Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Power of Ideas #2

Serial killer Ted Bundy knew the power of ideas. Before his execution for the murder of 30 women, he explained:

  • Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self. (Christian Research Journal, Vol 33, No 2, 2010, 32)
Our ideas lead us around like a ring in a pigs snoot. If we are just the result of purposeless, naturalistic evolution from a slime mold, then there is no substantive argument against Bundy’s reasoning. There is nothing that objectively distinguishes us from a pig or even a mosquito. After all, we’re all cousins on a meaningless, valueless, unguided journey to nowhere, as evolutionist George Simpson affirmed:

  • Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.  He was not planned.  He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal…
And why should we think in terms of a moral or physical solidarity with the rest of humanity? We’re all different, and if evolution is a fact, then it stands to reason that some are more evolved than others:

  • [Evolutionist] Ernst Haeckel nudged the racism of the Third Reich along its malignant road by suggesting that …”You must draw [a line] between the most highly developed civilized people on the one hand and the crudest primitive people on the other and unite the latter with animals.”(Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin, 76)
If we evolved from lower forms, we cannot censure Haeckel for uniting the “crudest primitive people” with their primate ancestors and treating them accordingly. We put primates in zoos, experiment on them, and even eat them.

Well, what were the consequences of these ideas? Evolutionist Giberson admits:

  • How shocking it is today to acknowledge that virtually every educated person in the Western culture at the time …shared Haeckel’s ideas. Countless atrocities around the globe were rationalized by the belief that superior races were improving the planet by exterminating defective element.
Our beliefs are not without their consequences. The Book of Proverbs warned that we are what we think (23:7), and our thoughts are full of powerful ideas. We inhale them as we clothe ourselves with our culture. They are as inseparable from our culture as water drops from a flood or a tidal wave.

It requires wisdom to tease these drops apart to examine how they comprise the whole – how our thoughts make the man:

  • Counsel [also thoughts] in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Proverbs 20:5; KJV)
If we are the way we think, then we would do well to examine our thinking and its source - the cultural soup of ideas. In 1978, Martin L. Gross wrote perceptively about a highly influential set of ideas that now form the fabric of our society:

  • Much has been said about the awesome external transformation in our modern world. These changes are obvious. But the internal shift in man’s psyche has altered both our actions and expectations more than any technological force. This change in inner man has taken place quietly, yet it has altered the nature of our civilization beyond recognition. The major agent of change has been modern psychology. (The Psychological Society, 3)
While Western Civilization has largely lost its early optimism about the various psychotherapies, their underlying concepts have become embedded in our psyche and are now inseparable from our culture. We no longer question the notion that some people are psychologically normal – a highly enviable status – and some are abnormal. Some are psychological winners; some are losers.

This represents a radical departure from the Biblical worldview which sees us all as “losers,” blinded by sin. The Apostle Paul writes about himself as a representative of the entire human race:

  • For sin…deceived me and…put me to death. (Romans 7:11)
Our blindness is so great that Paul also writes:

  • As it is written [in the Hebrew Scriptures]: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
In other words, none are “normal.” We are all sinners who need the Savior. Our problems are fundamental internal and only secondarily external. Although we are the products of our society and upbringing, even more so, we are people who fashion our cultural raw materials to satisfy our sinful inclinations.

Alluringly, our “Psychological Society” holds forth the non-attainable and deceptive hope of normality as the doorway to happiness, as Gross writes:

  • The semantic trick is in equating happiness with normality. By permitting this, we have given up our simple right to be both normal and suffering at the same time. Instead, we have massively redefined ourselves as neurotic, even as incipient mental cases, particularly when life plays its negative tricks. It is a tendency which gives modern America, and increasingly much of the Western world, the tone of a giant psychiatric clinic. (6)
Such a self-identity carries with it a lot of heavy baggage. We subsequently tend to stratify the world according to the “healthy” and the “sick,” the “somebodies” and the nobodies.” In contrast, Scripture regards us as inconsequential specks of dust in a vast universe, if we are without God (Psalm 8). We are without significance if we are not connected to Him. Gross regards this seismic shift as an alternative religion:

  • For many, the [Psychological] Society has all the earmarks of a potent now religion. When educated man lost faith in formal religion, he required a substitute belief that would be as reputable in the last half of the twentieth century as Christianity was in the first. Psychology and psychiatry have now assumed that special role. They offer mass belief, a promise of a better future, opportunity for confession, unseen mystical workings and a trained priesthood of helping professionals devoted to servicing the paying-by-the-hour communicants. (9)
Our thinking has been taken captive by the therapeutic model that insists that our problems come from the outside – from our parents and from society – not from within. Consequently, it’s society’s fault. This means that the answer lies either in undoing the affects of society in order to get back to that healthy, happy and normal child within or in changing society itself. Psychotherapist, John Bradshaw sums up the first approach this way:

  • Had our childhood needs been met, we would not have become “adult children.” (Homecoming, xi)

According to Bradshaw, the goal is to reconnect with our basic self – our inner child. In order to do this, we have to engage our “core material” – “our earliest feelings beliefs, and memories” – which were formed when our child encountered stresses:

  • If we want to change, we have to change our core material. Since it was our inner child who first organized our experience, making contact with the inner child is a way to change our core material. (xiv)
Is the answer “making contact with the inner child?” Can we change ourselves in this manner? Many have tried and have found that this leads to a morbid and depressing preoccupation with self. I had found that this proved to be an endless and unsuccessful occupation, which placed an extra burden on my shoulders. Not only was I “neurotic,” but I now found myself unable to change this fact. Consequently, my self-identity solidified back into “damaged merchandise” – someone who didn’t belong on the same self as the healthier specimens.

David Noebel points out that Bradshaw’s thinking is part of a much greater pattern of thinking:

  • Every humanist psychologist believes the secret to better mental health lies in getting in touch with the unspoiled, inner self.  When man strips himself of all the evil forced on him by society, he will become a positive agent with virtually unlimited potential…The three major assumptions of Humanist psychology are: man is good by nature and therefore perfectible; society and its social institutions are responsible for man’s evil acts; and mental health can be restored to everyone who gets in touch with his inner “good self.” (Understanding the Times)
But what if the self isn’t good? And what if we can’t get back to it? What if our brain chemistry has already been set? When the therapeutic model is combined with “philosophical materialism” – matter and energy is all that there is – this becomes a toxic brew. This reduced understanding means that our thinking and choosing have all been chemically determined. Reducing everything to the material world means that there is no longer any room for freewill and human responsibility. It reduces us to chemical-electrical machines, albeit sophisticated ones, as Clarence Darrow had stated:

  • The purpose of man is like the purpose of a pollywog—too wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or, to hang to life until death takes him
This also means that all of our goals, dreams, values, and principles are merely a matter of pre-set chemical reactions. Everything else is illusion. And if all of our dreams are illusions, then life is as meaningless as Darrow’s pollywogs. We then are reduced to living for our next positive stimulation – food, sex, whatever – because that’s all there is!

Ideas can corrode or built up a society. I think that history will show us that no society can long endure if it is based on such ideas. Eventually, it will be drawn down to the implications of these ideas – that we are animals and authenticity (faithfulness to our ideas) requires that we live like animals.

Idealism must be based on more than just feelings and chemical reactions. As a freshman, I wrestled powerfully with these ideas. I wanted to feel that my life had meaning, so I volunteered as a teacher’s assistant in a slum school. At his Thanksgiving dinner, my teacher and his colleagues asked me about the source of my idealism. I answered as honestly as I could, “I’m doing this for me, so I can feel good about myself.”

I perceived that I had been too transparent. They couldn’t deal with the raw nakedness of my response and turned to another subject. I felt humiliated. I now “perceived” that my idealism was all about me. (That’s all idealism could be about without any moral absolutes.) Everything was chemistry! The best thing I could do was to live according to my chemistry. In this way, I would be living honestly and would not suffer humiliation. I consequently gave up my volunteer work.

Ideas are powerful. They are the software that runs the computer. The New Age movement is largely an extension of the therapeutic worldview. New Age sage, and author of Creative Visualizations, Shakti Gawain, wrote:

  • When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for external authority, validation, and the approval of others, we give our personal power away…Every time you don’t trust yourself and don’t follow your inner truth, you decreased your aliveness and your body will reflect this with a loss of vitality, numbness, pain, and eventually physical disease.
The New Age movement combined a belief in the sanctity of the natural - our natural impulses - convinced that this was the source of our “truths.” Afraid of repressing their children’s most basis needs and their “inner truth,” many parents attempted to raise their children naturally, convinced that they intuitively and instinctually know what’s best for them. Imbued with this thinking, one very typical mother allowed her son to eat whatever he wanted. Understandably, he chose chocolate for his basic diet. Subsequently, the mother was surprised to find that he had achieved dangerously elevated cholesterol levels.

Some people believe that we cannot undo the effects of our acculturation. Instead our corrupting, pathologizing culture has to be changed. This often has taken the form of removing the “bad guys” in favor of the “good guys,” the evolved person in place of the non-evolved, the communist in favor of the capitalist. The problem is external. If we remove the external irritant, the problem will go away.  Joseph Stalin put it this way:

  • Whatever is the mode of production of a society, such in the main is the society itself, its ideas, and theories, its political views and institutions. Or, to put it more crudely, whatever is man’s manner of life, such is his manner of thought.
Just change the manner of production, and life will become a paradise! It’s a powerful idea - an idea that has cost, according to some estimations, a hundred million lives.
The Humanist Manifesto II reflects a hope in education and technology. The problem isn’t within ourselves but in our inadequate education:

  • Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life
Embracing this idea, secular humanists have declared war on ignorance – anything that will interfere with their understanding of technological progress. Included within their cross-hairs is religion, which they regard as an influence that stifles advancement.

However, they fail to see that they too are a religion with their quiver full of hopes, values, and expectations. Although technology has made our lives more comfortable, does secularism have any reason to believe that it can address the deeper issues of life? Is it any more than putting fresh paint on old pealing paint? Will not our technological advances simple put more tools of destruction into the hands of sinful man? Although I appreciate my computer and the internet, I can’t say that it has contributed to peace and love among humanity?
If society is at fault, we also need to question why society has become so universally toxic. Who created society? Wasn’t it us humans? Perhaps the problem resides in us universally? And perhaps we have been immune to all of our therapeutic interventions because the problems go even deeper – to our very core.

In contrast to the notion that society must be changed, the Bible insists that we must be changed before all else. We must be born again from above. I may be the strongest man in the world, but my strength will not enable me to lift myself off the ground. I need another to do that for me, to get me out of my rut. This is just what my Savior has done for me. Similarly, Paul instructed his protégé Titus:

  • At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7).
Christ is the ultimate answer! Although I am not home yet, I can affirm the reality of what I have seen from afar.

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