Sound Thinking

2 Jul

The Bible’s “warfare worldview” and our “worldview warfare”

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/02/21

David K. Naugle on the high stakes in sustaining the truth about reality

On Volume 60 of the Journal, I talked with David K. Naugle about his award-winning 2002 book, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans). Most of that book examines the history in question in philosophy and the social sciences. In a late chapter, Naugle offered “Theological Reflections on ‘Worldview’,” which included some discussion of “Issues of Sin and Spiritual Warfare.” That section of the book begins with a long discussion of Romans 1:18–32, which is followed by these paragraphs:

“Romans 1 paints a disturbing picture, yet it seems true to life. From Paul’s perspective the human heart is intuitively aware of God and the manifestation of his power and glory in his handiwork. But because of sin-induced corruption, it disregards this intuitive awareness. Yet its native religious impulses prompt it nonetheless to manufacture alternative faiths and philosophies in place of God and the truth. It reconceives religion and reinvents reality industriously, and is responsible for the existence of a multitude of fallacious worldviews in any culture at any time. But these bogus visions of the heart are subject to a forthright apostolic critique. They are an exercise in speculative futility. They cast men and women into profound spiritual ignorance. They are confused with wisdom (and vice versa). They terminate in moral reprobation as divine judgment. These idolatrously based belief systems, in their futility, darkness, foolishness, and depravity, make up what the New Testament calls ‘worldliness.’ As Craig Gay asks, could it not be true that ‘worldliness rests not so much in personal temptations to debauchery, but instead lies in ‘an interpretation of reality that essentially excludes the reality of God from the business of life’? In other words, worldly behavior is the eventual outcome of worldly views that dot the cultural landscape. Therefore, the origin and multiplicity of relativistic worldviews are rooted in the depravity of the human heart as explained by the theology of Romans 1.

“This picture of the human condition is intensified by the fact that the Bible reveals that the entire creation and its human stewards are caught up in the midst of a spiritual war of cosmic proportions. It pits God and the forces of good against Satan and the powers of evil. These finite powers that insanely oppose the infinite God were originally made by him and had to be good, even as he is good. Romans 8:38–39 indicates that angels, principalities, and powers are among the divinely ‘created things.’ Colossians 1:16 teaches that Christ as the agent of creation is responsible for the existence of the entire cosmos, including ‘thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.’ In short, God through Christ created the whole realm of reality, including the company of the angels. Though they received their being, purpose, and power from God, these spiritual creatures turned against him in a mysterious and monstrous act of pride and rebellion (e.g., Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:11–19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Motivated by fierce animosity, they became his resolute enemies, intent upon subverting his divine authority and destroying all his works. They are good creatures gone bad, and now in an attempt to certify their autonomy they engage God and the angels of light in a fierce fight for universal domination. As the pinnacle of God’s creative work, the human family is directly implicated in this battle of the ages. Not only are all people affected by it — caught in its crossfire, so to speak — but they are also participants in it, aligning themselves consciously or unconsciously with and fighting for one side or the other, depending upon their spiritual orientation. Thus humankind has to struggle not only with an inherited internal depravity, but also with temptations and assaults from without that reinforce their fallen condition. How difficult it is, therefore, to know God and view the world aright!

“Under the vice [sic] grip of the disenchanted worldview of modern naturalism and scientism, many have relegated this scriptural depiction of angels, Satan, the demons, and spiritual warfare to ‘the dustbin of superstition.’ There is no doubt, however, that what Gregory Boyd aptly calls ‘a warfare worldview’ permeates biblical revelation, is foundational to its message, and has been essential to Christian theology throughout the history of the church. Marshaling impressive evidence from cultures worldwide, Boyd [in his 1997 book God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict] demonstrates that Western secularism is perilously unique in its elimination of the ‘warfare worldview’ from its cultural consciousness, especially its biblical version, which he describes in these terms: ‘God's good creation has in fact been seized by hostile, evil, cosmic forces that are seeking to destroy God’s beneficent plan for the cosmos. God wages war against these forces, however, and through the person of Jesus Christ has now secured the overthrow of this evil cosmic army. The church is the body of Christ has been called to be a decisive means by which this final overthrow is to be carried out.’

“‘The world is a battle zone,’ Boyd says, and that ‘is why it looks that way!’ Now assuming the veracity of this perspective, I submit that central to the ‘warfare worldview’ of the Bible is a ‘worldview warfare.’ A worldview warfare is a warfare over worldviews; that is, a megabattle between the forces of light and darkness over the identity or definition of the universe. A key stratagem of the devil, who is the father of lies (John 8:44), is to conceal the true nature of things through the proliferation of multiple cosmic falsehoods in order to secure the blindness of the human heart and its ultimate spiritual perdition (2 Cor. 4: 3–4). In the conflagration that has engulfed the universe, the truth about reality is satanically enshrouded in darkness, and a multitude of idolatries and fallacious conceptions of life, counterfeiting as wisdom and enlightenment, are put in its place. The truths about God, creation, fall, and redemption must forever be banished from human consciousness. What better way for Satan to deflect the light of truth than by corrupting it and replacing it with false visions of realty that dominate the cultural landscape? The control of the zeitgeist, or the intellectual and spiritual climate of the age, is a most effective means of controlling what goes into the hearts of men and women, shaping their interests and ruling their lives. Worldviews are the basis for a zeitgeist and are at the center of this process. If this big-picture strategy succeeds, then there is only an occasional need for personal temptation to sin. How people get their jollies is of little interest to Satan if he has already captured and misdirected their hearts.

“This proposal that a ‘worldview warfare’ is a critical component of the ‘warfare worldview’ of the Bible has been supported in an influential way by Heinrich Schlier [in his 1961 book Principalities and Powers in the New Testament]. On the basis of Ephesians 2:2, he proposes that a worldview, or what he calls the ‘spiritual atmosphere’ of a culture, is the ‘principal source of his [Satan’s] domination.’ In this text, he believes the meaning of the word ‘air’ in the expression ‘the prince of the power of the air’ is best interpreted appositively by the phrase following it, ‘of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.’ Thus he suggests that the ‘air’ is not only the literal realm in which Satan exercises his powers (in accordance with Jewish understanding), but it also refers in context to the universal spirit which fosters rebellion and unbelievers. Therefore Schlier thinks it has significant sociocultural meaning. ‘It is the general spiritual climate which influences mankind, in which men live, which they breathe, which dominates their thoughts, aspirations and deeds. He [Satan] exercises his ‘influence’ over man by means of the spiritual atmosphere which he dominates and uses as the medium of his power. He gains power over men and penetrates them by means of this atmosphere, which is his realm, the realm of his power. If men expose themselves to this atmosphere, they become its carriers, and therefore contribute to its extension.’

“Ephesians 6:12 would seem to reinforce this interpretation with its reference to the struggle ‘against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ Also, in 1 Corinthians 2:6 Paul implies that there is a wisdom of this age and of the rulers of this age which stands in sharp contrast to the divine wisdom in Christ which he proclaims. Schlier notes, however, that this is not the devil’s exclusive method of control, for he attacks natural life at every level and can even inflict physical harm quite apart from such socio-spiritual concerns. Still he is convinced, based on the authority of the apostle, that the ‘spiritual atmosphere’ is Satan’s principal source of domination, a concept which functions very much like a Weltanschauung.”

18 Jun

Man and woman as created realities

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/18/21

Pope Benedixt XVI on “gender” and the devaluation of the family

On December 21, 2012, less than two months before announcing that he would step down from the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI gave a brief address to the Roman Curia. In anticipation of Christmas — the miraculous formation of the Holy Family — he spoke of some of the challenges facing the Church in the world. He spoke of the various dialogues in which the Church was engaged, “dialogue with states, dialogue with society — which includes dialogue with cultures and with science — and finally dialogue with religions.” He also spoke of the critical need to articulate with confidence the ontological links between human dignity, creaturehood, sexuality, and the family. He inisted that “the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself — about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.” Here is a paragraph from that address:

“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes so’ (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

The complete text for Pope Benedict’s address is available here.

17 Jun

The abolition of men and women

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/17/21

Douglas Farrow on the anti-humanist logic of “gender”

In 2007, theologian Douglas Farrow presented readers with a slim book titled A Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage. One of the themes in those essays was “the relation between marriage and political freedom, and so also between marriage and religion; for there is no such thing as a non-religious basis for freedom. I want to contend that marriage, understood in classical Christian terms, is a bulwark of human freedom within the state and, if need be, over against it.”

In that book’s Introduction, Farrow acknowledged his identity as “a person with little inclination toward the politically correct, and with no respect whatsoever for the cowardice and apathy that today masquerade as the virtue of tolerance.” Farrow’s courage and passion were recently (in April 2020) evident in an article online titled “No More Lies: Exposing the Roots of Gender Ideology.” 

Farrow — Professor of Theology and Ethics at McGill University in Montreal — observes that the cultural revolution which began as a defiant defense of “free love” has rapidly descended  to “a denial of the goodness and even the importance of the body. It has been led, by its own internal logic, to the current ‘trans’ phenomenon, in which personal identity is said to be created or recreated by the individual agent acting independently of and, if necessary, in opposition to the body. 

“The revolution, in other words, has moved on from licensing sexual liaisons to suppressing the very idea of sex, and with it any coherent thought of the species qua species. We are not animals, after all, which (we said) must obey animal instincts and urges. No, we are almost angels, which do not require bodies. Since we presently have them, however, we will force them to do our bidding.

“This is the thinking, not only of the transgenderist, but also of the transhumanist. As Steve Fuller admits in Humanity 2.0, the latter doubts whether there is anything ‘worth continuing to defend as distinctly “human”.’ Neither works with those high hopes for the human being that once grounded our civilization on the axis of faith that runs from Christmas to Easter. Both labour instead under a heavy load of self-loathing and despair, the load Christ came to lift.”

Later in the article, Farrow argues that the confusion about “gender” in the present generation (who are also, I might add, confused about the fuller meaning of “generation”) has its roots in the divorce culture defended by their parents and grandparents. “We have by our own behaviour generated sufficient insecurity in our children regarding their natural place in the world, and whether they are truly loved by those who brought them into it, for experiences of alienation to multiply and to feed off one another in chaotic fashion. This not only renders clinical work more difficult, it renders the need for compassionate solidarity with those who are suffering more likely to be misconstrued as a need to affirm their present course of action and even to celebrate their own labels for it. This no worthy clinician would ever concede as wise. Neither should we.

“Moreover, it must be recognized that we ourselves, through the underlying culture of contraception and abortion, have created the conditions for doubt about the goodness of the body and about the soul’s relation to the body. Hence also about the public institutions that, just because we are bodily — because we are rational animals and not angels — bind us together in the good life that is the social life. It must be recognized that we ourselves have created the conditions under which it is no longer acknowledged that the will of God (as Augustine says) is the essence of each created thing, but affirmed instead that one’s own will is the essence of the self and of all that concerns the self. And that affirmation cannot sustain public institutions, whether marriage or any other. It cannot sustain public space or social goods at all. It can only break them down, completely and utterly.”

Farrow’s article, published on April 25, 2020, is available online here, at the website of The Catholic World Report.

12 Jun

The obligation of prodigality

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/12/21

Daniel Bell on the logic of the “new capitalism”

“The erosion of traditional American values took place on two levels. In the realm of culture and ideas, the withering attack on small-town life as constricting and banal was first organized in the 1910s by the Young Intellectuals as a self-consciously defined group, and this attack was sustained in the next decade in the journalistic criticism of H. L. Mencken and in the sketches and novels of Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.

“But a more fundamental transformation was occurring in the social structure itself: the change in the motivations and rewards of the economic system. The rising wealth of the plutocracy, becoming evident in the Gilded Age, meant that work and accumulation were no longer ends in themselves (though they were still crucial to a John D. Rockefeller or an Andrew Carnegie), but means to consumption and display. Status and its badges, not work and the election of God, became the mark of success.

“This is a familiar process of social history with the rise of new classes, though in the past it was military predators whose scions went from spartan to sybaritic living. Yet such parvenu classes could distance themselves from the rest of society, and such social transformations often developed independently of changes in the lives of the classes below. But the real social revolution in modern society came in the 1920s, when the rise of mass production and high consumption began to transform the life of the middle class itself. In effect the Protestant ethic is a social reality and a lifestyle for the middle class was replaced by a materialistic hedonism, and the Puritan tempered by a psychological eudaemonism. But bourgeois society, justified and propelled as it had been in its earliest energies by these older ethics, could not admit easily admit to the change. It promoted a hedonistic way of life furiously — one has only to look at the transformation of advertising in the 1920s — but could not justify it. It lacked a new religion or value system to replace the old, and the result was disjunction.

“In one respect what we see here is an extraordinary historic change in human society. For thousands of years, the function of economics was to provide the daily necessities — the subsistence — of life. For various upper-class groups, economics has been the basis of status and a sumptuary style. But now, on a mass scale, economics had become geared to the demands of culture. Here, too, culture, not as expressive symbolism or moral meanings but as lifestyle, came to reign supreme.

“The ‘new capitalism’ (the phrase was first used in the 1920s) continued to demand a Protestant ethic in the area of production — that is, in the realm of work — but to stimulate a demand for pleasure and play in the area of consumption. The disjunction was bound to widen. The spread of urban life, with its variety of distractions and multiple stimuli; the new roles of women, created by the expansion of office jobs and the freer social and sexual context; the rise of a national culture through motion pictures and radio — all contributed to a loss of social authority on the part of the older value system.

“The Puritan temper might be described most simply by the term ‘delayed gratification,’ and by restraint in gratification. It is, of course, the Malthusian injunction for prudence in a world of scarcity. But the claim of the American economic system was that it had introduced abundance, and the nature of abundance is to encourage prodigality rather than prudence. A higher standard of living, not work as an end in itself, then becomes the engine of change. The glorification of plenty, rather than the bending to niggardly nature, becomes the justification of the system. But all of this was highly incongruent with the theological and sociological foundations of nineteenth-century Protestantism, which was in turn the foundation of the American value system.”

— from Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976)

Read more from Bell’s book here.

12 Jun

The moral imperative of having fun

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/12/21

Daniel Bell on the sovereignty of fun

“Van Wyck Brooks once remarked about morality in Catholic countries that as long as heavenly virtues are upheld, mundane behavior may change as it will. In America, the old Protestant heavenly virtues are largely gone, and the mundane rewards have begun to run riot. The basic American value pattern emphasized the virtue of achievement, defined as doing and making, and a man displayed his character in the quality of his work. By the 1950s, the pattern of achievement remained, but it had been redefined to emphasize status and taste. The culture was no longer concerned with how to work and achieve, but with how to spend and enjoy. Despite some continuing use of the language of the Protestant ethic, the fact was that by the 1950s American culture had become primarily hedonistic, concerned with play, fun, display, and pleasure — and, typical of things in America, in a compulsive way.

“The world of hedonism is the world of fashion, photography, advertising, television, travel. It is a world of make-believe in which one lives for expectations, for what will come rather than what is. And it must come without effort. . . .

“Nothing epitomized the hedonism of the United States better than the State of California. A cover story in Time, called ‘California: A State of Excitement,’ opened:

“‘California is virtually a nation unto itself, but it holds a strange hope, a sense of excitement — and some terror — for Americans. As most of them see it, the good, godless, gregarious pursuit of pleasure is what California is all about. The citizens of lotusland seem forever to be lolling around swimming pools, sautéing in the sun, packing across the Sierra, frolicking nude on the beaches, getting taller every year, plucking money off the trees, romping around topless, tramping through the redwoods and — when they stop to catch their breath — preening themselves on-camera before the rest of an envious world. “I have seen the future,” says the newly returned visitor from California, “and it plays.”’

“Fun morality, in consequence, displaces ‘goodness morality,’ which stressed interference with impulses. Not having fun is an occasion for self-examination: ‘What is wrong with me?’ As Dr. Wolfenstein observes: ‘Whereas gratification of forbidden impulses traditionally aroused guilt, failure to have fun now lowers one’s self-esteem.’ [The quote is from Martha Wolfenstein, “The Emergence of Fun Morality," in Mass Leisure, ed. Eric Larabee and Rolf Meyerson (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1958), p. 86.]

“Fun morality centers, in most instances, on sex. And here the seduction of the consumer has become almost total. . . .

“What this abandonment of Puritanism and the Protestant ethic does, of course, is to leave capitalism with no moral or transcendental ethic. It also emphasizes not only the disjunction between the norms of the culture and the norms of the social structure, but also an extraordinary contradiction within the social structure itself. On the one hand, the business corporation wants an individual to work hard, pursue a career, accept delayed gratification — to be, in the crude sense, an organization man. And yet, in its products and its advertisements, the corporation promises pleasure, instant joy, relaxing and letting go. One is to be ‘straight’ by day and a ‘swinger’ by night. This is self-fulfillment and self-realization!”

— from Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976)

Read more from Bell’s book here.