Sunday, May 13, 2018


The late Philip Rieff had argued that Western Civilization’s unprecedented attempt to remove God from the culture has been deeply detrimental, even if the tsunami has yet to fully reach our shores:

·       “Culture and sacred order are inseparable…. No culture has ever preserved itself where there is not a registration of sacred order.”

Why should this be? Because all of our laws, social norms, shared concepts, and institutions rest on a foundation of the spiritual – our morals and values – and these rest upon our beliefs about God, who has endowed us with our unalienable human rights and human equality.

“Well, can’t I believe in human equality without a belief in God?” You can, but your belief is without an adequate foundation. It rests on pragmatic (cost/benefit) considerations alone.

Without the concept that we are equal before God, because we are created in His likeness, human equality can only be maintained by the expected benefits that this belief might impart. Why? There is no basis in the material world for equality. Some people are strong, others weak; some are smart and educated; others are not. Some are male, others female; some contribute to society, while others detract. Some are loved and some are hated. Inevitably, it will be argued that it is more pragmatic to extend more rights and respect to the productive and to treat the unproductive and un-liked with contempt. Then it will be argued that it is more pragmatic to treat the rich and powerful with greater respect and honor. Consequently, human equality, which we have taken for granted, will die when its expected benefits are not experienced. Instead, we will find more benefits by favoring the rich and the powerful.

There is also a deeper problem. The secularist cannot do make-believe human equality for long. Perhaps the example of “unconditional positive regard” (UPR) best illustrates the problem. UPR provides benefits within a therapeutic relationship. Little improvement will be noted within this secular relationship if the therapist does not show UPR for her client. However, to act out UPR when the therapist doesn’t genuinely regard the client with UPR is both manipulative and disingenuous. In effect, the therapist will be living a dissonant double life, conveying UPR even when she doesn’t regard her client in this manner.

This same tension exists for the secularist who adopts human equality simply because it works, but doesn’t really believe that we all bear the likeness of God, the basis of our essential equality. This is a tension that demands resolution.

This reasoning will sound strange to many. We have grown accustomed to hearing that human equality and human rights are secular (non-religious) values. However, it is impossible to derive the concept of human rights from nature or from science. Without invoking God, it is even impossible to reasonably argue that we deserve or are entitled to more rights than a cow or even a mosquito. After all, there must be a Higher Power that objectively confers rights and values upon us.

Yes, we can arbitrarily confer upon ourselves our rights, but based on what? Any standard we might invoke will ultimately work against us. Some invoke the fact that we are more intelligent than cows. However, if we make intelligence the basis for our value, then this standard should also apply among humans. Consequently, some people should be assigned more value and respect because of their greater intelligence. Such thinking will undermine the entire concept of human rights. Besides, if our rights depend upon what society grants, then society can just as easily revoke them. However, if our rights and intrinsic value are derived from God, then they are unalienable and no monarch legitimately can take them away.

Interestingly, we are already observing the deterioration of human rights. If we do not hold the right political views, we are being denied, employment, tenure, and even our businesses are in jeopardy. Human rights and equality before the law are no longer finding adequate support. Politics is trumping principle, and this unfortunate development will continue as long as pragmatism reigns. Why? Because each sees their pragmatic interests promoted by tearing down the other party, even if this violates the truth and our common welfare!

Truth and justice lay bleeding at the onslaught of pragmatic “benefits.” Even now, many believe that justice is also just a matter of what judgments will impart the maximum “benefit” to the maximum number of people. However, this is not a principle that will win trust – a necessary ingredient for a democratic society. Instead, we need to know that if we are innocent, we will be acquitted and the guilty punished, even when such a judgment cannot be construed to benefit the majority.

The concept of justice rests squarely upon the notion of human equality, if we are not really equal, why should we enjoy equal protection before the law?

“Well, I think that secularism can preserve justice based on purely pragmatic considerations. Simply put, equal justice works!” It does work, but I don’t think that it will work for long without its spiritual underpinning. If there is no true human equality, there can be no truly equal justice. Even now, justice no longer pertains to those whose lives are societally deemed to lack value. Consequently, justice no longer pertains equally to the pre-born, the elderly, or even to the “deplorables,” those deemed to have less value than the rest of us. In effect, we are devolving into the survival-of-the-fittest, in these cases, those who have achieved social approval.

When God is removed from consideration, the vacuum will be filled by society. If we are no longer defined by God’s estimation of us, we will be defined by our neighbors and our cultural elites. They will determine our relative value. So better conform!

Besides, without God, there is no objective basis for moral law, including justice. These then have succumbed to pragmatic thinking. Consequently, justice has no independent existence. It is not a God given truth to which we must conform but a useful and pragmatic man-made concept, as long as it provides its promised benefits. If pragmatism lies at its core, it is inevitable that pragmatism will occasionally argue against what justice demands. Why?  Because pragmatism might find that injustice offers the superior benefits.

This is pragmatism, and it has always reigned. Whether the cost/benefit analysis is applied to me, my family, or my kind of people, it has consistently yielded injustice and even oppression when unhinged from the Transcendent.

Why be surprised when pragmatism will sometimes rule in favor of injustice? If the expected benefits are at the core of pragmatism, this pursuit of the benefits cannot be expected to always yield what is right. Instead, it is often at odds with what is right.

One last consideration – Pragmatism is touted as a value-free approach of weighing costs and benefits, around which we can all comfortably gather. However, this is a fiction. Any pragmatic assessment of costs and benefits depends upon the values we assign to these possible benefits. While we all might seek the benefit of our community, we will have different ideas of what truly benefits our community. Some claim that real benefit is about guaranteeing that everyone has what they need to live comfortably. Others argue that this doesn’t represent benefit but enforced dependency, disempowerment, and the destruction of the family. In light of this, it should be clear that the ultimate decision-making criterion is not the science lab or the university, but our spiritually derived values.

Consequently, as Rieff had argued, we cannot separate spirituality from the material world without great cost. Besides, we all draw from this spiritual well, whether we are conscious of this fact or not. The Apostle Paul had reasoned in Athens that we are more than the materials that comprise us:

·       And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:26-29 ESV)

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