What is the relationship between secular humanism, the desire for sex, anti-humanism, and the desire for violence?
Consider the typical Enlightenment argument in a nice AAA-1 syllogism:
All sexual desires are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all sexual desires are good.
Then, consider in an identical AAA-1 syllogism a similar argument of some in the counter-Enlightenment:
All desires for violence are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all desires for violence are good.
If we take the premise “all natural desires are good” seriously, we are brought to a troubling conclusion, what Charles Taylor calls anti-humanism: “Anti-humanism is not just a black hole, an absence of values, but also a new valorization of death, and sometimes violence” (A Secular Age, p. 638).
To follow Jesus, Christians must say not all of our natural desires are good (Matthew 15:19). We oppose 1) anti-humanism’s valorization of death and violence, and more controversially we oppose 2) secular humanism’s approval of sexual immorality.
Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19, emphasis mine).
Here are just a few images of love I see in my community. A group of friends gathers around a family to help them load their moving truck and move to a new home. A group of young friends offer free childcare so parents can go on a date night. When a young couple loses their newborn child soon after birth, their pastor visits them in the hospital to weep and mourn with them, and their friends buy them a vacation to help them recover. A 10 year-old hugs his 25-year old friend good-bye. Two grown men meet over a cup of coffee to talk honestly about their struggles, fears, work, families, and dreams. A young couple are struggling to take care of their newborn, so their friends bring them dinner every night for two weeks. A family has a leak in their roof, and their friends fix it so the family can save money. A single man needs housing; a family welcomes him in their home and he becomes a part of their family. A family joyfully adopts a child.
The reason I share these verbal images is this: when writing about love, there is a very real danger. The danger is that love would be reduced from a concrete and beautiful part of personal experience to a bland and abstract idea. When I speak about love here, in somewhat abstract terms, it is my sincere hope that love will take concrete expression in your personal experience and in mine.
A Brief History of Love Since the Middle Ages
Augustine (354 A.D. to 430 A.D.), following biblical teaching, asserted that God is love, and love is from God. He believed that man is in need of divine grace in order to love God and love his neighbors as fully as possible. Pelagius (360 A.D. to 418 A.D.) contradicted Augustine, insisting man doesn’t need divine grace in order to live righteously and love others properly. (If you are unfamiliar with the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, see R.C. Sproul’s piece here.) As the Enlightenment eclipsed the Middle Ages, Rousseau (1712 A.D. to 1778 A.D.), the father of modern secular humanism, insisted that man, not God, is the source of love. Then came the counter-Enlightenment: reductive materialist thinkers like Nietzsche (1844-1900) insist that love is just chemical reactions.
I realize I am painting in broad brushstrokes to the point of oversimplification here, but it is helpful. Charles Taylor connects the Middle Ages and Enlightenment concisely with a key insight: “Rousseau is Pelagian Augustine, the good will is now innate, natural, entirely anthropocentric” (A Secular Age, p. 202). (“Anthropocentric” means “man-centered.”) In other words, contrary to Augustine, Rousseau says that man is the source of love and doesn’t need divine grace in order to love properly.
The process looks something like this:
The counter-Enlightenment presents a severe challenge to both Christianity and secular humanism: its cold, cruel logic destroys any beauty in love.
1) When someone uses the word “love,” ask them what they mean. Is stealing loving? Is sexual immorality loving? As we have seen here, there are at least three definitions of love. The typical Westerner has a definition of love that is a compromise between Augustine’s and Rousseau’s.
2) In a world where good and evil exist, it is not enough to know that a man loves. We should want to know whether that man loves good or loves evil. Pagan One-ism, in blurring the separation between good and evil encourages a man to love evil.
3) According to Christ, true love is love for God and love for neighbor (Luke 10:27). True love is expressed in obeying God’s commandments (John 14:15), and Christ’s disciples can only love properly when we are enabled by divine grace (John 15:5). The secular humanist definition of love is false, for it ignores God. The reductive materialist definition of love is false, for it minimizes the glory of love. The theological liberal definition of love is false, for it trifles with God’s commandments.
4) The logical and just consequence of rebelling against God and ignoring Him is that reductive materialism destroys love, robbing it of its transcendence, beauty, and glory. Similar arguments can be made for truth, meaning, morality, and beauty. If God is love, we should want to be connected to Him, not ignoring Him!
5) The supreme demonstration of love is not man’s love, but in Jesus acting as the propitiation, the substitutionary sacrifice, for rebels like you and me. When we trust in Jesus, we are reconciled to the God of love. When we delight in God’s forgiveness, God’s love flows through us like a vine nourishing its branches.
6) The world is aching to see love for God and love for neighbor. I have written about love in somewhat abstract terms here, but again, it is my sincere hope that love will saturate your personal experience and not remain an abstract idea. The biblical writer John makes the astounding claim that Christians’ love for one another makes God’s beauty visible in the world (1 John 4:12). Wow! God, help us to love You and our neighbors. Help us to make Your excellence and beauty visible through our love. Amen.
Nietzsche is “the first real atheist…it is Nietzsche above all who confronts the terrifying, exhilarating consequences of the death of God…Nietzsche sees that civilization is in the process of ditching divinity while still clinging to religious values, and that this egregious act of bad faith must not go uncontested. You cannot kick away the foundations and expect the building still to stand…Our conceptions of truth, virtue, identity and autonomy our sense of history as shapely and coherent, all have deep-seated theological roots. It is idle to imagine that they could be torn from these origins and remain intact” (Culture and the Death of God by Terry Eagleton).
Before I share this quote, I need to set the proper perspective. I am nuclear engineer. I love science and benefit from science every day. Science has an important place in Western thought and culture, but it does not stand supreme. I refuse to idolize science. People who build the houses of their lives on a foundation of scientific studies and scientific consensus are building on shaky ground.
“The Enlightenment idol is science…Science sells. Neil Postman likes to tell stories about how he can get people to warm up to absurd ideas just by suggesting that some large university has produced research on the topic. Attaching ‘produced at Berkeley, Harvard, MIT’ to a ridiculous argument immediately makes it cogent to many. That’s part of life, but let’s not pretend that it’s rationality.
The odd thing is that science has a rather ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences. Nothing can take the puff out of the scientific chest more than a study of its history. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rare to find science departments requiring courses in the history of science. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day’s science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time)…If the history of science were a single person, we certainly wouldn’t let that person drive heavy machinery or carry sharp objects…he could serve some useful functions…But to set him up as the premier standard and priest of rationality is a bit too much to ask.”
Augustine was once told “skepticism is wisdom.” After reflecting on this, he pointed out that if a skeptic doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t know anything including wisdom. In other words, “skepticism is wisdom” is a self-refuting statement. An honest skeptic cannot say, “skepticism is wisdom.” An honest skeptic can say, “I don’t know what wisdom is.”
If you have even a modest idea of what wisdom is, you have left the realm of skepticism and started your wanderings in the realm of certainty. But then there is a new danger. If it is wrong to say “skepticism is wisdom,” it is even more wrong to be proud about certainty. Certainty must always be held with love, kindness, mercy, grace, and humility.
We live in what Charles Taylor calls a “fragilized” world, meaning that all beliefs are open to scrutiny and doubt. The fact that my neighbor believes something completely different than I do makes me question and maybe even doubt my own beliefs. This has at least one interesting and unusual consequence: since everything is open to doubt, doubt is open to doubt. In fragilizing certainty, we have fragilized doubt.
“…And God separated the light from the darkness.” ~Genesis 1:4
From the very beginning of the Bible, God is a God who makes distinctions and separations. The Bible presents a binary view of reality: there is truth, falsehood; good, evil; righteousness, unrighteousness; light, darkness.
This binary view of reality is not something unique to the Old Testament. God in the New Testament makes distinctions as well:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality…” (Galatians 5:19).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22).
According to the Bible, love is not sexual immorality; love is not lust; and lust is not the deep erotic passion between a husband and wife celebrated in Song of Solomon. Love and red-hot sexual attraction in marriage are good and lovely. Lust and sexual immorality are evil.
As Western culture becomes more influenced by pagan One-ism, we will see these boundaries blurred, melded, and obscured:
According to pagan One-ism, lust is love. The biblical separation between love and lust has been melded and obscured.
The average person objects at this point: lust isn’t a big deal. But let me explain it this way: if adultery is the lie that God cheats on people He loves, lust is the lie that God would even think about it. Lust is something horrifying and evil that strikes at the very heart of God’s character: His love, purity, holiness, covenant faithfulness, and His commitment to keep His promises in thought and in action.