Written by R.C. Sproul |
Wednesday, January 3, 2024
The humanist exalts the virtues of honesty, justice, and compassion, but he must crucify his mind to do it. For the humanist is caught in the vicious contradiction of ascribing dignity to creatures who live their lives between the poles of meaninglessness. He lives on borrowed capital, deriving his values from the Judeo-Christian faith, while at the same time repudiating the very foundation upon which these values rest.
Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with the immortal lines: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These words sound like a contradiction, dissonant to the ear, harsh to the brain. How could the times be both best and worst?
Before Charles Dickens ever picked up a pen, the French mathematician, philosopher, and writer Blaise Pascal had made use of the paradox. For Pascal, man himself is the crowning paradox of all creation. He said that we are at the same time the creatures of highest grandeur and lowest misery. The paradox is that we can think, an ability which is a two-edged sword. That we can contemplate ourselves is our grandeur. The misery comes when we contemplate a better life than we now enjoy and realize we are unable to make it happen. We have just enough knowledge to escape the bliss of ignorance. Translated into daily realities, this means that a person with enormous wealth can conceive of yet more wealth, power, prestige, health, fame—all things can be increased or improved. But consider that person who commands such a vast amount of money, yet who suffers from ill health or grieves over the death of a loved one. Ultimately, human dignity is built on the conviction that someone is up there who made us. Behind human dignity is theology.
I was addressing the top executives of a Fortune 500 corporation. It was a small group composed of regional vice presidents and the president and chairman of the board. The surroundings exuded an ambiance of power and prestige. The patrician audience was a bit nervous about my mixing “religion” and business as I spoke. When the seminar was near completion, the chairman of the board became excited as his eyes lit up in understanding. “Let me see if I can connect what you’re saying. What I hear is that our business life is affected by how we treat people. How we treat people is a matter of ethics. Ethics are determined by our philosophy. Our philosophy reflects our theology—so respecting people is really a theological matter.” In simple terms, the chairman was expressing what Dostoevsky meant when he said, “If there is no God, all things are permissible,” or Sartre was driving at when he said, “Man is a useless passion.”