How Should We Then Live? Chapter 13: The Alternatives
Schaeffer started the book saying that the Roman system of gods and values was not strong enough to hold up underneath the strains of the world. The reasons why Rome fell may be more complicated. There were internal and external factors. There were moral and political factors. Still, Rome fell. It is a matter of historical record. Just like this Roman bridge would if an 18-wheeler drove over it. At the same time the Christian Church survived and grew in numbers and influence. The first part of this book gives an explanation of why that happened.
Schaeffer ends the book in chapter 13, calling upon Christians to warn the West not to go down the same path as Rome. Rome had to increasingly use force to maintain order. Chapters 8-12 explain how Western society is devolving into a Rome-like entity held together by force and administered through arbitrary morals and laws.
He warns that pressure is coming on the West in 5 areas. He then explains there is a choice to go down one of two paths to cope with the pressures. The first is Authoritarianism that is cloaked in Pragmatism. The second is Christianity. Last, Schaeffer reminds the reader that Christianity is the foundation for the freedom and prosperity the West has built for almost two thousand years.
The Five Pressures
According to Schaeffer pressure is coming from five major areas in the world.
- Economic Breakdown
- War or the Serious Threat of War
- The Chaos of Violence
- The Radical Redistribution of the Wealth of the World
- A Growing Shortage of Food and Other Natural Resources in the World
I think the pressures Schaeffer lists were correct and still relevant today. However, I find some missteps in his description of how these pressure come about or their true nature.
He starts out very strong pointing to the stagflation and recession of the 1970s as leading to economic breakdown. He also properly diagnoses that attempts to control the economy through central banking don't solve problems but cause them. If only he was more knowledgeable on Austrian economics and its business cycle theory, he could have in more detail explained how to produce economic prosperity without inflation.
"Each cycle of inflation, attempted control, the threat of economic
recession and finally, released control, has increased inflation...
Thus, each threat of economic recession opens the door for the
next higher state of inflation."
He is dead on that the economic breakdown of Germany's Weimar republic andled to their acceptance of Nazism. It is clear case of how government and central bank intervention in the economy causes both inflation and recession. Bottom line, increasing the amount of money, called economic "stimulus" in the US today, is the problem. Sending out "new" money; whether to people, corporations, or banks; is a sure way to ruin your economy. The West is barreling down this road and accelerating. US Presidents since George Bush have increased the money supply first by hundreds of billions of dollars, then a trillion or two, now Biden is calling for $6 trillion to be added to pay for "infrastructure."
Next I will combine pressures 2 and 3, since they are closely related. Nothing is more of a problem than war, violence, and chaos. In Schaeffer's mind is the Cold War and the looming nuclear threat. The West clearly won that contest without war by have more dynamic economies facilitated by more individual freedom and much less government intervention. It is reasonable to believe people will be increasingly open to authoritarian government if they believe it can protect them from war and maintain prosperity. Neoconservative foreign policy was built to do just that. It's influence on the American Right is waning but most Republicans still justify foreign military action based on the same doctrine. With the Biden Administration the Neoconservative flame seems to have passed into the Democratic Party as well. War has a corrosive affect society even it is fought on foreign soil, so as wars continue the pressures mount.
With that realization, the pressure from war has taken a different shape. Relations with Russia are still complicated, but they aren't the threat that the Soviet Union posed. Today our leaders point to China and Islamic terrorism mainly. Both of these entities are dangerous. However, it should be clear too that regardless of the level of threat they pose, they are utilized by the US government to baldly justify military engagement across the entire globe.
"political terrorism has become one of the phenomena of the age"
"we have already seen indications of how people give up liberties
when they are faced with the threat of terrorism."
In our own day, the American people have largely supported the War on Terror. This started with 9/11 but now twenty years later support comes more from the threat of violence than actual terrorism in the US. We cheer assassinations in the Middle East. We defend perpetually holding suspected terrorists in cells. With the existence of the Patriot Act the government is spying on every US citizen, which means we have given up the protection of the 4th amendment of the Constitution without even a debate. The founding American generation would have started a war over this. Schaeffer is correct that in the modern West, pressure leads to people giving up freedom for security. As long as our lives remain peaceful and affluent we have demonstrated our nation will vote for authoritarian rule.
A more subtle source of war is the cultural war within the West. Schaeffer mentions old-line Communists gaining traction in southern Europe. Today, the threat comes more from Cultural Marxists and their philosophical weapons of Critical Theory, Social Justice, and LGBTQAIP+ ideology. These doctrines attack Western political and economical structures but also the fabric of human society. The culture war is creeping out of intellectual circles and into the streets. The clearest examples have been Antifa and BLM riots which have killed dozens of people and damaged a billion dollars of property in the last 2 or so years. That doesn't count other physical casualties and the intimidation they are responsible for. To paraphrase Bob Marley, "war. war. everywhere is war. rumors of war." It is a real pressure people are feeling.
I think where Schaeffer was less prophetic was on pressures 4 and 5 which combine into the thought that there will be problems with the supply of food and other natural resources and governments will attempt to forcibly redistribute resources across the world. Redistribution is more of an issue within the US. It does create pressure against political and ethnic groups, but this isn't the picture Schaeffer was painting. However, I do think there are related pressures in the world today, some real and some imagined.
"If these pressures do continue to mount, which seems probable
do you think people, young or old, will at great cost to themselves,
at the cost of their personal peace and affluence, stand up for
liberty and the individual?"
Powerful organizations now work with governments pushing a climate crisis ideology. The political Left is calling for vast increases in government scope and control over the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic was real but it was taken advantage of to control the economy and manipulate individual behavior. Very few people pushed back against the government over reach that came from centralized COVID-19 containment policy. If 2020 was any indication, the Church is not yet willing to push back against authoritarianism.
Two Paths: "Pragmatist" Or Christian
To cope with these pressures as they mount, Western society will have to walk down one of two paths. The first path is to submit to an evermore authoritarian government believing its promise of order, peace, and prosperity through power. The alternative is stand fast against it by holding fast to the truth in order to protect individual freedoms. It has been Schaeffer's theme throughout the last part of this book that the only antidote to authoritarianism is to hold onto a Christian worldview. We live in a society that was able to provide freedom together with order and structure by building it on biblical principles. Humanity in total didn't arrive at freedom or democracy by the process of social Darwinism. A quote in Newsweek from Jiro Tokuyama, who lead a large research organization in Japan, illustrates this fact.
"Whereas Western religions are based on beliefs in an everlasting,
absolute God, the Japanese... did not perceive the presence of such
a permanent being. Instead they believed that what is right changes
with the times and changing situations."
This kind of moral or ethical relativism can now be found in Western countries. This means that even organizations, which before defended individual rights and absolute values will now start to function in ways that betray their reasons for existence. The original charters and constitutions of states and international organizations will be undermined as values change.
This ideology is called Pragmatism. If there is no absolute right or wrong, then people will appeal to what "works". It gives the illusion that you are not held back by anything in the search to solve the world's problems. But it is an ideology itself, which stipulates that things like morals, principles, or philosophies are impediments to progress.
We can look back in history and see what the fruits of Pragmatism are. It was in the name of being pragmatic that Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact giving Czechoslovakia over to Hitler. That action wasn't justified because it was morally right. It did not serve justice. It didn't lead to freedom or prosperity for the people of that country. It was justified because leaders thought it was required to make peace. Pragmatism didn't lead to peace though.
After World War 2, Pragmatism lead Western countries to send political dissidents back to the Soviet Union. In one example of many, 50,000 Cossacks were repatriated to the Soviet Union by force only to be killed or imprisoned. The US and Western Europe didn't approve of this because they demanded justice for the Cossacks or because the Soviet Union had a right to be their home country. They did it to make peace with Soviet Union. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn estimated that this happened to about 1.5 million Soviet citizens. All of them were executed or sent to die in the gulag. I met an old Ukrainian women about 20 years ago that was able to escape repatriation. Maybe someday I will write about our 3 hour conversation in an airplane someday. It is fascinating to say the least.
Many of our leaders in the US appeal to Pragmatism today to solve the social and economic problems we have, ignoring what past generations considered human nature, economic law, natural rights, or biblical morality. If you look at the 5 pressures discussed in the previous section, addressing those problems with Pragmatism will make a government that controls every facet of your life.
The alternative path is for Christians to influence their culture towards a biblical worldview. That means speaking the truth regardless of the cost. Of course this works best if more people believe in Jesus and become Christian, but that isn't required to steer society away from authoritarian government.
"Christians do not need to be a majority in order for this influence
on society to occur."
Christianity isn't based on what "works" but on what is true. It means rejecting the ideas of modernism described throughout this book. Belief in a personal, eternal God must replace belief in impersonal time and chance to create the universe. It means accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. It means aligning your thoughts and behavior with the divine revelation of the Bible. It doesn't mean replacing reason and science with dogma and ignorance, because God's truth unifies all the different fields of knowledge and areas of life into one whole. It is the universal that connects all the particulars together.
"Here are the morals, values, and meaning, including meaning for
people, which are not just a result of statistical averages."
If Western culture is going to follow the path of the Christian world view, the Church must do several things consistently. First, we must hold firm historical Christian doctrine. Succumbing to the influences of Liberal theology or Progressive Christianity will erode its role of truth teller in society. We must believe what is says about the supernatural, about judgment, holiness, and salvation by grace through faith. We must also continue to believe all that the Bible says about nature, society, history, politics, and economics. To do anything else is to form our own modern, Christian existentialism.
Second, we must criticize specific government actions when they violate Christian values. We must also question even the existence of government involvement in many areas of life. We alone hold to absolutes which can correctly judge the state and society. Christians have in the past applied those absolutes to subjects like race and charity. We should continue speaking on those issues, but the unique threat of our time is the rise of authoritarian government. Christians need to stand ready to speak out against it whether it comes from the Right or Left. We need to stand outside of that spectrum and represent something completely different.
If we want to preserve freedom in our society, if we want safety without living in a police state, if we also want our lives to be full of real purpose and meaning, how should we then live?