Watching the evening news is like a master class on logical fallacies: Ad hominem, ad misericordiam, dicto simpliciter, the fallacy of hasty generalization— the list just goes on and on. People aren’t thinking. They are emoting, and with great venom.
All this points to a deeper problem. Beneath the surface of our culture, a war rages with deep roots. It’s as if the French Revolution and the American Revolution are happening all at once and in the same country.
The French Revolution, born out of the French enlightenment, had a simple slogan: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood). On the surface such ideals sound good, but the liberty for which the mob bayed was a liberty from God (not for Him). The Equality they demanded was little more than thinly veiled, murderous envy. And the brotherhood they promised, was a fellowship of death. As Denis Diderot proudly announced, “Men will never be free until we have strangled the last king with the guts of the last priest!” In such a revolution, Madam Guillotine provided the only logic they needed to prosecute their case.
By contrast, the American Revolution was self-consciously founded on the rule of law. The Patriots may have rejected the King, but it was only because he had rejected the law to which he himself was only a subject. Thus they cast off his rule and they were right to do so.
Behind this great divide, lay two different visions of ultimate reality. At the beginning of the Christian story, there is an Almighty Someone, a mind, a will, a voice bringing everything into existence. Here is a foundation for life. Here is a force big enough and good enough to control and restrain the malicious discontent of an offended populace. Here is a kindness to soothe our every discontent with the hope of justice.
The French Revolution offers no such hope. It couldn’t be more different. In their beginning, there was nothing: No-one, no voice, no mind, no speaker. The universe is meaningless, without any real purpose. Human beings can create that purpose, they can invent laws, etc., but those things are without any real mooring in ultimate reality, the way things really are.
Here is a foundation to justify personal autonomy, but at a cost. The very worldview that establishes such liberty also destroys our dignity. If there is no God, then we are merely a soup of chemicals wrapped up in a sack of skin. More complex than a rock, but no more significant. Random chemical reactions lie at the core of every human being. If our choices are driven by random chemical reactions, how are we to explain reasoned thought, and on what authority are we to demand personal responsibility?
Do you see where this is going? Are we responsible for the choices we “appear” to make? I say appear, because in a world where there are only chemical reactions, our choices are but illusions, the dance of genes mixed with the fizzing of chemicals in our brains. Of course, the atheist will say, everybody knows we are responsible for our actions. And I will have to agree with them. Everybody does indeed know this. It’s just that the atheist’s worldview gives no foundation for this belief, and is therefore clearly preposterous.
What concerns me most of all in our current political climate is that I am hearing a good deal more of the French way of thinking from the right side of the political divide— not just the left. To be sure, conservatives will much more commonly reference God and the rule of law to justify their arguments, but that’s not to say these ideals lie at their foundation. Paying lip service to the idea of God maketh neither a man godly in his life nor God-centered in his mind (Matt 15:8).
What really seems to matter most to many on the Right is “Our Vision” for “Our Country” America, and “Our” civil liberties. It’s the “Don’t Tread on ME!” mindset. Here is the autonomous self at its vindictive best, and it explains why conservatives are no more loving than the leftists. Only God Himself, not just naming His name, can afford a man the strength to be meek in the face of determined opposition. Angry idolaters simply aren’t strong enough to be gentle.
I saw the fruit of such thinking in the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland. “For God and Ulster” might have been the Protestant's battle cry, but that is not to say God had anything to do with their struggle against their Catholic neighbors. Make no mistake, if we do not learn a better way, there will be blood shed in America before all’s said and done.
What to do? We must be slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to listen (James 1:19). We need to listen well in order to understand our opponents’ heart (what they are really wanting) and their arguments (what they are really saying). We need to resist the urge to continually interrupt other people. The interrupter is inherently prideful, taking the position of God, “Before a word is upon your lips, I know it all! (Psalm 139),” he says to himself. Or worse, “I haven’t the time to waste listening to you be wrong, let me tell you what you really need to hear: Shut up and listen!” These are skills to learn in the home. Our children (and their parents) will need much practice to unlearn bad habits already well established. We need also to learn to turn the other cheek. Great things are at stake than our desire never to be offended, greater things even than our rights and liberties. The honor of God Himself is at stake, and we must learn the grace to take every thought captive to Jesus Christ, so that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink we might do all to His glory.