How The West Was Lost

David E. Schroeder
President, Pillar College

Steve W. Lemke began a lecture on “World Views in Our Culture” at the 1995 annual seminar of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with these insightful comments:
“The pluralism of our age has brought an incredible diversity of world views within our culture. Only a few decades ago, one dominant world view was accepted by consensus in American culture – a world view with conservative values shaped largely by the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Patrick Henry, a ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, said,
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” (The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.).

Lemke continues:
“Of course, there have always been other world views within our culture which our constitutional freedoms protect with toleration. But one world view was consistently presented in the media and mainstream culture. The situation has changed, however. Our culture has lost this sense of identity. We have become legion, a multiple world view cultural personality disorder which has led to the psychological disintegration of the nation’s soul. We no longer know who we are or what we believe as a culture.

“As James Hunter documents in his books Culture Wars and Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War, our numerous world views do not merely offer a variety of alternatives, but competing and unreconcilable rival positions vying against each other in a war for dominance in our culture.

“What are the leading world views in our culture?: five world views that have arisen as the principal rivals to the Judeo-Christian world view are: materialistic naturalism, consequentialist pragmatism, underculture nihilism, enlightenment modernism, and eclectic postmodernism.”

I’m not sure these five perspectives on life and reality are truly world views, but they certainly are intellectual underpinnings of western culture in the 21st century. I’d like to explore them by stating my understanding of their essence and implications, by sharing a biblical perspective on each of them, and by alerting us to the inevitable consequences of the combination of these ideas becoming dominant in our society.

Materialistic naturalism is the assumption that the only reality is the physical world; from this flow atheistic evolution and the idea that man is the highest form of life. This perspective is countered by the first four words in the Bible, “In the beginning, God…”. Jesus persistently affirmed that the primary responsibility of humans is to love God. Romans 1 assures us that all people have a built-in knowledge of God through conscience and observation of nature.

Consequentialist pragmatism is the philosophy that whatever works best is best; from this flow utilitarian ethics and the assumption that humans have the capacity to make decisions that serve both society and the individual best. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 state: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Jesus warned religious leaders about being blind guides of the blind when they did not lead by a righteous interpretation of the Law. James 4 shows that the source of conflicts is living by our pleasures — pragmatic ethics.

Underculture nihilism is the position held by the thinking minority that realizes that since there is no God or afterlife, this life is meaningless, and, therefore, the most civil, noble, artful, and philanthropic acts we may do are simply placebos to shelter us from the grim reality of extinction. From this flows an epidemic of depression, psychoses, and suicides. Genesis 1:27 affirms that we are made in the image of God, and this is followed by verses that give us the first of many purposes and plans which give meaning to life. Jesus assured his followers of their eternal existence by saying in John 14:1, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives ample assurance of the resurrection of all people.

Enlightenment modernism is the wishful optimism of humanists that blinds them to the ongoing and intensifying cultural, national, ethnic, religious, and domestic wars fueled by the naive expectation that education, especially science, is the answer to all conflicts; from this flows uninhibited financial investment to modernize (i.e., westernize) all societies. Education certainly is a positive influence in society, but the Ecclesiastes summary keeps it in perspective:

… be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Eccl.12:12-14). Jesus reinforced this caution by his rhetorical question: “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”

Eclectic postmodernism is the apparent final word about reality, a gravitational hole that sucks all other world views into itself where they are forever lost because ultimate truth does not exist; from this flows the arrogant and cynical critique of all ideologies or positions that purport to explain any truth about the human situation. Denying the existence of absolute truth is, of course, self-contradictory, and it is arrogant and insulting to millennia of great thinkers whose truth encounters have guided generations of people in all cultures. Proverbs tells us that the foundation of wisdom is reverence for God, which requires an intellectual commitment to the truth of His existence. Jesus made it very clear that truth is not just abstract concepts when he said, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”

None of these five world views has the spiritual or moral strength to combat false religions, such as Islam, which has an imperialistic agenda for the world, including the USA. We have lost the Christian consensus and the theistic assumption on which all morality rests. In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote about “men without chests,” the consequence of values-free education. He noted that “the head must rule the belly through the chest,” meaning that the mind must control the sensual appetites through moral values.

Moral ideals must have a foundation. Behavior must spring from beliefs about the nature of reality, that is, from a world view that is consistent, comprehensive, (see James Sire, . World views that rule out transcendence may propose an ethical system, but they are merely social contracts that are arbitrarily chosen to accommodate the majority and/or most powerful. Conforming to such a horizontal ethic lacks any notion of altruism because without transcendence human dignity and value do not exist. Accountability for human decency is also lacking.

Hunter’s observation that “our numerous world views do not merely offer a variety of alternatives, but competing and unreconcilable rival positions vying against each other in a war for dominance in our culture” would not be frightening if these positions were all committed to nonviolence and mutual respect. That has never been the case, and the globalizing of world views now threatens international harmony more than ever before.

One world view, when rightly lived, provides the only base upon which personal and societal morality can enhance life for all and edify human community. It is the Judeo-Christian faith world view built upon the most important of all human virtues and values: reverence.

  • Materialistic naturalism reveres only the transitory, decaying material world. Nature is its god.
  • Consequentialist pragmatism reveres only valueless results. Human success is its god.
  • Underculture nihilism reveres nothing. Cynicism is its god.
  • Enlightenment modernism reveres the myth that science and technology will save society. Civilization is its god.
  • Eclectic postmodernism reveres only the effort to be authentic and “tolerant” in the immediate moment. Subjectivism is its god.

The inevitable consequence of these worldviews becoming dominant in our society is the collapse and loss of the Judeo-Christian culture that enables a society in which all humans can maximize their individual and corporate humanity under God. All of these positions individually and collectively are mortally vulnerable to the hostile takeover of imperialistic religions.

We sow atheism and reap amorality.
We sow pragmatism and reap greed.
We sow nihilism and reap despair.
We sow modernism and reap techno-death.
We sow postmodernism and reap apathy.

We sow tolerance and reap societal disintegration.
We sow uncensored entertainment and reap violence.
We sow the priority of pleasure and reap promiscuity.
We sow pluralistic appreciation and reap terrorism.
We sow secularism and reap paganism.

And that is how the West was lost.

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