Conflict Versus Harmony

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 17, 2021

Chalcedon Position Paper No. 135, May 1991

The false idea of pluralism has a long history in America. It was basic to the first war faced by American colonists, King Philip’s War. American Indian culture had no overarching law to provide order and harmony; it was a conflict society. Men took what they were strong enough to take, and they enslaved whom they were strong enough to enslave.

Mark Twain lied when he said of the Pilgrims and the Puritans and their coming to America that first they fell upon their knees, and then they fell upon the Indians. The colonists wanted to share with the Indians the rights of freeborn Englishmen and the freedom of life under God’s law.

On January 29, 1675, a Christian Indian, John Sassamon, was murdered and thrown into a pond. He had warned the colonists of a forthcoming attack on them. Evidence, including an eyewitness, led to the conviction and hanging of three Indians, Wampanoags. The jury had been made up of both Indians and Englishmen. With this conviction, the Indians attacked (Mary Rowlandson, The Captive, intro. Mark Ludwig [Tucson, AZ: American Eagle Publications, 1988], pp. x–xi).

To the Indians, an overarching law governing all men was alien; they believed in a pluralism where every kind of practice was permissible, if a man could so enforce his will.

Richard Weaver was right: ideas do have consequences. It has often been pointed out that armies march because of the ideas of some men unknown to most of them. Ideas seep into unlikely quarters and often influence men who profess hostility to their sources. One such idea is the conflict of interests: its great immediate source is Charles Darwin. An evolving universe marked by the struggle for survival, and the survival of the fittest, is indeed a realm “red in tooth and claw.” The concept of Darwinian evolution presupposes a universal conflict of interests. This idea replaced the Christian faith in the harmony of interests. While moral conflict exists because of the fall of man, there is no metaphysical conflict; the moral conflict is born of sin, and it is a violation of essential order.

The Christian faith received classic statement in John Dryden (1631–1700); in “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687,” Dryden wrote in part:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony,
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.

This once highly regarded poem is now less known; its premises run counter to the modern world and life view.

Man since Darwin has viewed life as conflict because of a radical and essential conflict of interests. Capital and labor are seen as necessary enemies; farm and city are held to have opposing interests; the generations are supposedly necessarily at war with each other; adolescence is seen as by nature a time of rebellion; races and nationalities are assumed to be natural enemies, and so on and on. Racism, a modern phenomenon, is a product of scientific theory, specifically of Darwinism. We have not mentioned another area of assumed conflict, the sexes; the “war of the sexes” is seen as inescapable.

The logic of Darwinism is a conflict society; the struggle to gain the advantage over others, to do in others before they do you in, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and survival is the chief if not the only virtue. There can be no peace in a Darwinian culture, only perpetual warfare between various groups. The rhetoric of minority and majority groups today is the rhetoric of conflict. As a result, the more we “war for peace” in any area of life and thought, the deeper the conflict becomes.

As Henry Van Til pointed out some years ago, culture is religion externalized. The culture of a conflict society sees only a deepening of its premise that conflict is basic to life and progress. The Dictionary of Sociology states in part: “Conflict arises out of the principle of limitation inherent in a finite universe. The wishes and interests of sentient beings run counter to each other, and the quality of egoism impels each party to seek to eliminate the other to the extent necessary for the satisfaction of his own desires. By analogy, the term may be extended to include the struggle with inanimate or subhuman objects (cf. struggle for existence), but in its sociological meaning all the parties involved must be human” (Charles J. Bushnell, “conflict,” in Henry Pratt Fairchild, ed., Dictionary of Sociology [New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1944], p. 59). The premises of this definition are, first, “the principle of limitation inherent in a finite universe.” Now, Christians believe in a finite universe even more than evolutionists, but they do not see finitude as requiring conflict. Because of God’s providence, there is no necessary conflict. Humanism, however, from Plato to the present, has insisted that the world is overpopulated. If other people are necessarily at war with you for the available resources, then conflict is necessary. If, however, the all-wise God has provided resources for all if men will work to develop them, harmony is then the key.

Second, this definition sees that a “necessary” conflict of interests “impels each party to seek to eliminate the other.” This gives us a world of total warfare, whereas in the Biblical view all peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations must be converted, made members of Jesus Christ, and brought into communion and community one with another. This is why creationism is so essential to world peace; evolution presupposes a cosmic mindlessness and perpetual conflict.

Third, this conflict is not only with other peoples, and hence racism, but also with inanimate objects, and hence the humanistic presupposition that man is at war with his environment. There is a necessary link in the minds of non-Christian environmentalists between population control and abortion on the one hand, and a pagan view of the environment on the other. The belief in the conflict of interests pits man against man, and man against things. Instead of an essential and metaphysical harmony of interests, this false faith insists on an essential conflict of interests.

There is a reason for this. If the God of Scripture is recognized as the Creator and governor of all things, then all of creation has a common origin, a common meaning, and a common purpose and goal. If God be denied, then there exists only a total warfare, a total struggle for survival and domination. The result is a chaos of conflict.

Recent history gives us a telling example of this, the Vietnam War. Both the entrance and the exit of the United States into and from this war were evil. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson took us into the war with the premise that the United States could be the world’s savior, an idolatrous belief. We left the war because public opinion, in part manipulated by the New Left and its propaganda, exalted peace over all things else. Johnson like Kennedy believed in salvation by U.S. foreign policy; the enemies of the war believed in salvation by peace at any price. Both were guilty of idolatry. Recent admissions by North Vietnam General Vo Nguyen Giap indicate that about a million North Vietnamese were killed as against 58,000 American soldiers (Joseph L. Galloway, “Fatal Victory,” U.S. News and World Report, October 29, 1990, p. 32). Both pro-war and antiwar advocates in the United States began with radically humanistic premises, and the results were disastrous.

The same fallacy is true in other areas. With regard to racial problems, both segregationists and integrationists have had humanistic premises, and both courses of action have been disastrous and nonmoral or immoral. As against the Biblical requirement of conversion and communion in Christ, humanism has approached the problem with two alien premises: the necessary conflict of interests (a Darwinian belief), and a necessary equality (a premise borrowed from mathematics). The word equal does appear in our English Bible, but it is a translation of a different concept. It appears in the Greek text of 1 Peter 3:8 meaning like-minded, as in Philippians 2:20, where it is so translated. Usually, isos means the same in size or numbers; in another form, it means fairness; and, in still another, of the same age. Our English word has reference to mathematics: two plus two equals four. It posits an abstract identity which can only be applied to inanimate objects, i.e., to number, produce, and the like, but basically mathematics deals with abstractions and has relevance to abstractions. As a result, the concepts of equality and inequality can only warp human relationships. The Christian approach to people must recognize a moral division between the saved and the unsaved. Its goal must be conversion and communion. This means, not a trust in coercive legislation but in Jesus Christ and the triumph of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Both segregation and integration have been moral failures; both have created conflict, whereas Christ brings about a harmony.

There is no small dismay in the media over the rise of Islam and its growing militancy. This, however, should be no surprise to us. As Christians, we should recognize the reason for this. St. Paul set forth the basic premise of his position thus: “he is a Jew (i.e., a covenant man) which is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:29). As against this, Mohammed declared, “He is a Muslim who is one outwardly,” and the “five pillars of Islam” are all aspects of externalism (regular repetition of the creed, repetition of prescribed prayers five times daily, almsgiving, observance of the Feast of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca). Modern science has also reduced man to externalism, to an animal status. The externalism of Islam has been vindicated and the Biblical stress on the governance of the Holy Spirit discredited by such a view of science.

In a mindless world, the fortuitous concourse of atoms means conflict, and progress through conflict, through the clash of varying forces. The premise of Hegel that life is a perpetual conflict, leading to a resolution, leading to a new conflict, is not only the Marxist premise but that of all non-Christian modern thought and action. This leads to cultural polarization and enmity. Peace attempts become at the same time war strategies. Nations seek to establish cooperating trading blocs in order to war against other traders as well as against dissenters in their own midst. The goal is peace through coercion, peace through some kind of warfare. The result is “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”

In analyzing the idea of the conflict of interests, we have been dealing with one of the two basic concepts of our time. The other has its roots in modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes and culminating in Kant and Hegel, namely, the intellectual destruction of an objective world order and the substitution of man’s autonomous mind in its place. Hegel summed this up in the belief that the rational is the real. The loss of reality in our time has its origins in this insane idea. What the intellectual elite sees as rational is hence reality! Our modern planning is in terms of the ostensible reality of what the planners declare is rational.

The Word of God and His Holy Spirit has no place in such planning, and therefore freedom is sacrificed. God’s law-word stresses the self-government of the Christian man. The basic spheres of Scripture are man, the family, the church, the school, the vocations of man, the community, and then civil government, one form of government among many. God’s law is limited to some 600 ordinances, and many of these are only enforceable by God, not by man.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the assurance of man’s freedom, because its necessary implication is that the basic motivation and determination of man comes from within, from the heart of man’s being. Pluralism apart from Christ leads only to conflict, whereas pluralism in Christ means that our essential government comes, not from self-interest and an ugly survival-of-the-fittest warfare, but from the peace of God through Christ’s atonement, God’s law-word, and the governance of the Holy Spirit. Freedom in a secular society is another name for unending conflict. Freedom in Christ means that we are governed not by self-interest but by the grace, law, and Spirit of the Living God.

Topics: Biology, Culture , Dominion, Government, Philosophy, Socialism, Statism, World History

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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