I was prompted by a Veritas Forum debate to reread A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer. Folks have raised various rumors and speculations about the quality of his home life and whether he accurately portrayed church history. However, his characterization and assessment of the conflict between the Christian and Humanist worldviews is insightful. Whatever you might think of Schaeffer’s politics (or, for that matter, his views on apologetics), his analysis is challenging. The following is a summary of the dichotomy through telescoped quotes from his book.
The Abolition of Truth and Morality (chapter one)
The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last [one hundred ten] years or so, in regard to society and … government, is that … they have failed to see … a shift in world view—that is, … a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.
These two world views [Christianity and Humanism] stand as total [ities] in complete antithesis to each other in content and also in their natural results—including sociological and governmental results, and specifically including law.
It is not just that they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results.
True [Christian] spirituality covers all of reality…the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally [in such a way that He is neither complicit in nor tainted by sin]…It is true to total reality—the total of what is, beginning with the central reality, the objective existence of the personal–infinite God. Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth…Living upon that truth…brings forth not only certain personal results, but also governmental and legal results.
The “humanist world view”…means Man beginning from himself, with no knowledge except what he himself can discover and no standards outside himself…Man is the measure of all things, as the Enlightenment expressed it.
They have reduced Man to even less than his natural finiteness by seeing him only as a complex arrangement of molecules, made complex by blind chance. Instead of seeing him as something great who is significant even in his sinning, they see Man in his essence only as an intrinsically competitive animal, that has no other basic operating principle than natural selection brought about by the strongest, the fittest, ending on top…both individually and collectively as society.
The problem … is: What is an adequate basis for law…so that the human aspiration for freedom can exist without anarchy, and yet provides a form that will not become arbitrary tyranny?
God in His sheer power could have crushed Satan in his revolt by the use of…sufficient power. But because of God’s character, justice came before the use of power alone. Therefore Christ died [so] that justice … would be the solution. Christ’s example…is our standard, our rule, our measure… The prince may have the power to control and to rule, but he does not have the right to do so without justice. This was the basis for English common law…the Magna Charta [and by implication and lineage, the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution].
Humanists push for “freedom” …that leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or…an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for values and law, always leads to chaos…then naturally to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual… [but rather] the state and society.
Some excerpts from later chapters on this dichotomous theme:
Will Durant summed up the humanist problem with regard to personal ethics and social order: “Moreover, we shall find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears.” (p. 45)
According to the Durants, Renan said in 1866: “If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experience of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder.” (p. 45)
And the Durants themselves say in the same context: “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.” (p. 45)
The Humanist Manifestos not only say that humanism is a religion, but the Supreme Court has declared it to be a religion. (p. 54)
Most fundamentally, our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture. (p.56)
If we are going to make judgments on any such subject [in this case, the Moral Majority] we must not get our final judgments uncritically from media that sees things from [the humanist] perspective and see it that way honestly. Most of the media do not have to be dishonest to slide things in their own direction because they see through the spectacles of a finally relativistic set of ethical personal and social standards. (p. 56)
…We must remember that although there are tremendous discrepancies between conservatives and liberals in the political arena, if they are both operating on a humanistic base [of personal peace and affluence] there will really be no final difference between them. As Christians we must stand absolutely and totally opposed to the whole humanist system… [and] must not become officially aligned with either group… (p. 78)
[If an elite authoritarian group takes over]…what form …might it take…? [Quoting Gerald Holton, Harvard professor of History of Science,] “If the layman cannot participate in decision-making, he will have to turn himself over, essentially blind, to a hermetic elite,”… the fundamental question becomes, “Are we still capable of self–government and therefore freedom? Margaret Mead wrote…about scientists elevated to the status of priests. Now there is a name for this elevation, when you are in the hands of—one hopes—a benevolent elite, when you have no control over your political decisions. From the point of view of John Locke, the name for this is slavery.” (p. 80 – 81)
We must never forget that the humanistic position is an exclusivist, closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints—especially if these views teach anything other than relative values and standards. Anything which presents absolute truth, values, or standards is quite rightly seen by the humanist to be a total denial of the humanist position. (p. 112)
As a result the humanistic, material–energy, chance world view is completely intolerant when it presents itself through the political institutions and especially through the schools. (p. 112)
…Man is not basically good (bound only by social, economic, and political chains). Man is fallen. The Perfectibility of Man was the basis for much of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution. [In] each place this concept…has been acted on it has led to tragedy, political chains, and to the loss of humanness. (p. 125)
One of their philosophers, in essence, proclaimed: We are gods and nothing will be impossible for us to do. As we see the rush of increasing progress mixed inexorably with confusion, is he not right? Yet, the rest of the thought, from scripture is: nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.
To end our review, Schaeffer was faulted (see links above) for an aggressive political stance and an allegiance (however tentative) with the then ascendant Moral Majority. Perhaps Glenn Tinder, publishing in Atlantic Magazine eight years later, offers a politic more agreeable to you and me. Plus, it’s in accordance with the practices of the third century AD.