All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualizing and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
We are experiencing a moral schizophrenia in our country today. We have just been dragged, kicking and screaming, through a twelve month object lesson of why people’s private moral lives are no one else’s business, only to be thrust into the world-wide drama of policing every country’s moral actions. Ravi Zacharias wrote, “Morality will always be bent to suit the one whose will is being tested.”2
This dilemma is a needed test of our national moral consciousness. I do not intend to address the question of whether America (or NATO) should be the world’s policeman. On a playground with bullies, sometimes it is better for the other kids to take care of this business, and sometimes it is necessary for an outsider to step in. I believe there is a much more serious and long-range lesson to be learned as we watch an immoral President struggle for the moral credibility to lead a nation into war. Charles Finney wrote, “If we are deceived in respect to our being subjects of moral government, we are sure of nothing.”3
Allow me, for a moment, to look at our moral history. It is my contention that our Modernist forefathers were never consistent in seeking a basis for their morality. For the last two hundred years we have been told that our existence is the result of a chance meeting of impersonal atoms that produced energy. I say energy instead of life because life would imply a meaningful existence. The Modernist never really believed that life is anything more than the impersonal movement of atoms bumping into one another. Man is really no different than a rock. If one rock happens to fall on another rock and crush it, no wrong has taken place. Those atoms merely moved in one direction rather than another. In a naturalistic world, such consequences cannot be called moral, or right and wrong. Yet for two hundred years the Modernist has been lecturing us about everything from social justice to personal rights. He can’t have it both ways. Either those atoms could not act differently or they should act differently.
Now the Modernist tried to solve this moral dilemma by searching for some transcendent meaning to life. The artists tried Romanticism, the theologians tried Existentialism and the philosophers tried Relativism. It was only a matter of time until the whole experiment exploded. How can life have meaning if there is nothing that “should” or “ought to” happen?
Their children, of whom our President is one, see it all more consistently. We call them Postmodern. They have (if one starts with the naturalistic premise) correctly stopped worrying about whether mere atoms of existence should or should not bump into one another. We are here, on the third rock from the sun, all alone. There is nothing “out there” to tell us that one thing is more right or more wrong than another thing. We don’t even exist beyond our physical make-up.
When a Postmodern, who is just a random pile of atoms, has what some call an “affair,” no morality exists to pronounce what some call “judgment.” To make such a pronouncement is to commit the only possible wrong: to take upon oneself the decision that someone else “shouldn’t” do something. That would be total arrogance and judgmentalism. (I hope you see the hopeless inconsistency here.)
Our President spent a whole year convincing us of this Postmodern nihilism. We were lectured over and over that our personal actions cannot be called moral or immoral. But now he is faced with the problem of having to act presidential. He is being asked to take action against people who (according to archaic standards) are being immoral. In his mind he knows that even ethnic cleansing cannot be called right or wrong. It is just the way the atoms happened to bump into one another. The large rock just happened to fall on the small rock and crush it. It is just the way things are. No right. No wrong. The rest of the world, however, is not quite ready for his advanced, Postmodern thinking. They still have a relativistic (Modern) view that if society says it is wrong it must be acted upon as wrong. So he plays the expected role
I said before that this is a good and necessary dilemma for our society. Somehow people must be made to think through the inconsistency of trying to live without morality. Dostoyevsky said, “If there is no immortality then all things are permitted.”4 The Modernist eliminated the immortality, the Postmodernist is eliminating the need to ask permission. The nihilistic values of our culture are being preached with fervency in theaters, in concerts, on video screens and the internet. The Clintonian belief system is growing ever larger but it will take some more time to overcome the sheer numbers of older Modernists and true moralists.
Meanwhile, the Christian has a great opportunity to point out the moral contradiction of the Postmodernist who lives privately without morals but is forced to live publicly with morals. The time will come when the opportunity is gone and repentance cannot be preached with impunity. The Man of Sin will be a man with no regard for life.
Speakers for righteousness must not separate the private and the public. “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Neither do I believe they can separate their methods from their message, nor their culture from their religion. Rather, as T.S. Eliot wrote that “culture essentially, the incarnation of the religion of a people.”5 When the Postmodern man sees this in our churches, he may “be convinced of all, judged of all. . . And so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor 14:24-25).Notes: 1. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, quoted by William Rusher, “Conservatism’s Third and Final Battle” The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1998, p. 6. 2. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994) 178. 3. Charles Finney, Systematic Theology ( Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1994) 27. 4. Quoted by William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1984) 61. 5. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949) 101.