Approaching the 21st Century: The Death of God, Truth, Morality, and Man

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

Dr. Fernandes is President of the Institute of Biblical Defense, Pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship, and Adjunct Instructor of Apologetics for Cascade Bible College. Presented at Multnomah Bible College, February 28, 1998 at the Northwest regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.



As the twentieth century comes to a close, we must properly diagnose the disease that has caused the unprecedented wars, bloodshed, and genocide which this century has experienced. In this paper I will discuss the prophetic insights of the German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as the prognostication of Christian thinkers C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, concerning the future of Western civilization. I will show that the nineteenth century's death of God has led to the twentieth century's death of both universal truth and absolute moral values, and that this in turn will lead to the death of man in the twenty-first century if the tide is not reversed.

NIETZSCHE: PROPHET FOR THE 20TH CENTURY

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) proclaimed that "God is dead." [Reference 1]. By this he meant that the Christian world view was no longer the dominant influence on the the thought of Western culture. Nietzsche reasoned that mankind had once created God through wishful thinking, but the nineteenth century man intellectually matured to the point where he rejected God's existence. [Reference 2]. Intellectuals throughout the world were embracing atheism as their world view, and the ideas of these intellectuals were beginning to influence the common people throughout Western civilization. According to Nietzsche, scientific and technological advances had made belief in God untenable.

But Nietzsche saw a contradiction in the thought of these intellectuals. Though he agreed with their atheism, he rejected their acceptance of traditional moral values. Nietzsche argued that, since God is dead, traditional values have died with Him. [Reference 3]. If the God of the Bible does not exist, reasoned Nietzsche, then the moral values taught in the Bible should have no hold over mankind.

Nietzsche viewed existence as a struggle and redefined the good as "the will to power." [Reference 4]. This was a logical outgrowth of his acceptance of the Darwinian doctrine of the survival of the fittest. Nietzsche called for a group of "supermen" to arise with the boldness to create their own values. [Reference 5]. He proposed that, through their will to power, these "supermen" replace the "soft values" of Christianity with what he called "hard values." Nietzsche believed that the "soft values" of Christianity (self-control, sympathy, love for enemies, human equality, mercy, humility, dependence on God, etc.) were stifling human creativity and progress; these values encouraged mediocrity. But the "hard values" of the supermen (self-assertion, daring creativity, passion, total independence, desire for conquest, etc.) greatly enhance creativity. [Reference 6]. Nietzsche considered the soft values a slave morality, and the hard values a master morality, and he promoted the latter.

Nietzsche rejected the idea of universal, unchanging truths. He viewed truths as mere human creations, as metaphors mistaken for objective reality. [Reference 7]. Therefore, Nietzsche showed that, since God is dead, universal truth, like absolute moral values, is dead as well.

Nietzsche predicted that the twentieth century man would come of age. By this he meant that the atheist of the twentieth century would realize the consequences of living in a world without God, for without God there are no absolute moral values. Man is free to play God and create his own morality. Because of this, prophesied Nietzsche, the twentieth century would be the bloodiest century in human history. [Reference 8]. Still, Nietzsche was optimistic, for man could create his own meaning, truth, and morality. Set free from belief in a non-existent God, man could excel like never before. Nietzsche viewed the changes that would occur as man becoming more than man (the superman or overman), rather than man becoming less than man.

Nietzsche was the forerunner of postmodernism. A key aspect of modernism was its confidence that, through reason, man could find absolute truth and morality. Postmodernism rejects this confidence in human reason. All claims to having found absolute truth and morality are viewed by postmodernists as mere creations of the human mind. [Reference 9]. The history of the twentieth century has proven Nietzsche's basic thesis correct. Western culture's abandonment of the Christian world view has led to a denial of both universal truth and absolute moral values. The twentieth century has proven to be the bloodiest century in human history. [Reference 10]. Hence, the Christian thinker must object to the optimism of Nietzsche. The death of God is not a step forward for man; it is a step backward—a dangerous step backward. If God is dead, then man is dead as well.

The comments of Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft are worth noting:

One need not share Nietzsche's atheism to agree with his historical, not theological, dictum that "God is dead"—i.e., that faith in God is dead as a functional center for Western civilization, that we are now a planet detached from its sun. One need not share Nietzsche's refusal of morality and natural law to agree with his observation that Western man is increasingly denying morality and natural law; that we are well on our way to the Brave New World. {Reference 11].

C. S. LEWIS: THE ABOLITION OF MAN

The nineteenth century brought the death of God to Western culture. The twentieth century brought the death of truth and morality to Western culture. Two twentieth century Christian thinkers, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), argued that the death of man will follow, unless of course man repents.

A Christian thinker should not be content with rightly analyzing and critiquing current ideas. A true thinker should also attempt to foresee the probable future consequences of ideas. In this way, a Christian thinker performs the role of a watchman by warning his listeners of future dangers (Ezekiel 33:1-9). C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer had the courage to fulfill this role.

Lewis, in his prophetic work The Abolition of Man, critiqued an English textbook, written in the 1940's, which was designed for school children. Lewis found that more than English was being taught in this book, for the authors rejected objective truth and traditional values and proclaimed a type of moral relativism. [Reference 12]. Lewis expressed concern for two reasons. First, the children who read this textbook would be easy prey to its false teachings.[Reference 13]. Second, this would lead to a culture built on moral relativism and the rejection of objective truth, something that, according to Lewis, has not existed in the history of mankind. [Reference 14].

Lewis not only refuted the fallacious views of the authors, but also predicted the future consequences of this type of education. He argued that teaching of this sort would produce a race of "men without chests." [Reference 15]. By this he meant men without consciences. According to Lewis, this would mean an entirely "new species" of man and "the abolition of man." [Reference 16].

Lewis argued that the practical result of such education would be "the destruction of the society which accepts it." [Reference 17]. The rejection of all values leaves man free to recreate himself and his values. [Reference 18]. When this power is placed into the hands of those who rule, their subjects will be totally at their mercy.

Lewis also saw in this rejection of traditional values a new purpose for science. In a sense, science is like magic in that both science and magic represent man's attempted "conquest of nature." However, science will become an instrument through which a few hundreds of men will rule billions of men [Reference 19], for in man's conquest of nature, human nature will be the last aspect of nature to surrender to man. [Reference 20]. Science will be used by future rulers to suppress the freedoms of the masses.

Lewis refers to the future rulers as "the man-moulders of the new age" or the "Conditioners." [Reference 21]. It will be the job of the Conditioners to produce the rules, not to obey the rules. [Reference 22]. The Conditioners (i.e., Nietzsche's supermen) will boldly create the laws the conditioned must obey. The role of education will become the production of artificial values which will serve the purposes of the Conditioners. [Reference 23]. The Conditioners, through their Nietzschean "will to power" and motivated by the thirst to satisfy their own desires, will create their own new values and then force these "values" on the masses. [Reference 24].

According to Lewis, the rejection of traditional values and objective truth will lead to the same mentality in future rulers as that of "the Nazi rulers of Germany." [Reference 25]. Traditional values will be replaced by the arbitrary wills of the few who rule over the billions [Reference 26], and this will "abolish man" and bring about "the world of post-humanity." [Reference 27].

SCHAEFFER: THE POST-CHRISTIAN ERA AND THE DEATH OF MAN

Francis Schaeffer proclaimed that Western culture is now in a "post-Christian era." By this he meant the same thing Nietzsche meant when he declared "God is dead." Schaeffer was saying that the Christian world view was no longer the dominant presupposition of Western culture. Now, a secular humanistic view of reality permeates the thought of the West. [Reference 28]. Due to this change in world view, modern man has fallen below what Schaeffer called "the line of despair." [Reference 29]. Schaeffer meant that, by throwing the God of the Bible out of the equation, modern man, left to himself and without divine revelation, could not find absolute truth and eventually gave up his search for it. According to Schaeffer, modern man no longer thinks in terms of antithesis (i.e., the law of noncontradiction); he now views truth as relative. And, since he believes there are no absolutes, modern man has rejected universal moral laws and has embraced moral relativism.

Schaeffer wrote concerning America, "our society now functions with no fixed ethics," and "a small group of people decide arbitrarily what, from their viewpoint, is for the good of society at that precise moment and they make it law." [Reference 30]. Schaeffer compares this present climate of arbitrary lawmaking to the fall of the Roman Empire. The finite gods of Rome where not sufficient to give a base in law for moral absolutes; therefore, the Roman laws were lax and promoted self-interest rather than social harmony. This eventually led to a state of social anarchy as violence and promiscuity spread throughout the empire. To keep order, the Roman Empire had to become increasingly more authoritative. Due to Rome's oppressive control over its people, few Romans believed their culture was worth saving when the barbarian invasions began. [Reference 31]. Schaeffer saw that America, like ancient Rome, had turned to arbitrary laws which have led to an increase in crime and promiscuity, which in turn has led to ever-increasing government control. Schaeffer stated this principle as follows:

The humanists push for "freedom," but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that "freedom" leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for values or law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. Having produced the sickness, humanism gives more of the same kind of medicine for the cure. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual, the human being. [Reference 32].

Schaeffer also noted that most American leaders no longer consider themselves subject to God's laws. They often view themselves as answerable to no one. They do not acknowledge "inalienable rights" given to each individual by God. Instead, American leaders play God by distributing "rights" to individuals and by making their own arbitrary laws. Schaeffer quotes William Penn who said, "If we are not governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants." [Reference 33].

Schaeffer saw the 1973 legalization of abortion as a by-product of man playing God by legislating arbitrary laws and by the few forcing their will on the many. [Reference 34]. But, according to Schaeffer, this is just the beginning, for once human life has been devalued at one stage (i.e., the pre-birth stage), then no human life is safe. Abortion will lead to infanticide (the murdering of babies already born) and euthanasia (so called "mercy-killing"). [Reference 35].
Christianity teaches that human life is sacred because man was created in God's image, but now that modern man has rejected the Christian world view (the death of God), the death of man will follow (unless modern man repents) and man will be treated as non-man. Schaeffer documents the erosion of respect for human life in the statements of Nobel Prize winners Watson and Crick. These two scientists, after winning the Nobel Prize for cracking the genetic code, publicly recommended that we should terminate the lives of infants, three days old and younger, if they do not meet our expectations. [Reference 36].

In his response to behavioral scientist B. F. Skinner's book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Schaeffer argued that Western culture's rejection of God, truth, and God's moral laws will lead to the death of man. Written in 1971, Skinner's book proposed a "utopian" society ruled by a small group of intellectual elitists who control the environment and genetic makeup of the masses. Schaeffer stated, "We are on the verge of the largest revolution the world has ever known—the control and shaping of men through the abuse of genetic knowledge, and chemical and psychological conditioning." [Reference 37]. Schaeffer referred to Skinner's utopian proposals as "the death of man," [Reference 38]. and wrote concerning Skinner's low view of C. S. Lewis:

Twice Skinner specifically attacked C. S. Lewis. Why? Because he is a Christian and writes in the tradition of the literatures of freedom and dignity. You will notice that he does not attack the evangelical church, probably because he doesn't think it's a threat to him. Unhappily, he is largely right about this. Many of us are too sleepy to be a threat in the battle of tomorrow. But he understands that a man like C. S. Lewis, who writes literature which stirs men, is indeed a threat. [Reference 39].

Schaeffer understood not only the failure of secular humanism, but he also realized that Eastern pantheism offered no escape from the death of man. Only a return to the Christian world view could save the West from the death of man. He stated:

Society can have no stability on this Eastern world-view or its present Western counterpart. It just does not work. And so one finds a gravitation toward some form of authoritarian government, an individual tyrant or group of tyrants who takes the reins of power and rule. And the freedoms, the sorts of freedoms we have enjoyed in the West, are lost. We are, then, brought back to our starting point. The inhumanities and the growing loss of freedoms in the West are the result of a world-view which has no place for "people." Modern humanistic materialism is an impersonal system. The East is no different. Both begin and end with impersonality. [Reference 40].

Schaeffer called upon evangelicals to sound the alarm, warning the church and society to repent, for the death of man is approaching:

Learning from the mistakes of the past, let us raise a testimony that may still turn both the churches and society around—for the salvation of souls, the building of God's people, and at least the slowing down of the slide toward a totally humanistic society and an authoritarian suppressive state. [Reference 41].

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Nietzsche wrote that Western culture's rejection of God would inevitably lead to the rejection of absolute truth and universal moral values. Allan Bloom confirmed that this has indeed been the case when he began his epic book The Closing of the American Mind with these words: "There is something a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative." [Reference 42]. Still, Nietzsche wrongly believed that this rejection of truth and morality would improve humanity by ushering in the "overman."

Lewis and Schaeffer agreed with Nietzsche's death of God, truth, and morality hypothesis, but, since they were Christians, they argued that this would not be an advancement for man. Instead, this would bring about the death of man. Though I believe that Lewis overstated his case by asserting that the death of man would create a "new species," I agree that, apart from Western culture's repentance, some type of death of man is inevitable. Man is presently being treated as non-man throughout the world (i.e., abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, religious persecution, genocide, violent crimes, etc.), and this trend will continue to increase apart from a return to the Christian world view.

As I see it, the death of man will involve spiritual, social, and psychological aspects. The death of man will be characterized by man being further alienated from God (the lost becoming harder to reach with the gospel), from others (mankind becoming more and more depersonalized), and from himself (the light of man's moral conscience and his thirst for God will be dimmed). People, especially those in positions of authority, will treat other people as less than human. Man's love for man will grow cold.

To prevent, or at least slow down, the death of man, Christian thinkers must defend the reality of God, absolute truth, absolute moral values, as well as the dignity of man and the sanctity of human life. Still, we must do more than refute current ideologies; we must also proclaim to a complacent church and world where those ideas will take us in the twenty-first century if we refuse to repent. Like Lewis and Schaeffer, we must resist the temptation to pick dates for Christ's return or dogmatically declare that these are the last days, for we do not see the future with certainty—maybe Western culture will repent. Therefore, like Lewis, Schaeffer, and the Old Testament prophets, we must call our culture to repent. We must tell our generation that the nineteenth century gave us the death of God, and the twentieth century gave us the death of truth and morality. Without widespread repentance, the twenty-first century will bring the death of man. Just as the removal of God from our schools has all but destroyed our public school system, the removal of God from the reigning ideas of Western culture will surely destroy our civilization. The death of God will ultimately lead to the death of man, if we do not turn back to the God of the Bible. Unless trends are reversed and the Christian world view is restored as the dominant perspective in Western culture, the twenty-first century will surpass the twentieth century in tyranny, violence, and ungodliness.

Though only God knows if we are actually in the final days, the words of our Savior warn us that someday the death of man will come:

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come. . . . for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short (Matthew 24:14, 21-22).

ENDNOTES

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1968), 124, 447.
2 Ibid., 143, 198.
3 Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 408.
4 The Portable Nietzsche, 570.
5 Geisler and Feinberg, 408.
6 Ian P. McGreal, ed. Great Thinkers of the Western World (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), 409-410.
7 Portable Nietzsche, 46-47.
8 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. VII (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 405-406.
9 Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 83.
10 R. J. Rummel, Lethal Politics (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1990), xi. Rummel estimates that, in the twentieth century alone, just under 120 million people have been killed by their own governments during times of peace. (This does not include the millions of unborn babies who were aborted in this century.)
11 Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis for the Third Millennium (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 107.
12 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Collier Books, 1947), 23.
13 Ibid., 16-17.
14 Ibid., 28-29.
15 Ibid., 34.
16 Ibid., 77.
17 Ibid., 39.
18 Ibid., 62-63.
19 Ibid., 69, 71.
20 Ibid., 72.
21 Ibid., 73-74.
22 Ibid., 74.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid., 78, 84.
25 Ibid., 85.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid., 85-86.
28 Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1981), 17-18.
29 Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, vol. I (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 8-11.
30 Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, 48.
31 Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. V, 85-89.
32 Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, 29-30.
33 Ibid., 32-34.
34 Ibid., 49.
35 Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. V, 317. see also vol. IV, 374.
36 Ibid., vol. V, 319-320.
37 Ibid., vol. I, 381.
38 Ibid., 383.
39 Ibid., 382-383.
40 Ibid., vol. V, 381.
41 Ibid., vol. IV, 364.
42 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.


(This outstanding essay also appears on the Institute For Biblical Defense website, to whom we are grateful).

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