You cursed my work with thistles, thorns,
And now the thorns Your crown adorns.
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).
“The prophet, it is written, ‘stretched himself upon the child.’ One would have thought it should be written, ‘he contracted himself!’ He was a full-grown man, and the other a mere lad. Should it not be ‘he contracted himself’? No, ‘he stretched himself;’ and, mark you, no stretching is hard than for a man to stretch himself to a child. He is no fool who can talk to children; a simpleton is much mistaken if he thinks that his folly can interest boys and girls. It needs our best wits, our most industrious studies, our most earnest thoughts, our ripest powers, to teach our little ones. You will not quicken the child until you have stretched yourself; and, though it seems a strange thing, yet it is so. The wisest man will need to exercise all his abilities if he would become a successful teacher of the young” (The Soul Winner, p. 156).
When I say “love,” what images come to your mind?
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.
Christian love and secular humanism’s love are two different things.
Christian love is inseparable from the Law of God. Idolatry is not loving toward God. Dishonoring authority, murdering, committing sexual immorality, stealing, lying, and coveting are not loving toward our neighbors. Christian love has a strong negative, but it must go from the negative to positive. In the positive sense, Jesus lived an active life of love, obedience, and righteousness; in the negative sense, Jesus was sinless.
Secular humanism’s love is inseparable from the ideas of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is why pornography can be OK if it is between consenting adults, but why rape is wrong. This is why homosexual practice is OK, but pedophilia is wrong. This is why cheating on a spouse is wrong, but if both spouses agree on an “open marriage” it’s OK. This is why from a secular perspective 50 Shades of Grey is so confusing: he’s abusing her, which violates mutual benefit, but she agreed to it and they’re consenting adults, so maybe it’s OK? If consent is the only criterion that determines whether a sexual act is moral or immoral, there are some serious difficulties. For example, a husband and wife can’t have passionate, spontaneous love-making because they have to stop every step of the way and both say a verbal “yes.” I strongly disapprove of this moral reasoning, but I hope I have represented it fairly.
God is disciplining the unfaithfulness of American Christians because we are trying to make compromises between Christianity and secular humanism. We are like Eve thinking we know better than God. Christians who start to approve of pornography, sexual immorality, abortion, “open marriages,” despising authority, etc. will find they have no moral leg to stand on. Approving of evil is evil. The reward for loving lies is more lies. Elijah said to the people of Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 King 18:21).
Jesus Himself says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
By relaxing the Law of God, many American Christians are throwing away their reward.
What do you do when you struggle with a guilty conscience?
We all “flee to a fountain” for cleansing, if you will. We try to soothe a guilty conscience with good deeds or acts of charity. We try to drown our guilt with drugs and alcohol. We try to explain a guilty conscience away as mere psychological feelings. But sometimes psychological guilt is not merely that, but actually pointing us to real guilt. The Christian teaching in 1 John 1:5-10 is that we have true moral guilt before a pure and holy God, that God graciously and lovingly supplies the blood of Christ to cleanse us of our true guilt, and that we should apply the blood of Christ to our consciences whenever we sin through confession. Confession (homologeo, literally “same speech”) is calling sin sin. Confession does not occur whenever we downplay sin, divert conversations away from sin, distract from our sin by pointing out the sins of others, or whitewash sin with the language of spirituality and virtue. Confession is calling sin sin.
“Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, shows a great understanding of the fact that our salvation includes salvation from the bondage of our own conscience. It is, of course, natural and right that as we become Christians our consciences should become ever more tender. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. However, I should not be bowed down by my conscience year after year over sins which are past. When my conscience under the Holy Spirit makes me aware of a specific sin I should at once call that sin sin and bring it consciously under the blood of Christ. Now it is covered and it is not honoring to the finished work of Jesus Christ to worry about it, as far as my relationship to God is concerned. Indeed, to worry about it is to do despite to the infinite value of the death of the Son of God. My fellowship with God is restored…
“I rather picture my conscience as a big black dog with enormous paws which leaps upon me, threatening to cover me with mud and devour me. But as this conscience of mine jumps upon me, after a specific sin has been dealt with on the basis of Christ’s finished work, then I should turn to my conscience and say, in effect, ‘Down! Be still’ I am to believe God and be quiet, in my practice and experience” (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 104).
In many cases, we do not just sin against God, but also against neighbor. We should seek reconciliation with God, and then seek reconciliation with those we have wronged.
“If I know that somewhere back in my life I have dealt with some Christian, or some non-Christian, on less than a really human basis, I must go back if possible, pick up the pieces, and say, ‘I am sorry'” (Schaeffer, p. 159).
“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1, ESV).