by ProfDave, ©2021
(Feb. 23, 2021) — The Problem
It seems to me that, since World War II, Western Civilization has been groping for a new worldview to replace the Judeo-Christian system. Leading contenders are militant secularism, scientific naturalism and Islam. Ironically, due to globalization and information technology, the other world civilizations are being challenged by Christianity. The question of globalization is whether civil society can be maintained, whether tolerant pluralism is possible, or are we to return to the bad old days of the catacombs and/or religious warfare. The “culture wars” in the USA are a mild counterpart to the bloodshed in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Burma and the state repression in China, Vietnam, and North Korea.
By tolerance, I mean real tolerance, not PC tolerance. Obama promised to bring us all together, but only brought all the left together, attempting to silence and ignore the rest of us. Biden is doing the same thing, but his echo chamber is even narrower and more radical. The elite program seems to be tolerance for the left-insurgents but zero tolerance for the right-traditionalists. At this moment in history the cancel cult has banished 75 million Americans from the human race. Not since the Civil War have passions run so high on both sides. Let us hope cooler heads prevail.
Atheists and New Agers have the megaphone – sometimes even Muslims – but Christianity is unconstitutional. To teach condom use and homosexual history are mandatory, but abstinence and traditional morality are forbidden. We are to celebrate alternative lifestyles or else be vilified as homophobic. Can those who want to believe only in the material world respect those who live for the non-material? Can we just get along? Is pluralism even possible? If we tolerate you, will you still tolerate us? We have not heard much of this kind of two-way “tolerance” from the left.
Is pluralism possible? Can we get along with competing worldviews? We have no problem with Baptists coexisting with Presbyterians or Methodists. Protestants and Catholics have serious differences, but we don’t even yell at each other in America, at least. Mormons and Jews – some incidents of prejudice, but we can live and let live. But these all share the same basic Judeo-Christian worldview: ethical monotheism derived (loosely or tightly) from the Bible. OK, Mormons have issues with monotheism, but they try to blend in. All of the above derive their values from unseen eternal realities. Islam also is an ethical monotheism, with a different book and with a different feel, demanding civil obedience. But the biggest problem is scientific naturalism which denies all unseen realities. Can we have a peaceable civil society with people marching to the beat of different drummers at so fundamental a level? I think so, but not without recognizing the legitimacy of our differences.
We can agree to disagree about sports teams. Not long ago we could have a clean competition between Democrats and Republicans. We could agree to disagree about religion. We could even fight fair about economic policy. But colliding worldviews have really thrown the monkey wrench into the gears because we cannot dialogue on the same platform. One is “science” and the other is “religion,” “rational” and “irrational.” Or one is sacred and the other blasphemous – each ruled out of court under the rules of the other. Suddenly freedom of speech, press and conscience were cancelled and we had culture war!
When I open my eyes on the world each morning, I assume an ordinary rational world of cause and effect, not one of random chance. That’s the difference between waking and sleeping. There may be other “states of consciousness” found in psychosis, Eastern mysticism, or drugs, but let’s not go there today. If I trip over my shoe, I assume someone (me) left it there – it didn’t materialize out of quantum hyperspace or move out of the closet by itself. I assume that the electro-chemical signals reaching me from my senses are reasonably reliable and that the material world is, in fact, real and rational enough to deal with. Note: I do not cause this reality to be, but I have to deal with it just like everybody else. This reality and rationality the Judeo-Christian worldview attributes to a real and rational Creator – the self-existent first cause of everything. That’s a metaphysical assumption I make. Scientific naturalism attributes it all to random chance. This material world is a closed system – there is nothing else – and “science” (physical observation, experimentation, theory/speculation) is the only way of knowing. That’s the metaphysical assumption they make. Their chain of cause and effect comes to an end – or rather a beginning – in nothing. As I understand it, ultimately everything is caused by nothing. Most of us don’t think much about metaphysics (unless we’re in philosophy class); we just assume it and get out of bed. Ouch! Forgot about that shoe!
When I open my eyes on the world each morning, I assume an ordinary rational world of cause and effect, not one of random chance. But that’s not all I wake up to – contrary to the scientific naturalist position. I am almost immediately conscious of the continuity of me – who I am and have been. The self has never been found by x-ray, sonogram or CAT scan. It is not a material thing. I don’t think of myself as only a combination of electro-chemical reactions, but the one to whom those reactions report. Until 2014 I was also conscious of who the other person in the bed was, and of the nature of my relationship to her and my responsibilities to and for her. That relationship was not a material thing. Soon I also am reminded of the other people in the house and my relationships to them. Those are not material things. Next, I address my relationship to God, my ultimate loyalty. It is not a material thing. Later, when I listen to the news, I recall my national loyalty. It is not a material thing, either.
None of these things are material! They are the shape of life. Self, marriage, family, God, values, ethics. Are these things real or imaginary? Just my reality, not yours? Are they merely subjective, personal preferences, social conventions, legal fictions? These are the things I would gladly lay my life down for. Many of you would, too. In the traditional Western worldview, these derive from the fundamental nature of reality in the character of God. Scientific naturalism looks for them in social evolution or political consciousness.
When I open my eyes on the world each morning, I wake up to a world of two realms, visible and invisible. Worldviews treat these realms differently. Some treat the material world as an illusion; others treat the spiritual world as an illusion. The Western, Judeo-Christian worldview unites the two with a Creator, accepting both as real. Can we have a society in which people holding all three alternatives can live in peace?
Moving out of the theoretical into the political, we have seen a determined effort over the last half-century by militant secularists to remove all reference to a Creator, God or Christ from the schools, the courthouses, and all other public places. Notice, this is specifically directed against Christianity. While this is done in the name of religious freedom, it would grant nothing of the kind to traditional Christians. For example, any questioning in the public schools of the scientific naturalists’ “myth of origins” (Neo-Darwinism) is forbidden by law, while the scientific evidence for the traditional Western “myth of origins” is suppressed. Note: I am not here taking a position on the merits of the case. My point is that the case cannot be, is not allowed to be, fairly tried in this atmosphere. The insurgent worldview has seized the megaphone and decreed that traditional voices be silenced or marginalized. In the name of “separation of church and state,” scientific naturalism has become the de facto state church of America!
A militant and determined effort is being made, by means fair and foul, to seize (like Lenin) the educational, legal, and media “commanding heights” of our society. In the current clash of worldviews we see freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom and all systematically denied – as if the Constitution and the Bill of Rights did not exist. During the first three centuries, “Christian” America achieved a high level of freedom and religious toleration because the dominant worldview had come to accept that faith was a rational matter that could be freely discussed but could not and should not be compelled. Yet wherever the insurgent worldview of scientific naturalism is ascendant in our society, traditionalist views and scruples are beyond the pale. If not already illegal and subject to lawsuits, they are censored and shouted down. Why? Why can’t we just get along?
We live in a world where worldviews are in conflict. What is a worldview? It is our basic, often almost unconscious, assumptions about reality and the meaning of life, who we are, our origin, our destiny, and what is fundamentally right and wrong. Functionally, and often explicitly, it is our religion – broader than denominations. If your favorite team goes under, you’ll choose another, but if baseball were suddenly abolished and replaced by cricket . . . ? Secular ideologies can act as a religion and sometimes we mix and match. Some people hold a basically Judeo-Christian worldview who never go to church or synagogue and others – a lot more – are there every Sabbath but are really scientific materialists or New Agers or all mixed up. Who are you and what do you really believe? What are you willing to die for? Can you dialogue with folks who disagree with you on that level without killing them? Metaphorically or literally?
Worldview differences lead to conflict in the classroom and the laboratory about the physical universe. Academic freedom is violated, research findings are falsified or suppressed, and careers are ruined. But most of us deal with the material world without concerning ourselves very much with where it came from or what holds it together.
Everybody deals with “self,” however. Is your behavior determined by a non-material “you?” Or by material, bio-chemical laws expressed in subconscious drives? Do you have drives and hormones or are you drives and hormones? Do you have a choice in who you are and what you become? How can you be unselfish or self-disciplined if there is no real “self?” How can you be responsible if there is no “you?” And who are you responsible to? Hmmh!
Worldview differences about the physical world are nothing compared to the trouble we have about the non-material world. Do you have a body or are you a body? Do you have a mind or just a brain? “Self” is problematic for the materialist. The most hard-bitten of them have trouble consistently recognizing that their own materialism is a mere result of electro-chemical reactions in their brains. At the opposite pole are those who think their sovereign self is all there is and they can change reality just by wishing it. The casinos make a bundle on those folks!
Do you control reality or does reality control you? The only freedom and self-fulfillment for the scientific naturalist is in obeying the drives and impulses arising from their body chemistry with as little interference from society as possible. For those who acknowledge a non-material self, however, freedom and self-fulfillment is the ability to control those drives and impulses in service of higher purposes, often non-material. In practice, we are not as free as we would like to be, but most of us take some responsibility for self-control. Civil society depends on it.
Freedom for one is addiction for another. Witness the conflict between condom and abstinence education in schools. Abstinence makes no sense if there is no non-material self to overrule the hormones – we can only contain the damage as best we can. Condoms are counterproductive if there are non-material selves – an invitation to risky and irresponsible behavior. Children are having the innocence of their selves ripped away at the schoolhouse door by an alliance of GLSN, Planned Parenthood and the NEA. Parents have no right to protect and inhibit their children’s biological destiny if there are no non-material selves. Logic, social science, and pregnancy rates have no weight in the argument because both sides are deaf on worldview grounds!
Scientific knowledge is a wonderful thing, but is it all there is? Most real scientists recognize the methodological limits of their craft. Physical observation, hypothesis, and experiment can only answer certain kinds of questions, mostly quantitative questions, expressed in the language of mathematics. The rest is speculation. The more they know the more they find is beyond their knowledge.
In the 17th century, it was imagined that science could explain everything and solve all human problems, but it hasn’t yet. In the social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics), we can design experiments and surveys that tell us how humans behave usually and in mass, but not what Joe Dokes is going to do today or why. In history, things happened only once. How can you put that in an experiment? There is even less applicability to the humanities (art, music, literature, language, philosophy, theology). These deal with quality, reason, human experience, human values and sacred things. The attempt to put this kind of knowledge in quantitative and mathematical terms empties it of meaning. This doesn’t make it easy for materialists to get along with those who think such knowledge is what life is all about.
As Kevin Hasson put it, the fight is over the meaning of life, “whether we are a people who are born with our eyes focused on the far horizon and who seek to reach out and grasp eternal truths, or whether we are accidental organisms adrift in a cold and lonely universe where the only thing to do is try to wring whatever drops of pleasure we can out of an inherently absurd existence before we all lapse into nothingness.” What do you think?
Scientific naturalism (not science) reaches beyond the limits of real science to place a value judgment on quantitative knowledge as the only real knowledge. Numbers not qualities, measures not values, things not meanings. History, reason, language, and immaterial and qualitative experience are all subjective and irrational. Value can only be evaluated by personal power. It does not exist outside the consciousness of the adherents. Lincoln freed the slaves only if most Americans believe he did, ‘freedom’ means whatever the speaker intends it to mean, beauty is in the eye of the artist, and the resurrection didn’t happen because it is contrary to ‘science.’ “Whatever,” as long as it doesn’t stand in the way of progress. Anything contrary to current scientific theory or political correctness simply cannot be so! Even laboratory and survey data gets discarded if it doesn’t fit the model. And a person or idea that isn’t scientifically and politically correct has no civil rights. Right? How scientific is that?
You will also notice that those who do not see “unscientific” knowledge as real or rational have difficulty respecting the heritage and traditions of the American past. The only purpose of history is the manipulation of the present. There is no debt acknowledged to the patriots who laid down their lives to give us the society we were born into – nor, for that matter, the parents who gave us birth. The sacred texts and the classics that formed our civilization are despised as the work of dead white men – if not instruments of oppression. The Bible and the Constitution, once the foundations of our nation, now are marginalized or made to say anything we want them to say – their intent is irrelevant. The wisdom and experience of the past is worthless, because we have i-pods now. Any fifth grader knows more than his teachers. Visual images trump written words, just as face-book replaces snail-mail. And we now think in three second sound bites. So probably you aren’t reading this.
Hold it! Who’s “we?” This may be the insurgent worldview, now holding the commanding heights of influence (education, law, and media), and the rest of us may be confused, but a lot of us still believe in faith, family and freedom. A lot of us still believe in America, the sacredness of human life and of marriage, and the free expression of our faith in word and in deed. The question is whether the new elites can live with this.
Underlying much of the “culture wars” is the question of what is real. If the only rational reality is that which is material – matter and energy, time and space – then everything else is personal preference, irrational ideas we try to impose on each other, socio-political illusions. What is true for you may not be true for me: don’t try to confuse me with your “facts,” just made up by your sub-cultural elite (dead white guys?). Since words and ideas are not real, we cannot win over our opponents or find solutions by rational argument or democratic processes. Solutions can only be imposed by the “right” people. The biggest megaphone defines the terms of the debate, sways the court and silences the opposition.
On the other hand, if we admit the rational possibility of unseen realities, non-empirical knowledge and unmeasurable qualities- even though we do not agree about them – we can discuss our differences rationally. We have common ground on which to contend. It isn’t just what I say or you say – my power against your power – but reality that determines the answer. If we contend for subjective truth, we can only do so by personal power and assertiveness, my truth against your truth. Tolerance and pluralism are only possible in a field where we contend for objective truth – realities beyond our power, but not our reason.
What set me off on this rambling expedition was the way our President Obama, in whom so many of us put so much hope and enthusiasm (and whom I thought to be a political genius), did not seem to “get it” – to understand the seriousness of objections to the HHS mandate. And particularly, I am remembering his Secretary Sebelius’ statement (in her confirmation hearings or before?) that she could not imagine a situation in which religious freedom would trump sexual freedom. Of course not! Sex is material, natural – aka real. Religion – and all that is called “sacred” – is non-material, subjective – aka not-real. “A woman’s right to choose,” homosexual’s “right to marriage” and the transvestite’s right to the ladies room are real, actual, physical matters – religious objections are mere personal prejudice and hatred. By definition. Get over it! “Life” and “marriage” and the constitution itself are mere words – not things – that mean what we mean them to mean. Life and marriage and rights are not inalienable at all. They do not come from God (himself a creation of ancient Jewish men), but from society as it evolves over time. What do you think?
In practical terms, we are all hypocrites. The sincerest materialist, in unthinking moments, acts as if he had a conscience while the most exalted guru will admit to being occasionally overwhelmed by the secretions of his own glands to act as if he didn’t have a conscience.
Most of us live both as persons and as bodies. Only a few dedicated “philosophes” really live as materialist flatlanders. Atheists are notoriously superstitious. Why is one rabbit’s foot lucky when the original owner had four of them? Most of us are minimally aware of the sky – and even of the deep under our feet – but only mature Christians, holy men, and mystics live in continuous consciousness of the Eternal Presence. Most of us attain it only during a Sabbath (too bad we don’t observe them much anymore), a “quiet time” of reflection or prayer, or during a “mountain-top” of clarity. Others hide from it in continuous noise, busyness and entertainment. Which are you?
Truth is, the body and the physical environment are very present realities for most of us. The daily grind of feeding and preserving, getting and spending, work and play and rest take up most of our time and attention – even as believers. Even our social relations can be reasonably related to our personal and psychological comfort. Not often do most of us get to act contrary to our physical and predictable natures. We all feel the pull of practical materialism.
At the same time, the existence of conscience is really hard to deny. The categories of right and wrong, whatever their content, seem to be hard-wired in the human brain. However we rationalize its presence, there is something in our being that either contributes to our self-esteem or undermines it. How else can you explain why the gap between how we act and how we (and others) think we ought to act makes us so uncomfortable? Where does “ought” come from, anyway? Evolution offers no explanation. Somehow we feel like more than apes who wear clothes. If we come close to the standard, we say we live with integrity – and become insufferably self-righteous. If we miss by a country mile, we experience guilt and shame – or else defiant defensiveness and resentment. I suspect that a lot of the fury of the culture wars comes from self-righteousness on the one side and guilty defiance on the other. Let’s stop blaming others for our own feelings.
There are two ways to cure a sore conscience: change your conscience (cauterize it) or change your behavior – clean the closet or come out of it. Here is where the irresistible force meets the immovable object. The sexual revolution is a good example. Sexuality lies at the foundation of our social relationships and our physical being. The brain chemistry of sex, once triggered, is fully as powerful as cocaine. It overrides just about everything else. Within marriage, it compels the sacrifices that continue the human race. Men commit their lives to women, women carry children and both raise them. Out of reproductive context, those chemicals are highly addictive and highly destructive of society. This is why all societies, from the beginning of time, have attempted to regulate sexuality by the most stringent taboos. These forces the “baby-boom” generation chose to “liberate.” The powerful compulsion of the sex drive has led many scientific naturalists to say that sexual addiction cannot be broken and sexual orientation cannot be changed. And they are very nearly right – on a naturalistic level.
Animals have no choices. You are your gonads – and whatever triggers them. No choice. You can’t change your behavior. You can only change your conscience. Evolve or be left behind. How is that working for us as a society?
According to naturalism, you can’t change your behavior, so change your conscience. If reality is not just physical, however, if conscience comes from supernatural realities – the nature of God and the design of mankind – change of conscience is impossible or pathological. Conscience can be wounded, diseased or repressed, but it won’t go away. You will go on in your guilt, feeling angry and resentful of any reminders of God and real moral standards. That would explain why sexual liberation has so much trouble with religious liberty.
On the other hand, if conscience is simply an individual preference and a social construct, it should be relatively easy to change. Just convince the majority that morality is relative and silence voices to the contrary. In other words, enforce scientific naturalism as the established religion in education, the media, and the courts. If education changes, the media changes, and the law changes – you don’t even need a majority for that – morality will change, right and wrong will change, and society will celebrate your life style – tell you, “you are just fine!” And you will feel just fine. Until some religious nut questions you! Ooops! Pluralism bites! There ought to be a law!
Let’s try to bring this in for a landing. The “culture wars” come from two sources, a fundamental difference of worldview from one end, and the driving force of sexual liberation from the other. Without a common framework of what is real and rational we cannot agree on what voices have a right to be heard or whether there are any rights at all. This is the particular problem of the dominance of the scientific naturalist worldview. In a Judeo-Christian society at least everybody had a right to their own stupid opinions. Wildly diverse parties could at least talk. You could run it up the flag pole and see if anybody saluted. Now reason is being drowned out, if not censored.
Sexual issues have added rage to the conflict. There is nothing more organically powerful than sex and nothing more socially sacred than life and marriage. We can’t even agree on what sex “is” or whether sacredness is. It is the business of religion – at least in the Western world – to tell us what is right and wrong and what is sacred. Until recently our democratic system guaranteed the freedom of religion to do its job. But sexual freedom demands that the consequences of sexual activity (children and responsibility for them) be removed (abortion), the responsibilities of permanent marriage be loosened, and alternative arrangements be legitimized (cohabitation, same-sex marriage and more). Moral discrimination is a very painful thing – particularly if you are feeling guilty already. Sexual liberation demands that religious voices be silenced. Above all, moral and social condemnation (legal, practical, or religious) must cease. To this point religious change and conformity must be enforced by the state without exception. A new worldview must be established. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly – let alone freedom of health care insurance – must stand aside.
Yes, but it won’t be easy. We haven’t even touched on economic issues. But here goes. Pluralism (on a democratic basis) is possible if we:
- Recognize what is going on
- Extend grace (unearned good-will)
- Restore freedom of conscience
- Roll back discriminatory measures
- Renounce worldview compulsion – call a truce
- Dialogue on common ground: pragmatic results
- Do the next right thing
First, we have to recognize the nature of the problem before we know what to do with it. Many of the conflicts of the last decade – the last half century – have not been just disagreements about how to achieve mutual goals. We’re not even in the same ball park, speaking the same language or using the same systems of logic. The deadlock in congress is not merely a matter of cussedness on both sides (granted there is plenty of that). It is fundamental assumptions and worldviews in conflict. That is why we cannot understand each other or find common ground for compromise. We need to face the real issues. And may I suggest that a small number of militant secularists have hijacked the separation of church and state to exclude all faith-based ideas from the marketplace. That is not democracy.
To have a democratic, pluralist society, second, we need to extend grace (unearned good will) to those who disagree with us. Stop demonizing the opposition and accept the fact that not everybody is going to approve of what we hold dear. Christians betray their worldview when they are hateful. We seek to liberate “sinners,” not to destroy them. Likewise, secularists need to respect the moral depth of those who differ. It isn’t just an opinion or a preference. You may not respect what I hold sacred, but at least respect me – as a fellow American – and my right to hold things sacred. It is a sign of worldview weakness, not strength, to shout down those who disagree. We need to understand how difficult it is for others to change their life-style or values. That’s just democracy.
Third, we must extend to diverse worldviews the same freedom of expression that America learned to extend to diverse Christian denominations in its first three centuries. Meaningful freedom of worldview includes the right to preach, practice, and raise one’s children in what we sincerely and deeply hold to be true, not to be compelled to celebrate or support what we hold to be wrong, and to be reasonably safe from persecution. It does not mean never having to be exposed to criticism or alternative views. That’s just democracy.
Fourth, discriminatory measures have to go. That might include some members of the current administration. Tsars are Russian, not American. Civil administration needs to be at least worldview-neutral, considerate of all viewpoints, not ideologically committed to some extreme vision. The playing field has to be leveled. Current rules that seek to compel those of the Judeo-Christian worldview to violate their consciences have to be changed. There have to be conscientious objection clauses for abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and other battleground issues. Tax money should be taken out of questionable industries and organizations. Let the proponents support them. If they aren’t committed enough to do so, why should they force the rest of us? That’s just democracy.
Fifth, once the playing field has been leveled, let’s have a truce. Let all sides renounce compulsion in worldview matters. Neither truth, nor justice, nor social peace can ever be obtained by force. Show me the logic, the beauty, and the fruit of your worldview, not the menace of your power. No more winning arguments by exiling the opposition and falsifying the evidence. Let the Creationists stand or fall on their own merits, not their conformity to the reigning orthodoxy. Let the Muslims have their mosques, so long as they don’t impose Shari’a law on non-members. Let the homosexuals have their own “right to privacy” so long as they don’t impose their morality on the children of heterosexuals – fair enough? All things permitted do not have to be universally celebrated – that’s absurd! Let everyone pay for their own sins. Let Christians pray in public if they want to, so long as everybody else can, too. Sure, some people will abuse freedom by exchanging insults, but we will get over it. Gradually, we will learn to talk to each other. That’s just democracy.
Sixth, there is a common ground. Most worldviews accept the reality and rationality of consequences in society. What are the results of a particular idea in the real world? Ideas do have consequences. And if we don’t cook the books to fit our own worldview, we will eventually see what works for freedom and human flourishing, however we define it. Do same-sex unions produce healthy children? Stop censoring the studies and ad hominum attacks on researchers and we will eventually find out. Politically correct science learns nothing. Fair interaction will lead to an improvement in every worldview, even if a consensus is never achieved in fundamental areas. That’s just democracy.
Finally, do the next right thing. Respecting each other’s consciences is not contrary to the solution of our common problems, but the best way to reach solutions. We can agree to disagree and still move forward. If you take worldview conflict and distrust out of the equation, there is no limit to what compromises can be made and what can be accomplished. That’s just democracy.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.