Popular Misreads of Reality:
How small misunderstandings can become world changing
Expanded and revised edition
No part of this book may be reprinted or duplicated for distribution without the express written permission of the author.
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein
I looked to the door. About a dozen kids poured into the deli. These were little kids—anywhere from 7-9 years old. Three of the older boys approached the counter. One had 10 dollars in his hand. The others happily swarmed the large, colorful, snack display rack: arguing over what kind of chips or cookies they would get. The money kid began telling me what kind of sandwich he wanted prepared. Then I noticed one boy stuffing his clothes with bags of chips. The moment I called out that first word—“Hey!”—they were all out the door and running across the parking lot in less than 5 seconds. The snack rack, now half empty. Just seemed to look back at me with a sad accusation: how could you let this happen? There were chips on the floor.
I just stood there amazed at the coordination of such young children. They all knew what they were about. They all acted as one. There were no stragglers or confusion over what they were doing. No doubt they had a clever, little leader who could see and think clearly. Yes, clarity of thought is quite valuable. It guides. It calms. It empowers—even small boys up to no good.
Today, there is a great thirst for clarity and the simple beauty of Truth. People just want to know what the heck is going on? These pages were a search for such clarity amid the confusion that is modern America. Read them. You just may gain insight into that heavily tattooed, 60 year-old man, with the dreadlocks, behind the counter at 7-11. You might even come to sympathize with that purple-haired girl who sports a giant tongue stud and wears her pajamas in a crowded mall. You will also see into the Green movement and understand the anger at big businesses like Wal-Mart. Certainly, you will get a firm hold on the values your kids are taught at school. And, you’ll know some of the reasons for our social and economic dysfunction. The “Sixties”, 9-11 and the “Culture War” will not be a mystery for you. When kindergarteners are arrested for sexual harassment, it won’t surprise you. When you see cell-phone-wielding-children bossing around their parents in public, it might even elicit an understanding smile.
The good news is that this book may well simplify for you much of our confused culture. It can bring some insight into both a mundane trip to the grocery store and the vast philosophical movement of Western civilization. The bad news is: it was written by someone who was outwitted by a 9 year old.
“Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules.”
Most people have heard the expression “you are what you eat”. This, of course, doesn’t mean if you eat a Twinkie you will quickly turn into a giant, crème-filled pastry. It refers to taking on the value and essence of the foods we most commonly ingest. If we eat healthy and well-balanced meals, we are more likely to become physically healthy and well balanced. Conversely, if we eat fatty, junk food all the time we become fat and weak. The same is true of your transcendent nature—your soul. “You are what you eat”, in the spiritual sense, translates into “you become like what you see”. If a person is habitually focused on reading noble literature, their personality will generally take on some of the nobility and construct of the literature; while, someone who constantly views pornography, for example, will actually be spiritually and psychologically shaped by the human degradation that is portrayed. It is one of the laws of nature that is least discussed: “we become what we see”.
One day I overheard a radio host, Dennis Prager, give an analysis of how a small misunderstanding of the nature of human “desire” has literally split the globe in two. He pointed out how, in the Eastern religions and philosophy, human desire has long been considered an impediment to spiritual and, therefore, human progress. In much of the East, “desire” was seen as a source of evil. One of the overarching premises was that individual “desire” was a source of suffering. The path to a place of non-suffering (Nirvana) is found in controlling, even eliminating, human desire.
In the West, however, we viewed “desire” somewhat differently. We viewed it through the lens of our Judeo-Christian heritage. We recognized that human nature was twisted by sin but we also recognized that human desire was created by God and, therefore, was intrinsically good. While the East developed societies premised on controlling the “evil” of human desire, the West freely harnessed the power of our desires. For example, in the East, if it was a hot day you were expected to quietly bear the burden of it. In the West we were free to invent air-conditioners. The West added to this advantage the Free Market system and, thus, became wildly more innovative and prosperous than the East. Therefore, a big part of the reason the planet developed a huge technological and prosperity divide between East and West was based on the simple difference in how our cultures understood “desire”. We become what we see.
I used this example to illustrate how a small misreading of reality by a large group of people can, over time, have enormous consequences. Today, Western civilization is under serious threat from within and without. Why? It is because there are 2 basic misreads of reality—dating back many centuries—that have come to deform our world and load it with dread. I will discuss the external threat first.
Is God rational? The rejection of reason leads to corruption
If you would trace out the root cause of the horror of 9-11-2001 you would find it isolated in the Islamic misread of God as “irrational”. Long ago there were two Muslim schools of thought. There were those who believed God was primarily RATIONAL. And, there were those who held that God was primarily POWERFUL. For 400 years, from the mid-9th century until the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1256, Muslim culture enjoyed unparalleled learning and success. They believed God and creation was primarily RATIONAL. It was a “Golden Age” for Islam where Mohammad’s pronouncement “the ink of the scholars is more precious than the blood of the martyrs” was taken seriously. There was a rational basis for religious tolerance and prosperity. Then, skepticism crept in. A brilliant Muslim (Sufi) philosopher named Al-Ghazali began the assault on Aristotle and Greek philosophical reason hundreds of years before the Enlightenment. In defense of the traditionally RATIONAL, Greek view of order and creation was an Islamic philosopher named Averroes. Al-Ghazali’s powerful writings, combined with the religious divisions over orthodoxy and a few successful political battles led to an 11th century overthrow of Averroes’ school of thought. Human reason itself was then rejected. As Dr. Zachariah Matthews explained to the Australian New Muslim Association in 2004: “The appeal by some erring theologians turned the tide back, declaring reason and its entire works to be bankrupt. They declared that experience and that [which] grew out of it were not to be trusted. As a result, free scientific investigation and philosophical and religious toleration were phenomena of the past. Schools limited there teaching to theology. Scientific progress came to a halt.”
The East embraces power over reason
In short, the Islamic scholars decided that God was so POWERFUL that He was beyond the confines of REASON; that He could change an olive tree into a fig tree from one moment to the next. Therefore, God was (to them) IRRATIONAL in the sense of exceeding REASON. But, what started as a small misread of reality has had enormous influence.
Islamic scholars began to teach that God was IRRATIONAL and, therefore, unknowable. And, if God was unknowable then God was also unlovable: because you cannot love what you don’t know. Imams would council the population “Don’t try to know or love God. You can’t. Just obey and SUBMIT!” Over the centuries, the emphasis on blind submission to many irrational Imam/scholars who interpret the Koran and the Hadith—the collected testimonies of Mohammad’s life—has often led the world’s Muslim population into a stagnant poverty and conflict.
The West embraces reason but rejects absolute Truth [God]
Then, as the initial success of the ultra-rational/anti-spiritual (Modernity) swept over the West, the last Muslim empire (the Ottoman Empire) collapsed. Osama Bin Laden refers to this lost empire with bitterness. He disdains the spread of Modernity. He and his followers believe that all governments should be Theocratic. They shout “Allah Akbar!” or “God is greater!” Which begs the question: “Greater than what?” To the Islamic extremists, God is greater than everything—even the rational order. While much of the world ignored the theology of Islam, as it devolved into a backwards, corrupt system of following the dictates of leaders who seemed less and less interested in (physical) human progress, a dangerous conflict between the civilizations was building.
So, once again, you can see there was a huge technological and social divide caused by a simple misread of reality. Islam once thrived under the balanced idea that human beings are both physical and spiritual, and that God had rationally ordered the universe for them. They once recognized that all truth was God’s truth, that there was a relation between the physical and spiritual order. They were free to advance science and openly love God while they shared some of that love with the rest of humanity through tolerant interpretations of the Koran.
But, instead, the corrupt, spiritual leaders of Islam have developed the irrational (just shut up and submit) view—which greatly benefits them. While most of the world’s Islamic populations would try to love God anyway and are “moderate” in following their leaders, the core of religious Islam is languishing in the mire of Pre-Modernity. Thus, there is anger toward secular (“god-free”) government structures: one of the hallmarks of Modernity.
Why is it so important to know of Modernity? Your whole world is still in convulsions over it. For example, it is directly related to the blowback of the Islamic Jihadist movement and 9-11. When someone yells “Allah Akbar”, which means “God is greater”, they mean that obeying God should be the greatest focus of ALL government. In the Muslim world this is known as Sharia law. Millions of radical extremists believe that Modernity is an outrageous insult to the authority of God and they are willing to kill or terrorize you to wake up to that fact.
Some people call this a “clash of civilizations”—the religiously pre-modern vs. the secular advance of Modernity. However, is it accurate to lump radical jihadists together with Christians? No, it is not! Judeo-Christians allowed the blessing of Modernity, the impartial functions of government, to bring greater peace and prosperity to the earth. Yet, these same religious people have been very concerned with solving the growing ethical crisis that accompanies the spread of Modernity. So what exactly is Modernity?
How religious conflict led to a “devaluation” of God in public
Simply put, it is when humanity discovered 2 very necessary paths forward. First, we gained many new insights into our world that utterly replaced ancient scientific premises; and this led to a series of rapid discoveries that ushered in an Industrial Age. Second, philosophers who were disgusted with the corruption of religion and the Divine Right of Kings, philosophers who were already seeking a secular solution for the rule of expanding populations, used the overthrow of some of Aristotle’s scientific ideas to overthrow his philosophical ideals as well. Thus, they overthrew the idea of knowing “truth”. Louis Dupree summarized as follows: “Modernity is an event that has transformed the relation between the cosmos, its transcendent source and its human interpreter. To explain this as the outcome of historical precedents is to ignore its most significant quality—namely, its success in rendering all rival views of the real obsolete.”
Another good summary from Joseph Bottums: “When Francis Bacon and all the other founders of modern science reject [Aristotle’s 4th way of knowing Truth] final causation, they reject the entire idea of essence: the “beingness” of knowable things.”
Now, you may ask the obvious question “How can a rejection of our ability to know ‘truth’ be considered a path forward?” Taken by itself, it is not. The growing rejection of our ability to claim and publicly use absolute truths, since the Enlightenment, has been a slow-release poison pill on Western humanity. But, in the short term, it led to the formation of government structures that separated the Church from the direct rule of populations. This was a needed blessing for both the Church and humanity. Large, diverse populations need the more impartial tool of secular government to have a chance at ruling with evenhanded justice. The Church also benefits. Removed from the cold mechanisms of physically trying to lead and manage the daily affairs of a diverse nation, the Church could be a less contaminated, spiritual guide. In short, the Church can be a far more effective spiritual force when it is less constrained by duties and scandals of physical life. And, the newly emerging nation-states needed to use a secular tool to bring impartial rule to increasingly vast and diverse populations. The old days of humanity walking slowly with imperfect, variations of Theocracy needed to end. We were beginning to drive the secular “car” of Modernity.
In many ways, the advent of Modernity fits the analogy of a maturing teenager with a new car. Just as the rapid intellectual and physical growth of a teenager brings great joy in discovery and newfound capabilities, it also brings a great demand for a mature, balanced and responsible approach to life. Modernity too brought a rapid intellectual movement of joyous discovery and new human capabilities but it also brought the demand for a mature and balanced approached to human affairs that, when ignored, has caused terrible suffering and bloodshed.
Like the wilder inclinations of the teenager who might completely reject their imperfect parents, a series of great thinkers and philosophers in the Enlightenment first told Western humanity that “truth” was not real unless it was physically measurable then they, having put in doubt all of previous civilization, began to search for a way to solidly construct a new Utopia based on “hard” science rather than transcendent laws.
Building the new tower of Babel
They, of course, immediately had trouble with where to start building. What point of reality seemed real enough to build on? Having torn down the transcendent foundations of Western civilization, the philosophers looked for a “hard” spot to begin construction of the new, scientifically rational world order. Descartes (1596-1650) had previously come up with a rather backwards view of reality, “I think therefore I am”, that was used as a bedrock foundation for the new world order. Thus, with the individual self as the center of the universe, a series of philosophers began coming up with “fixed” Social Contracts that would replace God and king as rulers of the nations. The Contracts emphasized individual freedom and equality and political participation: Democracy—ruled by the people. The Contracts also tried to emphasize fixed laws: Republic—ruled by law.
Out of the Enlightenment era, humanity ended up with 2 competing forms of Social Contract: one by Locke and one by Rousseau. The contract by Locke recognizes that there are “Natural Laws” (that there is a God) and that government is merely a necessary tool. The contract by Rousseau rejected any notion of God for a world centered on the Individual and that the Individual realizes his or her highest purpose and self-expression in the collective “morality” of good government.
The French Revolution ran with Rousseau’s liberal vision. Spiritual ideals and people were torn down in the name of Epicurean reason and “equality”. The revolutionaries savagely lashed out at public displays of religion, beheading thousands of clerics, including monks and nuns. By contrast, the American Revolution ran more on the ideas of Locke. Our founders were painfully aware of religious persecution so they crafted a government that, most importantly, tried to protect individual and religious liberty. Therefore, the Rousseau contract had begun to play out in Europe with the imposition of “god-free” ethics and empathy [Nature, Victim, Survival ethics I will define momentarily]. While, the Locke contract played out in America with restrictions on government and the recognition of deep transcendent realities like God-given Liberty as a primary goal to safeguard with checks and balances. Americans today can easily see the two philosophies still battling it out in the current Republican (Locke) and Democrat (Rousseau) parties. When the Republicans say they want lower taxes and less government control in our lives, it is exactly what Locke would want. When the Democrats ignore the transcendent morality of an issue and, for example, lobby for more government funding of abortion clinics in poor neighborhoods, it reflects more of Rousseau’s philosophy. You can begin to see the problem of Modernity is that we are still trying to figure out how to achieve a balance. How does humanity use the secular tools of government yet retain the transcendent values that bring order, true freedom and real equality to humanity?
The Interior threat: How our misread of Truth led to today’s corruption
Perhaps, it’s all very simple. We don’t want to be ruled by God, so we blamed God for just about every problem of human society—the stubborn recurrence of suffering, of conflict, of evil. Some even smeared religion as the root of every ignorance, oppression and cruelty. Thus, it seemed clear. God had to go. Besides, we had many great thinkers who imagined for us wondrous scenarios of impartial justice, prosperity, tolerance and world peace all based on “god-free” models. Yes, God had to go…but how?
Well, to put it bluntly, we did a childish thing. We made God disappear by covering our own eyes. Western civilization reduced a lofty, Created world down to a flat, physical world by simply rejecting our own ability to recognize absolute Truth. Therefore, since we can no longer know anything for sure, everything shrouds in mystery. There exist no God, no moral order, no spiritual responsibilities and, it seems, no restraint on human behavior. This, of course, makes for an exhilarating sense of liberation! There are no sexual boundaries, no eternal cares, no guilt or remorse. We are utterly free to do whatever we want. And, that’s the problem. We are also free to harm each other.
The needs of a “god-free” world
In a purely physical world, the Strong could manipulate the Weak at every turn. Rape, theft and murder would multiply. Yes, the human animal, like all the other species, is concerned with manipulation and dominance. And why not? The world is a dangerously unequal place of predators and prey, lion kings, queen bees, top dogs and pecking orders. People are part of that mix. Therefore, it is a natural tendency for us to utilize our strength and compete for power over others—to simply take what we desire. Of course, such a civilization quickly turns thuggish and cruel. Thus, a secular city (a “god-free” city) seemingly leads to more suffering, conflict and cruelty—not less. Something is missing in all this. What is obviously missing is a set of widely acknowledged ethics that everyone obeys through free choice or, if need be, by coercion.
Thus, the great, secular thinkers planned a towering city of noble ethics that would reach into the very heavens but, of course, stripped of all “myths” about God. It would be a system based on widely accepted forms of human logic, reason and science alone. During the great revolution, the French even went so far as to go about chopping off the heads of hundreds of priests and nuns while enthroning a prostitute as the “Goddess of Reason” in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. But, as clever as they imagined themselves, they missed one important thing. A physical world is driven by the physical. And, logic, reason and, yes, even the disciplines of natural science are not that deeply rooted in the physical order. Surely these are all secondary concerns compared to our primal drivers and, it has been argued, these are all based on spiritual assumptions too. Therefore, for all our dreams of a god-free utopia of human love and tolerance, the real, physical world of primal urges has rushed in to drive Western humanity like a dull-witted beast.
What are those primal urges? What are the most basic, physical drivers? Well, in social terms, these would be Survival, Utility, Victim and Nature ethics. These have, for better or worse, replaced God in the West. This is the new source of physical “morality”. So let’s quickly touch on each one.
Survival ethics—Certainly, the most primal urge of all is our will to survive. Survival is a powerful law written into the very tissue of our bodies. Therefore, it gives a primacy, a kind of ethical authority to every health and safety concern. In a world stripped of spiritual safety concerns—of eternal life and death—physical safety takes center stage.
Thus, people can shelter in Survival ethics, not only rejecting all spiritually inspired ideals that might lead to conflicts like war, but also they might feel entirely justified in trying to bubble-wrap the world we live in. You’ve already noticed their worry about cigarettes, product labeling, drugs, bullying, childhood obesity, choking hazards, safety labels and soft playgrounds as they push for more car seats, safer cribs and less unhealthy diets. In a world so full of sharp edges and potential hazards, from a pin prick to international war, Survivalists are a busy crowd.
Utility ethics—Now, at the core of every primal urge is a single driver: me getting what I want by utilizing any means necessary. The challenge is that the Earth is an unequal place where the Strong naturally dominates the Weak. Therefore, without some self-restraining, overarching morality that belief in God affords, the human animal is justified in taking any opportunity to impose power over others: to achieve what works, what is profitable, regardless of the impact on others.
Adolph Hitler was an obvious picture of Utility. He spoke of a “master race” and brutally imposed solutions. Dickens character “Scrooge” is a milder example. But, of course, there are many more. There are men who seek only to use women. There are schoolyard bullies, corrupt politicians, pimps, crime bosses, thugs and predators of every stripe. In short, the manipulation of Utility ethics is quite common. It is merely the human animal seeking itself first.
Herd or Victim ethics—One way for the Weak to get what they want, to defend themselves and to ensure survival, is to find a way to manipulate the Strong. However, in rejecting God, the secular city has rejected the subsequent moral imperative to care for our Weaker brothers and sisters under heaven. Rather, we are reduced to animals in an anxious struggle, where there is a critical need for the Weak to band together and equalize things with the Strong. This urgent need takes the form of an “ethic” or “right” based on victimhood. Central to Victim ethics is the notion of imposing equality. But, this is not an equality born of the humble, loving recognition of our common Father. No, it is not what the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about. Rather, Victim ethics are born of a defensive need to control the Strong, to equalize the social environment out of fear.
For example, large corporations like Exxon or Wal-Mart are an obvious threat to a person caught up in Victim ethics. Such industries are a potential source of manipulation for the little individual. These could monopolize the market place with cheap labor and price gouging profits. Therefore, Victims band together under the guise of government and seek to intentionally weaken these with regulation and higher taxation.
Now, Victims might rally together for defense against just about any perceived big threat like those with big money—the rich. The problem is that there are a myriad of potential threats out there. And, Victim ethics ultimately divide a nation into agitated, special-interest groups. Thus, as the West replaces Judeo-Christian values with radical secularization, we tear apart into various racial groups, advocacy for the homeless, child advocacy guilds, feminist groups, thuggish worker unions, gay activists, disability activists, patient rights groups, animal rights groups, teenage acne support teams and a million other perceptions of weakness or inequality.
However, all these balkanized groups usually have one goal in common: a big government (a sheltering herd) friendly to their cause. For it is only a really large and powerful government that could stand up to the Strong, that could even attempt to micro-manage the inequality of hundreds of millions of people. Therefore, modern Victim ethics aims to uplift the Weak and control the Strong but it, eventually, achieves the opposite result. It ultimately empowers a Strong government bureaucracy that subjugates the entire population: a government that makes everyone equally miserable by tearing down society to the level of the Weakest victim. Thus, a Victim society becomes the haunt of every caged bird, with oppressive restraints on our most basic freedoms.
Nature ethics—Now, in all of this you can easily see that a god-free world generates a singular choice: “Will I dominate or must I seek the shelter of the herd?” The natural world is filled with both answers. There are Strong creatures (like lions) of raw manipulation and Weak ones (like zebras) using subtle forms of self-preservation. Yet, most creatures are not dominant. Most creatures seek the equalizing power of the herd or some other deceptive cover to level the playing field. The same is true of Humans. Without God, without an overarching morality to guide a self-restrained people, the critical question remains: “Am I strong enough to get what I want directly or must I achieve it corporately through some equalizing technique?”
Of course, such techniques are rooted in a primal fear, but what ethical basis could there be for imposing equality? Where is the moral absolute in all this? Well, from the perspective of the Weak, the theory of absolute, physical equality—Nature Ethics—would be a convenient ethic to impose. Nature Ethics are built on the belief that all things evolved randomly and, thus, no shape is inherently more or less valuable than any other shape. A seal, a tree and an Eskimo are essentially equal. Therefore, the presumption of a moral absolute (the premise of absolute, physical equality) underpins the entire moral case of the Weak. It is the defensive rational or “ethic” behind modern secularism. In other words, it is wrong for the Strong to bully the Weak because all of Nature is equal.
The “god-free” garden of Eden
Now, getting back to Nature ethics, thanks to a legion of secular thinkers, like Rousseau, the ideal of Natural harmony has developed quite a narrative over the centuries. Perhaps, their story goes something like this: Once upon a time, maybe a billion years ago, there was a lush garden that sprang up. It was full of evolving plants and living things of every sort in natural balance. Very recently, however, a clever animal evolved—mankind. Man lived for a while in a balanced equality with the rest of Nature. It was a time of great freedom and pleasure, with no sexual inhibitions and everyone shared everything equally. Then, one day, the first “bad” man began to think in unequal terms. He hunted for meat. He stopped sharing his food and sex partner and built a private shelter for his family—all of which he now had to defend.
Thus, we are led to believe that selfishness, greed, war, hatred, indeed, every “evil” apparently can be traced to a defective person who began seeing the world as an “unequal place”. Therefore, as the story goes, people are intrinsically good, “civilization” has led us astray and the problem of evil in the world can be physically explained away by some defect in the brain that creates the delusion of inequality and disordered appetites like religion. Hence, the frantic search in our own day for discovering the physical malady of “the Right Wing brain” or the elusive “god gene”.
Assuredly, Nature ethics is a fascinating study that generates many bizarre, secondary principles that are most often anti-human because they are premised, like all defensive ethics, on a fear of the Strong—in this case, a fear of our natural, Human domination of the planet. For example, the “pristine ethic” is a biased evaluation of environments based on the premise that humans contaminate Nature. “Come see Nature’s unspoiled beauty” the travel brochure exclaims. Such logic avoids the obvious conclusion that building a Volvo is just as natural to our human capabilities as digging a hole is to a gopher—that humans are part of nature too. However, for space requirements, we will not go into further detail on concepts of “natural balance”, “proportion”, “natural goodness” or the ultimate “attraction of pantheism” here. It is suffice to say that there are serious problems with Nature ethics, not the least of which is that it seems to contradict the entire Natural order where we can plainly see various hierarchies and a pervasive law of Utility within, for example, the animal kingdom.
Now, the take home point is that Nature ethics are, first and foremost, a denial of the existence of God, with the subsequent claim that everything should receive equal deference. Thus, “going Green” is not so much a movement based on the responsible stewardship of the planet God gave us. Rather, it is based on a primal fear of domination, with Humanity in the crosshairs.
Our new ethical system: shaping kids in fear
Therefore, as you can see, stripping the world of a belief in God forces everyone to depend on physical “ethics” born of primal necessity. Since most of us are not strong enough to control, much less dominate our circumstances, we shelter in the herd and try to defend ourselves. Together we impose restrictions on the Strong. Thus, our first ethic is to Survive which eventually drives us into herds (Victim ethics) where we cleverly equalize things according to the “moral absolute” of physical equality (Nature ethics). Admittedly, throughout all of this, there remains the yearning desire to “get what I want”, the ubiquitous will to power of Utility.
Thus, a god-free public square generates a lot of worried ethics. Go to any public elementary school and see them almost shouted from the walls: EQUALITY, RESPECT, TOLERANCE, RESPONSIBILITY, SHARING, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE…etc. The anxiety is palpable. And why not? There is so much to do and so little time! Young children—potential citizens of the great secular city—need to unlearn the inequality of a Created world order and all its “unhealthy” values. Then, they must learn the dangers of following their natural, Utilitarian desires—perhaps, with a trip to the Tolerance Museum. Then, they must thoroughly understand the blessed doctrine of Nature, Victim and Survival ethics: which will become a lifelong social expectation called “political correctness”. Eventually, the young, secular adult will soak in the message. They will develop a “social conscience” premised on a cartoon planet wherein battle the loving and enlightened equalizers vs. unhealthy, selfish dominators. And they will carry this battle into all walks of life, giving intense political interpretation to most everything—from baking fat-free cookies to green trash collection to manipulating news reports.
The empathetic tyrant
Yet, history shows these battle lines to be a false dichotomy because Utility (“me getting what I want”) is at the root of every secular ethic. And, notions of “equality” actually prove to be quite fungible in practice. It is a great “moral war” that can easily be dropped if I become dominant or there is some Utilitarian gain in sight. In other words, the Weak may impose equality until they are Strong enough then it all goes out the window. Then every inhuman cruelty can be indulged without restraint—equality be damned.
The novel “Animal Farm” outlines the classic progression of equalizers rising to authority and then administering a coercive, utilitarian abuse on the workers they had just “rescued” from utilitarian abuse. Yes, the motto on your kid’s classroom wall should actually read: “EQUALITY UBER ALLES [over all]…UNTIL I AM UBER ALLES!” For all the seduction of the towering secular dream of equality, impartial justice, sharing, love and tolerance, the whole thing is utilitarian to the core. With History as a bleary-eyed witness, the Earth is littered with millions of bones of the “equalized”, from Havana to Beijing, whose leaders suddenly discovered they were now dominant.
The Primacy of Intent
So, here it is we arrive at a strange phenomena—intentions. As odd as this may seem, a secular people are not ultimately guided by physical facts. We are certainly not guided by results, by impartial judgment, historic evidence or, even, science. No, “intentions” are everything today. Non-physical intentions of equality are the lifeblood of the secular city—not measurable results.
How could this be? Simple—the Weak are well aware of the underlying Utility of the human animal. So they need reassurance that you are not in it for ultimate domination of the Weak—that you are not a closet Utilitarian. Therefore, what evidence can we find that you have healthy intentions? Are you an obvious member of a Victim group? Do you perform community service for the Weak? Are you environmentally responsible? No?
Trying to impress the gatekeepers of modern culture
Well, don’t worry. It’s really not that hard to put on an empathetic face. Just wear a pink ribbon twist or go into any 7/11 store and buy a few rubber wristbands to tell the world that you indeed have good intentions. After all, with all the unacknowledged guilt secularism builds up, it is an exhilarating moral cleanser to go on a good 5k walk, donate blood or clean a section of freeway…just remember to wear the T-shirt telling everyone about it.
Now all this boasting is quite enough for the individual, but when lawmakers try to flaunt their empathy…look out! “Sin taxes” are reinterpreted as legislators rush to show their Survival ethics by taxing or banning an ever expanding list of “unhealthy” things like trans-fat, junk food, soda and even Happy Meals. Some want to show their allegiance with Nature ethics, by reducing humanity’s ecological footprint, by heavily taxing and restricting everyone’s water or energy use. And the courts clog with an explosion of Victim lawsuits as politicians push to outlaw bad intentions through edicts like “hate crimes” legislation. At the same time we try to choke the very beast of burden we’re riding on—overly regulating and taxing free market capitalism—because it is Utilitarian.
Our dysfunctional paradise
Clearly, the secular city is a mess. It is intrinsically dysfunctional because it operates on a principle of equalizing intentions over effective, utilitarian results. For example, a giant pharmaceutical company can work for years in R & D trying to bring effective drugs to market, resulting in millions of lives being saved, and still be wholly despised by a secular society. That is because the profit motive is nakedly Utilitarian. The company is too large. They must be evil. Their big business obviously needs more regulation and taxes—end of issue. On the other hand, an incompetent politician can put a disastrous public welfare program in place, that ruins millions of families, and yet be loved for his or her equalizing intent. No, secularism for all its promises of safe impartiality is, in fact, dangerously biased.
In America we have entire cities like Detroit and states like California where the rule of physical ethics, dysfunctional intentions and the growing corruption of powerful “equalizers” is literally bankrupting everything from kindergarten to retirement. This will often happen because a secular city gets trapped in the box of its own ethical intentions. Would-be reformers are easily portrayed as utilitarian by corrupt leaders who convince the public of their own equalizing intentions. Ironically, in places where physical ethics have most thoroughly replaced God as king, the ugliest desolation spreads under the friendliest banner of empathy and progress. Go figure.
Where does religion fit in a physical world?
Now, of course, religion must have a place in all this. How do we explain the widely persistent belief in God throughout history? To a secular society, motivated by so many fears, the “god myth” is most likely another form of fear. It is a frightened pathology or, perhaps, a raw manipulation. Regardless, religion is a very dangerous thing because it is so thoroughly rooted in inequality. Yes, religious people seem to breathe inequality. They constantly make unequal distinctions—judgments—between good and evil and plants and animals and people and angels and demons and God. To them, there are different levels on earth, levels in heaven and, thanks to Dante, even levels in hell! Whether these people are just stupidly manipulated or trying to dominate and manipulate others, it doesn’t matter. These people seem to facilitate an unequal, Utilitarian approach to reality. Thus, to our post-modern society aiming for a conflict-free world premised on eliminating deeply held convictions that are born of social identities and distinctions, the religious population is obviously unhealthy and a dangerous roadblock to peace and progress.
But, please don’t get me wrong. It is possible for religious people to get along quite well in the secular city. We only need to squelch our unequal views on most everything, from obeying God to a Created order. This is really not that hard a pill to swallow. Just tell yourself it’s all done for the cause of Tolerance and Love. Then we simply demonstrate to a secular world that we too are enlightened equalizers with good intentions. We privatize the spiritual and publicize the physical stuff, helping Victims and the environment. We show our Survival ethic by turning, not only against every war but, against every strongly held religious conviction. And, we Christians develop a “social conscience” by taking up the banner of absolute physical equality with causes like gay or animal rights. Yes, we too can join a world where an occasional newborn baby is sold for body parts while Twinkies and trans-fat take on important new moral dimensions.
The problem is that so few of us today really understand what is going on. We don’t understand the very ethics we would adopt. Thus, we miss the fact that God has no place in a secular society. It sometimes occurs to me that we in the West have become like the infamous Harlot of Babylon, riding the apocalyptic beast, claiming “I am no widow”…when, in fact, we have already abandoned the Bridegroom. Yes, we have seen the old Social Gospel turn into thuggish Victim ethics. We have seen Christian movements once filled with love for Christ in the poor, now primarily filled with outrage at a Utilitarian system that produces inequalities. We have even seen religious people champion abortion as an effective way to lessen human impact on Nature. And, we have seen the children of God try to equalize the Church too—from theology to the parking lot—every conceivable form of patriarchy and hierarchy needing to be tamped down. We have seen our own brothers and sisters try to flatten God down to fit into a physical world of equality. We have seen such inclusive religion that it excluded itself. Thus, most tragically, we have seen the very truth of Jesus as Lord and King become an embarrassment to many a Christian.
How this delusion came late to America
After the World Wars of the 20th century, especially after the horrors of the Bomb and the Nazi attempt to “cleanse” the world, thinking along Utilitarian lines was almost completely stigmatized as heartless and cruel. Science and technology became deeply suspect, but so did the inequality of religion. Horror movies were produced to reflect these new fears. There were mutant blobs, giant spiders and radioactive zombies. There was also a growing tendency to tear down the unequal worldview of “the Establishment”—a Judeo-Christian society. The post-modern or post-rational philosophy of equalizing intentions over results gained new traction, with Survival ethics leading a blood-soaked Europe out of the ruins.
But, it all took longer here in the USA. It took the “living room war” of Viet Nam, a European invasion of music and ideas, as well as, some of our own bloody assassinations (JFK and Martin Luther King) to push a Judeo-Christian nation like America into the “blessed hope” of physical morality—into the chase after Survival, Victim and Nature ethics. But, here we are today seemingly trapped in the dysfunction. Ironically, our rejection of the mild confines of God’s kingdom did not lead us to greater liberty but, rather, oppression.
Along with John Lennon we imagined a world of sharing, tolerance and peace. We had the best of intentions. We merely wanted to love each other. However, by rejecting a Creator, we reject a created order—a moral universe. Thus, we fall prey to our own primal drivers. Ultimately, this all leads to “Big Sis”, as we surrender ourselves to a corrupt and intrusive government based on “equality” and fear. In short, to reject the fear of the Lord is to accept the fear of everything else. To remove the Cross is to carry the weight of the world’s manipulation.
“We must be about redefining who we are as human beings in a post-modern age.” Hillary Clinton, 1993
Today, few things will give a better insight into America than understanding postmodernism. It affects so much of what happens. It is all around us. Yet, rarely, do we step back and look at the “big picture” where it all can be easily observed.
Of course, some experts say the birth of the “Post-modern” merely refers to how Modernity has passed. It is dead. They believe this because they had a false view of Modernity itself. They had hoped Modernity would dismiss the irrational myths of religion that brought us so many bloody conflicts in the past. They looked forward to a world of great peace and technology—devoid of all references to the spiritual. Thus, they dreamed of a new world built on purely physical science and Utility—a world of Darwinian advancement where the strong, the intelligent and the scientist would lead the way of progress. But, after Hitler’s social-Darwinism, his “master race” eugenics, Utilitarian vision and some cruel scientists who failed to fashion a society of logic and love, these were almost completely disillusioned. Some actually committed suicide. Thus, a famous expression arose: “Modernity died in the ovens of Auschwitz.”
The great contradiction
But, like I said, this was a false view from the start. Remember, Modernity has at its core a great contradiction: we need to build a world based solely on physical truth…but…there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Let’s put that another way. First, there was a great hope in the intrinsic goodness of human beings stripped of the “delusions” of God and the conflicts of spirituality. This led many to believe we could engineer a constantly better world through reason and impartial science alone. Second, in order to strip mankind of these concepts of transcendent reality (of sin, heaven, hell, God, morality, angels, saints…etc), the great philosophers and thinkers rejected our ability to claim ANYTHING as absolutely true. Uh…hello…newsflash…isn’t “reason” and “science” predicated on the stability of “truth”?
Of course, great thinkers were not that easily duped. All of this played out in stages—over time. In the beginning of our “enlightenment”, there was just a partial rejection of our ability to know anything absolutely. We convinced ourselves that we couldn’t know the real purpose of any one thing. But, then, Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” seemed to give Modern thinkers the academic license to more boldly reject God and all forms of transcendent truth. Then, great, secular thinkers wrote about how humanity was intrinsically good if we could only remove all these old, social constructs—like morality. They hoped in the innocence of humanity and a new age of reason alone.
Now, Postmodernism actually means two things. 1) It refers to the destruction of this false hope in our intrinsic, human goodness (because of the millions of dead bodies piled up in the 20th century)… and…2) it recognizes a further slide into the fullest rejection of ALL truth concepts. Therefore, it would be more accurate to say that the “Postmodern” is really advanced Modernity. It is Modernity playing out to its painful conclusion.
Artists and writers were the first to pick up on where all this was headed. They could sense that our initial rejection of transcendent truth would eventually lead to the loss of all social meaning. So, they began to craft sculptures, paintings, poetry and narratives with an irreverent disdain for rules, order and meaning. At first, only spiritual meanings were mocked. Then, later, even hard realities were put in question.
An example of the former would be Andres Serrano who was paid $15,000 dollars (of your Federal income taxes) for his well-lit photograph of a crucifix in a glass jar of urine. This was a somewhat unimaginative form of postmodern art that mocked the established Christian worldview. Or, consider the immensely popular book “The Da Vinci Code” as a recent example of postmodern literature. Here the author, Dan Brown, ignores how the dead past has solidified into a kind of permanent slab of facts. Rather, he finger paints with it. He twists and fabricates small bits of unrelated facts and myths into a huge conspiracy theory that reads like an historical narrative. It was a fantastic assault on the core of Christianity that many people took as real. (An early survey showed over 40% of the Canadians who read the book thought it was a true account of history.) But, then again, that is what postmodernism is all about--the assault on meaning. For example, there are “artists” who paint with their own feces or menstrual blood just to make the physical statement that there are no “truth barriers” to human thought or behavior.
Perhaps, you’ve witnessed the fear of out of control, scientific Modernity in the face of the “Terminator”. Or, perhaps, you noticed the Postmodern rejection of established meaning at the movies where “bad” guys are now portrayed as good. For example, there are vampires who are quite considerate and loving and, even, devils who are scripted as super heroes—like Hellboy.
Another easy illustration of the spread of postmodernism in Western civilization happened recently when a British artist mailed off a wonderfully carved head bust—full of realism and meaning. But, in a separate box he mailed off the prop up stick and stone base for his sculpture. The national museum humorously rejected his carving but accepted the stone and prop up stick as “art”. Such postmodern incidents are often fun or silly, but in the realm of more life-affecting ideas and policy it can all be quite dangerous.
For example, when postmodernism came to architecture it led to many strangely shaped buildings. Nonetheless, these structures still had to obey the natural laws of gravity. You could design a stairway to nowhere or a few drooping towers but, if the rejection of truth and meaning went too far, the building might collapse. And, that is generally true of postmodernism in politics and culture. If certain natural laws are followed then postmodernism can somewhat play out without too much harm to humanity. However, as in architecture, the more natural laws that are held in contempt the more it becomes a dangerous project.
How socially accepted lies lead to manipulation and death
As a postmodern contempt for truth, natural laws and meaning soaks into our culture, it brings with it 3 dangers. First, it undermines the people’s ability to control the corruption of government. You cannot really hold politicians accountable if “morality” is in a cloud. Second, as it empowers corrupt leadership it also devalues human life with the postmodern blurring of distinctions—molecular equality. That is a very dangerous combination! [Look at how Planned Parenthood was caught selling baby parts.] Thirdly, it cuts off average people from access to real truth and reform by rewarding those in a position to manipulate information.
Jesus once said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Of course, there is more to that saying than I could possibly wrap my head around, but there are technical reasons why “truth sets us free”. For example, to know anything you need enough faith to trust reality. Without a faith in objectivity, nothing could be “impartial’. If there is no social ability to achieve the fair and impartial, then, there is no basis for justice. Thus, a society without that beginning shred of faith becomes enslaved by corruption and manipulation. Postmodernism cuts off every shred of faith and, therefore, eventually leads to a world of cruel manipulation.
Hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to one of the most famous postmodern thinkers in the world today—Stanley Fish—who once said: “Someone is going to be restricted next [manipulated]. It’s your job to make sure that someone is not you.” In short, if we reject transcendent truth, we end up getting pushed around by the Primal Drivers, we become slaves of manipulation—of the powerful. And, the powerful include everyone who controls your daily consumption of “facts”—including science, media, government and, especially, school teachers and professors.
The Ivory Towers of Main Street
In the Western world, the postmodern rejection of all truth was once considered a kooky theory cooked up in the “ivory towers” of higher education. But, now it has worked its way down to the streets. In their co-authored book, “How now shall we live?”, Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey write: “The demise of truth is not confined to the academic halls of Yale or Duke University. Across the country, a generation of college graduates have marched off, degrees in hands and a postmodern ideology in their heads, to work in executive suites, political centers, and editorial rooms of newspapers, magazines and television studios. The result has been the emergence of a new and influential group of professionals who work primarily with words and ideas—what some sociologists call the New Class or knowledge class or, more derogatorily, the chattering class. And because they control the means of public discourse, their philosophy has become dominant. No longer is the majority view the outlook of morally conservative, religious, patriotic middle America—the group Richard Nixon in 1970 called the “silent majority”, or Jerry Falwell a few years later labeled the “moral majority”. The worldview framed on campuses from the 1960s on has now entered the mainstream of American life.”
Mainstream games with truth and order
So remember, when you go into a dance club with chairs bolted upside down on the ceiling or see some kid who likes to wear his pants on his thighs and his ball cap sideways while mumbling rap lyrics about how great it is to be a pimp or prostitute, you are being exposed to a postmodern disdain for the established view of order and meaning. That purple-haired girl in pajamas at the mall is only trying to show everyone how she too rejects the social concepts of order and meaning.
However, pajama-girl has probably never really thought out what all that entails. Therefore, for us to begin to understand the deeper complexity of our culture is to realize that this purple-haired child may be, for example, a devout Christian who has no idea that her appearance is rooted in a postmodern assault on the Truth—which include her own Christian values. As a matter of fact, some of the more spiritual people I ever met had the most outrageous appearance.
So, in conclusion, we were told there was no “Fall of Man into sin in the Garden of Eden”. They told us we evolved as naturally pure beings deep down inside. Great thinkers told us the human race, stripped of all spiritual notions of “good and evil”, would continue to evolve into a better and better animal. We glorified science as a savior of the human race. We developed eugenics and aimed at social engineering. However, all such notions were ruined with the Nazi holocaust, the massive Chinese and Soviet inhumanity and the use of atomic bombs. Humanity had entered the 20th century bubbling with a wild optimism in our ability to order the world (without God) on the purely rational and scientific. But, we left it with blood-soaked doubts in reason itself.
Of course, you might ask the obvious question: Why didn’t we just revisit our original mistake of rejecting Truth and moral absolutes? In other words, if we claim there is no such thing as “evil” and then have real evil knock us around, why not rethink the entire premise? Good question. Perhaps, that is a testimony to just how entrenched our basic misread of reality has become.
“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” Blaise Pascal
Small misreads of reality that persist among large groups can reshape the globe and cause immense human suffering. Here we looked at how “desire” was misread by Eastern populations. Yes, it is true that human desire (like freedom itself) might lead to suffering and suffering is bad. A vast misread then developed: suffering is evil; desire leads to suffering; therefore, desire is evil.
We also looked at how our “great thinkers” rejected our ability to know anything as absolutely true and therefore we came to reject most everything (non-physical) as unknowable. Thus, after the terrible World Wars we did not learn the obvious lesson that evil needed to be fought better…but, rather, that fighting was evil. Western civilization wanted to avoid such horrors in the future by attacking Identity and Conviction. The misread, then, follows a similar logic. Identity leads to strong convictions. Convictions can lead to conflict. Conflicts are bad. Therefore, identity needs to be eliminated. Huh?
The same kind of fuzzy thinking was applied to God. When Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm stated that God is “not bound even by His own word”, they are actually saying God is so powerful He can do un-powerful things like violate the rational order He established. There is some truth in all these misreads, but, the missing balance has had world shaping harm.
Like a rising tide, Nature eventually reclaims the sandcastles of human lies
No amount of pre-school indoctrination can rewrite human nature. Identity and idealism will always bubble forth from the human heart. And, therefore, there will always be conflict. The key is to lessen conflict by working for real peace within the framework of human reality. Second, human beings breathe transcendence—we have bodies and souls. Squelching the public expression of transcendence is inhumane. Third, we have a “fallen nature” that is somewhat biased towards evil rather than good. Human desire is like free will, intrinsically good, but an open door to potential evil. Identity and idealism are also potential sources of trouble but not evil in themselves. They are natural expressions of the human spirit that require a balanced view of reality to thrive. So too is the concept of Divine power and reason. These are not exclusive, from what we can fathom, but complimentary attributes of God. The rational order of the natural world and universe testify to both a powerful and rational God. However, when people try to establish social structures based on half-truths, they violate the natural order for a brief time until their work collapses for lack of supporting reality. The Bible says it clearly: they have “built a house on sand”. And, here is the key point, the larger the misread of reality the shorter the time before collapse. Osama Bin Laden said that his civilization would win this battle because it was riding the “stronger horse”. That might well be true. The Muslim world, for all its brutal dysfunction, is not lost in a postmodern stupor. For example, they are not confused over what constitutes a boy or girl, nor do they equalize people with plants and animals nor worry about changes in the climate. Yes, we will collapse first and they will sweep in to take advantage. As a matter of fact, it is already happening through open borders in Europe and the USA.
Because of deep, primal fears, people opt for security over freedom
Now, think about it. People throughout history have very often chosen the meager living and the oppressive security of a tyrant over their own freedom. Today, people in Western civilization are actually excited about ridding their lives of “excessive” freedom. They would get equalize the Rich and regulate everyone’s speech. I have seen Americans getting excited by politicians who preach envy! Yes, nearly 200 years ago, Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler predicted this mess when he said: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back again into bondage.”
Of course, this is a recurring part of human history. “Adults” reject God and are punished by their own sins and human suffering. Then, we finally cry out to God for mercy and God graciously gathers children back to Himself.
Other books by the author:
About the End of the World [a look at the end of things by the beginning of things]
Primal Ethics: what our kids are taught in school and culture
Fat Pain [poetry about a collapsing culture]
Is God Dying? [a look at how God seems to survive and operate]
Authors rise and fall on the weight of REVIEWS, please consider giving this book a review on Amazon. Thank You.
The Book is divided into 3 parts with summaries at the end of each. Here is part of Part 2 summary: "Along with John Lennon we imagined a world of sharing, tolerance and peace. We had the best of intentions. We merely wanted to love each other. However, by rejecting a Creator, we reject a created order—a moral universe. Thus, we fall prey to our own primal drivers. Ultimately, this all leads to “Big Sis”, as we surrender ourselves to a corrupt and intrusive government based on “equality” and fear. In short, to reject the fear of the Lord is to accept the fear of everything else. To remove the Cross is to carry the weight of the world’s manipulation."