and obscenity as well as specifically misusing the God-word.  Bearing false witness includes lying, so one should ever speak truly.  Even a lack of punctuality, Grudem thinks, constitutes a kind of lying and merits censure.  Thus one can find hundreds of ethical questions answered by bringing to bear appropriate biblical texts. 

Few folks—other than ethics teachers such as myself—would read right through Grudem’s Christian Ethics, but it has real value as a reference work.  Should one want to deal with any number of issues—ranging from parental authority, capital punishment, war, self-defense, abortion, suicide, birth control, divorce, vacations, to borrowing and lending—he will likely find them helpfully addressed in this book.   

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Whereas Wayne Grudem espouses a divine command version of Christian ethics, David Haines and Andrew Fulford take a different approach in Natural Law:  A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (The Davenant Press, Kindle Ediction, c. 2017).  The Davenant Institute, which published this guide, “supports the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church.  It seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness” (p. 126).  Clearly written, brief without being superficial, the book accomplishes its purpose and could easily be used in either college or Sunday school classes. 

The authors begin by listening carefully to the great declaration found in both Bible and Creeds, where we read that “God is the source of all creation, and that all created things were, in their divinely instituted natural states, good.  As we will see, the very fact of divine creation seems to point towards what has been traditionally called natural law:  the notion that there is, because of the divine intellect, a natural order within the created world by which each and every created being’s goodness can be objectively judged, both on the level of being (ontological goodness), and, for human-beings specifically, on the level of human action (moral goodness).  Ontological goodness is the foundation of moral goodness” (Introduction).  The best biblical passage clarifying this is Romans 2:14-15, and to great theologians, including John Calvin (whom the authors generally follow), this passage says all persons have “engraved on their hearts, a warning and judgment by which they discern between right and wrong, between honesty and villainy.”  Still more, Calvin continues:  “Men, therefore, have a certain natural knowledge of the law, which teaches them and tells them, in themselves, that one thing is good, and the other detestable.”

In accord with Calvin and other Christians, Haines and Fulford say:  “By natural law, then, we mean that order or rule of human conduct which is (1) based upon human nature as created by God, (2) knowable by all men, through human intuition and reasoning alone (beginning from his observations of creation, in general, and human nature, in particular), independent of any particular divine revelation provided through a divine spokesperson; and, thus (3) normative for all human beings” (p. 5).  It is not human (or positive) law but God’s law revealed in His handiwork—and primarily in us.  He designed us in His own image, giving us an ability to think and understand our own essence, and “if there is a natural law, then there is a Being which is superior to Human-beings, which is rational, and which is powerful enough to enforce the standard He has imposed upon the beings He governs” (p. 13).  Divinely-ordered, the natural law combines a “combination of metaphysical and epistemological Realism which we will call Moderate Realism” (p. 23). 

Most fully developed in the “common sense” or philosophia perennis tradition shaped by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Moderate Realism holds that all things are what they are because they were designed to be so—and their designs can be rationally known by us.  As Étienne Gilson, said, when we know a thing we simply grasp its “nature,” a reality “‘situated in an existence which is not that of the knower, the ens of a material nature’” (p. 41).  As human beings (i.e. rational animals) we are able  “to love sacrificially, communicate through language, laugh,” and choose to sacrifice our own “good” in order to help another person.  “These distinguishing features of Human nature are what we should call essential attributes, that is, attributes which result from human nature. The word rational refers to, among other things, the capacity to reason, to consider abstract concepts for the sake of knowing, to deliberate about means to ends, etc. We propose, therefore, that humans are rational animals” (pp. 32-33).  Thus we have developed the natural sciences, such as astronomy, physics, and chemistry, wherein we seek to rigorously describe and fully understand the essence (or nature) of such things as gravity or water or osmosis.  There are real things that have their own essence, quite apart from our observations, that can be truly known when we study them, enabling us to their material, efficient, formal, and final causes.

The natural law tradition easily synthesizes with a biblically-based ethic, for the Bible “everywhere assumes, and in some places explicitly appeals to, natural law. The written book of God constantly bears witness to God’s other book, the book of nature” (p. 50).   Consequently, Haines and Fulford take us on a tour of the Hebrew, extra-canonical Jewish literature, and the Christian scriptures, showing how frequently they rely on natural law thinking.  For Christians, of course, the locus classicus for such is Romans 1 and 2.   Thus “Christians who believe in Scripture ought to be defending the existence and visibility of natural law, both to other Christians and to the world at large” (p. 107).

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To the great Roman philosopher and orator Cicero:  “The absolute good is not a matter of opinion, but of nature.”  A good knife has a sharp blade and cuts effectively—it’s good because it attains its end, not because we like the way it looks.  A good surgeon removes a diseased kidney—he’s good because he does what he’s equipped to do, not because he’s a congenial guy.  Cicero’s words mark him as an advocate of the “natural law,” which is not a “law of nature” such as gravity but the right reading of human nature, both in its essence and end.  Embracing this approach in An Introduction to Ethics A Natural Law Approach (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018), a young philosophy professor now teaching at Ohio Dominican College, Brian Besong, endeavors “to explain clearly and briefly to a non-philosophical audience the principles of ethics that dominated moral thinking in the West at least until the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ that began in late seventeenth-century Europe” (#53).  For all to many intellectuals, little value can be found in the ancient and medieval eras, so most modern ethicists embrace systems such as existentialism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, etc.  However, as Besong insists, the “natural law approach” was for many centuries simply called ethics since “most of the major philosophers in the West [Plato; Aristotle; Cicero; Augustine; Aquinas] endorsed views that fell within this tradition” (#106). 

He begins by looking at “foundational” issues, showing why he finds many positions (such as rational egoism, moral relativism, and logical positivism) inadequate.  Then he begins building his own case by citing Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy:  “Nature has implanted in the minds of men a genuine desire for the good and the true, but misled by various delusions they often reach the wrong goal.”  Most deeply and by design we all desire happiness—to flourish in a fully human way—and the only way to do so is to live rightly, to be morally good.  Natural law philosophers, following Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, identify “happiness” as our final end, the ultimate goal of the good life.  But such “happiness” cannot be confused with pleasures, all of which “are cheap thrills, which Aristotle suggests are mainly pursued by the ‘most vulgar type’ of people, who prefer a life ‘suitable to beasts’” (#1160).  So too neither prosperity nor fame provide lasting happiness, for it is, rightly defined, a state of completeness and contentment, a spiritual reality attained through right reasoning, a contemplative activity transcending worldly endeavors.  Though Aquinas will largely embrace Aristotle’s position, he insists the true happiness for which we hunger cannot be attained on earth, where we are limited and mortal.  Real happiness can come only in Heaven, where we may enjoy the beatific vision.  Though agreeing with Aristotle that contemplative thought makes one happy, Aquinas, insisted God Himself is Truth and Goodness, so rightly understanding God most fully makes one happy.

Joining Cicero as an advocate of the natural law, another Roman philosopher, Seneca, said:  “True wisdom consists in not departing from nature and in molding our conduct according to her laws and model.”  There are rights and wrongs.  Good and evil truly exist and can be known.  Moral goodness resides in acts that contribute to our flourishing, making us happy as we realize our true end.  Rightly understanding our nature as human beings gives us objective guidelines, enabling us to live well.  It is thus demonstrably true that we need to drink water, not gasoline, and doing so satisfies our thirst; we need love, not neglect, so children thrive in loving families; and we need to see how things really are rather than believe illusions or “social constructions,” so students must learn to think realistically.  Analyzing moral action, C.S. Lewis, a 20th century natural law proponent, suggested, in Mere Christianity, that we understand it in nautical terms, thinking how a naval fleet needs to function.  First, you need sea-worthy ships, capable of sailing across the waters; then you need to adjust your trajectory in light of other vessels, seeking to sail with rather than bump into them; and finally you need to know where you’re going, using maps and instruments to guide your journey.  Morality is thus personal (a solid ship), social (cooperating with other vessels), and teleological (knowing where to go). 

Natural Law ethicists hold people responsible for their behavior, though they always realize, with Velleius Paterculus, a Roman historian, that:  “It is customary for people to excuse all their own faults but never the faults of others, and to blame the affairs of others always on the person’s will rather than attendant circumstances.”  We don’t hold accountable tornadoes or three year old children or passengers in an out-of-control car.  We understand that one must be in full possession of his faculties (being mature and rational).  Thus neither instinctive acts, be it breathing or screaming or having “spontaneous thoughts, being characteristically both unfree and unintentional, are not something we are morally responsible for.  We need not feel guilty if we randomly and uncontrollably find ourselves feeling jealous of another person, for instance, or feeling an inappropriate attraction for someone, among many others.  To the degree that these were unintentional and unavoidable, they are not our fault, and we are not to blame for them” (#2642).  Good actions are fully rational, intentional, and volitional. 

Indeed:  “Intentionality, freedom, and knowledge are the three requirements for having an act that is morally evaluable, at least in the normal way” (#2331).  Professor Besong carefully explains these criteria, making helpful distinctions and developing a meaningful position capable of dealing with many of the true complexities of moral reasoning.  There is, for example, the “principle of double effect.”  One may primarily want to act rightly, but in fact there may be (honestly understood) bad as well as (equally well understood) good consequences.  You might, for example, decide to rescue a child from a burning house while leaving his pet dog (or even an elderly, obese quadriplegic) to die.  That would be a difficult but good act.  And unlike the disciples of Immanuel Kant (or Christians such as Wayne Grudem), there are important ethical distinctions we need to make.  “Consequently,” when wondering if it was right for Christians to mislead Nazis hunting Jews, “it is not always wrong to intend to deceive. It is always wrong to intend to lie, but lying and deception are not the same thing” (#2966). 

“To be mindful of his duty is true honor to an upright man,” said the Roman playwright Plautus (in Trinummus).  Thus “we must act (or avoid acting) in a certain way to be good and achieve happiness” (#3143).  By nature we are duty-bound to live rightly, that is righteously.  Doing one’s duty requires revering the rights of others.  This begins by defending everyone’s right to life, the most basic of all rights.  Murder—the deliberate taking of an innocent person’s life—is always wrong.  It logically follows that we also “have a right to health and bodily integrity” #3380), so to poison, or punch, a person harms him and should not be done.  Not all killing, however, is murder.  At times we may need to kill an aggressor—in self-defense of just war—because it is right to stop an aggressor intent on harming innocent persons.  Other nature-based rights include such things as a right to education (since we are rational beings who need to develop our minds) and private property (since we are material beings needing material goods to live well).  Such basic rights “do not depend upon an individual’s degree of maturity or physical growth, least of all upon an individual’s ability to physically defend himself. Instead, rights depend upon an individual’s potential to pursue happiness” (#3586).

To properly pursue happiness, the natural law tradition almost always emphasizes the importance of the classical virtues.  So Besong devotes an illuminating chapter to analyzing the four “cardinal” virtues—prudence (practical wisdom, knowing how to act); temperance (finding balance in all we do, avoiding extremes); fortitude (patiently enduring, courageously holding course); and justice (giving everyone what is due him).   Living virtuously makes us happy, so rather than deliberately trying to find what makes us happy we need to discover it comes as a side effect to living righteously.

317 Facts, Not Fear

Two decades ago, Bjorn Lomborg insisted (in The Skeptical Environmentalist:  Measuring the Real State of the World)that if more of us were more skeptical fewer of us would fear environmental catastrophes.  He provided a densely documented repudiation of the environmentalist litanies which then orchestrated world opinion and political action.  As “an old left-wing Greenpeace member,” it was difficult for Lomborg to entertain second thoughts about the movement he’d supported, but reading an interview with Julian Simon prodded him “to put my beliefs under the statistical microscope” (p. xixi).  The results—displayed in charts and graphs on almost every page as well as 2,930 footnotes and 1,800 bibliographical entries—undermined the worldview he’d too easily championed.  Lomborg devoted 68 double column pages to global warming, easily the most emotionally-charged current environmental issue.  He emphasized that many factors point to a slowly warming planet.  But the data are not totally persuasive.  And even worst-case scenarios will not dramatically change life on earth.  Many of the headline-grabbing projections are little more than “computer-aided storytelling.”  Frantic efforts to retard the warming trend would do little to alter the process.  We could easily expend enormous sums and slightly reduce the amount of global warming, but in a century such efforts will make little difference!  So Lomborg urged us to invest in more realistic endeavors and deal with the consequences of global warming when and if—when and if!—they transpire.  He further cautioned that if an estimated $100 trillion were spent during this century to curtail global warming it would reduce global temperature by only one-sixth of a degree Celsius!

Inasmuch as Congresswoman Aexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently rolled out a “New Green Deal” that has garnered endorsements from a variety of Democratic politicians (many of them running for President), it’s obvious we need to treat such proposals with considerable skepticism.  That’s especially true when we’re told we have only 12 years to save the planet!  (I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s quip in Life on the Mississippi:  “There is something fascinating about science.  One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”)  Agitators such as Ocasio-Cortez know that bad news makes the news, and popular publications and public school teachers pick up on alarming announcements, so that all too quickly extreme cases become accepted as basic norms.  Fears fly faster and further than facts!  Ungrounded alarms send folks scurrying for shelter when nothing has happened!  Scientists, as prone to vanity as any other professional group, enjoy the spotlight as lonely prophets and feed the frenzy.

So it’s helpful to peruse Gregory Wrightstone’s recent work, Inconvenient Facts:  The Science Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know (Silver Crown Productions, Mill City Press, c. 2017) for a readable (and well-illustrated) update to Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist.  Introducing the book, England’s Viscount Monckton of Brenchley says:  “The Roman poet Virgil wrote of the scientist:  ‘Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas:  Happy the one who finds the why of things.’  Science was originally known in the West as philosophia naturalis—the love of the nature of wisdom that is love of the wisdom of nature.  The noble philosophical mission of ‘the seeker after truth’, as the Iraqi mathematician and empiricist al-Haytham beautifully described the scientist, was to discern what is so in nature and why it is so, and to answer the question of the Greek philosopher Anaximander:  how to distinguish what is from what is not?” (Kindle #43).  Still more:  Science, to al-Haytham, “is not done by mere head count:  ‘The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any consensus, however venerable or widespread.  Instead he questions what he has learned of it, applying to it his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he inspects and inquires and investigates and checks and checks and checks again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.’” 

“Gregory Wrightstone,” Viscount Moncton continues, “is a man of true science, firmly in the tradition of al-Haytham.  His mission in this book is not to prop up some failed Party Line willy-nilly, nor—on the other hand—unthinkingly to oppose that Party Line merely on the basis that it is as scientifically disagreeable as it is histrionically hysterical.  His mission is to distinguish what is from what is not in the climate debate.  He has splendidly succeeded” (#65).  Wrightstone himself says he writes “to provide non-scientists with well-documented, easily understood data on the basics of the science, while spotlighting the many glaring flaws in the climate-catastrophe arguments.”  The facts on display easily equip us to evaluate claims set forth by “climate change catastrophe” devotees who indulge in scare tactics to advance their political agendas.  “The inconvenient facts presented here show that the threat to humankind is not climate change or global warming, but a group of men (and women) intent on imposing an agenda based on severely flawed science” (#271). 

Wrightstone is a “geoscientist who has dealt with various aspects of the Earth’s processes for more than 35 years” who knows “that the brief hundred or so years of recorded temperatures—and the even shorter time frame since the first satellite was launched—is just a blink of a geologic eye.  It is too brief a period to evaluate the data adequately” (#258).  The planet has been much cooler—and much warmer—in the past, and carbon dioxide levels have oscillated wildly.  Indeed:  “Our current geologic period (Quaternary) has the lowest average CO2 levels in the history of the Earth” (#448).  Still more:  we also know that there were several previous eras (Minoan, Roman, Medieval) “that all were warmer than today, even though CO2 concentration was only 70% of today’s” (#581).  “It was warmer than today for 6,100 of the last 10,000 years,” and “the current warming trend is neither unusual nor unprecedented,” so it’s obvious CO2 levels had little to do with it (#858).  Contrary to alarmist articles, water vapor, not carbon dioxide, is mainly responsible greenhouse warming.  Indeed:  “Nearly 99% of the atmosphere consists of nitrogen and oxygen.  The remaining 1% consists of several trace gases, including CO2, whose current concentration represents just 0.04% of the atmosphere, or 400 molecules out of every million” (#375). 

Understanding elementary geoscience frees us from “climate apocalypse myths” popularized by National Geographic and environmental groups.  Fortunately the world is not “careening toward planetary doom because of our excesses.”  In fact:  “Humanity and the Earth are prospering wildly, not in spite of rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide, but because of them” (#1119).  Nor does anything like an overwhelming “consensus” regarding global warming exist in the scientific community.   A 2016 a survey of 4,000 members of the American Meteorological Society “found that 33% believed that climate change was not occurring, was at most half man-made, was mostly natural, or they did not know.  Significantly, only 18% believed that a large amount—or all—of additional climate change could be averted” (#1221).  Amazingly:  “Only 0.3% of published scientists stated in their papers that recent warming was mostly man-made” (#1223). 

Wrightstone presents data and charts to show that, contrary to apocalyptic myths, during the past several decades there have been fewer droughts, forest fires, famines, heat waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  Polar bear populations have increased, rather than decreased, and the rising sea levels have been doing so for 15,000 years with no dramatic increased rate during the past century.  Though a small peninsula of Antartica has been losing its ice cover, “Most of Antarctica is cooling and gaining ice mass” (#2006).  In sum:   “The inconvenient facts in this book support quite a different narrative from that offered by proponents of apocalyptic human-driven climate change.  On every key topic examined, the evidence, supported by voluminous peer reviewed studies, reveals that the ‘consensus’ opinion promoted by climate-apocalypse proponents is consistently at odds with reality” (#2026). 

For the reader’s convenience, there’s a list of the 60 “inconvenient facts” appended to the text. 

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In Landscapes & Cycles:  An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism (c. 2013) Jim Steele, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, explains why he, as an active field scientist, came to distrust alarmist statements when they ran counter to his careful experiments.  He ever emphasizes:  “Although it is wise to think globally, all wildlife reacts locally” (p. 1).  Rather than endorse warnings issued by “authorities” (such as James Hansen—the “father of modern global warming theory”), he looked at the evidence he best knew, and “to my great surprise and great relief, when I examined 100 years of local climate observations throughout California, I found they contradicted the global models.  Global warming was not global and the local perspective suggested wildlife was not being harmed by climate change” (p. 3).  Though alarmist articles blamed rising CO2 levels for wildlife extinction, Steele found that “local temperatures never warmed or were never examined” (p. 15).  Instead, the slightly warmer temperatures during the past 60 years seemed to have benefitted rather than harmed the state’s wildlife.   Yet when he dared state this obvious truth he was attacked as a “denier and accused of helping Big Oil” (p. 9). 

Steele carefully examines celebrated environmentalist horror stories, beginning with Dr. Camille Parmesan’s research on butterflies.  She “is considered one of the leading figures in climate-change research” and was “ranked as the second-most cited author in papers devoted expressly to global warming and climate change” (p. 19).  She is one of the “global” thinkers, looking for “overall patterns” rather than specifics.  Importantly, her views garnered the endorsement of “one of the most prestigious scientific journals with one of the highest rejections rates, Nature” (p. 21).  Though she had become a scientific celebrity—even invited to speak in the White House—her claims triggered questions for Steele since they “contradicted the butterfly’s well-established biology” and “blamed ‘global’ warming even through local maximum temperatures had cooled.  Although butterfly experts and scientists dedicated to saving the butterfly from extinction had pointed to habitat destruction as the culprit and sought habitat restoration, Parmesan argued for reduced carbon emissions” (p. 20). 

Since one of the nation’s best butterfly experts, Paul Opler, finds no evidence bolstering Parmesan’s position Steele contacted her and “asked for the locations of her research sites.”  She refused!  “More than three years later,” he says, “I am still waiting” (p. 25).  And the butterflies she said were going extinct have, in fact, “been recovering” nicely, but one would never know it since “there have been no press releases to celebrate the good news” (p. 26).  After checking the facts in one of her famous papers—“Impacts of Extreme Weather and Climate on Terrestrial Biota”—Steele declares it “egregious.  Her conclusions are based on deceptive half-truths and grave sins of omission, yet it mesmerized the nation’s top climate scientists, who rapidly adopted her as blindly as the ants adopted a Large Blue [butterfly species]” (p. 85). 

Turning to another example, Steele examined the much-publicized decline of Emperor penguins—the largest of all Antarctic penguins.  Recent satellite surveys indicate that there are probably 600,000 of them, but the media persist in referring to “old data from a single colony that had suddenly declined during the 1970s to create a model demonstrating that rising CO2 will cause the Emperors to soon go extinct” (p. 52).  On-site data show “there has been absolutely no local warming,” yet climate scientists still issue warnings that the “Emperors are on the precipice of collapse, when in reality there are more penguins and more Antarctic sea ice now than as ever been observed before” (p. 16).  The same is true of Adelie penguins, cited by Al Gore as a sure indicator of climate change.  He, along with the World Wildlife Fund, focused on “one small area where 80% of the penguins have been lost” while withholding data showing that elsewhere the “Adelies are thriving” (p. 174), unfazed by global warming! 

Polar bears are likewise alive and well!  As are golden toads, pikas, walruses, and gray whales!  Unlike the computer generated alarmist declarations of species doomed to extinction, careful local studies often show them doing quite well, easily adjusting to changing environmental conditions.  Reading Steele’s essays provides a healthy antidote to the frenzy animating the “climate change” movement.

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A decade ago Lawrence Solomon was working for Energy Probe, one of Canada’s oldest and largest environmental organizations.  For years he’d helped sound the alarm on global warming.  He also wrote a weekly column for the National Post.  Learning that there were a few distinguished scientists who disputed the global warming forecasts, he decided to devote a few of his columns to them.  One name led to another and in time he “profiled some three-dozen scientists, all recognized leaders in their fields, many of them actually involved in the official body that oversees most of the world’s climate-change research” (p. 6).  Ultimately he collected his columns in a highly readable and informative book—The Deniers:  The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud, and those who are too fearful to do so (Richard Vigilante Books, c. 2008).  One of the striking  truths he discovered was that the scientists he interviewed almost always said:  “‘I’m sure global warming exists.  All the science from all the different scientific disciplines say so.  But there is one exception—my particular area of expertise has found no compelling evidence of manmade global warming’” (p. 46).   So there seems to be a pervasive pattern:  “Affirmers in general.  Deniers in particular” (p. 46). 

For his first column he interviewed Dr. Edward J.Wegman, a professor at George Mason University who is considered one of the world’s finest statisticians.  He’d become involved in the global warming issue when asked by the House of Representatives to evaluate the famous hockey stick graph, the “poster child” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and frequently featured “in the global warming debate” (p. 10).    Constructed by Professor Michael Mann, the graph showed global temperatures dramatically increasing throughout the 20th century, in tandem with increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2.  (Mann’s graph simply ignored long-accepted evidence regarding the “Medieval Warming Period” wherein temperatures were much warmer than they are today and during which the civilization of the “High Middle Ages” flourished.) 

Mann’s methodology had been subjected to intensive scrutiny by Stephen McIntyre, who concluded it was inaccurate at best and devious at worst!  So Professor Wegman was asked to decide who was right.  He assembled “an expert panel of statisticians” to help him, and pronounced Mann’s “hockey stick” was rooted in an erroneous methodology.  “Wegman argued not only that Mann was wrong but also that the mistakes he made were those that would have been fairly obvious to a top-notch statistician” (p. 18).  That Mann’s work had been “peer reviewed” also distressed Wegman , for discovered that the “peers” evaluating it all belonged to a small, tightly-bound circle of men committed to the global warming agenda.  In light of Wegman’s devastating critique, the IPCC dropped the hockey stick from its publications.

As a committed environmentalist, Solomon had long believed the UN climate-change scientists who linked hurricanes, such as Katrina, with global warming.  So he was “dumbfounded” when he found that the leading expert on Atlantic hurricanes, Dr. Christopher Landsea, denied any correlation, much less causation.  Summing up, he said:  “‘There are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between global warming and observed hurricane frequency and intensity’” (p. 31).  He wrote IPCC officials, “protesting:  ‘Where is the science, the refereed publications, that substantiates these pronouncements?  . . . .  As far as I know there are none’” (p. 33).  He then resigned from his IPCC position, lamenting that “I personally cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by preconceived agendas and being scientifically unsound’” (p. 35).  Subsequently, “the IPCC quietly banished hurricanes as cover-story material.  Also like the Mann hockey stick, the hurricane fears have done their work” (p. 36).

Of particular importance is the stance of Dr. Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists.  He authored a chapter in an IPCC report, only to find it seriously misrepresented in its “Summaries for Policymakers.”  To counteract the distortions therein, he wrote a short piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Climate of Fear.”  Peoples’ fears were being stoked by alarmists who spread “‘model results we know must be wrong’” and predict “‘catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right’” (p. 50).  Testifying before the U.S. Senate, Professor Lindzen condemned both the media and politicians such as Al Gore who spread untruths.  “‘How is it that we don’t have more scientists speaking up about this junk science?’ he asks.  His grim answer:  carrots and sticks.  Those who toe the party line are publicly praised and have grants ladled out to them from a funding pot that overflows with more than $1.7 billion per year in the United States alone.  This who don’t are subject to attack’” (p. 52). 

When the White House asked the National Academy of Sciences to appoint a panel on climate change independent of the IPCC, Professor Lindzen was one of eleven American scientists asked to assess the evidence.  After careful study, the panel issued a finely-nuanced statement:  “‘Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should to regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)’” (p. 56).  So how was this careful assessment conveyed to the public?  “CNN, in language typical of other reportage, stated it represented ‘a unanimous deacon that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man.  There is no wiggle room’” (p. 56).  No wonder Richard Lindzen despairs! 

Dr. Vincent Gray is more than despairing.  He’s angry!  So he wrote The Greenhouse Delusion:  A Critique of “Climate Change 2001.  He is one of the “2,500 top scientists” the IPCC cites as endorsing the global warming agenda.  He did, indeed, serve as a reviewer of the organization’s reports, submitting some 1900 comments on one of them.  But Gray has become “aghast at what he sees as an appalling absence of scientific rigor in the IPCC’s review process” (p. 58).  In fact he thinks the whole thing may be little more than a “swindle”!  He even challenges what’s taken for granted by many scientists—the fact that the earth is excessively warming.  He notes that global temperature records may well be flawed since temperature stations “are disproportionately located near cities and towns, which are heat sources, rather than out in the country,” and “many stations that were once in the country have had cities grow up around them, affecting temperature trends” (p. 59).  And even to focus on one century’s trends belies a mental myopia, for over the millennia earth’s climate has dramatically changed.  We have, in fact, recently emerged from the Little Ice Age, for which we should be grateful!  

Central to the “climate change” hysteria is claim that CO2 has dramatically increased during the past few decades.  Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, a famed Polish scientist, has protested the IPCC’s reliance upon ice-core data to prove the CO2 threat.  “‘These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis,”” he says, “‘but the foundation is groundless—the IPCC has based its global warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false’” (p. 98).  In fact:  “Scientists have been studying and measuring ‘CO2 since the beginning of the 19th century, and they have left behind a record of tens of thousands of direct real-time measurements.  These measurements tell a far different story about CO2—they demonstrate, for example, that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated greatly and that several times in the past 200 years CO2 concentrations have exceeded today’s levels’’’ (p. 107).  Despite such facts, desperate politicians still stoke the fears of an ignorant populace! 

316 Solzhenitsyn’s Witness

Since becoming aware of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 50 years ago I’ve read—and read about—him.  He has remained for me a powerful witness, revealing important truths regarding Communism, 20th century history, the importance of writers, and the durability of “permanent things.”  I’ve recently read the first three volumes of The Red Wheel novels:  August 1914, which focuses on the pivotal first month of Russia’s engagement in WWI, showing why and how the Tsarist state failed to rightly respond to the conflict; November 1916, which deals with the disintegrating home front (and is the most explicitly Christian of the novels); March 1917, which shows the government beginning to dissolve amidst the collapse of traditional authorities.  In the judgment of David Walsh:  “There is no doubt that The Red Wheel is one of the masterpieces of world literature, made all the more precious by its relevance to the tragic era through which contemporary history has passed.  Moreover, the impulse of revolutionary and apocalyptic violence associated with the age of ideology has still not ebbed.  We remain confronted by the fragility of historical existence, in which it is possible for whole societies to choose death rather than life.”

In toto, The Red Wheel constitutes what Solzhenitsyn considered “the chief artistic design of my life.”  He believed the two Russian revolutions in 1917 were the crucial events of the 20th century—the cauldron of destruction still defacing the globe.  Unfortunately, few Americans would plough through these massive (thousands of pages!) tomes since they deal, in intricate fashion, with figures and events in Russian history unlikely to interest them.  But to Solzhenitsyn, “there is always only one right path:  to tackle the main job.  That job will lead you to the right path of its own accord.  Tackling the job meant seeking out, for myself and for the reader, how, through our past, we can conceive of our future” (#5054).  Russian history merits our attention since it provides an important lesson regarding the fatal consequences of embracing any utopian, socialist vision for society.  Especially enlightening are passages such as one finds in November 1916, surveying the leftist movement that would finally prevail in the Bolsheviks’ triumph.  Largely responsible for that triumph was a “hapless Russian liberalism, prostrating itself, dropping its spectacles, raising its head again, throwing up its hands, urging moderation, and generally making itself a laughingstock” (p. 59).  Though feigning impartiality, Russian liberals unfailingly aligned themselves with leftist ideologies.  “Educated Russian society, which had long ago ceased to forgive the regime for anything, joyfully applauded left-wing terrorists and demanded an amnesty for all of them without exception.” (p. 59).  As the 20th century dawned, the democratic liberals issued angry fulminations against the Tsar and his government while refraining from any critique of “the revolutionary young” who had gained control of the universities and “knocked their lecturers down and prohibited academic activity.”  Students—then and now—unleash what seems to be an effluence of adolescence—“the normal sympathy of the young for the left” (p. 495).   

In a passage I’ve pondered many times—for it speaks as directly to the United States of 2019 as the Russia of 1917—Solzhenitsyn said:  “Just as the Coriolis effect is constant over the whole of this earth’s surface, and the flow of rivers is deflected in such as way that it is always the right bank that is eroded and crumbles, while the floodwater goes leftward, so do all the forms of democratic liberalism on earth strike always to the right and caress the left.  Their sympathies always with the left, their feet are capable of shuffling only leftward, their heads bob busily as they listen to leftist arguments—but they feel disgraced if they take a set to or listen to a word from the right” (p. 59).  Indeed, as Lenin as other revolutionaries realized:  “The wind always blows from the far left!  No Socialist in the world could afford to ignore that fact” (p. 485).   In a 1979 interview with the BBC Russian service, Solzhenitsyn lamented the 1917 failures of liberals and moderate socialists in the Duma and the Provisional Government.  They lacked the courage needed to oppose the hard left—a pattern of “weakening and self-capitulation” that would be “repeated on a world-wide scale since those days.”

Russian revolutionaries, many of them representing the “hard left,” also relied on a supportive Russian press.  As the main protagonist of The Red Wheel, Colonel Georgi Vorotyntsev, mused:  “It’s always leftist.  All destructive. Vilifies the Church, vilifies patriots—they narrowly avoid mentioning the throne directly, they’ve learned to yap about what they call the regime.  Every fly-by-night journalist speaks in the name of Russia.  They shower us with sewage but never print our denials, that’s their idea of freedom.  And any newspaper that stands up for the government is called reptilian or said to be on the government payroll” (pp. 902).  Joining the left-leaning press were the nation’s teachers.  “There is in Russia some sort of ‘education league,’ teeming with hundreds and thousands of teachers.  But what does ‘education’ mean to them?  To them there is nothing sacred in Russia, it has no historic rights, no natural foundations.  They hate everything Russian, everything Orthodox, everything that goes back into the depths of time.  Education, to them, means revolution” (pp. 903-904).  Thereafter, as Solzhenitsyn notes in his recently published, autobiographical Between Two Millstones, at the beginning of 20th century, Russia witnessed “a powerful student movement” whose “consequences . . .  were horrific.  Everything they did was from the purity of their hearts, but they lacked any civic experience and ended up being engulfed by theories of revolution and violence” (Millstones, #2165). 

It became evident, with the publication of August 1914,that Solzhenitsyn was a conservative—both a Russian patriot and an Orthodox Christian—who treasured much about the “old Russia,” despite its deeply-flawed Tsarist authoritarianism.  So he soon lost support in liberal circles in both Russia and the West.  Even Secretary of State Henry “Kissinger for a long time prevented the Voice of America from broadcasting me, and the BBC and Radio Free Europe were also beginning to avoid me as an ‘authoritarian figure,’ which was how I was being portrayed after my Letter to the Soviet Leaders” (#4165).  In particular he defended Pyotr Stolypin, the Russian prime minister from 1906-1911 who had sought to bring into being a “solid class of peasant proprietors,” convinced that they could support and preserve a constitutional monarchy of some sort.  Unfortunately, Stolypin was assassinated in Kiev in 1911; he was probably the last hope for a “conservative liberal” regime that might have avoided the revolutionary chaos that subsequently ruined the nation. 

For the many Americans interested in Solzhenitsyn but uninterested in his lengthy,  ponderous, history-laden literary works, Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney have assembled The Solzhenitsyn Reader:  New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (Washington:  ISI Books, c. 2006) and provided helpful editorial comments on all of his works.  “The purpose of this book,” they say, “is to make the broad sweep of Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable oeuvre available to English-speaking readers” (p. xv), emphasizing that:  “Amid the exceptional flux of his life, one thing remained constant:  He remained committed to exploring the subject he had chosen in youth as the topic of his magnum opus, namely, the Bolshevik Revolution and its causes” (p. xvi).  Importantly, The Solzhenitsyn Reader contains important non-fictional pieces, including some poetic, deeply religious musings such as his autobiographical Acanthistus:  “When, oh when did I scatter so madly / All the goodness, the God-given grains? / Was my youth not spent with those who gladly / Sang to You in the glow of Your shrines? / Bookish wisdom, though, sparkled and beckoned / And it rushed through my arrogant mind, / The world’s mysteries seemed within reckon, / My life’s lot like warm wax in the hand.  / My blood seethed, and it spilled and it trickled, / Gleamed ahead with a multihued grace, / Without clamor there quietly crumbled / In my breathe the great building of faith.  / Then I passed betwixt being and dying, / I fell off and now cling to the edge, / And I gaze back with gratitude, trembling, / On the meaningless life I have led.  / Not my reason, nor will, nor desire / Blazed the twists and turns of its road. / It was purpose-from-High’s steady fire / Not made plain to me till afterward.  / Now regaining the measure that’s true, / Having drawn with it water of being, / Oh great God!  I believe now anew! / Though denied, You were always with me. . . .”  (P. 21). 

Solzhenitsyn came to the world’s attention with his publication One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (a fictional depiction of his experience in Stalin’s prison camps) during the “Khruschev thaw.”  He was briefly a celebrity in his native land and welcomed by the state-controlled literary establishment.  In time he would be awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature, something he deeply appreciated simply because it enabled him to survive as a writer.  Before long, however, he encountered mounting governmental opposition.  So he began recording his struggles in a work entitled The Oak and the Calf:  Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union (New York:  Harper Colophon Books, c. 1975).  He began by confessing:   “For the writer intent on truth, life never was, never is (and never will be!) easy:  his like have suffered every imaginable harassment” (p. 1).  Knowing this, Solzhenitsyn “entered into the inheritance of every modern Russian writer intent on the truth:  I must write simply to ensure that it was not all forgotten, that posterity might someday come to know of it” (p. 2).  He committed himself to writing because he believed “the Soviet regime could certainly have been breached only by literature.”  No military coup or political movement could begin to challenge Stalin’s brutal dictatorship.  “Only the solitary writer would be able” to effectively oppose it, simply because “one word of truth outweighs the world.”  Thanks to his international status, Solzhenitsyn continued working for several years, though little he wrote would be published in Russia.  But when he documented Stalin’s massive slave labor system in the three volume The Gulag Archipelago (first published only in the West) he was expelled from Russia in 1974.  As he departed, he left behind a short, memorable message to his people:  “Live Not by Lies!” 

After spending some time in Switzerland, Solzhenitsyn ultimately settled in Vermont’s mountains, near the village of Cavendish, in 1976.  Here he tried, inasmuch as possible, to create a little Russian outpost wherein he could continue his artistic/historical work.  He also granted interviews and delivered lectures, many of them reprinted in his Warning to the West.  Surprisingly he was not delighted by all things Western!  In 1978 he delivered the commencement address at Harvard University.  Entitled A World Split Apart, he began his speech abrasively, noting that though Harvard’s motto is Veritas graduates should know that “truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter” (p. 1).  But he resolved to speak Veritas anyway!  And his words proved “bitter” to many who heard him!  After assessing various developments around the world, he questioned the resolve of the West to deal with them.  Unfortunately, he said, “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.  The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political part, and, of course, in the United Nations.  Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society” (pp. 9-11).  This decline, “at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood,” portended a cataclysmic cultural collapse.  

 He especially upbraided the media.  Granted virtually complete “freedom,” journalists in the West used it as a license for irresponsibility.  Rather than working hard work to discover the truth, they slipped  into the slothful role of circulating rumors and personal opinions.  Though no state censors restricted what’s written, “fashionable” ideas get aired and the public is denied free access to the truth.  Fads and fantasies, not the illumination of reality, enlist the mainstream media.  “Hastiness and superficiality—these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press” (p. 27).    Consequently, “we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion into the privacy of well-known people according to the slogan ‘Everyone is entitled to know everything’” (p. 25). 

Politicians who appeased Communism especially elicited Solzhenitsyn’s scorn.  Appraising America’s recent withdrawal from Vietnam, he declared the antiwar agitators were “accomplices in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in the genocide and the suffering today imposed on thirty million people there.  Do these convinced pacifists now hear the moans coming from there?  Do they understand their responsibility today?  Or do they prefer not to hear?  The American intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence the danger has come much closer to the United States.  But there is no awareness of this.  Your short-sighted politician who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however a hundredfold Vietnams now looms over you” (p. 41).  He envisioned an immanent  “fight of cosmic proportions,” a battle between the forces of Good and Evil.   Two years before Ronald Reagan was elected President, Solzhenitsyn insisted that only a moral offensive could turn back the evil empire. 

Cowardice had led Americans to retreat in Southeast Asia.  Indeed, democracies themselves, Solzhenitsyn feared, lack the soul-strength for sustained combat.  Wealthy democracies, especially, become flaccid.  “To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.  Nothing is left, in this case, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal” (p. 45).  More deeply, the “humanism” that has increasingly dominated the West since the Renaissance largely explains its weakness.  When one believes ultimately only in himself, when human reason becomes the final arbiter, when human sinfulness is denied, the strength that comes only from God will dissipate.  Ironically, the secular humanism of the West is almost identical with the humanism of Karl Marx, who said:  “communism is naturalized humanism” (p. 53). 

Consequently, he said, “If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era” (pp. 60-61).  The Harvard address ended Solzhenitsyn’s speaking career in the United States.  The nation’s elite newspapers—the New York Times and Washington Post—thenceforth ignored him.  Prestigious universities, such as Harvard, slammed shut their doors.  He became something of a persona non grata and spent the last 15 years of his life in America living as a recluse, working industriously on manuscripts devoted to Russian history. 

He also wrote a personal memoir—much like The Oak and the Calf—recording his observations while living in the West.  Entitled Between Two Millstones, Book 1:  Sketches of Exile, 1974– 1978 (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, c. 2018), it provides us, says Daniel J. Mahoney, “one of the great memoirs of our time.”  To Donald Rumsfeld, it “is an indispensable part of history,” a “lasting testimony to his unbending moral courage, his persistence, and his persuasiveness— all of which helped bring down Communism.”  The two “millstones” grinding away at him refer to the dictatorial, dehumanizing regime in Russia and the vapid Western “freedom” that proffered little meaning for mankind.  In America, Mahoney says:  “He had a new tension-ridden mission: to write with force, clarity, and artfulness about the Russian twentieth century while doing his best to warn the West about the pitfalls of a free society caught up in the cult of comfort and increasingly unwilling to defend itself against the march of evil” (Kindle, #158).

This march of evil, he thought, gained considerable impetus from the media, which pounced on him as soon as he arrived in Zurich.  In the USSR the press was rigorously censored and thus untrustworthy.  In the West, the press was “free” but irresponsible and thus also untrustworthy!  Consequently, “from the very outset the Western media and I were not to be friends, were not to understand one another” (#332), for he “was completely aware of how careful one had to be not to throw oneself into the arms of the press, though I did not know how to take cover from their relentless siege” (#443).  Bewildered by their indifference to his privacy and message, he thought “their fly-by-night trade” consisted mainly in trying “to outdo one another in snooping, conjecturing, and snatching at whatever they can.”  Having just published The Gulag Archipelago, “my book about the perishing of millions,” he found journalists nastily “nipping at some puny weeds” regarding passing remarks he had recently made.  Angrily he declared:  ‘You are worse than the KGB!’  My words instantly resounded throughout the world.  So from my first days in the West I did much to ruin my relationship with the press; a conflict that was to continue for many years had begun” (#527). 

Mystifying to him, Western elites reacted negatively to his letters defending Orthodox Christianity and the war in Vietnam.  Consequently, “in the wake of all the recent enthusiasm came a flood of abuse from the Western press, an about-turn in just three weeks!  If they had at least read the letter carefully!  From the reviews and the invective, it quickly became clear that these newspapermen had not taken the trouble to read the letter in its entirety.  It was the first time that I had encountered such a thing, but dishonesty of this kind quickly proved to be a steadfast characteristic of the press.  The New York Times, which had refused to print my letter, was among the most violent critics” (#907).  Pressured to sit down for a TV interview, Solzhenitsyn reluctantly agreed to do so with Walter Cronkite on CBS.  “They came to our house with a noisy, well-equipped crew of about ten, the only shortcoming being that they had not brought with them competent translators.  I, too, was poorly prepared, not realizing who Walter Cronkite was, how left his leanings were, his questions bristling with hidden jabs, all about the Western media and my attitude toward it (which by now had become common knowledge), and also about the Russian émigré community” (#1324).  He was especially angered by articles claiming to be based on interviews with him that never happened—and by reporters who cherry-picked statements from interviews to advance their own views rather than truthfully report his. 

Yet another source of evil Solzhenitsyn discerned in the West was the harm being done by industrialization.  He anticipated Anthony Esolen’s recent defense of “people in the modern world struggling against the Leveling force of a technocratic and culture-dissolving state.”  Thus Solzhenitsyn:  “Today’s prosperous world is moving ever further from natural human existence, growing stronger in intellect but increasingly infirm in body and soul” (#581).  On a personal level, he craved pastoral regions.  Though he found some cities such as Zurich charming, he preferred to work in the Swiss countryside, where the industrious farmers’ work “strengthened the peace within my soul.”   Looking at the alpine scenery “every day, every morning— somehow cleanses the soul and clarifies one’s thoughts.  The simple act of standing and looking is already labor for the soul and the mind. The task of evaluating one’s past and tracing out the future becomes easier” (#1484).   Struggling to settle into his writing routine, he found that “the grandeur and wisdom of this mountain place (almost as if a high mountain altar . . .) were soon to put me back in form” and he could resume his work on Russia (#1548).   Thus in time he found  inVermont a suitable environment wherein he could continue his literary work.  Returning to Russia in 1994 and dying in 2008, he failed to much influence developments in has native land.  And he is today largely ignored by most Westerners.  But to those with ears to hear, he remains a lasting witness to what ought ultimately concern us.

315 Culture of Fear

One of the more amazing contemporary phenomena—despite our very evident safety and comfort —is the pervasive insecurity and fragility identifiable in various segments of the West.  As the Norwegian philosopher, Lars Svendsen, says:  “a paradoxical trait of the culture of fear is that it emerges at a time when, by all accounts, we are living more securely than ever before in human history.”  Aware of this, Pope John Paul II frequently encouraged believers to “fear not”—for that biblical phrase, reiterated by the angels announcing Jesus’s coming, indicates the importance of courage in the Christian tradition.  (Indeed, some 365 times the Bible says “be not afraid!”)  But with the waning of Christendom courage seems similarly sidelined.  Thus Alexander Solzhenitsyn said (in his 1978 Harvard Commencement Address):  “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.  The Western world has lost its civic courage. . . .”  Prophetically, he warned:  “Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?” 

Courage, traditionally understood, enables one to conquer his fears, and most of us admire it—at least in theory.  “But in everyday practice,” Frank Ferudi says in How Fear Works, “we have become estranged from this ideal and do very little to cultivate it.”  It has frequently, in fact, been “downsized” and even extended to assorted self-help endeavors!  Rather than a moral virtue best evident on the field of battle, it has turned into a therapeutic suggestion.  Thus we commend the “courage” of suffering poor health or recovering from romantic distress or speaking in public.  “The classical virtue of courage rooted it within moral norms that emphasized responsibility, altruism and wisdom.  The twenty-first-century therapeutic version is not based on an unshakable normative foundation; it has become disassociated from moral norms and is adopted instrumentally as a medium for achieving wellness” (#3040).

This cultural shift is generally justified by the necessity of “worst-case thinking” and the “Precautionary Principle,” a philosophical rationale “systematically outlined in the works of the German philosopher Hans Jonas, whose influential 1979 text The Imperative of Responsibility advocated the instrumental use of fear—what he calls the ‘heuristic of fear’—to promote the public’s acceptance of a dreadful view of the future.  Jonas offers what he perceives to be an ethical justification for promoting fear, which is that through its application, this emotion ought to be used to avoid humankind’s infliction of an ecological catastrophe on the planet” (#2749).  Jonas propounded “a teleology of doom based on the premise that modern technology threatens the world with an imminent threat of disaster” (#2756).  Among the intelligentsia he is “something of a philosophical saint” revered for his ecological sensitivities.  However, Furedi warns:  “his promotion of the principle of fear, his elitist contempt for people, and his advocacy of deception and tyranny, are rarely held to account” (#2798).

Inasmuch as courage is rooted in moral convictions, the increased fear in our society indicates a loss of moral certitude.  This phenomenon was diagnosed by Frank Ferudi in his 2016 work, What’s Happened to the University:  A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation.  The author began his academic life as a student in 1965 and is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in the UK.  In his own student days universities were open to new ideas and touted the virtues of free speech and debating ideas.  As the decades passed, however, they became “far less hospitable to the ideals of freedom, tolerance and debate than in the world outside the university gate.”  They became fearful!   Students now seek to ban books that threaten their vulnerable psyches and protest speakers who might offend a spectrum of sexual and ethnic groups.  The free speech mantras of the ‘60s have morphed into speech codes; the former devotees of free speech have frequently become, as tenured professors, enforcers of censorship.  Many teachers forego the use of red pens to mark papers lest they damage fragile students’ egos, and    “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “microagressions” and “chill out rooms” (replete with play dough and “comfort” animals to relieve anxieties) indicate how many universities have in fact become infantilized.

Two decades ago Ferudi published Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectations, arguing that moral confusion had hollowed out Western culture, making persons both increasingly less able to deal with risk and uncertainty and less positive about human nature and man’s ability to aspire and adventure.  Now he has revisited the subject in How Fear Works:  Culture of Fear in the Twenty-First Century (London:  Bloomsbury Publishing, c. 2018; Kindle Edition).   To illustrate his thesis Ferudi notes:  “Even an activity as banal as forecasting the weather has been transformed into a mini-drama through adopting a rhetoric that inflates the threat posed by relatively normal conditions.  Routine occurrences like storms, heavy snowfall or high temperature have been rebranded as extreme weather by the media.”  Indeed:  “The term ‘extreme weather’ is a paradigmatic culture of fear expression” and is, strangely enough,  “often interpreted through a moralistic narrative that presents it as the inevitable outcome of irresponsible human behaviour” (#338).  Summing up his study, he says “society has unwittingly become estranged from the values—such as courage, judgement, reasoning, responsibility—that are necessary for the management of fear” (#580).

In the past, many of our fears were restrained by religious faith, the confidence that some things were eternally true and worth risking—or even giving—one’s life to secure.  “Religion has always been interwoven with guidelines about what and what not to fear. Secular fear appeals concerning health, the environment, food or terrorism continue this tradition and are also often conveyed through a moral tone.  However, in the absence of a master-narrative that endows the unknown and the threat it poses with shared meaning, people’s response to threats has acquired an increasingly confusing and arbitrary character” (#1875).  Thus as we enter the 21st century “a pessimistic teleology of doom pervades the public deliberations on this subject” (#1202).  Every hurricane elicits warnings regarding climate change—as do arctic cold fronts, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes!  No solid evidence or logical analysis is required to stoke the fears of folks immersed in our media world.  Think for a moment about the current Socialist superstar in Congress, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who solemnly says we only have 12 years to save the planet!  Such somber predictions of environmental collapse (following the pattern cut out by Rachel Carson 50 years ago in Silent Spring) are often accompanied by warnings of a global demographic time bomb (confidently decried by Paul Ehrlich in his now thoroughly discredited Population Bomb). 

Consider the outlandish rhetoric of many social justice warriors!  Former President Jimmy Carter, for example, recently published a book entitled A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power and grandly declared that right now (today!) slavery is “a ‘serious problem in the US’” and is even “‘more prolific now than during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.’”  It is, however, invisible!  Somehow Carter just knows it’s there, unseen and insidious.  “Like the hidden toxins ‘playing their tricks’ . . . modern slavery is not visible to the eye.  Typically, its hidden victims are said to be invisible and, therefore, the number of cases that have been actually detected are only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’”  To the former president “the transatlantic slave trade, which was responsible for the brutal enslavement of 12 to 15 million Africans, is merely a less prolific version of the ‘modern’ variety of the twenty-first century” (#1932).   This mantra is also recited by Jeff Nesbit, a former White House communications director, who said:  “‘No one knows the numbers.  That’s what’s so scary!’” (#1940).  To which Furedi retorts:  what’s scary is the fact that highly influential men such as Carter and Nesbit knowingly spread baseless falsehoods!

Then we’re fed alarming reports of rampant obesity and of children facing a barrage of threats to their well being.   “In most Western societies, the population is healthier and lives longer than in previous times.  The latest generation of young people is likely to live 20 years longer than their grandparents.  Yet there has never been so much propaganda warning the public about yet another danger to its health” (#1736).  It’s apparently even risky to drink tap water!  “There was a time when people did not walk around holding different brands of bottled water in their hands; they drank tap water unless they lived in areas where tap water was considered to be unsafe, in which case water was boiled.”  But we now see people everywhere “clutching their bottles of water,” gripped by fears of contaminants of some sort.  “In 2016, bottled-water consumption in the US reached 39.3 gallons per person.”  This is done despite the fact “that the fears directed at tap water are not based on an objective evaluation of the risks of drinking it.  From a health perspective, the consumption of bottled water makes little sense.  Unfortunately, the sensible message that tap water is in most places safe to drink and that paying for the bottled variety is unnecessary is often distorted through a narrative of fear.  Instead of merely stating ‘Let’s get real and drink tap water’, opponents of the bottled-water fad frame their argument through the perspective of fear.

As one might expect from a sociologist, Furedi is most helpful when compiling data and describing problems.  He clearly demonstrates the pervasive fears stalking contemporary society.  And he clearly shows how the lack of courage contributes to their currency.  But while he recognizes the need for the moral virtues, courage included, he fails to acknowledge the necessarily deeper philosophical or theological foundations necessary to establish courageous persons. 

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In The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2018; Kindle Edition), Greg Lukinoff and Jonathan Haidt stress the harm done children by teachers and parents excessively fearful for their safety.  The authors had become increasingly distressed by the onerous “speech codes” hindering free thought and expression on university campuses.  “Something began changing on many campuses around 2013, and the idea that college students should not be exposed to ‘offensive’ ideas is now a majority position on campus” (p. 48).  The “rationale for speech codes and speaker disinvitations,” once limited to racist or sexist declarations, “was becoming medicalized:  Students claimed that certain kinds of speech—and even the content of some books and courses—interfered with their ability to function.  They wanted protection from material that they believed could jeopardize their mental health by ‘triggering’ them, or making them ‘feel unsafe’” (p. 6).  To address their concerns Lukinoff and Haidt first wrote a widely-discussed article for The Atlantic Monthly and then, subsequently, this book to unmask three fashionably propagated “Great Untruths”:  1) “The Untruth of Fragility”—the notion that stress or discomfort harms you; 2) “The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning”—the injunction to disavow reason and “always trust your feelings; and, 3) “The Untruth of Us Versus Them”—the warning that evil people continually seek to damage you.  Consequently the authors say:  “We will show how these three Great Untruths—and the policies and political movements that draw on them—are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies” (p. 4). 

To illustrate the falsity of fragility, Lukinoff and Haidt point out how parents trying to protect their youngsters from peanut allergies actually endanger them by prohibiting children’s powerful immune system from properly developing.  A careful study revealed:  “Among the children who had been ‘protected’ from peanuts, 17% had developed a peanut allergy.  In the group that had been deliberately exposed to peanut products, only 3% had developed an allergy.  As one of the researchers said in an interview, ‘For decades allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies.  Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in the peanut and other food allergies’” (p. 21).  Indeed, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in The Black Swan:  “Just as spending a month in bed . . . leads to muscle atrophy, complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors.  Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions . . . which do precisely this:  an insult to the antifragility of systems.  This is the tragedy of modernity:  as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most’” (p. 23). 

That human beings—homo sapiens—should renounce reason and trust their feelings is similarly untrue.  Though pop psychologists and media personalities may urge it, trusting your feelings flagrantly contradicts “much ancient wisdom.”  Whether pondering Epictetus or Buddha or Shakespeare or Milton, the best philosophers have inisted we think rather than feel.  Consult, for example, Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, once one of the basic texts for the liberal arts, wherein he praises “Lady Philosophy,” who “chides him gently for his moping, fearfulness, and bitterness at his reversal of fortune” before helping  “him to reframe his thinking and shut off his negative emotions.  She helps him see that fortune is fickle and he should be grateful that he enjoyed it for so long.  She guides him to reflect on the fact that his wife, children, and father are all still alive and well, and each one is dearer to him than his own life.  Each exercise helps him see his situation in a new light; each one weakens the grip of his emotions and prepares him to accept Lady Philosophy’s ultimate lesson:  ‘Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it’” (p. 35).  Wise words for all ages!

The “us vs. them” untruth has gained currency to a large degree because of identity politics.  When race becomes the key to your identity you easily suspect racism in anyone who differs from you.  When sex defines you, you easily accuse others of sexism when you feel dissatisfied.  A widely-discussed incident at Yale illustrated this.  Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center responded to an administrative edict regarding Halloween costumes.  She approved concerns for “avoiding hurt and offense,” but “she worried that ‘the growing tendency to cultivate vulnerability in students carries unacknowledged costs.’”  Rather than issue behavioral rules, she suggested:  “Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society’” (p. 57).  Her rather mild email aroused angry students who protested and denounced her for racial insensitivity.  The university president sided with the aggrieved students, and in time Erika resigned from her position.  So goes “academic freedom” in modern America!

As was evident at Yale, intimidation and violence are manifestations of the coddling of the American mind!  Defining speech they find objectionable as “hate” speech, it is easy to then insist it is a form of violence.  And in response to violence self-defense is justified.  So conservative speakers on university campuses are not only shouted down but physically attacked.  Witch-hunts are employed to root out dissenters on campus.  When a liberal mathematics professor at Evergreen College refused to approve a campus shutdown to show solidarity with people of color, students demanded he be fired.  Successfully intimidating the college president, “students chanted, ‘Hey hey/ho ho/these racist faculty have got to go’’ (p. 117).   “President Bridges, who at the beginning of the school year had criticized the University of Chicago for its policy protecting free speech and academic freedom, agreed to many of the protesters’ demands.  He announced that he was ‘grateful’ for the ‘passion and courage’ the protesters displayed, and later, he hired one of the leaders of the protests to join his Presidential Equity Advisors” (p. 119).  Most everything that’s wrong with the modern university stands starkly revealed at Evergreen College!

Having described the “coddling of the American mind,” the authors turn to explaining how it came to be and set forth “six interacting explanatory threads,” beginning with “rising political polarization and cross-party animosity.”  Political positions no longer reflect a positive agenda, rooted in traditional and reflection; rather they are too often fueled by angry disdain for perceived enemies.  Secondly, they point out the importance of “rising levels of teen anxiety and depression.”  An alarming, and very recent, increase in teenage depression and suicide clearly constrict the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  Data recently collected from 139 colleges indicate that “half of all students surveyed reported having attended counseling for mental health concerns” (p. 156).  Importantly, some persuasive studies especially stress the negative role electronic devices play in the lives of our young. 

Thirdly, “changes in parenting practices” or “paranoid parenting” clearly contribute to the malady.  The “permissive parenting” associated with Dr. Spock has morphed into the “intensive parenting” now dominant.  Responding to perceived threats to their children—such as being abducted by strangers, something that happens less than 100 times a year—parents overreact.  Though seat belts and bicycle helmets have certainly made children’s live safer, “efforts to protect kids from risk by preventing them from gaining experience—such as walking to school, climbing a tree, or using sharp scissors—are different.  Such protections come with costs, as kids miss out on opportunities to learn skills, independence, and risk assessment” (p. 169).  Fourthly, there has been a “decline of free play,” something absolutely necessary for childhood development.  A child’s brain needs “thousands of hours of play—including thousands of falls, scrapes, conflicts, insults, alliances, betrayals, status competitions, and acts of exclusion—in order to develop.  Children who are deprived of play are less likely to develop into physically and socially competent teens and adults” (p. 183).  Unfortunately, school children are less likely to have physical education classes or recess.  And rather than learning to play ball with neighborhood kids—and to choose teams and referee the game—kids are shoved into organized leagues with uniforms and trophies and assorted adult paraphernalia irrelevant to healthy personal development. 

Fifthly, once in the university students face a burgeoning “campus bureaucracy” devoted to insuring their comfort and security.  Thus we find the president of Louisiana State University declaring:  “‘Quite frankly, I don’t want you to leave the campus ever.  So whatever we need to do to keep you here, we’ll keep you safe here.  We’re here to give you everything you need’” (p. 199).  Such protective “safetyism” increasingly extends to emotional as well as physical well-being.  Students must be shielded from “microaggressions,” given “trigger warnings” when scary subjects are be breached, and supplied with “safe spaces” suitable for children.  Finally, students are immersed in “a rising passion for justice in response to major national events, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires” (p. 125).   They then become “social justice warriors” determined to eliminate inequalities and inequities wherever possible.  Little concerned with distributive or procedural notions of justice, they are increasingly devoted to “equal-outcomes social justice,” even if they trample on important concepts such as “innocent until proved guilty.” Concluding their treatise with a section titled “wising up,” Lukinoff and Haidt first proffer advice for parents who want to rear “wiser, stronger, and antifragile” kids who will become self-reliant adults.  Giving them lots of time for “free play,” encouraging them to walk or bike to school, placing limits on the time they spend with electronic devices, including television, are important aspects of their prescription.  And for “wiser” universities they urge a return to the vigorous pursuit of truth once considered essential for liberal arts education.   Rather than promoting “social justice,” universities should urge persons to freely think and speak, embracing Benjamin Franklin’s commitment to founding the University of Pennsylvania:  “‘Nothing is of more importance to the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and good men are, in my opinion, the strength of a state: much more so than riches or arms, which, under the management of Ignorance and Wickedness, often draw on destruction, instead of providing for the safety of a people’” (p. 269).

314 Luther’s Reformation and Its Consequences

In his Requiem for a Nun William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  This is especially true when it comes to Church history, so it was predictable that to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (launched by Martin Luther in 1517) a plethora of books were published.  Inevitably—given Luther’s personality and positions—interpretations varied widely and nothing approaching a consensus is possible.  But I read and commend two works, beginning with Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (New York:  Random House Publishing Group, c. 2016, Kindle Edition).  Roper is an Australian historian who did doctoral research at Tübingen University under Professor Heiko Oberman, the author of a notable study of Luther.  Now the first woman to hold the prestigious Regius Chair at Oxford University, she is less interested in Luther’s theology than his personality, seeking “to explore his inner landscapes so as to better understand his ideas about flesh and spirit, formed in a time before our modern separation of mind and body.  In particular,” she says, “I am interested in Luther’s contradictions” (#400).  Thus she diligently mined a wealth of primary sources newly available in archives opened to scholars in the wake of East Germany’s demise.

Roper believes Luther’s “theology sprang from his character, a connection that Melanchthon, one of the first of his biographers and his closest co-worker, insisted upon:  ‘His character was, almost, so to speak, the greatest proof’ of his doctrine.  Luther’s theology becomes more alive as we connect it to his psychological conflicts, expressed in his letters, sermons, treatises, conversations, and biblical exegesis.  Such a rereading of the original sources,” enhanced by psychoanalytical insights, will provide “a richer understanding not only of Luther the man but also of the revolutionary religious principles to which he dedicated his life, the legacies of which are still so powerful” (#405).  His letters especially “give us a sense of the charisma he must have radiated, and the sheer delight his correspondents must have experienced in being his friends.  It was Luther’s vivid friendships and enmities that convinced me that he had to be understood through his relationships, and not as the lone hero of Reformation myth” (#476).

Luther’s early beginnings took place in Mansfield, where his father was a prosperous miner, followed by scholarly instruction in the nearby cities, including Erfurt, where he attended the university.  Though the university specified strict rules of behavior, “Luther acidly remembered, ‘Erfurt is a whorehouse and beerhouse’ . . . .   Founded in 1392, the university was the oldest German institution to have a charter, and in the early sixteenth century it boasted an outstanding collection of humanists, interested in the revival of ancient learning and in returning to the sources” (#1029).  Luther was only an “average student,” but he absorbed much of Erfurt’s weltgeist—both “the via moderna and nominalism, a direction in philosophy that reached back to William of Ockham in the fourteenth century.  Luther’s teachers included cutting-edge nominalists” who promoted the via moderna rather than the via antiqua evident in Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.  Luther especially became committed to “critical thinking” and “empirical evidence,” i.e. primary sources. 

Then came his famous awakening in the 1505 thunderstorm!  Fearing he might die, he consecrated himself to the religious life, joined the Augustinian order, and entered its monastery in Erfurt.  Here he followed a normal course of studies but also struggled with what seems to have been an inexplicable “sense of overwhelming guilt.”  Strangely enough:  “Luther seems almost to have luxuriated in feelings of guilt, as if, by driving them to their extreme, he could experience a heightened devotional state of self-hatred that would bring him as close as possible to God” (#1241).  Conversely, his mentor, Johan von Staupitz, “had a relaxed attitude to sin—he once joked that he had given up making vows, for he was simply unable to keep them—but what worried Luther were not the usual sins but the ‘real knots’:  his lack of love of God and his fear of judgment” (#1336).  He would ultimately solve this conundrum by replacing the obligation to love with faith alone as the touchstone of salvation. 

In 1511 Luther was sent to Wittenberg, a town of some 2000 residents, the site of a new university, a castle, and a magnificent cathedral—all thanks to the Elector Friedrich.  Here he became a professor and found the academic life fully suited him, plunging into it with gusto, reading and writing and thinking deeply about the Gospel.  By 1517, when he posted his famous 95 Theses, he had discarded scholasticism and declared that Aristotle (whose works were basic to the medieval university curriculum) “was not only unnecessary for the study of theology, but positively harmful” (#1958).  Indeed, Greek philosophy in toto—given its celebration of reason—had no value since it “was just a distraction from the meaning of Scripture, and one must give up on attempting to find God through ‘the whore’ of reason, for the point of faith is that it exceeds rationality and reveals the distance between God and man” (#338).  So:  “‘No one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle’” (#1965).  Claiming instead to follow St. Augustine, Luther said:  “‘The truth therefore is that man, made from a bad tree, can do nothing but want and do evil;’” consequently:  “‘Man is by nature unable to want God to be God.  Indeed, he himself wants to be God, and does not want God to be God’” (#1968).  Thus Sola Scriptura became a Reformation dicta

Yet another dicta was justification by faith alone.  In 1545, the year before he died, Luther recalled how Paul’s Letter to the Romans proved central to the Reformation:  “‘At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’”  There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.  And this is the meaning:  the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”  Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates’” (#275).

Luther’s paradise included increasing sensual indulgence!  Thus he encouraged monks and nuns to marry and himself wedded Katherina von Bora, a “poor noblewoman” who “was, by all accounts, attractive, feisty, and passionate” (#5455).  In a fascinating chapter entitled “Marriage and the Flesh,” Roper describes and analyzes the importance of Luther’s marriage.  Katherine was a valuable helpmate, effectively running the household and allowing Martin to focus on his studies.  She bought and farmed some land and “was famed for her beer brewing, a necessity in a period when water was not safe to drink” (#5579).  But to his friend Melanchthon this step indicated “that something had changed in Luther by 1525, and he did not like it.  The ascetic was becoming a sensualist” (#5498).  And, indeed, Luther entertained “remarkably uninhibited views about sexuality—and consequently marriage” that accorded well with his “radical Augustinianism.  If we can never do anything good, as all human acts are sinful, then sexual acts are no different or worse in kind than other types of sin.  This gloomy anthropology paradoxically freed Luther to take a relaxed view of sexuality.  Lust was part of human nature—it was how God had created mankind” (#5615).

Though Luther insisted he’d found the absolute truth proclaimed in the Scripture, his reformation quickly splintered.  When the great humanist Erasmus differed from him regarding predestination, Luther excoriated him.  Then Erasmus published A Discussion or Discourse Concerning Free Will, asserting man may cooperate with God in the salvation process and denying total depravity, and Luther responded with De servo arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will), arguing that God arbitrarily determines everything.  We are so congenitally sinful that “only God’s grace can enable us to do anything good.”  Indeed, speaking personally, he did “not wish to be given free will.”  “His newfound relationship with God required there be no free will, because “‘I am certain and safe, because he is trustworthy and will not lie to me, and also because he is so powerful and great that no devils, no adversities could break him or snatch me from him’” (#5666). 

Others joined Erasmus in dissenting from Luther.  His Wittenberg collaborator and supporter, Andreas Karlstadt, began stressing the importance of Gelassenheit—a total surrender of one’s will to God’s Will, “a state of mystical receptivity and openness where the boundaries between oneself and God disappear—as if one were to return to the womb where there is no separation between mother and child” (#4430).  He thus proclaimed the possibility of attaining a kind of Christian perfection Luther could not tolerate.  Then, dressed in lay clothing while celebrating Mass, Karlstadt distributed both bread and wine, allowing anyone present to participate in Communion.  Consequently, of the thousand parishioners present “many of those who took Communion had not kept the obligatory fast but had eaten and drunk beforehand” (#445).   Such behavior outraged many in the community—including the Elector, whose support Luther surely needed! 

Added to Karlstadt’s increasingly aberrant behavior, more radical reformers arrived in Wittenberg!  Known as the Zwickau prophets, three zealous laymen claimed God directly spoke to them.  No need for Bible or trained pastors!  They could read the Bible—as Luther insisted—for themselves.  And they could also—as Luther denied—interpret the Bible as they wished.  “The Zwickau prophets represented a new kind of evangelical movement that owed little or nothing to universities.  God’s spirit, it seemed, was being poured out onto laypeople to preach and prophesy, bypassing traditional authority” (#4534).   Predictably, the radicals appealed to university students, and considerable chaos erupted.  Soon, wherever the reformation took root, evangelicals were “interrupting sermons, destroying altarpieces, tearing up Mass books, urinating in chalices, or mocking the clergy—and they drew on the same repertoire of carnivalesque ritual and comedy that the Wittenberg students had developed” (#4227).  Even more threatening was yet another reformer, Thomas Müntzer, who came to Wittenberg and took an apocalyptic approach to Scripture, saying he felt led to  violently usher in the Kingdom of God.  Consequently, the Peasants’ War erupted in 1524 and proved to be “the biggest social uprising in the German lands before the era of the French Revolution began” (#5113).  Celebrating Reformation themes—“freedom,” “Christ alone,” Scripture alone”—peasants, armed “with pikes and swords had remarkable success” and briefly controlled “vast swathes of south and central Germany” (#5174).

In response, Luther determined to arrest and stabilize the movement he’d launched!  Consistently aligning himself with secular authorities, he insisted only his version of Protestantism be allowed.  So in 1524 he assailed Karlstadt in Against the Heavenly Prophets, and responded to the peasants’ uprisings by publishing Against the Robbing Murdering Thieving Hordes of Peasants.  His attack on the peasants led to their repudiating him as the “Brother Fattened-swine and Brother Soft-life,” “Doctor Liar” and “the spiritless, soft-living flesh at Wittenberg.”  Then he had to deal with deviants in Switzerland!  Huldrych Zwingli had orchestrated a reformation in Zurich and shared many of Luther’s views.  But he differed from him regarding the Eucharist.  In 1529 the two men met at the colloquy of Marburg, where Luther insisted Christ’s words, “This is my body” be taken literally, insisting on the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine.  “As it became clear that the two sides could not agree, Luther washed his hands of them, consigning them to the judgment of God, ‘who will certainly decide who is right,’ at which Zwingli burst into tears.  At the end of the meeting, Oecolampadius and Zwingli, pleased that at least they had all now met in person, wanted to embrace their opponents as brothers and allow all of them to take Communion with one another, but Luther bitterly refused” (#6300).

In the final 15 years of his life, Luther continued to teach in Wittenberg and influence the Reformation he had launched.  But his more eirenic associate, Melanchthon, presided over Lutheran theological developments, and secular rulers established essentially “magisterial” (i.e. state-controlled)  churches.  As Roper illustrates with Luther’s letters, he became increasingly bitter and routinely lashed out in anger against his many foes.  Even Melanchthon experienced his wrath!  And though he died with an assurance regarding his own salvation he seemed distressed by much of what the Reformation accomplished.

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For a thoughtful assessment of Luther and the Reformation I commend Brad S. Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks:  Martin Luther, the Reformation, and Conflicts that Continue to Our World (New York:  Harper One, c. 2017).  Gregory is a history professor at Notre Dame who writes with clarity and authority.  The subject is important, he thinks, for “anyone who wants to understand how and why we have the Western ideas and institutions we have today must understand the Reformation and all that followed in its wake” (p. 13).  Though fascinated with Luther, Gregory is more interested in the unexpected consequences of his reformation, which “had the long-term impact of gradually and unintentionally transforming Europe from a world permeated by Christianity to one in which religion would be separate from public life, becoming instead a matter of individual preference” (p. 8).  There had in fact been many “reformers” over the centuries—such as the Cluniacs—calling for the restoration of morality, but Luther and his followers were distinguished by “asserting that many of the Church’s teachings were themselves false.  The problem wasn’t just bad behavior; it was also erroneous doctrine” (p. 9).  “Taken together, these new ideas, practices, and institutions became the foundations for the modern world.  They led eventually to the modern secularization of Western life—an unintended outcome of a sixteenth-century religious revolution” (p. 10).

After retelling Luther’s story, emphasizing the familiar themes of his reformation—sola scriptura, sola fides, etc.—Gregory turns to his central concern, the “fractious” nature of Protestantism, revealing the deeply political aspects of the movement.  Within a decade of its inception, Protestants divided into rival camps, including the despised Anabaptists as well as the officially supported Lutheran and Reformed churches.  Especially in Reformed regions political powers asserted themselves and there occurred a “reversal of clerical and lay roles:  local magistrates are asserting religious authority—and not just in matters of jurisdiction, as in the late Middle Ages, but in matters of doctrine” (p. 100).  Thenceforth Protestants divided and subdivided:  “Lutheranism in Denmark, Sweden, and much of Germany; Reformed Protestantism in Scotland, England (in some respects), the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and Switzerland” (p. 145).

Then the Protestant churches themselves fractured.  For example, Lutherans soon differed in their understanding of Luther.  “A rift opens between Philippists, named after their leader, Philip Melanchthon,” and “the self-described Genuine Lutherans” who “think Melanchthon and the Philippists are betraying Luther’s views with mistaken interpretations of scripture on a whole range of doctrines concerning faith, grace, and works, among other issues” (p.151).  Reformed Protestants in the Netherlands split between “orthodox” Calvinists and Arminians.  “At the heart of this conflict are theological disagreements about human nature, will, sin, and grace derived from differing interpretations of scripture.”  “Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), a theology professor at the Dutch Republic’s new University of Leiden, arrives at conclusions about core Protestant doctrines that are at odds with those of Calvin (and Luther).  According to Arminius, original sin does not completely corrupt human nature; human beings do have some free will and so can cooperate with God’s grace in salvation.  To card-carrying Calvinists, this is crypto-Catholic backsliding, like taking Erasmus’s position against Luther in their debate about free will and salvation.”  Tensions escalated and led to the Synod of Dort (1618-19), which approved a strong version of Calvinism while dramatically demonstrating “that the principle on which the Reformation rests—‘scripture alone’—is powerful enough to generate rival assertions about what the Bible actually says and therefore rival views about how it is to be applied” (p. 159).

The reformation in England followed the same trajectory.  Though the Tudor and Stuart monarchs tried to control the Church of England, they failed to restrain internal dissent—as was evident in the growing power of the Puritans and their violent revolution in the 1640s, culminating with the beheading of the king.  “Radical Protestants in the English Revolution really come into their own after the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Republic in 1649.  Gerrard Winstanley and his Diggers champion a biblical vision similar to the Hutterites: an agrarian, communitarian Christian commonwealth without private property.  The radically different George Fox and other early Quakers are spiritualists who claim illumination by the same ‘inner light’ that they believe inspired Jesus’s first apostles.  Utterly different again are the Fifth Monarchists:  their Christian duty, as they understand it, is to take up arms against Oliver Cromwell’s regime in their own country, hastening the Second Coming of Christ.  Seventh-Day Baptists depart from the already existing General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinist) Baptists by insisting, as do some other groups, that the Sabbath be celebrated on Saturday rather than Sunday.  And Ranters, like Ebiezer Copp, allegedly take Christian freedom and rejection of the Old Testament law to mean complete sexual permissiveness—for, as scripture says, “To the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15).  If you don’t think something is sinful, it’s not sinful for you.  If this all sounds confusing and complicated, that’s because it was—much more chaotic and complex than any brief account can convey.  Like the early German Reformation, the English Revolution shows that scripture interpreted through the Spirit, as Luther emphasized, could come to mean almost anything” (pp. 165-166).

Such unexpected (and unintended) consequences of the Reformation were thoroughly analyzed in Gregory’s earlier, much more detailed Unintended Reformations, wherein he documented, in successive chapters, first, how God was progressively ignored as a non-material and thus unknowable reality.  Secondly, he shows how Christian doctrines were relativized by contentious theologians; as Erasmus lamented, in 1524:  “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of who swears to have the Spirit?”  Thirdly, Gregory demonstrates how the nation states increasingly controlled the churches, for “no Protestant regime was even possible save through dependence on secular rulers” (p. 152).   By 1555 it had been decided:  “cuius region, emus religio—whose kingdom, his religion.”  Fourthly, as a result of the reformations, rival moral authorities presided over diverse moral communities, and in time everyone became not only his own priest and theologian but ethicist.   Fifthly, Gregory notes how the “good life” became increasingly defined as the acquisition of good things.  “The earliest New England Puritans rail against greed and endeavor to punish it in ways that would have made Calvin proud.  By the late seventeenth century, however,” various Christians viewed “material prosperity, including the highly profitable participation in the Atlantic slave trade, as part of God’s benevolent plan for the chosen people of England, his elect imperial nation.  In a dramatic reversal, the pursuit of profit is being aligned with religion, not regarded as a deadly sin or a grave danger to your soul or the common good”(p. 234).  Finally, knowledge became deeply secularized, reduced to describing material entities as a result of powerful prejudices favoring methodological naturalism and evidentiary empiricism.  Metaphysical or theological views were excluded from making any truth claims about anything more than one’s inner feelings.     

More celebratory treatments of the Reformation are easily available, but Gregory’s arguments deserve careful thought and reflection, for the fragmentation of Christendom and the secularization of society cannot be ignored.  And his yoking the Reformation to these developments has much merit.  Rooted in his longing for a “world we have lost,” his works provide a deeply Catholic critique of the Reformation—but they are sorrowful rather than scathing in tone.  As Lucy Wooding says:  “This book is truly breathtaking in its scope, erudition and sheer nerve . . .  There may yet be tie to fix some of what went wrong in the Reformation.”  Understanding it is a place to start!

313 Postmodernism, Scientism

When I first encountered “postmodernism” several decades ago I wondered at the sheer irrationality of the term itself.  After all, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “modern” as “being at this time; now existing; of or pertaining to this present and recent times.”  By definition, then, nothing can be post-modern!  It is, in fact, oxymoronic—self-contradictory.  So I was gratified, recently reading Alexander Solshentisyn’s 1993 essay, “Playing Upon the Strings of Emptiness” (crafted when he was awarded the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature), to find him sharing my view.  “Whatever the meaning intended for this term,” he wrote, “its lexical makeup involves an incongruity:  the seeming claim that a person can think and experience after the period in which he is destined to live.”   Importantly:  “For a post-modernist, the world does not possess values that have reality.  He even has an expression for this:  ‘the world as text,’ as something secondary, as the text of an author’s work, wherein the primary object of interest is the author himself in his relationship to the work, his own introspection.”  

Yet, amazingly enough, throughout the past century growing numbers of people embraced the position Solshentisyn opposed and embraced the motto propounded in Luigi Pirandello’s 1916 play:  Right You Are If You Think You Are.  In their own inner worlds postmodernists fantasize—or “construct” their own reality”—even to the extent of self-selecting their sex!  New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio recently defended this, allowing residents to rewrite their birth certificates, choosing any of three sexual categories.  “New Yorkers,” he said, “should be free to tell there government who they are.”  Now boys insisting they are girls join female wrestling team and easily win matches.  In all bizarre behaviors we see postmodernism triumphant!  George Orwell, writing 1984, envisioned such a time as ours, when:  “All words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word oldthink.”   He prophetically skewered the twin pillars of Postmodernism:  epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism.  What Orwell called “oldthink” (objective reason), postmodernists reject and claim to transcend.  

To understand this phenomenon, I commend Explaining Postmodernism:  Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault  (New York:  Ockham’s Razor Publishing, Kindle, c. 2011) by Stephen R. C. Hicks.  Primarily, he thinks:  “Postmodernism is the end result of the Counter-Enlightenment attack on reason” (#913).  So to understand it we need to review two centuries of intellectual history, beginning with Immanuel Kant, a philosopher often touted as the personification of the Enlightenment and its dedication to reason, yet who was deeply anti-rational inasmuch as he “asserted that the most important fact about reason is that it is clueless about reality” (#940).  Kant thought we can observe and link together phenomena, but essences—any inner noumena—must remain forever unknowable.   We can describe and manipulate the material world, but the “objects that science explores exist ‘only in our brain,’ so we can never come to know the world outside it” (#1075).  Thus Kant discarded the Enlightenment’s understanding of reason, holding “that the mind is not a response mechanism but a constitutive mechanism.  He held that the mind— and not reality— sets the terms for knowledge.  And he held that reality conforms to reason, not vice versa.  In the history of philosophy, Kant marks a fundamental shift from objectivity as the standard to subjectivity as the standard” (#1143).  “‘I had to deny knowledge,’ wrote Kant in the Preface to the first Critique, ‘in order to make room for faith.’”  Setting forth his “first hypothesis about the origins of postmodernism,” Hicks says: “Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the history of epistemology since Kant” (#1976).  

Subsequent to Kant, various 19th century philosophers (e.g. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) and theologians worked out the implications of his position.  In particular there transpired a profound shift in Lutheran theology inspired by F.D.E. Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant Liberalism who declared:  “‘The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence.  I repudiated rational thought in favour of a theology of feeling’” (#1410).  Soon thereafter Soren Kierkegaard “gave irrationality an activist twist” and profoundly influenced (with his “Christian Existentialism”) 20th century theologians such as Karl Barth.  “‘Faith,’” wrote Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, “‘requires the crucifixion of reason’”; so he proceeded to crucify reason and glorify the irrational” (#2164).  Equally Kantian is the atheistic version of Existentialism was set forth by Martin Heidegger, who effectively jettisoned reason and logic “to make room for emotion.”   Heidegger rejected “the entire Western tradition of philosophy . . . based as it is on the law of non-contradiction and the subject/object distinction” and propounded a despairing version of metaphysical nihilism (#1670).  He “is unquestionably the leading twentieth-century philosopher for the postmodernists” (#1518).  

In addition to Kant’s philosophical idealism one must understand the importance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s socialistic political ideology.  Though postmodernism is certainly a philosophical persuasion, it is equally a political position, leading to Hicks’ “second hypothesis about postmodernism:  Postmodernism is the academic far Left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and in practice” (#2153).  Since the French Revolution in 1789, socialism (or progressivism) had become a Rousseau-inspired religion for many.   “Rousseau’s writings were the Bible of the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution, absorbed by many of the hopeful Russian revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century, and influential upon the more agrarian socialists of the twentieth century in China and Cambodia” (#2204).  Rousseau routinely elevated feeling over reason and determined to follow his “inner light;” he also celebrated the supremacy of simplicity (i.e. the “Noble Savage) over the artificiality of civilization and its consequent corruptions.  

Yet the 20th century’s sorry record of socialist revolutions and regimes effectively refuted its ideology, whereas the much-derided capitalist system had, in fact, made life much better for millions of people.  Marx’s oft-celebrated motto—“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—lost its allure in prospering societies wherein virtually all material needs had been satisfied!  So Leftists abruptly stopped talking about “needs” and declared themselves committed to “equality.”  Capitalism had failed, not to satisfy basic needs, but to give everyone equal shares of everything.  Rather than seeking to rectify economic injustices, Socialists promoted “multiculturalism” and crusaded to eliminate racial and sexual inequities.  In addition, Marxist activists embraced environmentalism, which promoted “the radical moral equality of all species” as a movement capable of discrediting capitalism.

In their desire to destroy distinctions and abolish hierarchies, Leftists reveal their deeply nihilistic perspectives.  Indeed:  “Nihilism is close to the surface in the postmodern intellectual movement in a historically unprecedented way.  In the modern world, Left-wing thought has been one of the major breeding grounds for destruction and nihilism.  From the Reign of Terror to Lenin and Stalin, to Mao and Pol Pot, to the upsurge of terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s, the far Left has exhibited repeatedly a willingness to use violence to achieve political ends and exhibited extreme frustration and rage when it has failed.  The Left has also included many fellow-travelers from the same political and psychological universe, but without political power at their disposal” (#4125).  As Nietzsche, one of the architects of postmodernism, said, in Daybreak:  “When some men fail to accomplish what they desire to do they exclaim angrily, ‘May the whole world perish!” 

Consequently, some of the most influential postmodernists, awash in despair at the failure of their socialist faith, seem happy to envision the abolition of man.  Michel Foucault, for example,  “speaks almost longingly about the coming erasure of mankind:  Man is ‘an invention of recent date’ that will soon ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’  God is dead, wrote Hegel and Nietzsche.  Man too will be dead, Foucault hopes” (#4186).  Deconstructionists such as Foucault and Jacques Derrida seek to get behind or beneath the apparent meaning of language.  More deeply, following atheistic nihilism of Nietzsche, they deconstruct not only language but Reality itself!  Nothing can be said because, ultimately, nothing ontological is really There.   If there are objective “things” (and especially all eternal, substantial, non-material realities) around us—they are beyond knowing and thus unreal.  What’s real is simply what, at the moment, we consider real for us, whatever works for us.  So here we are:  men calling themselves women!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rivaling postmodernism for modern man’s allegiance is what’s frequently dubbed “scientism”— carefully examined by J.P. Moreland, a professor at Biola University and one of today’s best evangelical philosophers, in Scientism and Secularism:  Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, Kindle Edition, c. 2018).  A quotation from Dallas Willard, another fine evangelical scholar, nicely sums up Moreland’s thesis:  “The idea that knowledge—and of course reality—is limited to the world of the natural sciences is the single most destructive idea on the stage of life today.”  Anticipating Willard’s concern, C.S. Lewis devoted a significant amount of his writings, beginning with his first Christian work, The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), to a critique of Scientism.  During the Second World War, delivering some lectures published as The Abolition of Man, he warned that:   “The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists.”  In fact, he declared that:  “many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.” 

To introduce his case Moreland gives a bit of personal background.  Reared in a very nominal Christian home and church, he entered the University of Missouri determined to pursue a degree in science.  While there, however, he encountered Campus Crusade, had a life-changing conversion experience, and subsequently served as a Crusade staffer for a decade.   Subsequently, he continued his academic work and,  “during the process of my various studies . . . constantly bumped into something dark, hideous, and, I dare say, evil.  It was the philosophical notion of scientism, roughly the view that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality” (#240).

“At the very least,” its devotees declare, “this scientific knowledge is vastly superior to what we can know from any other discipline.  Ethics and religion may be acceptable, but only if they are understood to be inherently subjective and regarded as private matters of opinion.  According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore ought to be affirmed like scientific truths, may be a sign of bigotry and intolerance” (#275).  Inasmuch as the public schools and universities embrace and promote it, scientism has become rather like the air we breathe—something so pervasive we hardly notice it.  Sadly, few of us consider “what it does to a culture and to the church.  It puts Christian claims outside of the ‘plausibility structure’ (what people generally consider reasonable and rational)” and makes it difficult for the Gospel to get a fair hearing (#365).  On the defensive, many Christians have left and “reasonable and rational” realm to scientists and embraced various versions of “blind faith.” 

Representing such scientism, Robert B. Reich, a Harvard professor and Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently declared:  “‘The greatest conflict of the 21st century . . . will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma.’  Reich understands that ideas matter, and he hopes that scientism destroys our confidence in Christianity” (#482).  Indeed, Reich is a sterling example of Moreland’s claim that “Scientism is a silent yet deadly killer of Christianity” (#3173).

Despite the self-assurance of folks such as Robert Reich, scientism is, rightly evaluated, irrational.  Bringing philosophical rigor to the discussion, Moreland builds a persuasive case showing “that strong scientism—the view that true knowledge is found only within science—is self-refuting.  It is self-referentially incoherent, meaning that it refutes or defeats itself” (#657).  To explain:  “when a statement is included in its own subject matter (i.e., when it refers to itself) but fails to satisfy its own standards of acceptability, it is self-refuting” (#667).  A self-refuting statement is necessarily false!  If you say “All sentences are exactly three words long,” or “I do not exist,” or “There are not truths,” you refute yourself.  You make no sense, so you’re speaking nonsense!  So too when you say “Truths can only be verified by the five senses or by science” you refute yourself you are stating something that cannot be so verified’” (#671).  

Given his background, Moreland fully understands the scientific world, and he knows its champions assume some utterly non-scientific positions.  For example, they assume there’s a world “out there” to be studied.  Physicists and chemists purport to weigh and measure actual things “independent of mind, language, or theory.”  Whether or not the know it, they are philosophical realists—assuming there’s a world that’s quite real apart from their own inner worlds.  They simply assume our senses and minds enable us to come to grips with and understand a real world.  Scientists further assume the natural world functions in accord with orderly laws (e.g. mathematics or logic or gravity or electromagnetic fields)—constants underlying the changing world of sense perceptions.  Inasmuch as they celebrate “peer review” to establish scientific truth, practicing scientists necessarily believe in “objective truth.”  What’s done in one experiment can be replicated in another—thus what’s discerned is not simply something within the head of the researcher.   “Not only is objective truth a presupposition of science (for most advocates of scientism), but its reality presupposes a certain understanding of truth, namely, the correspondence theory of truth” (#853).  Importantly, Moreland says:  “The conclusions of science cannot be stronger than their presuppositions.  There are many things that science presupposes.  But science itself cannot justify those presuppositions.  It needs philosophy to do that.  And therefore the philosophy of scientism—which is not itself science—ends up also being the enemy of science itself” (#962).

Inasmuch as science cannot advance any pretense of intellectual sovereignty, Moreland invites us to recognize the dignity and worth or other forms of knowing, including logic and math.  Both intellectual disciplines are known not by empirical processes but “by direct rational intuition or awareness, without appealing to sense experience to justify them”  (#1096).  We simply know them a priori or at first sight—prima facia.  The natural sciences, however, are limited to a posteriori reasoningdetermined by observation and calculation.  Thus mathematics and logic are not sciences!  They are, rather, important ways of thinking which are necessary for the sciences.  And then, perhaps most importantly, we know our own minds in ways inaccessible to empirical science.  My self-consciousness is as manifestly real as the earth and stars.  Knowing myself as I really am requires a non-material process, but it is absolutely essential to living as a human being.  To Moreland this is a critical issue, for:   “Simple introspection—combined with biblical, theological, and philosophical reflection—is the most rational and very best way to learn facts about the nonphysical nature of mental properties and mental/conscious states” (#1335). 

Importantly, consciousness “does not fit or is not at home in a naturalistic physical worldview.  As naturalist philosopher Colin McGinn admits, consciousness is one of the most mystifying features of the cosmos,” bordering “on sheer magic because there seems to be no naturalistic explanation for it:  How can mere matter originate consciousness?  How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness?  Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang; so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?  A good question indeed!” (#2051).  This leads Moreland to stress the importance “substance dualism,” the position he takes regarding human nature as composed of both body and soul.  Consciousness is not, as many thinkers insist, merely an excretion of material activity within the brain.  It is, rather, a distinct a property of an immaterial soul. 

To persuasively refute scientism, Moreland holds, we need to reinstate the West’s traditional “first philosophy” and insist there are ways of knowing Reality apart from and superior to empirical science.  “The idea of first philosophy has been central to the discipline of philosophy since Plato, but with the advent of scientism in the mid-twentieth century (and the public’s general lack of exposure to philosophy in our educational system!), first philosophy has fallen into disfavor” (#1470).  Nevertheless, as Moreland shows in significant sections interacting with contemporary thinkers, a strong case can be made for both the “autonomy” and “authority” or philosophy.  There are, in fact, at least “five things” science cannot explain:   1) the origin of the universe; 2) the origin of the fundamental laws of nature; 3) the fine-tuning of the universe; 4) the origin of consciousness, and, 5) “the Existence of Moral, Rational, and Aesthetic Objective Laws and Intrinsically Valuable Properties.”  Examining each of these things elicits from Moreland many pages of skillful (and highly persuasive) argumentation.  He then makes helpful suggestions concerning the proper ways for Christians both embrace science without elevating it to scientism, with its methodological naturalistic presuppositions.  “After carefully considering its claims,” Moreland concludes “that it is not science, that it undermines science, that it encourages people to misuse science, and that because it is so widely believed, it ends up hurting Christians who buy into its deceptive lies” (#3167). 

Consider, for example the claim of Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, “that quantum physics has made the need for a creator and designer superfluous.”   Hawking thinks “the universe can ‘create itself,’ that is, it came into existence out of nothing.”  Though he was a first-rate scientist, however, Hawking was a poor philosopher!  To think clearly, “nothing” means precisely that—no-thing.  And something cannot, logically, come from nothing.  In fact, he assumed there is an eternal “quantum vacuum, which contains energy and is itself located in space.  The universe, according to them, comes into being spontaneously as a fluctuation of the energy in the vacuum.  This is hardly a case of the universe coming into being from nothing!” (#1740).  

So too “origin of life” researchers frequently fail to think rightly and are notoriously unable to even define the term.  Thus Antonio Lazcano admits:  “‘Life is like music; you can describe it but not define it.” (#1758)  Indicative of its mystery, there are some 100 definitions of “life”—all suggesting it’s non-material in important ways.   “Interestingly, many philosophers have provided new evidence for this argument by claiming, following biologists, that living things are constituted by information.  But apart from a few exceptions, many, perhaps most philosophers that work in this area have claimed that information is immaterial, more fundamental to reality than matter, and, given its nature, there can be no material explanation for the origin of (immaterial) information and, thus, for the origin of life” (#1778).

A lengthy endorsement of the book by Jeffrey Schwartz merits repeating:  “Scientism and Secularism should be mandatory reading for serious Christians who want to intelligently engage in the interface of philosophy and science.  Moreland elegantly guides the reader through concepts typically reserved for serious analytic philosophers and academics.  In doing so, he provides a desperately needed and highly accessible treatment of elite-level arguments that both seasoned philosophy veterans and enthusiastic amateurs will enjoy.  Moreland thus demonstrates a rare ability to distill complicated and abstract philosophical concepts into a framework for everybody to understand.” 

# # # 

312 Contempt, Compromised, Hoax

In the 1980s Kenneth Starr was one of the legal luminaries circulating within the higher echelons of the federal government—appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by Ronald Reagan and then named Solicitor General by George H.W. Bush.  He was a seriously considered for the Supreme Court slot vacated by Warren Burger but was passed over when David Souter appeared to be a less controversial candidate.  “Justice Souter was even heard to say, privately, ‘I have the Ken Starr seat’” (p. 307)  When Robert Fiske (the first special prosecutor appointed to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s activities in Arkansas) resigned, Starr was named his replacement, since he was widely acclaimed as a fair, eminently-qualified lawyer.  Looking back at his prosecutorial efforts in the 90s, Starr has written Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, c. 2018).  

In sum, he tells this “story:  Twenty years ago, after a four-year investigation resulting in fourteen criminal convictions in Arkansas and leading to the resignation of the sitting governor of the state, the Whitewater investigation took a bizarre twist.  It was revealed that in 1995 President Bill Clinton had begun an extended Oval Office affair with a twenty-two-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, then tried to cover it up.  In the fallout from the president’s misdeeds, the nation went through wrenching political turmoil.  Much of the drama was tragically unnecessary, a self-inflicted wound by a talented but deeply flawed president who believed he was above the law.  In the long and painful saga, he showed contempt not only for the law, but for the American people, whom he willfully misled for his political self-preservation.  He also demonstrated a shockingly callous contempt for the women he had used for his pleasure” (p. xi-xii).  Ultimately, Starr thinks:  “By the end of this book, my personal account of the legacy of Bill and Hillary Clinton—a legacy of contempt—I believe most reasonable, open-minded people will agree with me.  Or at least they should agree with my basic proposition:  that President Clinton and the First Lady knowingly embarked on a continuing course of action that was contemptuous of our revered system of justice” (pp. xii-xiv). 

To provide suitable context for his account, Starr shares a bit of his own story.  He was born in Texas and reared in a pastor’s home (his father ministering in the Churches of Christ denomination).  Thenceforth, though moving away from his father’s denomination, he says:  “Faith proved to be a pillar of strength in my daily life” (p. 24).  Ever a sterling student, he earned a B.A. from Brown University and a law degree from Duke.  Entering the legal profession he found his true life’s calling and fully enjoyed both practicing law and serving as a judge.  Then, much to his sorrow, he was persuaded to accept the position of special prosecutor and investigate the Clintons’ Whitewater adventures.  Almost immediately the president’s political operatives (e.g. James Carville, Lanny Davis, and Sidney Blumenthal) swung into action, portraying him as a “right-wing hit man” (p. 40).  Starr thinks they mainly implemented the strategies of Hillary, the more  sinister of the Clintons, for she had been “profoundly influenced by the radical Saul Alinsky, whose ‘rules for radicals’ included tips for budding community activists such as:  ‘Keep the pressure on, never let up,’ ‘Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,’ ‘Go after people and not institutions,’ and ‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’  She’d written her ninety-two-page senior honors dissertation on Alinsky, whom she quoted as saying that gaining and holding on to power ‘is the very essence of life, the dynamo of life’” (p. 64).  Embracing Alinsky’s tactics, the Clintons left a trail of “wrongdoing” which “could have been avoided if they’d followed the Golden Rule instead of Alinsky’s rules for radicals” (p. 65). 

Presiding over a team of FBI agents and Department of Justice lawyers, Starr collected evidence from witnesses such as Judge David Hale, who repeatedly directed them to various of the Clintons’ shady deals.  “Hale became the epicenter of the Arkansas investigation.  Through his testimony, the mysteries of Whitewater and other financial crimes were illuminated.  If Judge Hale was right, Bill Clinton was a potential felon, assisted by Hillary” (p. 62).  Others in the Clinton entourage—e.g. Webb Hubbell, Jim and Susan McDougal—were interviewed and investigated and convicted of assorted crimes.  But their efforts were impeded by the mysterious disappearance of important documents and at every turn, and investigators were constantly frustrated by the Clintons’ disdain for law.  In fact:  “Engaging with the White House was like walking in molasses” (p. 86).  Or, to shift the metaphor, “Talking to Clinton,” Starr found, “was like nailing spaghetti to the wall” (p. 239).

One of Starr’s best lawyers, after taking a deposition from the president in 1995, said he “knew the president ‘was a lying dog’” who had probably committed perjury (p. 98).   While watching a film of Clinton’s deposition, his old friend and business partner Jim McCougal lamented seeing “‘the president of the United States commit perjury,’” and doing in the White House  Map Room.  “The Map Room, to Jim McDougal, was hallowed ground because of his admiration for FDR.  But that sacred soil, so to speak, had been polluted by the self-interested perjury of his hero’s successor.  Despite his own crimes, Jim was morally outraged by the lies under oath of the Man from Hope” (p. 131).  At her deposition, Hillary’s “responses were so glib, so superficial, they were almost ‘in your face,’ alternating on the theme of profound memory loss. In the space of three hours, she claimed, by our count, over a hundred times that she ‘did not recall’ or ‘did not remember’’” (p. 100).  Starr and his team “were of one accord that Hillary was a liar” (p. 203).

Starr’s team focused its attention on the Clintons’ financial activities in Arkansas and  “never pursued any case of sexual wrongdoing against Clinton” (p. 157).  In due time, however, the accusations of Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky intruded into the investigation because of illegal maneuvers Bill Clinton made trying to deny them.  He refused to accept offered “mediation to resolve the case” brought by Paula Jones and “chose a foolhardy course.  He believed he could lie his way out of it” (p. 185).   “Clinton knew what he had done.  He had lied under oath in his deposition.”  Determined to stay in office, he followed “a multifaceted strategy:  First, take care of or at least neutralize Monica, much in the way the White House had taken care of Hubbell.  Second, stonewall the investigation while purporting to cooperate.  Third, send out surrogates to aggressively attack Starr and his team—and to trash Monica” (p. 195).  That strategy, aided by the media, succeeded magnificently, and the American people rallied to Clinton’s defense. 

So Starr ultimately crafted his “referral” and presented it to the House of Representatives, which duly impeached Clinton.   He and his team clearly identified “counts of impeachable offenses” the president had committed.  He clearly “had committed perjury, tampered with witnesses, and obstructed justice in many ways” (p. 247).  But the Clintonistas effectively massaged the media to make Starr the real “bad guy,” and the president prevailed in the court of public opinion.  To explain and justify his work to the American people, Starr assented to an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  “Jettisoning her usual Kentucky charm, Sawyer immediately went on the offensive.  She lambasted me for producing ‘demented pornography, pornography for puritans.’  On and on.  When she asked me about the tone of the referral, I was matter-of-fact:  ‘Diane, don’t fault career prosecutors for telling the truth’” (p. 278).  But neither Sawyer nor the public cared much for the truth.  They were, instead, determined to discredit Starr!  “Literally for years, my personal integrity and professionalism had been subject to a well-organized, relentless campaign of character assassination” (p. 300).

Over the years I’ve distrusted few politicians more than Bill and Hillary Clinton.  My suspicions stand confirmed by Starr’s Contempt.  Though he fully recognizes their political dexterity, he concludes:  “Tragically, their legacy, despite their accomplishments, despite their talents, is, above all, contempt: contempt for the rule of law that binds us together as citizens, and contempt for human beings—especially women—as inherently worthy of dignity and respect” (p. 306).

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Healthy republics require the “rule of law.”  Lex Rex (law is king) must prevail.  To do so, law enforcement must be trustworthy and transparent.  Thus Seamus Bruner’s Compromised: How Money and Politics Drive FBI Corruption (New York:  Bombardier Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018) should concern us.  The book examines the FBI’s role in a “story of corruption [which] (like so many others) begins with Hillary Clinton” (#164).  It reveals FBI officials involved in “the misdeeds committed during the 2016 election,” including “criminal allegations of lying under oath, obstruction, leaking classified material, coordination with foreign powers, and coordination with the media.”  But it all “began as a complex smokescreen apparently orchestrated by the Clinton team to undermine opponent Trump and obfuscate allegiances.”  Involved in the operation were:   President Barack Obama; his Attorney General Loretta Lynch; and James Comey, the FBI director appointed by Obama.  Working under Lynch in the Department of Justice were Sally Yates, Rod Rosenstein, and Bruce Ohr.  Having failed to block Trump’s election, they worked to undermine his presidency.  To do so they helped orchestrate Robert Mueller’s appointment as a special prosecution to investigate Trump’s Russian ties, and he “picked a team full of criminal prosecutors, many of whom are Clinton loyalists and Democrat donors who seem hostile towards Trump” (#450).  In Bruner’s searing judgment, Richard Nixon’s notorious Watergate scandal was “fairly tame compared with the FBI’s actions in 2016” (#2256).

The bad actors in his story had both financial and political reasons for their behavior.  Mueller and Comey, for example, have shrewdly moved in and out of government, working briefly for high-powered law firms or corporations that pay them millions of dollars.  They have “worked as a tag team for twenty years, drifting between FBI and DOJ leadership positions before cashing in on their valuable intel and experience” (#2163).  Comey was thus paid $6 million in one year by Lockheed—probably for his contacts within government rather than any stellar legal expertise!  In 2003 Comey was worth $206,000, “according to documents filed with Congress.”  Two years later “he left the DOJ to join Lockheed as general counsel and senior vice president and moved to Bridgewater Associates in 2010.  When Obama appointed him FBI director in 2013, Comey had amassed well over $10 million in compensation from just two sources:  Lockheed and Bridgewater Associates” (#2452). 

“The FBI and the DOJ have long been lucrative stops in the revolving door between the public and private sectors in D.C.  This intersection of money and politics at the top of the FBI and the DOJ is concerning” (#2149).  Comey and Mueller both “fancy themselves ‘Boy Scouts.’”  But they and their associates “became rich passing back and forth through the revolving door,” though Bruner could not demonstrably “link their huge compensation to direct official action.”  They did, however, receive  inordinate retainers, which are “upfront and ongoing compensation paid to attorneys so that when their services are needed, they will be on call.  This same model, applied to government employees, might explain the massive sums that individuals such as Clinton, Holder, and Comey received.”  Importantly:  “It is not even illegal” (#3417).  Both legal and lucrative!  How sweet it is!   

To investigate President Trump, Mueller employed a dossier compiled by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm which specializes in digging up dirt on Republican politicians.  The firm received an estimated $12 million for producing the document.  “Some of it went to Christopher Steele, the retired MI5 agent who assembled much of the dossier.  Some of it went to Nellie Ohr, the wife of a top DOJ official.  Some of it went to journalists who promoted the salacious findings.  And some of it allegedly even went to the dossier’s sources, which included Russian officials” (#608).  In short:  Fusion GPS created the Trump dossier and Democrats paid for it.  On the other hand, though considerable evidence exists suggesting a Hillary Clinton-Russia connection, Mueller refused to investigate the Democrat candidate.  “Mueller’s special counsel mandate . . . does not differentiate between Russian interference with the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the Clinton campaign.  The absence of any charges implicating the Clinton-connected Russian agents above should prove once and for all that the Mueller investigation is a political cover-up” (#2065). 

The FBI claimed the famous Steele “dossier” justified spying on Trump’s advisors and got a FISA judge to authorize targeting “a sitting U.S. president, which may be an unprecedented abuse of power by the bureau” (#2107).  Indeed:  Mueller’s team seemingly has one mission—to take down Trump” (#2107).  To read Bruner’s Compromised is to have one’s faith in the federal government seriously compromised!  If law enforcement officials seek personal goods rather than the public welfare the fabric of our society cannot but fray. 

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In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, John Adams envisioned a “government of laws, and not of men.”  Consequently, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis said:  “if the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”  In The Russia Hoax:  The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2018), Gregg Jarrett says:  “In truth, this book is a defense of the rule of law” (p. 281).  To do so he seeks to show how the contempt for law evident throughout the careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton persists.  He tells “a story of corruption.  It begins, as it must, with Hillary Clinton” (p. 1).  In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, evidence came to light revealing that Hillary Clinton had knowingly flaunted important laws as a federal employee.  Indeed, her “egregious breach of rules, regulations, and laws jeopardized national security” (p. 6) 

Assigned to investigate her case, FBI Director James Comey maneuvered to exculpate Hillary Clinton “from the sundry crimes she appeared to have committed by storing copious classified documents on her unauthorized private computer system at the Clinton homestead.  Despite a subpoena insisting to preserve her records, tens of thousands of government documents were deleted, her server wiped clean, and numerous devices destroyed” (#52).  But President Obama defended her and Comey penned an “exoneration statement” for her behavior long before his agents interviewed important witnesses, including Hillary Clinton.  “Danny Coulson, who served as deputy assistant director of the FBI during his three decades at the bureau,” lamented:  “‘Comey controlled it from start to finish and came out with the results he wanted’” (p. 24).  “Former assistant director of the FBI Steve Pomerantz is convinced Clinton knew she was breaking the law, but didn’t care:  ‘It is consistent with everything I know about the Clintons.  They make their own rules, and it’s wrong.  Hillary Clinton engaged in conduct that was dangerous to the national security of the United States.  And, of course, lying about it only compounds the problem.  The Clintons have a history of lying.  That’s what they do.  First they commit the offense, then they lie about it.  That’s what they do’” (p. 12).  

Jarrett suspects Comey protected Hillary Clinton because he felt pressure emanating from the Department of Justice headed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  “We are expected to believe it was a coincidence that former President Bill Clinton just happened to be on the tarmac of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, at exactly the same time as Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016, a scant five days before Hillary Clinton was to meet with FBI officials for questioning about her suspected wrongdoing.  Perhaps it was also just a coincidence that eight days after the furtive tarmac meeting the decision was announced that criminal charges against Clinton would not be filed” (p. 38).  Such convenient “coincidences” rather routinely speckle the Clintons’ records! 

Hillary Clinton obviously broke the law because she had things to hide!  Those things are amply evident in a chapter Jarrett titles “Clinton Greed and ‘Uranium One’.”  Upon leaving the White House in 2001, the former president and first lady became enormously wealthy, raking in some $230 million before taxes.   Shrouding the sources of this income doubtlessly explains Hillary’s “determination to keep her State Department emails forever hidden from public view” (p. 66).  Tellingly, much of their wealth came from “Bill’s lucrative speaking engagements, especially those abroad, [which] accelerated during the four years his wife presided over the state department.  Two-thirds of his fees came from foreign sources.  It is no surprise that many of the foreign entities who were shelling out substantial dollars to Bill were the very people and governments who were angling for favorable actions or decisions by Hillary” (p. 67).  Then there was the Clinton Foundation, purportedly established to do charitable work around the world.  Contributors surely envisioned enjoying special access to the Clintons, and the foundation quickly raised more than a billion dollars.  “The charity also became a cash conduit, helping Bill collect millions of dollars as he leveraged the foundation to secure his lucrative personal speaking engagements” (p. 68). 

The Clintons’ modus operandi is nicely illustrated in the “Uranium One” deal.  In 2005 Bill Clinton and his friend Frank Giustra, a Canadian businessman interested in buying Kazakh mines, went to Kazakhstan.  Clinton facilitated a deal with President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whom he fulsomely praised in a press conference.  “Days later Giustra got his lucrative uranium mines.  Soon thereafter the Clinton Foundation received a $31.3 million donation from Giustra, followed by a pledge to give $100 million more.  The deal also provided Bill with incredibly profitable speechmaking fees.”  In due time, following a merger, “Giustra’s company became a uranium giant called Uranium One.  According to the president of the government agency that runs Kazakhstan’s uranium industry, Hillary Clinton pressured his government to approve the merger.  Clinton herself, who then sat on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, had allegedly threatened to withhold U.S. aid if the deal did not go through.  It should come as no surprise that it did” (p. 70).   In fact, “more than half the people outside the government who met with Clinton while she was secretary of state donated money to her foundation” (p. 80).  Tit for tat!  So it goes with the “Clinton Cash” machine!

Rather than pursue an investigation of Hillary Clinton, the FBI and Department of Justice launched an inquiry into Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia!  The document cited to justify the case was a “dossier” the DNC had paid for, seeking to damage Trump’s campaign.  “On its face, the ‘dossier’ was a preposterous collection of rumors, innuendos, supposition, and wild speculation” (p. 120).  Having thoroughly examined the evidence—detailing the maneuvers, identifying the participants—Jarrett concludes:  “There was never any real evidence of wrongdoing by the Republican nominee for president.  There was no reasonable suspicion or evidence sustaining probable cause that those in his campaign were collaborating with Russians to influence the 2016 election.  In its purest form, it was a hoax that was manufactured by unscrupulous high-ranking officials within the FBI and the Department of Justice.  Their motives were impure, animated by antipathy for Trump. They were determined to tip the scales of justice and, in the process, undermine electoral democracy” (pp. 87-88). 

Jarrett has done extensive, meticulous research, evident in his many citations, his careful concern for details, and his competence as a lawyer fully conversant with the legal system.  To understand the tumultuous beginnings of Donald Trump’s presidency, The Russia Hoax is most enlightening. 

311 Who Are We?

During the American Revolution, in his celebrated Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur asked:  “What, then, is the American, this new man?”  It was an apt question for America’s Founders, as it is for us today, for we, unlike the Greeks or Germans, do not derive our sense of national identity from our ethnic roots.  To Crèvecoeur, Americans were Europeans transformed by their new land—the “great American asylum” provided by abundant, fertile soil—where they could become free, self-employed, successful farmers.  They experienced a “great metamorphosis” which made them truly “new” human beings.  “Everything has tended to regenerate them,” he said:  “new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system.  Here they are become men:  in Europe they were as so many useless plants.”  In short, he asserted:  “it is here, then, that the idle may be employed, the useless become useful, and the poor become rich.”

During the next two centuries, the United States would continue to welcome immigrants from Europe who generally sustained the vision of the nation’s Founders, and Americans generally shared a core commitment to the “land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride.”  Within the past half-century, however, that enduring sense of identity has been challenged and is possibly collapsing.  Among the many legislative acts spawned by Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” was the Immigration Act of 1965, primarily crafted by Senator Ted Kennedy.  Discarding the prior preferences given Caucasian immigrants from European nations, the act opened the nation’s borders to Third World peoples who were likely to enroll in the welfare state’s programs and thus support the Democratic Party.  Kennedy and his progressive allies deftly celebrated the virtues of “diversity” and its prospects of strengthening the nation; so decades before Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally change America” one of the main vehicles for such change had been firmly established by his ideological forbears.

To provide a scholarly assessment of this change, the late Samuel P. Huntington wrote Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York:  Simon & Schuster, c. 2004).  Huntington was a professor at Harvard for 50 years, and his earlier work on The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order was distinguished for taking seriously the religious nature of the Christian-Muslim conflict long before the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  He argued that the great conflicts in the 21st century will take place for cultural—rather than economic or ideological—reasons, and we must recognize that we now live in a “multipolar, multicivilizational world.”  Concerned for the survival of the West, he insisted we must recover its moral fiber.  Thus antisocial behavior, family fragmentation, disinterest in local associations, the loss of a strong work ethic, and the distressing decline of intellectual excellence, must be reversed if the West is to survive.  “The future health of the West and its influence on other societies depends in considerable measure on its success in coping with these trends.”  Civilizations, history records, are difficult to construct but easy to destroy. 

Since nations can be quickly destroyed, we Americans must deal wisely with the threat of massive immigration.  In fact we have a unique national culture well-described by John Jay in The Federalist Papers:  “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint chubbiness arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established liberty and independence.”  Huntington basically revisits and updates Jay’s list of national characteristics, stressing they are precisely what we need today and urging us to “recommit” ourselves to “the Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world” (p. xvii). 

Huntington believed that, as a result of developments since the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States is “less a nation than it had been for a century” (p. 5).  Revealing this is the contrasting poems Robert Frost wrote for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 (celebrating the “‘heroic deeds’ of America’s founding with God’s ‘approval’”) with Maya Angelou’s recitation at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration (mentioning 27 racial and ethnic groups without saying the word “America”)!  To Huntington:  “Frost saw America’s history and identity as glories to be celebrated and perpetuated.  Angelou saw the manifestations of American identity as evil threats to the well-being and real identities of people with they subnational groups” (p. 6).  Clinton himself of course sided with Angelou rather than Frost, celebrating multiculturalism and diversity and heralding a “‘great revolution to prove that we literally can live without having a dominant European culture’” (p. 18). 

But Clinton’s “great” multicultural “revolution” seriously threatens to disunite us, for a nation requires an identifying culture—not a collage of many cultures.  Unfortunately, folks like Clinton and Angelou misunderstand what actually makes America a nation.  They probably do so because they accept “two propositions that are true but only partially true and yet often are accepted as the whole truth.  These are the claims, first, that America is a nation of immigrants, and second, that American identity is defined solely by a set of political principles, the American Creed” (p. 37).  To refute the first of these propositions Huntington says the Europeans coming to colonial America were “settlers” who made a society, not “immigrants” who entered into an already-existent society seeking to benefit from it.  Thus in the 17th and 18th centuries European settlers created an homogenous “Anglo-Protestant settler society” that “profoundly and lastingly shaped American culture, institutions, historical development, and identity” (p. 39).   The second proposition—that America is a composed of a “Creed”—is another half-truth.  Before the American Revolution, colonists identified themselves in terms of ethnicity and culture, and especially in terms of religion, and though ideals such as liberty and equality were duly celebrated following the Revolution the people continued to identify themselves in terms of culture and religion continued to identify.  Indeed, the “American Creed” modern liberals celebrate is is basically “Protestantism without God, the secular credo of the ‘nation with the soul of a church’” (p. 69)

To Huntington the “cultural core” of the United States was Anglo-Protestant, for “Americans have been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian throughout their history” (p. 83).  English speaking Protestants established both the 17th century colonies and the 18th century nation.  This was especially evident during the First Great Awakening, when “for the first time” people from all the colonies shared a “social, emotional, and religious experience.  It was a truly American movement and promoted a sense of transcolony consciousness, ideas, and themes, which were subsequently transferred from a religious to a political context” (p. 109).  Sustaining the dissenting tradition of the Puritans, a “‘Dissidence of dissent’ describes the history as well as the character of American Protestantism” (p. 65).  So too the vaunted American “individualism” and “work ethic” stem directly from the dissenting Protestant tradition. 

Since the ‘60s, however, the Anglo-Protestant culture in America has been seriously challenged by significant innovations, beginning with the promotion of a “multiculturalism” which is in “essence anti-European,” denigrating Eurocentric values and opposing “‘narrow Eurocentric concepts of American democratic principles, culture, and identity.’  It is basically an anti-Western ideology” (p. 171).  Such was recently promoted by Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Venezuelan now serving as Superior General of the Jesuits, who called the Catholic Church to “show the multicultural face of the God who revealed himself in Nazareth,” promote “universal citizenship” and ultimately “build a multicultural world.”  Multiculturalism now dominates the nation’s schools, so high school students learn more about Harriet Tubman than George Washington.   Stanford University now requires courses on minorities and women, but not on Western Civilization.  And at the beginning of the 21st century “none of the fifty top American colleges and universities required a course in American history” (p. 175). 

Another major challenge we now face is assimilating the 23 millions of immigrants who have come to the country during the past half-century.  Contrary to the half-truth promoted by “open borders” devotees, immigrants to America a century ago were hardly  the “wretched refuse” of the earth.  In fact, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan asserted, most of them were “‘extraordinary, enterprising, and self-sufficient folk who knew exactly what they were doing, and [were] doing it quite on their own’” (p. 189).  Thus the Irish and Italians quickly assimilated and embraced the cultural core of their new country.  They came to America wanting to become Americans.  Recent immigrants, however, frequently seek to preserve their own culture by retaining their own languages and seeking dual-citizenship status.  And if they do become citizens of the U.S. it is “not because they are attracted to America’s culture and Creed, but because they are attracted by government social welfare and affirmative action programs” (p. 219).  Of especial concern to Huntington is the unprecedented Mexican immigration and expansive Hispanization undertaken by folks who frequently think they are reclaiming lands lost in the 19th century. 

A final challenge to American identity is a “denationalization” process characterizing influential academic, business, and political elites—fully evident in Barack Obama’s expansive claim to be a citizen of the world.  So too the elite executives of Apple and Walmart and Amazon have few national loyalties.  This globalization of business, Huntington says, “is proving right Adam Smith’s observation that while ‘the proprietor of land is necessarily a citizen of the particular country in which is estate lies . . . the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world and is not necessarily attached to any particular country’” (p. 267).

Having diagnosed the problems, Huntington devotes his final chapters to prescribing solutions that might restore the American identity, primarily by promoting commonalities such as the English language and the Christian religion.  In truth, one lays down the book persuaded that we American no longer know who we are and have no clue as to how to regain a sturdy sense of national identity!

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Victor Davis Hanson was for many years a professor (teaching classics at California State University, Fresno), but in he wrote Mexifornia:  A State of Becoming (San Francisco:  Encounter Books, c. 2003) as a life-long farmer tending his family property south of Fresno, still living in a house built by his great-great-grandmother 130 years earlier.  As a child he was part of “a very tiny minority of rural whites at predominantly Mexican-American” schools, and he intimately knows the nuances of the blended peoples and cultures surrounding him.  Setting forth a deeply personal analysis of trends transforming the Golden State, he writes “about the nature of a new California and what it means for America—a reflection upon the strange society that is emerging as the result of a demographic and cultural revolution like no other in our times” (p. xii).  And he provides “the perspective of a farmer whose social world has changed so radically, so quickly that it no longer exists,” a change that comes “entirely because of massive and mostly illegal immigration from a single country:  Mexico” (pp. 1-2).

Mexican immigrants, unlike earlier European immigrants, uniquely challenge the United States because of Mexico’s geographic propinquity.  By virtue of crossing an ocean Irish or Armenian or Chinese immigrants severed themselves from the land of their birth.  But “for the campesino from Mexico there is little physical amputation from the mother country” (p. 21).  And while it is the “poorest and brownest, largely Indian” campesinos who cross the border, the wealthy elites controlling Mexico encourage their movement “northward as a means of avoiding domestic reform” (p. 27).  Once here the campesinos find work eminently suited for young, physically fit men—but work utterly impossible for them a few decades later.  As they age they most likely turn from appreciating the country enabling him to prosper to resenting their niche in American society.  And even more deeply their children grow up feeling angry and alienated—despite the fact that they are infinitely more prosperous than their relatives still in Mexico.  “If we wonder why the hardest-working alien in California sires sons who will not do the same kind of labor, who have tattoos, shaved heads and prison records rather than diplomas, we need look no further than the bitterness of the exhausted, poor and discounted father” (p. 54). 

Hanson has personally witnessed the problems plaguing his community and affecting long-term residents such as himself.   Thieves repeatedly steal his equipment and crops while vandals damage his fields.  The culprits, of course, have no documents and cannot be easily prosecuted even if apprehended.  He can no longer put ongoing mail in his mailbox, and parcels left by the mailman are frequently stolen.  Indeed, “keeping illegal aliens and Mexican gang members off the property is a hopeless task:   in the banter that follows my requests, some trespassers seem piqued that anyone in California should dare to insist on the archaic notion of property rights.  One especially smart teenager tole me in broken English, ‘Hey, it’s our land anyway—not yours’” (p. 64).  

Consequently, Hanson looks back to the world of his youth, praising “the old simplicity that worked.”  Then the churches (both Catholic and Protestant) promoted personal morality and respect for authority.  The schools inculcated both traditional academics and patriotic citizenship.  Assimilation was mandated through compulsory English in the schools and legal traditions sustained by the courts.  The assumption was simple:  immigrants, wherever they came from, were “here to stay and become an American . . . .  He was to become one of us, not we one of him” (p. 79).  The superiority of America was eminently evident in the fact that immigrants left their native lands and chose to settle here.  “The unvoiced assumption—a formulation of classic know-nothingism—resonated with us:  If it is really so good over there, why don’t you go back?  Was this an exercise in American exceptionalism?  Absolutely” (p. 84).  However politically incorrect it may seem, it worked rather well before 1970, as was evident in the “well-integrated middle-age and middle-class residents of Selma” (p. 120).

Since 1970, however, the assimilation of immigrants from Mexico has largely failed.   Thus whereas the elementary school Hanson attended 40 years ago “turned out skilled and confident Americans, its graduates who enter high school now have among the lowest literacy levels and the most dismal math skills in the state” (p. 123).  In large part this is due to the “multiculturalism, authoritarian utopianism and cultural relativism” that now dominate public institutions, especially the schools.  If there’s any hope for a better future, all such “isms” must be repudiated.  Conversely the very worst “course lies in preserving the status quo and institutionalizing our past failed policies: open borders, unlimited immigration, dependence on cheap and illegal labor, obsequious deference to Mexico City, erosion of legal statutes, multiculturalism in our schools, and a general breakdown in the old assimilationist model” (p. 144). 

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Providing a current, journalistic assessment of immigration in Melting Pot or Civil War?:  A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2018, Kindle Edition), Reihan Salam writes as the son, “brother, neighbor, and friend of immigrants” who believes we need “a more thoughtful and balanced approach to immigration, including a greater emphasis on skills and a lesser one on extended family ties” (p. 8).  His parents came from Bangladesh to New York, where he was born, part of a tiny Bengali-speaking minority.  “Unlike my parents, who have had to deal with a lot of discrimination over the years, I have been untouched by it” (p. 67).  He plunged into the “melting pot” existing 40 years ago and famously succeeded.  During his lifetime, however, “the number of Bangladeshi-born immigrants in the New York area rose from roughly one thousand to more than seventy thousand” (p. 75).  Unlike Salam,  all too many of these newcomers choose to separate from, rather than assimilate to, the American culture. 

Had Salam been born a few years ago he “would not have been the only kid of Bangladeshi origin in my kindergarten.  Rather, my family would’ve been part of an established ethnic community, complete with robust religious and cultural institutions. The presence of tens of thousands of other Bangladeshi immigrants would have changed my parents’ professional lives, too. They might have entered professional niches dominated by their coethnics, and their fellow Bangladeshis would have provided them with a Bengali-speaking customer base.  At the same time, my family would have had fewer interactions with people outside of our ethnic community, and it’s far less likely that I’d have had as many friends from different backgrounds.”  In fact:  “Earlier arrivals have little choice but to make their way in the broader community, as there is no ethnic enclave for them to join.  Later arrivals, in contrast, have the option of joining, and thus replenishing, already-established ethnic enclaves” (pp. 75-76).  So today the vaunted melting pot barely simmers.  But “we need it back, badly”  (p. 14).

Demographic data indicate that within a few years non-Hispanic whites will be a minority.   Immigrants have entered the nation in record numbers and are procreating, whereas “Native-born Americans are forming families later in life, if at all, and they’re having fewer children as a result.  America is thus in the middle of a birth dearth.  One consequence is that recent immigrants, with their comparatively healthy birthrates, are having an outsized impact on America’s younger generations.  One in four U.S. children under the age of eighteen has at least one foreign-born parent.  Unless native-born Americans start having many more babies, a prospect that for now seems rather remote, new immigrants and their descendants will account for almost 90 percent of all population growth between now and 2065” (pp. 32-33).  Unfortunately, most of these immigrants are poorly educated, low-income folks whose children who will likely remain ill-educated and poverty-stricken.  Thus we need “to recognize an uncomfortable truth.  High levels of low-skill immigration will make a middle-class melting pot impossible” (p. 28).  These immigrants will tend to cling to ethnic or racial distinctives and live in segregated enclaves. 

Various countries, ranging from Sweden to Singapore, have devised various ways of dealing with immigrants, who almost everywhere do the menial work disdained by their affluent hosts.  Pro-immigration advocates often urge an “open borders” policy without calculating the cost.  Anti-immigration spokesmen frequently fail to rightly value the contributions immigrants make or the need to help alleviate poverty and injustice around the world.  So how do we devise and implement the best policies for all concerned?   Salam suggests we first grant “amnesty to the long-resident unauthorized population” and then vigorously curtail all illegal immigration.  Second, we should adopt “a skills-based” system, stopping the influx poorly prepared, impoverished newcomers.  Finally, we must begin “fighting the intergenerational transmission of poverty” so evident in the children and grandchildren of immigrants.  These endeavors, Salem thinks, “will, taken together, help make America a middle-class melting pot” (p. 157).

Melting Pot or Civil War? thoughtfully, dispassionately surveys the turbulence surrounding today’s immigration discussion.  As a pro-immigrant journalist, Salam refrains from reciting the litany of pablum regarding compassion and tolerance.  Instead he helps us better understand and think wisely about the issues confronting us.

310 Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians

Throughout the past century a number of discerning thinkers have lamented the immanent demise of Western Civilization.  Thus when Jesse Jackson led Stanford University students in chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go,” he merely described a fait accompli long in the making.  One of the clairvoyant critics discerning this cultural trajectory was C.S. Lewis, who in 1954 (after long being denied promotion at Oxford) accepted an appointment to a chair created for him at Cambridge University as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature.  Many of us know Lewis as a Christian apologist, penning such classics as Mere Christianity, or as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  But he devoted much of his life to research, writing, and teaching, and one cannot understand his popular works and worldview without appreciating his deep immersion in the Medieval world.  Nor can one understand the Christian Faith he embraced without seeing its Medieval background.  Thus, concluding his inaugural lecture—“De Descriptione Temporum”—he acknowledged he was “becoming, in such halting fashion as I can, the spokesman of Old Western Culture,” and he would treasure his historian’s role, for doing so “does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians.  The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.”

Lewis then pointed out the great gap separating Cambridge undergrads from the Old Western Culture he represented.  “Wide as the chasm is,” however, “those who are native to different sides of it can still meet, are meeting in this room.”  He confessed to belonging “far more to that Old Western Order than to yours.”  Indeed, he rather resembled a dinosaur or a Neanderthaler!  Yet if one were interested in either species—and if one of them would mysteriously appear and could be tested or even talk—then, “should we not almost certainly learn from him some things about him which the best modem anthropologist could never have told us?  He would tell us without knowing he was telling.  One thing I know:  I would give a great deal to hear any ancient Athenian, even a stupid one, talking about Greek tragedy.  He would know in his bones so much that we seek in vain.  At any moment some chance phrase might, unknown to him, show us where modern scholarship had been on the wrong track for years.  Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you somewhat as that Athenian might stand.  I read as a native texts what you must read as foreigners.”  Yet  because he could speak as a native, he might “yet be useful as a specimen.  I would even dare to go further.  Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.”   Speaking thusly, C.S. Lewis clearly found much worth heeding in the Medieval World.

That position Lewis made clear in is first scholarly treatise, The Allegory of Love:  A Study in Medieval Tradition (published in 1936)—demonstrating, his biographer George Sayer says, that he “was a great literary critic” who was “without exception, highly praised by reviewers.”  He was subsequently asked to write a volume for The Oxford History of English Literature.  It took him a dozen years to research and write, but he had completed his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama when he moved to Cambridge.  This is a dense work of scholarship, of interest mainly to literary scholars, revealing Lewis’s amazing mastery of primary sources he discussed.  But his lengthy Introduction, “New Learning and New Ignorance,” detailed some of the reasons he found the Medieval World proffering perspectives worth recovering.  Certainly there was a “New Learning” evident in the 16th Century—preeminently the oft-celebrated turn to natural science.  But it was not a “new” turn to actually studying Nature, which had been widely done in the Middle Ages by men such as Roger Bacon and Albert the Great.  The “New Learning” was a philosophical turn from wondering at the majesty of Nature to controlling her!  Lewis especially stressed the “dreams of power which then haunted the European mind,” markedly evident in the work of Francis Bacon, who referred to her as “a spouse for fruit” rather than a “courtesan for pleasure.”   The “New Learning” was also distinguished by its humanistic, rather than scholastic, approach to learning.  Thus men such as Erasmus did not much concern themselves with propositional logic as with literary style, making “eloquence the sole test of learning” (p. 30).  Indeed, at Oxford in 1550 “the works of the [Medieval] scholastics were ‘cast of of college libraries’” and “publicly burned, along with mathematical books, which were suspected of being ‘Popish or diabolical’” (pp. 30-31). 

In their hatred of the Middle Ages the Humanists found allies in some English Puritans who adhered to the theology of John Calvin.  They also rejected both the Natural Law and the political philosophy espoused by Aristotle and Aquinas, preparing the soil for the Divine Right of Kings position so evident by the end of the century.  For Aquinas, kingly power “is never free and never originates.  Its business is to enforce something that is already there, something given in the divine reason or in the existing custom” (p. 48).  That view was rejected by William Tyndale, who insisted (in 1528) “that ‘The King is in this world without law and may at his own lust do right and wrong and shall give accounts to God only’” (p. 49).  Basic to the English Reformation, of course, was the autocratic exercise of power by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.  In the next century Thomas Hobbes rationalized such autocracy in his Leviathan, a book totally at odds with the Ancient and Medieval Natural Law tradition, making “political power something inventive, creative.  Its seat is transferred from the reason which humbly and patiently discerns what is right to the will which decrees what shall be right.  And this means that we are already heading, via Rousseau, Hegel” and others to “the view that each society is totally free to create its own ‘ideology’ and that its members, receiving all their moral standards from it, can of course assert no moral claim against it” (p. 50).  It will be the deranged world powerfully depicted in Lewis’s dystopia, That Hideous Strength. 

Shortly before he died, Lewis collected his lectures on Medieval and Renaissance literature in a (posthumously published) text titled The Discarded Image (Cambridge:  Cambridge university Press, c. 1964).  In his lectures he tried to portray the Medieval Model of the Universe as a “supreme work of art,” rather like the soaring gothic cathedrals at Chartres or Cologne.  He admitted  to making “no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors.  Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree” (p. 216).   Obviously it had serious deficiencies, and there is no going back to that world.  But we may, if we rightly study, find in it wisdom for today.

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Recently Chris R. Armstrong, in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids:  Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, c. 2016), takes seriously Lewis’s invitation to study the Medieval World.  Still more:  he shares G. K. Chesterton’s conviction that you could not “be a proper medievalist until you cared deeply enough about today to apply medieval insights to your own life and thinking.” We moderns actually live in a “tiny windowless universe,” brilliantly described by “G. K. Chesterton’s definition of insanity:  ‘The clean and well-lit prison of one idea.’  Our modern room is well lit by the bare bulb of science.  But of what lies beyond, we see nothing” (p. 66).  To go beyond modernity’s prison requires recovering pre-modernity! 

Providing some personal information, Armstrong (a church historian with a Ph.D. from Duke who edited Christian History for several years and now teaches at Wheaton College) tells of coming to Christ in a “wonderful” charismatic church in Nova Scotia 30 years ago.  It “was one of those modern suburban megachurches with an auditorium-like sanctuary,” and on “Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord.”  Yet his faith seemed a bit “precarious,” resting “on a foundation made up of the words of our favorite Bible passages (our ‘canon within the canon’), the sermons of our pastors, and a roster of approved visiting evangelists.  There was no sense at all of the whole mystical, historical massiveness of a church that had been around for two thousand years, no sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time, resting on such giants in the faith as John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch . . . .   I now see that my early sense of the insecurity of the church stemmed from what J. I. Packer identifies as evangelicalism’s ‘stunted ecclesiology,’ rooted in our alienation from our own past.  Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of ‘church,’ we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as church!” (p. 46). 

In truth, Armstrong was discovering how the Protestant Reformation had effectively discarded much of “Medieval Wisdom.”  This was, in part, due to the “super-spiritualizing tendency” early evident in “the thought of Ulrich Zwingli,” who tended to denigrate “the ‘outer,’ physical life.  Only the inner and spiritual was to be trusted, not only in worship and devotion but also in the ethic of daily life:  ‘The outer, whether it meant Church-as-institution, the sacrament or ascetic practices was automatically reduced to the role of being no more than an expression (always suspect and dangerous at that) of the inner, or else was condemned outright as materialistic and idolatrous.’”  To refute Zwingli et al. Armstrong wrote this treatise!  For he wants to lead us to “what I have found to be the wisest piece of medieval wisdom:  creation and incarnation are not rote doctrines to be learned, committed to memory, and ignored in our daily practice, but rather are practical linchpins of what it means to lead a good human life in the light of the gospel” (p. 28).   He further believes, in accord with Lewis, that “the scientific revolution and its sequels—such as the Enlightenment—began to sap the material world of its spiritual and moral significance, and that this diminishment has only continued and intensified through today” p. 22).  

This diminishment was evident when 19th century American Evangelicals embraced the “immediatism” popularized by Phoebe Palmer’s The Way of Holiness.  “In it, she said about the traditional Methodist teaching of sanctification:  ‘Yes, brother, THERE IS A SHORTER WAY!’” (p. 7).  Subsequently, various preachers embraced her “optimistic creed,” declaring:  “No more would Christians have to pursue a fraught and painstaking path to holiness.”  Rather:  “By simply gathering their resolve, making a single act of consecration, and ‘standing on the promises’—certain Scripture texts that seem to hold out entire sanctification as an attainable reality—they can enjoy total freedom from sin.  This message galvanized a generation and set a tone for evangelicalism that continues to ring out today.  It may be fair to say that the teaching of a ‘shorter way to holiness,’ whether in Palmer’s more Wesleyan formulation or in the Reformed-influenced ‘higher life’ variations introduced later in the century, fueled the single most prominent and widespread movement among postbellum and Gilded Age evangelicals.  It swept across the nation’s West and South like a sanctified brushfire, birthed new denominations such as the Nazarenes and Christian & Missionary Alliance, fed the all-consuming fervor of temperance activism, and laid the groundwork for the Pentecostal movement of the following century” (p. 7).  

The roots of this message extended back to the emphasis on “heart religion” promoted by Puritan writers and illustrated in John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, wherein he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”   It was celebrated in 19th century camp meetings.  Indeed, Palmer’s prescription of immediatism ties into the “syndrome of pressurized pragmatism, which Alasdair MacIntyre has identified as the chief cause of many American ills, militating as it does against careful reflection on accumulated wisdom.”  To Armstrong, Palmer’s formulation truncated the fullness of the Christian faith and fell short of the more demanding and authentic spirituality evident in the Medieval World.  Though a Methodist, Palmer unfortunately neglected some of Wesley’s repeated emphases, for he insisted “that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the ‘porch’ or the ‘door’ into the Christian life.  The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness.  Wesley has a favorite phrase to explain holiness.  He says it is ‘having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.’  Achieving that steady character in ourselves requires, in the motto Eugene Peterson borrows from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), ‘a long obedience in the same direction’” (p. 222). 

To correct serious deficits in this tradition, Armstrong urges us to return to “the Middle Ages with Lewis’s guidance” and recover the fullness of the Christian Faith.  To do so we must challenge “‘immediatism’ in two ways.  First, we must return the authoritative interpretation of Scripture to the Church, removing it from purely individual reason and experience.  To desire to learn from the cloud of witnesses or ‘church triumphant’—those on whose shoulders we stand—is to shift authority back to the older style, weighting Scripture-read-through-tradition more heavily than the dictates of our own freely exercised reason and experience” (p. 11).  Second, we must return to liturgical worship services conducted by a priestly clergy.   As Lewis aged, he increasingly “turned to the early and medieval catholic traditions revived and preserved in high-church Anglicanism.”  He began going to confession and found “the experience was like a tonic to his soul.”  He came to love the “liturgy, the 1662 Prayer Book, the Daily Office, and praying through the Psalter each month.”  He came to believe the Eucharist is more than a mere memorial and “‘found himself able to ‘experience Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament’” (p. 39).

Lewis was, obviously, immersed in and enamored by Tradition!  He loved the “old books” and urged people to read and re-read them.  He “wanted to stand in the gap of cataclysmic cultural loss, to bring “the tradition” back to the people” (p. 56).   He particularly treasured the Medieval emphasis on the Natural Law, as is evident to any reading Mere Christianity or The Abolition of Man, saying:  “‘Aristotle had assumed it, and Plato.  Cicero had spoken of it when he called it the law that is not written down.  When St. Paul wrote that even the Gentiles knew that certain kinds of behavior were wrong, he was appealing to natural law.  This same idea informed the thought of St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas in the thirteenth, and influenced Anglicanism at its origin through Richard Hooker’s [scholastically framed] Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’” (p. 51).   Indeed, in the last essay he wrote for publication (“We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’”) Lewis declared the Natural Law “to be basic to civilization.” 

One of the things Lewis loved about Medieval Christian Culture was its celebration of Reason and the life of the mind and “‘could not [said his friend Owen Barfield] help trying to live by what he thought’” (p. 73).   As Lewis noted in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, his “conversion” was almost “purely philosophical” in nature.  Deeply read in Medieval theology, he understood its grandeur and drank deeply from masters such as Thomas Aquinas.  Armstrong argues “that in everything he wrote, whether nonfiction or fiction, Lewis wrote first of all as a Christian moral philosopher.  And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to add that he was a medieval Christian moral philosopher” (p. 98).  As he began his Christian journey, Armstrong learned that Luther and many Reformers had severed moral behavior and spiritual discipline from justification by faith alone.  “Luther taught ‘imputed righteousness’:  being covered by the blood of Christ, making up for our complete inability to be good.”  Subsequently “critics said this teaching led to ‘antinomianism,’ a fifty-dollar word for moral lawlessness.”  Four hundred years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer “identified in his Lutheran church this same suspicion of any Christian effort toward righteousness—he called it ‘cheap grace’” (p. 95)   Consequently a “conundrum” persists:  “how to train believers in moral good while also teaching a radical message of grace still plagues evangelical Protestantism.  Protestants have fallen so in love with the message of grace and have so spiritualized their faith that questions of morality—at least the morality of public, communal life—have receded from view.  As the late Dallas Willard described many modern believers, we are ‘not only saved by grace [but] paralyzed by it’” (p. 96).  Or, as Richard Lovelace says, there is a “sanctification gap” in evangelical ranks.  

Armstrong argues we need to recover the “sacramental spirituality” evident in 13th luminaries such as Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, who all saw the world as theomorphic, or God-shaped.  “Sacramentalism is the concept that the outward and visible can convey the inward and spiritual.  Physical matters and actions can become transparent vehicles of divine activity and presence.  In short, material things can be God’s love made visible” (p. 143).  Sacramentalists think “all creation is in some sense a reflection of the Creator,” for He is everywhere, always present in His world.  Still more, in beholding the beauty of creation, Lewis said:  “‘We do not want merely to see beauty . . . .  We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it’” (p. 145).  

On the basis of his examination of Medieval Wisdom in C.S. Lewis, Armstrong concludes there is a tall wall separating “modern Protestants” from Medieval sacramentalism.  We have, he thinks lost much of our rightful heritage—the “incarnational faith” intrinsic to it.  “I’ve suggested,” he says, “one quite formidable aspect of that wall for evangelicals—our immediatism.  But the barrier stretches back much farther in history.  In a crucial (quite literally) sixteenth-century moment, a central symbol of the incarnation was removed forcibly from the church.  This was the point at which some zealous Reformers went beyond tearing down paintings and smashing statues to take the very body of Christ off of the crucifix—thus (they thought) defending the church against idolatrous images and defending the resurrection.  Left behind was (arguably) only an abstract symbol of a judicial transaction.  The difference between worshiping in a space where there is no body of Christ on the cross and worshiping in a space where there is a body of Christ on the cross is that in the latter space worshipers cannot ignore the humanity of Christ—nor, thus, of themselves.  In that space, our humanity—bodiliness, affectivity, rationality, community, society, culture—always stands (no, hangs) before us in the person of, the body of, the humanity of Jesus Christ the Lord. In a sense, this entire book tells the story of what happens when we lose our hold on the incarnation” (pp. 208-209). 

Could we regain our hold in the incarnation and put “the ‘body’ back into our understanding of Christ and his church,” we could “recapture the wisdom and truth” in both Tradition and Scripture.  “Tradition is nothing less than wisdom and truth passed down from generation to generation throughout history.  How apt is this?  Christianity is at its core not a list of timeless principles or abstract teachings.  It is uniquely a historical religion, based on a historical person and the words of two “testaments” that are full of historical accounts. Nineteenth-century liberal theologians liked to talk about the ‘essence of Christianity’—usually little more than a set of ethical teachings summarized under the rubric ‘the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man’—that needed to be extricated from the centuries of errant doctrines and practices of a church that never seemed to get it right.  . . . .  But there is no ‘essence’ that is not clothed in history, lived out bodily by God incarnate, and then lived out by ‘his body,’ the human beings whom he has constituted ever since as his church.  Christianity is all about the incarnation of God’s Second Person as a first-century Jew from Nazareth, and then the incarnation of his truth in his living, embodied disciples in all ages and places” (pp. 210-211). 

Armstrong’s treatise bears the stamp of a zealous convert, overemphasizing truths he finds crucial.  But in stating his case he helps us become more mindful of great treasures too often neglected by our tradition-less contemporary church culture.  And as always, works focused on Lewis are quite worthwhile! 

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In 1978, conference instigator Robert Webber began his groundbreaking Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity by throwing down the gauntlet: “My argument is that the era of the early church (AD 100–500), and particularly the second century, contains insights which evangelicals need to recover.”

Armstrong, Chris R.. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He cited Aquinas repeatedly in The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image and concludes his Letters to Malcolm by saying observes that the “most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking,” in accord with Aquinas, who said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’” (p. 40).  Yet we who read Aquinas—or Lewis—remain forever indebted to the rigor and clarity of their thought.

Lewis repeatedly critiqued distinctive Reformed positions regarding holiness and the freedom of the will, “a crucial part of Lewis’s anthropology and his case for hewing to the morality of the Western (Christian) tradition. . . .  The choices we make on earth have transcendent, cosmic, and divine (or infernal) consequences” (p. 195), a message wondrously illustrated in The Great Divorce.  “In his early spiritual autobiography, The Pilgrims Regress (1933), Lewis shows a ‘Landlord’ (God) who makes rules not just for a particular religious tribe but for all people.  Christianity innovated morally only by teaching that the redemption purchased for us by Christ brings the Writer of the rules into our hearts, thus helping us to keep them”—  important “assumptions [that] thoroughly suffused ancient and medieval culture:  ‘Aristotle had assumed it, and Plato.  Cicero had spoken of it when he called it the law that is not written down. When St. Paul wrote that even the Gentiles knew that certain kinds of behavior were wrong, he was appealing to natural law.  This same idea informed the thought of St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas in the thirteenth’” (pp. 99-100).   His friend, Dorothy Sayers, translating Dante, endorsed the Medieval Wisdom Lewis promoted, “saying:  ‘We must also be prepared, while we are reading Dante, to abandon any idea that we are the slaves of chance, or environment, or our subconscious; any vague notion that good and evil are merely relative terms, or that conduct and opinion do not really matter; any comfortable persuasion that, however shiftlessly we muddle through life, it will somehow or other all come right.’  We must, in other words, truly believe in God’s gift to us of free will, for ‘The Divine Comedy is precisely the drama of the soul’s choice’” (p. 116). 

 Lewis “clearly recognized that the Christian warrant for traveling the Affirmative Way, encountering the material world as a place rich with sacramental meaning,” and “he very famously taught that our natural desires—our yearning, which is triggered by our experiences of what is good and beautiful in the world—can lead us toward God.  Indeed, he insisted that he came to God in this way, so that he called himself an ‘empirical theist’” (p. 163).  In his sermon “Transposition” he stressed that as physical beings we “finally have no other conduit to the divine besides our bodies and our senses” (p. 203). 

309 Hitler’s Ethics, Philosophers, Doctors

When driven to illustrate utter evil in history, many of us simply point to Adolph Hitler.  Then, trying explain why he was so depraved, we easily employ therapeutic terms, labeling him an irresponsible “madman” or a puppet dancing to sociological or economic machinations.  But in Hitler’s Ethic:  The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York:  Palagrave Macmillan, c. 2009) Richard Weikart, a professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, endeavors to demonstrate “the surprising conclusion that Hitler’s immorality was not the product of ignoring or rejecting ethics, but rather came from embracing a coherent—albeit pernicious—ethic.  Hitler was inspired by evolutionary ethics to pursue the utopian project of improving the human race.  He really was committed to deeply rooted convictions about ethics and morality that shaped his policies.  Evolutionary ethics underlay or influenced almost every major feature of Nazi policy:  eugenics (i.e., measures to improve human heredity, including compulsory sterilization), euthanasia, racism, population expansion, offensive warfare, and racial extermination.  The drive to foster evolutionary progress—and to avoid biological degeneration—was fundamental to Hitler’s ideology and policies” (p. 2).  Indeed, as Fritz Lenz (an influential geneticist favored by Hitler) explained:  Nazism was simply “applied biology.”  

Though Hitler was hardly a profound thinker, he read extensively and by 1923 began setting forth a coherent political agenda, studding his speeches with references to (and quotations from) significant German philosophers and scientists.  In 1934, at a Nuremburg Party rally he insisted that “National Socialism is a worldview [weltanschauung]” (p. 28).  (The New Cassell’s German Dictionary says the word Hitler used—weltanschauung—means “philosophy of life, world outlook, creed, ideology”).   He further “posed as a moral crusader gallantly battling the forces of iniquity, corruption, and even deceit” (p. 17).  And he never hesitated to extol traditional—and very Christian—virtues such as duty, loyalty, honesty, sexual purity, etc., when they suited his purposes.  As he garnered support in the 1920s he especially touted himself as a “truth-teller” exposing those whom Schopenhauer had called “the great masters in lying,” the Jews.  (In fact, as was evident in his skillful propaganda, Hitler was himself 9a masterful liar!)     To him, lying was justifiable if it helped establish his weltanschauung—especially his devotion  to evolutionary progress and the ultimate triumph of the German Volk.  Indeed, his “highest priority in life was to improve the human species, to advance evolution” (p. 83).  As Mein Kampf (the autobiography he wrote in prison) asserted, all of life is a biological battle, and only the fittest survive.  Therein he frequently cited some of Darwin’s phrases—“struggle for existence,” “struggle for life,” and “natural selection.”  Such phrases had regularly appeared in The Descent of Man, where Darwin asserted:  “‘Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence . . . and if he is to advance still higher he must remain subject to a severe struggle’” (p. 35).  In his Table Talks and speeches Hitler celebrated evolutionary theory and “presented biological struggle in the evolutionary process as a central tenet of Nazism” (p. 38).  This particularly applied to the “racial struggle” validating the superiority of Aryan or Nordic peoples.  “Helping Aryans win the struggle for existence against other races was crucial to achieving his vision.  Morality itself was measured by whether or not it benefitted the German people in their struggle” (p. 83).  Popular books such as the Comte de Gobineau’s The Inequality of the Human Races, praised by eminent biologists including Ernst Haeckel, undergirded Hitler’s racist agenda.  Though he certainly despised the Jews, Hitler equally scorned Africans, Asians and American Indians.  As he declared in Mein Kampf:  “‘All who are not of good race in this world are chaff’” (p. 69). 

Hitler’s racism shaped the “national socialism” he championed.  As a socialist he disdained the individualism of capitalist countries such as the United States, seeking to turn the “German Volk into a true socialist community’” (p. 104).  Thus, as soon as he took control of the country, he launched annual Winter Relief Drives designed to help poor Germans—but not “asocial” vagrants, prostitutes, criminals et al.  He envisioned and supervised extensive public works, including the celebrated autobahns, designed to help everyone.  The Nazis—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—also endeavored to provide full employment for all Germans.  To Hitler, socialism meant “‘not the solution of the labor question, but rather the ordering of all German racial comrades into a genuine living community; it means the preservation and further evolution of the Volk on the basis of the species-specific laws of evolution’” (p. 111).  He shared the view of August Weismann, a famous Darwinian biologist, who believed that “‘only the interest of the species comes into consideration, not that of the individual’” (p. 114).  

Racist ideology obviously required the sexual ethic which Hitler carefully articulated.  In 1937 he declared:  “‘we are laying claim to leadership of the Volk, i.e. we alone are authorized to lead the Volk as such—that means every man and every woman.  The lifelong relationships between the sexes is something we will regulate.  We shall form the child!’” (p. 121-22).  Ever-more Aryan children were needed to populate an ever-expansive Reich!  Consequently, he said:  “‘there is only one holiest human right, and this right is at the same time the holiest obligation, to wit:  to see to it that the blood is preserved pure and, by preserving the best humanity, to create the possibility of a nobler evolution of these beings’” (p. 141).  So he opposed birth control and abortion, celebrated large families, and often portrayed himself as a staunch defender of traditional family values and morality.  Yet, paradoxically, he also approved extramarital sexual affairs and even toyed with the idea of polygamy if such activity birthed more (and genetically better) Germans.  When the war broke out in 1939, Himmler issued a Hitler-approved order which said:  “‘Beyond the boundaries of perhaps otherwise still necessary bourgeois laws and customs it will also outside of marriage be an important responsibility for German women and girls of good blood, not lightly, but rather in profound moral seriousness, to become the mothers of children of soldiers who are going to the front and of whom fate alone knows whether they will return or fall in battle for Germany’” (p. 133).  

Along with breeding more healthy Aryan children, the Nazis targeted the incurably sick and disabled for extermination.  They didn’t deserve to live longer—as, indeed, Karl Binding (a lawyer) and Alfred Hoche (a psychiatrist) had argued in their notorious, but widely-circulated 1920 treatise, Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life.  Learned physicians assured Hitler that infants were not fully human, for “‘when a child is born, it is not really fully matured . . .  But if that is so, then the infant does not actually take its place in human society until several months after its birth’” (p. 185).  Germany’s medical personnel ultimately killed 200,000 disabled “patients” in the nation’s care facilities.  Explaining this, the historian Hans-Walter Schmuhl said:  “‘The racial-hygiene paradigm constituted an ethic of a new type, which was ostensibly grounded scientifically in Darwinian biology.’”  By discarding the Judeo-Christian tradition and “‘giving up the conception of humans as the image of God through the Darwinian theory, human life was construed as a piece of property, that—contrary to the idea of a natural right to life—could be weighed against other pieces of property’” (p. 180). 

Killing Jews, though the best known aspect of Hitler’s racist agenda, actually began two years after the outbreak of WWII, in the final months of 1941.  Prior to that, deportation rather than extermination has been the official Nazi position.  “Hitler’s evolutionary ethic did not require killing.  He could have merely sterilized the disabled and deported the Jews.  This would have accomplished his goals of expanding the Germany population, strengthening the Aryan race by eliminating ‘inferior’ individuals and races, and expanding German living space.  However, even though killing may not have been required by Hitler’s evolutionary ethic, Darwinism contributed nonetheless to the death of the disabled and Jews.”  As Christopher Hutton, concluding his book on Nazi racism, said:   “‘All the key elements of this [Nazi] world-view had been constructed and repeatedly reaffirmed by linguists, racial anthropologists, evolutionary scientists and geneticists.  Ludwig Plate [a Darwinian biologist at the University of Jena] observed that “progress in evolution goes forward over millions of dead bodies” . . .  For Nazism, survival in evolution required the genocide of the Jews’” (pp. 194-195).    

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In Hitler’s Philosophers (New Haven:  Yale University Press, c. 2013), Yvonne Sherratt endeavors to unveil “the sinister past of many German philosophers” which has been effectively buried by their protégés.  Though the book “is a work of non-fiction, carefully researched, based upon archival material, [and] letters . . . which have all been meticulously referenced,” it “is written in a narrative style, which aims to transport the reader to a vivid and dangerous world of 1930s Germany” (p. xx).  

Philosophy occupies a prominent place in German culture, granting professional philosophers a celebrity status.  Thus Hitler liked to invoke legendary thinkers such as Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  He even sought to portray himself, in Mein Kampf, as the “philosopher Fuhrer.”  For example, a well-known quotation from Schiller’s William Tell—“the strong man is mightiest alone”—served as a chapter title in Mein Kampf  and became his motto during his later years as the Fuhrer” (p. 21).    He especially claimed to embrace to the “critical philosophy” of Immanuel Kant, saying:  “‘Kant’s complete refutation of the teachings which were the heritage of the middle ages, and of the dogmatic philosophy of the church, is the greatest of the services which Kant has rendered to us’” (p. 20).  Though Kant certainly seems to be an implausible figure to indwell the Nazi pantheon, he represented for

Hitler a repudiation of the past, with its irrational superstitions and religious prejudices.  And, importantly,  Kant disparaged Judaism, “labeling Jews as a body superstitious, primitive and irrational.”  Indeed he declared Judaism was not even a bona fide religion “but merely a community of a mass of men of one tribe’” (p. 39).  Jews were innately dishonest and had “no right to an independent existence” (p. 40).   Following Kant, three 19th century thinkers—Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche—became “the ‘philosophical triumvirate of national Socialism’” (p. 23).  Schopenhauer effectively extended Kant’s insights and, importantly, “glorified Will over Reason,” as would Nietzsche, the philosopher most frequently cited in Hitler’s speeches.  Hitler claimed he read Nietzsche’s works while in prison, and he “‘often visited the Nietzsche museum in Weimar . . . posing for photographs of himself staring in rapture at the bust of the great man’” (p. 236).  In 1934 he met Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, who gave him “one of Nietzsche’s most personal possessions’—his last walking stick (p. 26).  “From that day on the Nietzsche catchphrases were everywhere, Wille zur Macht, Herrenvolk, Sklavenmoral—the fight for the heroic life, against formal deadweight education, against Christian ethics of compassion.” (p. 26).  

There’s no mystery as to why Hitler would be drawn to Nietzsche, for his most noted work was “Zarathustra, in which he had coined the idea of the ‘Superman.’”  During the First World War 150,000 copies of the book were “handed out to German soldiers at the front.  A London broadcaster even went so far as to dub the war the ‘Euro-Nietzschean War,’ and the best selling English novelist of the time, Thomas Hardy, claimed in a letter to the Daily Mail that there was ‘no instance since history began of a country being so demoralized by one single writer’” (p. 50).  Nietzsche’s sister selected and published passages from his works, including his “discussion on the possibilities of selective breeding and of educating a ruling caste, ‘the masters of the earth’, ‘tyrants who can work as artists on “man” himself” (p. 50).  When she met Hitler in 1934, she would likely have shown him such passages, and her portrayal of “Nietzsche seemed to supply just of the needs of the Third Reich—there was a zeal for war, a dash of anti-Semitism, the ‘Superman’ and nationalism” (p. 51).  

Hitler He claimed to have read “everything he could get hold of,” including Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, though it’s clear he mainly devoured and absorbed racialist and nationalist tomes composed by writers such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Heinrich von Treitschke, and Oswald Spengler.  Above all, he found in Charles Darwin one of his “most crucial influences” (p. 53).  Darwin’s evolutionary thought swept through Germany under the guidance of the “enormously influential zoologist and social philosopher

Ernst Haeckel,” whose books “vastly outsold Darwin’s” (p. 54).  “Nature is God” Haeckel declared, and Nature, through natural selection, had elevated the Aryan race.  Following Haeckel, scores of German scholars propounded his version of Social Darwinism, many of them serving as “collaborators” helping the Nazis gain control of universities and various cultural institutions in the ‘30s.  

The most prestigious philosopher actively lending his support to Hitler was Martin Heidegger, a Freiburg University professor.  That he was deeply influenced by Nietzsche must be noted, for the two of them have profoundly shaped 20th century philosophical and literary thought.  To Sherratt, Heidegger was “Hitler’s Superman.”  He had studied with Edmund Husserl, the noted phenomenologist, and enjoyed his patronage as he established his reputation as a world-class philosopher.  Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and was named rector of the University of Freiberg soon thereafter.  Though he resigned as rector within a year, he maintained his Party membership until 1945, and his commitment to National Socialism seems inseparable from with his philosophy.  He “heralded the Third Reich as ‘the construction of a new intellectual and spiritual world for the German nation,’” adding that the “‘construction of National Socialism has now become the single most important task for the German universities’” (p. 106).  He thought no Christian should be appointed to a university lectureship, for traditional morality needed to be consigned to the trash bin of history.  Students were drawn to him and subsequently spread his version of atheistic existentialism, including a disdain for Christian and humanist ideas.

Though some Jewish (e.g. Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Hannah Arendt) and Christian (e.g. Dietrich von Hildebrand) philosophers fled Germany in the 1930s and opposed Hitler, very few who remained in the country did so.  The notable exception highlighted by Sherratt was Kurt Huber, a devout Roman Catholic and popular professor at Munich University, who taught musicology as well as philosophy. 

He had been appointed to a prestigious Chair for the Institute of Folk Music at the University of Berlin in 1938, but he refused to toe the Party line and was soon dismissed, though he regained his position in Munich.  He used his lectures on Kant, Spinoza, and Leibniz to subtly criticize der Fuhrer, and he ultimately joined a secret student group (the White Rose resistance society) dedicated to distributing subversive pamphlets.  In time he would be arrested and executed—a “martyr” in Sherratt’s view.  

 Almost as soon as the Allies conquered Germany they conducted the Nuremberg Trials and sought to bring leading Nazis to justice.  One of the “criminals” sentenced to death was Alfred Rosenberg, who had played a leading role in Hitler’s administration, largely because he had written the Myth of the Twentieth Century, which had been, “along with Mein Kampf, the ultimate Nazi bible” (p. 232).  But almost none of the scores of philosophers who had supported Hitler suffered anything more than transient disciplinary measures in their universities.  Though Martin Heidegger was investigated, he successfully “reconstructed his life and career from 1933 to 1945 as one of minimal involvement with the Third Reich” (p. 244).  He managed to reestablish himself as a leader in the European academic world and gained assistance from a most unlikely source—Hannah Arendt, his former student and lover.  Though she was Jewish and had fled to America during the war and had denounced him as a “murderous monster” for his Nazi views, she revisited him in 1950 and abruptly decided to champion his rehabilitation.  Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre, deeply reliant upon Heidegger’s philosophical work, ignored his Nazi activities and “firmly helped to reestablish Heidegger on the post-war stage” (p. 248).  Subsequently Heidegger traveled widely, giving lectures, and greatly influenced many currents of contemporary thought, especially “post-modernism.”  In light of all this, Sherratt seriously questions the academy’s adulation of Nietzsche, Heidegger et al.  So too we should seriously doubt the value of much that passes as “Postmodernism.”   

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Robert Jay Lifton, in The Nazi Doctors:  Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York:  BasicBooks, c. 1986), probed, by conducting interviews with both doctors and survivors as well as researching thousands of documents, one of the true mysteries of iniquity—how highly trained and skilled medical doctors (allegedly committed to saving lives) cooperated with the Nazi’s genocidal policies.  Surprisingly, a number of “prisoner doctors” played an important role in running Auschwitz.  These were (generally Jewish and frequently female) medical doctors sent to the camps who assisted the SS doctors.  They often worked as orderlies or nurses, and many of them heroically sought to help other inmates as much as possible, appearing to collaborate while “actually using their position to save as many people as possible” (p. 218).  Still more:  they differentiated between the truly evil and somewhat “better” Nazis who tried to help inmates and were markedly sorrowful as they carried out their orders.  

As one expects from a psychiatrist, Lifton cites many “case studies” and crafts telling illustrations.  He is deeply concerned with medial ethics and confesses that “nothing is darker or more menacing, or harder to accept, that the participation of physicians in mass murder” (p. 3).  Amazingly enough, the doctors he interviewed tried to “present themselves to me as decent people who tried to make the best of a bad situation” and failed (or refused) to make any “clear ethical evaluation of what he had done” (p. 8).  To the extent they did so, it was to rationalize their activities, employing therapeutic language.  They immersed themselves in “medical science” as a “means of avoiding awareness of, and guilt over, their participation in a murderous project” (p. 61).  Thus Dr. Fritz Klein said:  “‘Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life.  And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body.  The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind’” (p. 16).  

The program the Nazis designed to remove gangrenous people was called “euthanasia,” eliminating those deemed “unworthy” to live.  They first implemented the coercive sterilization of “defectives,” for “only the healthy” should procreate.  Then they began killing “impaired” children, for it initially seemed easier to eliminate newborns or young children than larger humans.  Next “impaired” adults, whether mentally or physically disabled, were “put to sleep.”  They also culled out undesirable or “morally inferior” inmates in concentration camps.  Finally came the mass killings in camps such as Auschwitz, whose “primary function” was to kill Jews.  Here the doctors were essential.  They decided, as prisoners were unloaded from the trains, which ones would be immediately sent to the killing centers.  They determined when inmates were not longer useful as laborers and ready to be gassed.  They selected, as did Dr Josef Mengele (doing “scientific” studies on twins), some who would be momentarily spared and used for medical experiments.  As one Auschwitz prisoner doctor remembered:  “‘They [the SS doctors] did their work just as someone who goes to an office goes about his work.  They were gentlemen who came and went, who supervised and were relaxed, sometimes smiling, sometimes joking, but never unhappy.  They were witty if they felt like it.  Personally I did not get the impression that they were much affected by what was going on—nor shocked.  It went on for years.  It was not just one day’” (p. 193).   

They were not monsters, nor even “sadists” as we understand the term.  They were, in fact, rather “normal” human beings.  But they did enormous evil, and what obviously guided and sustained them was their commitment to Nazi ideology—Hitler’s Ethic—with its racist components rooted in a naturalistic, evolutionary, Darwinian ethos.