We can diagnose the world in one simple phrase. It is a thinking problem, that sounds simple enough, people are not thinking right. The phenomenon occurs across political labels and encompasses various self-descriptions of religious belief. This is not to say such labels matter none at all. For instance, we can safely assume that a person that considers themselves non-binary, Satanist, and anarchist is deficient in rational thinking, picking those labels makes that a self-evident conclusion. But there are a lot of self-professed "conservative Christians” that are lost in the ideological sauce also. Suffice it to say, that a person near the first example can be assumed a wrong thinker, whilst a person in the second ought to be looked at with suspicion until they prove themselves competent with foundational ideas.
But surely, we might protest, there have always been among us people that simply got the world all wrong from the beginning. This is true. If one begins with flawed axioms and presuppositions then everything that flows from those is bound to be essentially wrong. I always envision that there is a giant scale, invisible to us, and on this scale, all of the individual presuppositions in a culture are added to one side or the other. Universal truths are but a few, easily discernable, a person recognizes these, and bases all subsequent ideas on those truths or they do not. On this invisible scale, all of the presuppositions based upon universal truths rest, on one side or the other. So long as enough people hold to the side of objective and universal truth as a starting point, tipping the scale in that direction, all is well. A culture can sustain even a robust and large minority of wrong thinkers. It cannot survive tipping of the scale however, for once the scale tips that culture is no longer equipped with the tools to answer hard questions.
That simple mental image has been useful to me but I have found it difficult to articulate in words. Others have attempted it, for a time terms like mass formation psychosis were popular with social media types. I have toyed with the notion of mass bewitchment and then described the resulting tipping of the scales as the tyranny of the asylum. These are useful, but perhaps provocative. These terms also miss the point that it is not just “them”, often it is a lot of “us”. Our friends and allies are not immune it seems.
For some reason that still escapes me, I thought I ought to make videos in 2020. In one such video I was discussing all of the trouble from that year and then played two short clips in order to make a point. The first was of a very strange woman who had covered herself in feces as a form of restitution for her sins. It was a disturbing clip, she was disturbing and seemed disturbed. The second was of a group of people sitting down and making some sort of vow to essentially hate themselves to show love to others. My point of showing those clips was to demonstrate that even if all of the crazy that became so manifestly present in everything in 2020 in such an open and obvious way was just to stop, if it all went away, we would still have a large problem. If we eliminated the obvious manifestation of crazy, we would still live with a large portion of the population that was susceptible to and enthralled with crazy.
A very smart man wrote about this in 1976 where he analyzed the flow of history from the Roman Empire forward and assessed the role of presuppositions and worldview on the health of various cultures and of the governments that represented them. “This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of the people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind – what they are in their thought world determines how they act.”
This was of course Francis A. Schaeffer, a man with many pious and self-righteous detractors. But Schaeffer was correct. Presuppositions matter, the composition of the majority presupposition in a culture matter. Neither a culture nor the government that represents it can long thrive if the majority of those in the culture think wrong, if they begin with flawed presuppositions. Pious, self-righteous men may disagree with Schaeffer’s recommendations that we have to change hearts and souls so that men think properly but his thesis is not wrong.
His detractors might point out that Christianity used Roman roads to spread Christianity even as Rome crumbled. They would say the work of the Lord continued despite the failure of the institutions of man. This is true. I would simply prefer for the Word to be preached AND for the Dark Ages to be avoided – these are not mutually exclusive things. Those that dismiss Schaeffer entirely would, it seems to me, willingly submit their grandchildren and their children to some future dark age just because they believe they ought not really get involved in politics or cultural things.
There are nuances to this. There are people that took Schaeffer’s ideas and executed them terribly. This is an indictment on the actors not the theorist. It is foolish to think that worrying only about the internal politics of a continually shrinking authentic and orthodox denomination and trusting the sovereignty of God to handle the rest was the proper course of action – to believe this was even Biblical. No parent ever just waited on the sovereignty of God to deliver milk for their newborn child. No Christian man living the purpose of vocation set out for us simply stays at home, refusing to work, waiting on mana to fall from heaven. We live here, we have work set before us, work that revolves around taking care of our families and our offspring.
It is curious that while we know that the entire Old Testament is essentially about Jesus that most of the history portrayed there to tell that story was about men and people doing what they ought to do (or not). Politics, fathers, manhood – these were the devices used to tell the bigger story. The idea that we ought to be satisfied to go to a conference once a year and keep bad things out of our denomination being our sole duty is banal – it is cowardly and frankly, I think it misses one of the big themes that consistently repeats in the Bible (men standing up to do what is right – or not – and the consequences of that).
But the scales have tipped now. Universities, entertainment, bureaucracy, seminaries, evangelical Christianity etc. etc. have fallen. Half the people that seem to be “on our side” are such merely because their own wrong thinking told them to pick a team, not because they fundamentally understand the questions on the table. Those that refused to engage because they did not want to be associated with terms they did not want to be applied to them find themselves now in a self-fulfilling prophecy. All they have left is to attend an annual conference in their increasingly shrinking denomination and work just to keep bad stuff off the docket.
To these I would say, pound your chest and feel piety and self-righteousness for that, but know that when the trumpet sounded muster decades ago, you did not answer the call. Sitting at your kitchen table, cleaning your musket while the battle raged was not taking a stand – it was not doing your duty, not your full duty.
If I have offended anyone up to this point, that was my intention. The fact is there are very few in our culture that holds proper presuppositions. You know, and perhaps this is why so many avoided getting into the fray, that both sides of politics are diseased with wrong-think and all the vices of the base parts of human nature. I have no idea what is to be done now, at this stage after the scale has tipped. I can envision some of the ramifications of this scale tipping, and what the future might hold for those that stand for universal truth.
I suggest perhaps that we go back and read the first few chapters of How Should We Then Live, Shaeffer was as good as anyone at framing the problem. We can disagree on his prescriptions in the later chapters and perhaps even in his later books but that is an academic argument now. Those ideas were for a different time, a time before the scales tipped. But we can learn from his well-reasoned manner of describing the problem and perhaps take from that knowledge new ideas concerning what we ought to do now. Turning the tide is surely impossible, by our own hands, but doing the things that ought to be done – this we can do.