The death of an age is a bloody business. Men, disillusioned with the promises of their faith, yet unwilling to surrender them, strike out at everything in rage and in frustration. Like a rudderless ship, the civilization loses its direction and is driven by events instead of driving through them. Today, in the last days of humanism, as men steadily destroy their world, it is important for us to understand the meaning of the times and act in terms of that knowledge. The humanists in their blindness celebrate “the death of God,” when it is in fact the death of humanism and their own funeral that they are racing to in their heedless course.
Humanism is dying because its faith is false, and its promises bankrupt. Let us examine that faith in order to understand more clearly its failure. First of all, humanism presupposes a faith in man, even to insisting on the basic goodness of man. This idealistic affirmation comes in conjunction with the assumption that evil is not in man but rather in his environment. Change the environment, and you thereby change man, it is held. As a result, humanistic sociology and politics are rigorously environmental: every effort is made to provide better housing, better education, every kind of environmental control, but, in all of this, man’s evil only seems to proliferate.
As a result, many humanists have themselves abandoned their faith in man. Nietzsche, ahead of most, proclaimed the need of superman to replace man, and evolutionists and socialists have dedicated themselves to working towards the creation of a new man. Man as he now is, in terms of this hope, is expendable: he is merely the ape who shall produce the man of the future. Lenin, who held this view, could therefore treat with ruthless contempt the apes beneath him as he worked to bring the new man out of them. In every version, this belief is a break with the humanistic faith in man.
A second basic concept of the humanistic faith is its affirmation that man is his own god. As I have pointed out, in several of my books (e.g., This Independent Republic, pp. 142–143), basic to every sound theology is the doctrine of the unity of the godhead. A schizophrenic god is no god at all. Mankind, humanity, being made up of gods, must be united to avoid a division in this new godhead, man. This means world unity, a one-world order; it means world peace, for the godhead must not be at war with itself.
Ironically, this faith has led to what has been called “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” To demand the unity of all men is the essence of total imperialism. The result is total warfare. The peace lovers are history’s greatest warmongers. Worldwide interventionism to effect world peace has characterized the policies of late of the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Nations, and others. Granted their presuppositions, all are “sincere,” but sincerity does not mean either truth or justice.
Moreover, man without God ends up as man without man, unable and unwilling to live at peace with anyone, and unable to live at peace with himself. The existentialist Sartre has stated the modern mood bluntly: “Hell is other people.” If every man is his own god, knowing or determining for himself what constitutes good and evil, then every man is at war with any limitation upon himself imposed by other men or by a state. Hell, then, is logically “other people,” and the humanistic faith in man as his own god becomes history’s major impulse towards suicide. The satanic temptation (Gen. 3:5) thus becomes the counsel of death to men and nations.
The third basic doctrine of the religion of humanism is the belief in equality (see again This Independent Republic, p. 140). Equality is a concept of the age of humanism, with its respect for the authority of science, transferred from the realm of mathematics and applied to man. The results have been devastating. Two plus two equals four is a valid concept, and a necessary abstraction. Such abstractions are important tools. In dealing with board feet of lumber, all cut to size, and graded, such abstractions work. But the richness and variety of man cannot be expressed by abstractions. Two Africans and two Englishmen do not equal four Americans, or vice versa: the equation mark now becomes an absurdity. Who are these eight men, and what are their talents? Are they saints of God or are they apostates, criminals, or good citizens? One may be a plumber, and the other a concert violinist; the plumber may be more important to you today, and the violinist tonight. Each have their place, their function, and the term “equality” is irrelevant to it: it imposes an abstract mathematical judgment in an area where a vast variety of considerations must govern.
But we are governed today by the politics of equality. To challenge the doctrine is in bad form, although everyone is troubled, and society in an uproar, over the unrealistic attempts to enforce an abstraction onto the concrete facts of life.
The doctrine is honored in principle and denied in practice. The Marxist world affirms, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” but this is not an equality of work but of wealth. In practice, even this is abandoned by the Marxists in favor of a variety of rewards and a radically unequal society, one with greater variations of social status than the old Russia had. Both Fabian and Marxist socialisms now favor meritocracy, rigid examinations, state control of all jobs, and positions being assigned (and power) in terms of examinations. The result is the rise of a new privileged class. In Britain, the House of Lords is steadily packed with Labor politicians, who have been made peers, and there are signs that its power may be revived under the leadership of this new elite. The equalitarians end up by asserting, as in Orwell’s Animal Farm, that some animals are more “equal” than others! Whether it is the peasants of Russia, or the Negroes of America, the most rebellious and angry people, the most disillusioned members of equalitarian society, are those who have been “made equal” by acts of state. They know that they have been defrauded, and their impulse becomes revolutionary.
The fourth basic concept of the religion of humanism is its belief in the inevitability of progress. This is a secularized version of the belief in providence. Humanism, by denying God, has depersonalized history. The world and its events are no longer the plan and handiwork of a personal, sovereign God; they are the product of anonymous, impersonal social forces. These impersonal forces, with planning man now guiding his own evolution, are supposed to ensure, not only progress, but more rapid progress. The result is, as Robert L. Heilbroner, in The Future as History, has termed it, a “philosophy of expectations.” In terms of humanism, mankind should now be moving rapidly into a paradise on earth. In the 1920s and 1930s, teachers and professors often waxed lyrical in portraying the golden age which scientific planning would usher in. Today, the most intelligent of humanism’s children are most in revolt against its failure to deliver on its promises. According to Kenneth Keniston, in the November 1969 Yale Alumni Magazine, the students involved in campus protests are usually the most intelligent on the campus. “One study finds that the best way to predict whether a college will have antiwar protests is to count the number of National Merit Scholars in the freshman class . . . Furthermore, protesting students have been shown again and again to be an elite within each college and university more privileged in background, more academically successful, more socially concerned than their less active classmates . . . It is partly for this reason that student unrest concerns us profoundly. To be sure, if we consider white students (and I will not discuss black militants here), only a minority of America’s almost 7,000,000 college students are vocally disaffected. Yet if this minority is selectively drawn from the future leaders of our society, does this fact not threaten the continuity of our culture?” It does indeed, and the continuity of humanistic culture is being destroyed by its own bitter and disillusioned sons.
The destruction is also written into humanistic culture at every turn. Because of this belief in the inevitability of progress, men can believe that progress will come inevitably after destruction. Destroy the past, clear the ground, and progress is inevitable. This is basic to the revolutionary mentality. This scientism is described by Ortega y Gasset, in The Revolt of the Masses, as a new form of barbarism. Such a barbarian “believes that civilization is there in just the same way as the earth’s crust and the forest primeval.” As a result, this barbarian destroys in order to advance, because the destruction supposedly speeds up progress. The more revolutionary humanism becomes, the more it is suicidal.
Fifth, the basic saving institutions of humanism, i.e., its church or temple, are state and school. Both today are morally bankrupt. The implicit anarchism in all humanism makes man hostile to the state: it is always a hated establishment to him, a restraint on his freedom to be his own god. Whatever form the state takes, it displeases humanistic man. Very consistently, some leaders on the New Left now call for perpetual revolution as the only answer.
The school is also bankrupt. The mathematical dream of equality is especially absurd when applied to education, which is the process of differentiation, analysis, and understanding, not a massive leveling, of ideas and facts. Education is thus in growing chaos, and it cannot improve on humanistic terms. Nothing is more ridiculous than a “save our public schools” movement. In its origin, the public-school movement was socialistic and humanistic, and it cannot be otherwise. It is a state agency for state purposes, and its basic premise is the state’s right to control and educate the child. The public-school movement is bankrupt, and it is dying.
Humanism is dying, if not dead. Living with a corpse is no pleasant matter. It does not require documentation to tell us that a corpse is far gone. The answer to our problem lies elsewhere, not in documentation on death, but in reconstruction for life.
Humanism is dead, but the triune God lives and rules, sovereign over all. There must be reconstruction, godly reconstruction. Let the dead bury the dead. The living have work to do. All things shall be made new; new schools, new social orders, new institutions, renewed family life, in every area the principle of godly reconstruction must be applied.
Defensive warfare is a mistake: it leaves the initiative to the enemy. Those who are content to protect the past die with it. Our calling is to offensive warfare to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over it (Gen. 1:26–28). This is what it means to be a man, created in the image of God. Remember: dominion does not belong to a mouse.
Some years ago, J. Allen Smith, by no means a conservative, wrote as follows in The Growth and Decadence of Constitutional Government (1930): “The basic conception of the old political order was not the divine right of kings, but the sovereignty of God. The assumed divine right of the temporal ruler was not an essential part of this doctrine. Divine sovereignty, as envisaged in the Christian theory of the world, was simply a conception of God as the ultimate source of authority. Direct human intermediaries, such as pope or king, were purely adventitious features of this belief.” This belief in God’s sovereignty meant also the rule of law. As Smith continued, “Supreme unlimited power had no place in the political thought of the early constitutionalists. All human authority was conceived to be limited.” The “ultimate sovereignty of God precluded the idea that any human authority could be unlimited.”
Precisely. And because today the sovereignty of God is denied, the sovereignty of man and the state is affirmed. It is useless to rail against the present trend if we are a part of it, and unless we affirm the sovereignty of God in its every aspect, we are to all practical intent affirming man and his humanistic order. In other words, you have already taken sides, and you had better know it. You are either working for the “crown rights of King Jesus” or for the crown claims of humanistic man. You cannot logically affirm “the rule of law,” “moral principles,” and “old-fashioned virtues” without affirming the sovereignty of God. The Marxists are right in recognizing God as the basic and ultimate enemy. Unless you stand in terms of the sovereignty of God as your strength, your first and last line of defense, and the ground of all advance, move over and join the enemy: you are a humanist.
Chalcedon Report No. 56, April 2, 1970
- 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.