The transition from secular hope to existential despair requires only the instant in which the bubble bursts and all is nothingness. Just now, a secular optimism is the mood of the American mind and the key-note of contemporary theology. The call is to clear away the defeatism of old and new orthodoxies and to venture with the secularists in the building of the new metropolis, the city of man. Let the church nail up its escape hatch to heaven, renounce its heritage of accomplished salvation, and become a partner with Christ, establishing in history the new mankind, which is the essential manhood of all men.
Yet this mood does not dispel more reflective and more somber expressions of despair. Sub-Christian hope will always disintegrate into despair and sub-Christian despair will always generate illusory hope.
The glory of the Christian hope has another center than the economy of abundance or the new mankind. God is the hope of Israel, the promised portion of his people. “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord…I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope…Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 130:1, 5, 7).
—Edmund P. Clowney
From his Inaugural Address as the First President of Westminster Seminary Philadelphia, 1966.
President 1966-1984 (1917-1984)
When I was a young man early in my intellectual journey searching for truth, I came across Idols for Destruction; Christian Faith and It’s Confrontation with American Society. It was published in 1983, and I was just beginning to expand my understanding of faith to all of reality beyond my own religious experience. I remember being awed by the author’s learning and insight, and how he took a Christian worldview and critiqued everything, it seemed, about the modern world. It was, to me, a tour de force, especially because as a 23 or 24 year-old I was just beginning to exercise my intellectual chops. It was from a universe of learning I could only marvel at. The author, Herbert Schlossberg, was an historian who seemed to know everything. I decided after lo these man years to read it again, and it amazes me now just as much as I remember it amazing me then. It’s now a classic in Christian intellectual history. What is striking as I read it in 2021 is how prophetic it was. He died a couple years ago before the world went mad with COVID, and Trump drove the woke left into complete madness, but he predicted with uncanny accuracy the destruction of the idols of our age we are experiencing right now. (more…)
Most modern histories of mankind begin with the word evolution, and with a rather wordy exposition of evolution . . . . There is something slow and soothing and gradual about the word and even about the idea. As a matter of fact, it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth” even if you only mean “In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.” For God is by it’s nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. it has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of Species.
—G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905)
These medieval attitudes contrast sharply with our own. We have fewer plagues but more wars and of a far bloodier nature. Our approach is to hide death. It is another of our new secrets. There is absolutely no general conviction that death is something to be faced. Instead we place our quest for eternity on the material level. Life is devoted to working, preparing, saving, driving ourselves towards something undefined. The process of our movement through the system gives us the sense of being somehow here forever.
Since our age is technological, most people add to their material obsession a devotion to defeating disease. In the background lurks the idea of immortality. If five years can be added to a life, why not ten? And if ten, why not . . . ? The culture surrounding old age has been changed to the point where its vocabulary is filled with the promise of a new youth. Phrases such as “the golden age” have emerged to obscure the realities of physical decline. Charles de Gaulle, as always out of step with the conventions of his time, said old age was a shipwreck. Of course, the individual must attempt both to survive and to make use of survival. It is the obscuring of the inevitable process which is so new and so peculiar. Not only, it seems, should we not prepare our minds for termination, we should, as the moment approaches, create a whole new set of illusions in order to avoid the relevant thoughts.
—John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards, p. 350