I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.

A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer – A Review

L'Abri by Allan L. Winger

Chalet Les Melezes at Swiss L’Abri –
May, 1978 by Allan L. Winger

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.