(This is the second installment of a previous essay with the same name.)
I started thinking about this question last week (December 12, 2012 just a few days before Newtown) , and in particular I wanted to revisit a book “Can Man Live Without God” that I had read many years ago.
. . . . .
Then came the carnage in Newtown Connecticut just an hours drive from my home.
How to explain or try to make sense of what happened in that small rural town in New England … we will be hearing much and from many sources and from many different viewpoints (well actually only a few viewpoints) and I also am attempting to gain clarity on what happened and why. Thus this book by this particular author is where I will begin. Not quite where I thought I would be going with this book, but nevertheless a journey I am now on. I suspect my final comments will be weeks away as I collect my thoughts and once more ask the same question as Mr. Zacharias asks: “Can Man Live Without God?”
Let me first dispense with what I consider the superficial, the surface symptom; the argument that we have a gun problem in the Unitized States. Yes we do have a gun problem, but the gun is but the branch and not the root of what is happening. The root and the branch are both being watered and nourished by something more sinister than that gun in the drawer or hanging on the wall or in the pocket.
I’ve lived in Connecticut for less than 4 years, and one thing I’ve noticed is that this state seems to have been at the heart of the firearms industry. Colt, Remington, Marlin, Winchester and others had a huge presence in past years and you can see the decaying ruins of those arms factories in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. We’ve driven through these areas a number of times.
I don’t know how many guns have been produced here in Connecticut, probably in the millions, and sold to millions. If guns were the root of the problem then I suspect we should have seen massive gun problems in the heyday of those industry here; but that seems not to be the case.
I plan to return to the gun issue later in the context of our Constitutional Republic and hopefully a bit of historical context, but now I continue with the question at hand.
And before I can even begin I must share what is happening right now as I write these words. I am watching a man on TV … the father of a 6 year old girl who was killed Friday. The grieving father is speaking out in public and is reaching out to the shooter’s family and offering love and prayers to them … to the shooters father. An amazing demonstration of Amazing Grace. If you don’t know how that great hymn Amazing Grace came into being then read the story and then listen and sing it yourself . Then you may understand why that grieving father can reach out to another grieving father and offer Grace … and perhaps we all can see that this sort of grace is what will be at the heart of the healing of this nation.
So I will post this incomplete essay now as I continue pondering the question …
Now let me continue, while not losing sight of the context of Newtown. …
Part I of the book is titled “Antitheism Is Alive – and Deadly”
“When man lives without God chaos is the norm” is the short answer that Zacharias gives. I first read this quote back in the mid 1990s and it has stuck with me ever since because it so succinctly captures the essence of the question. In fact I printed this quote, among others, on a parchment paper, framed it and hung it on our kitchen wall during the time we lived in the high desert of California. Another quote I saved from that same era is “There must be a common string by which we tune. There must be a boundary to the waters if the whole world is to not turn soggy. There has to be a system of justice. If that does not happen then strength of body will determine right and wrong.”
Both of these quotes were autographed by Ravi when I was fortunate to meet him in person at a Christian men’s breakfast last year in Connecticut.
These two quotes seem to bracket the human condition, at the individual as well as the larger societal levels of families, communities, nations and civilizations.
“Chaos is the norm.” Life is chaotic, there’s no getting around it. Life just happens in and around me as an individual and also upstream flowing down to me. Much of this ”life happening” is good and I rejoice often in the little successes, whether they are my own, my wife’s, my children’s, my grandchildren’s or something heartwarming drawing my attention from the outside world. I often get those e-mails from friends, containing a series of cute and heartwarming pictures of animals, children, trees … whatever.
On the other side of that same coin of chaos is the chaos of pain … the chaos of suffering … the chaos of anger … and the chaos of anguish that all too often comes into our lives as individuals. Sickness, death, divorce, bitterness, addiction, poverty, hunger, estrangement, abandonment, rejection, loneliness and other afflictions.
How do we manage, let alone survive, as individuals when this side of the coin of chaos enters our lives? And how do we manage and survive without God in these afflictions?
God brings hope into chaos.
The rejection of God invites a chaos of a different sort … a chaos on an entirely different level from those afflictions noted above. Rejection of God brings an intensification of those afflictions simply because such rejection smothers the whole thing with hopelessness.
The philosopher Nietzsche sprung onto the world the notion that “God is dead!” and this notion grew legs with the poison spreading far and wide. Nietzsche contracted syphilis early in life, and that affliction extracted on his life a vicious and merciless toll. He was insane for the last twelve years of his life, but in the interim wrote much on his anti-theistic philosophy. The physical and personal toll of Nietzsche’s affliction was horrific … not just on his body but on his lifestyle as well; “he was stooped,five-foot-eight and almost blind, he would return to his routine in his small, freezing, and unkempt room. On a table innumerable scraps of paper recording his erratic thoughts were stacked … “
Hardly the description of a life containing a semblance of hope, yet one vastly propagandizing the alleged liberation of living without God.
Before I move on to a more global perspective of living without God, let me leave you with the following from the Apostle Paul to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
What I am about to describe shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone reading this essay, nor should any rationalization or excuses be offered.
Living without God on the global level has brought much chaos … nay … death, suffering and destruction upon the world. We only have to transport our thoughts back to the twentieth century and look at some of the nations whose governments sought to remove God from their thinking.
In the twentieth century many nations adopted atheism as an official and central tenant of government and societal life. The Soviet Union, the many client states of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, North Korea and others … all officially attempted to remove God from all aspects of their nations.
Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to replace the Christian Gospel of the German Lutheran Church with the pagan Nazi religion with Hitler replacing Jesus as the savior. For the most part they were successful in the “official” church. There were dissenters such as Pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer who actually participating in one of more of the many unsuccessful attempts to assassinate the dictator. The assassination plots all failed and many including Bonheoffer were executed.
The fruits of these attempts of nations to live without God were horrific with well over one hundred million deaths in just 70 years.
Hear what Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps had to say:
“… The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment … I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philo0sophers.”
A few quotes from Zacharias and I will rest my case:
“Time and again it was proven that it is not possible to establish a reasonable and coherent ethical theory without first establishing the telos, i.e. the purpose and destiny of human life. Even Kant concluded that without a telos, it all got wrongheaded. If life itself is purposeless, ethics falls into disarray. As Dostoevsky said, if God is dead, everything is justifiable.”
And chillingly Zacharias includes in this section the following extrapolation:
“I, for one, see Nietzsche’s life and death as a blueprint for where we are headed inexorably as a nation, having committed ourselves to an anti-theistic form of government and education.”
Zacharias wrote this in 1994! In which direction have we moved since?
So what does this all have to do with Newtown Connecticut?
If you are a parent or grandparent raising young children run to your local Bible believing church or synagogue and get them and you involved in what the Judeo-Christian traditions have to say about these fundamental questions of life. Don’t just send these children … seek the answers yourself for your own life.
There are few if any guarantees in life, but a solid Biblically based lifestyle in ourselves and our younger generations is as close as you are likely to get to a guarantee. And don’t naively raise these young ones with the notion of ”‘not forcing religion down their throats and letting them make their own choice as adults.” Give them a solid basis on which to make that adult decision, they won’t get the information at school and they won’t get the information at church or synagogue if you don’t take them and show an interest. The alternative is to put them into the clutches of a Nietzsche, a Dawkins or a Coyne.
And on the national and global scale? Be
informed and very careful of who you vote for.
Listen carefully to the words of those who would be your leaders; look for the substance beneath the rhetoric. When you hear the charismatic voice promising to “heal the earth”, “stop the rise of the oceans” and such flowering phrases as “we are the ones we are waiting for!” know that you are listening to a scoundrel of the first order who seeks the power of enslavement over you.
More to follow: