Written by Andrew T. Walker |
Friday, October 21, 2022
We live in an age whose moral barbarisms eclipse what Schaeffer saw in his own day. Were he alive today, Schaeffer would not be shocked in the least. Instead, watching the wreckage of the world, he might say with tears, “You should have listened to me” (cf. Acts 27:21). Contemporary society is living proof of Schaeffer’s correctness, and we should not fail to listen to him now. It should not go unsaid that Schaeffer’s chapter ends with chastising those who should have seen what was happening in their respective disciplines and did nothing. So, too, shall we ask ourselves the question Schaeffer would ask of them: Do we see the rot before us?
The famous political philosopher Leo Strauss once answered the question regarding what is a just political order “par excellence” as “how to reconcile order which is not oppression with freedom which is not license.” All nations are still trying to determine the correct formula. Strauss was not a Christian, but his statement captures the same tension and dilemma described in chapter three of Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto on “The Destruction of Faith and Freedom.”
Schaeffer’s chapter captures what political philosophers and public theologians alike refer to as the “theo-political question”: How does a society secure its future in perpetuity when varying degrees of religious, ideological, and moral diversity confront it? In other words, how much moral diversity can a society withstand before it collapses beneath the weight of relativism and moral subjectivism? What ultimate standard can serve as such a guide?
Some degree of moral consensus is necessary for a social order to persist, even if it is modest in scope. The question is how “thick” or “thin” such a consensus must be before the outer boundaries of social cohesion are stretched beyond their limits. Scripture teaches the same principle as well (Prov. 29:18). Society needs a shared moral horizon to offset the corresponding temptations of totalitarian rule by the state and autonomous rule by the subjective self. A just political order comprises neither too much liberty (license) nor too little liberty (oppression). Some Being, authority, force, order, or object must be present to shape that moral vision and measure the extremes of license and oppression. Schaeffer sees Scripture’s God as the only sustainable option given the reality of divine revelation. When God is denied, ignored, or treated as inconsequential, rival systems offering rival moralities contend for the space left vacant by God’s “absence.” The result is confusion—and one or many systems that are inimical to a rightfully-ordered society.
To make his argument, Schaeffer draws attention to three main areas where he sees the creep of secular humanism making inroads. All three areas converge at the point of making morality a product of human design, which subverts the long-term viability of moral cohesion, social order, and the principled basis of liberty.
Three Areas of Rising Secularism
First, Schaeffer identifies the legal landscape, which impacts the nature of power. Schaeffer sees law as having been emptied of anything resembling theistic natural law and having taken a turn toward “sociological law,” which rejects “higher law” (Divine Law). Whether knowingly or not, a culture that rejects the “higher law” will inexorably substitute something in its place, with the intended impact being that man-made authorities or ideologies, over time, are bent toward self-aggrandizement, thus reshuffling where the presumption of liberty resides. In a Christian worldview, the state is inherently limited. In a secular worldview, nothing inherently limits the state other than its own discretion.
Second, Schaeffer draws attention to the area of science, which impacts the existence of any sort of binding morality. An intelligent Creator has been exchanged for the blind forces of evolution and materialism. Again, because morality is collapsed into the material, nothing outside the observed world can impose any form of morality.