Progressivism: Salvation through Politics

A few weeks ago, after my recent pieces on mass shootings my mother noted she was concerned that several political posts on truth in the trenches that I was moving away from my central mandate; I certainly can understand this point, the gospel and the Christian faith is my bedrock and center. I also have another blog that I am looking at using for non-apologetic pieces on issues that have philosophical and theological elements to them, and unfortunately too many of these are political for my tastes.

This raises the question, why deal with politics on an apologetics blog at all? This is a valid question, but my answer is going to be a bit different from past thoughts. My reasons are that I think progressivism (as well as the predominate form of libertarianism, such as is found in the writings of Ayn Rand) should be treated as a religion, not merely as a political philosophy. As such, I am ultimately demonstrating the unreliability of a religious sect, rather than defending a political opinion. I will not expound on the entirety of my case at this time (four earlier versions of this article have been deleted, because trying to make that case quickly started turning into blog posts that are both too complex and too long—even for me). Rather I will note two points of a larger case that will come together later, Lord willing in a journal article. First, from the standpoint of philosophy of religion, new atheism, communism Nazism and other movements have been described with terms such as “pseudo-religions,” because when criteria for defining a religion are laid down, these movements are inevitably similar. Second, historically, I believe the 21st century, like the age of exploration, is demonstrating that the traditional taxonomy of religious beliefs is inadequate, and the distinction between religion and worldview even less adequate. I’ve seen some commentators refer to progressives as “fundamentalists,”[1] in describing the way progressives seek to use social and economic force to destroy those they deem enemies, my suggestion is that they are doing so because they are enacting on their religious beliefs.

But why treat progressivism as a religion rather than deal with the philosophies associated with progressivism? The answer is that much of what we think of as post-modernism changes the structure of western philosophy through ideas that were made popular by Michael Foucault in the academy, which in turn were derived from Nietsche and Marx. In most of western philosophy, ethics, the answer to questions related to “How then shall we live,” are rooted in metaphysics and epistemology. But Foucault instead argued that it all really come down to power, not truth.[2] For modern progressive, political power and identity take on the role that drives the rest of the philosophical and religious agenda.

But not only does political theory become the basis for their worldview, it becomes the means of salvation, as well, an eschatological hope founded by remolding society through the removal of all privilege, both those considered unjust (a justice that lacks any sense of merit other than holding progressive ideals) but also those inherent in giftedness. Progressive views are incommensurable with the classical liberalism that is typically called conservatism in the United States.

The problem with seeking heaven on earth, (besides other problems that are subjects of other columns) is that such a thing requires a view of human nature that is untenable. Such ideals and dreams have turned into the nightmares of the Soviet Union or Jonestown, precisely because the one undeniable truth of Christianity (by anyone who has done a half-way competent reading of history) is that the core problem in human civilization is that human beings are universally bad, and cannot be trusted with universal power. The problem with building a perfect civilization is that it will instantly cease to be perfect the moment a human being is included. Scripture warns, that a man who trusts in flesh, is cursed, history would seem to affirm Scripture’s judgment. The reason why so many projects like that of progressivism leads to totalitarianism is because it seeks perfect society without perfecting the human heart. Removing power from one person and giving it to another only leads to something better if the person gaining power is more virtuous than the person losing power, but the history of revolutions would tend to indicate that the bitterness and anger which lead to revolution only multiply sufferings, they do not alleviate them. It is only Christianity that offers a hope for a more just society by offering a more virtuous ruler in a future eschatological kingdom, a ruler for whose virtue is so great that He is able to communicate that virtue into his supplicants.

 

 

[1] This shows a general ignorance of the Christian fundamentalism but, again, that is a topic for another day.

[2] There are other essential ingredients and interpretational issues, but these are not listed to maintain some semblance of simplicity will be discussed later, perhaps. The can be understood by noting the role of power as the central concern in political theory.

Mass Shootings

So the news of the day involves the recent shootings in El Paso Texas, and Dayton Ohio, one by a racist who is being connected to Trump, one in Dayton Ohio to someone who, according to several news outlets, was a leftist who apparently supported Elizabeth Warren (this has not been covered as heavily as the political connections to the El Paso Shooting), and who also apparently had connections to the incel community. Naturally we have the debate in headlines that focused on politics. Yesterday, Joe Biden claimed Trump bears responsibility for “fanning the flames of White Supremacy” but noticeably, Joe, other Democrats and left wing outlets have been unwilling to give suggest outspoken democratic party members for speech for the 2017 congressional shooting, nor does the left discuss the Southern Poverty Law Center responsibility in the same terms for the mass shooting at the Family Research Council in 2012.

These issues always bring up discussions of gun control. It has been a few years, but the last I checked, gun bans in other countries do lead to fewer gun related homicides, but the overall homicide rates tend to dip only temporarily as other methods of murder become more prominent, and other crimes, including violent offenses such as sexual assaults or other crimes against women tend to go up. The goal of this site is not to discuss politics, nor gun control, but the gun control debate does illustrate something, gun control doesn’t solve this problem because it targets means, but what is needed isn’t a discussion of means it is the root cause (Republicans can in turn be very good at distinguishing the means from the causes, but while they make the distinction, they are never seem to actually get around to discussing the causes themselves). Mass shootings are a relatively new phenomenon, at least in the current incarnation. Yes, there have been shootings with innocent bystanders for years, stemming from mob wars, where “civilians” are in the field of fire between combatants, this happened at the St. Valentine’s day massacre, or during the late 80s war between different factions of the Columbo crime family, for example. Other actions of terrorism were about maintaining political power, such as the Klan, for example, always had goals that related to political power; such as the suppression of African Americans from voting. The closest thing to mass shootings in an earlier epoch would be bombings by Vietnam War protestors, but they were (ineffectively) taking actions they thought would undermine a war or to start a Marxist revolution of the proletariat. Even the Manson family had a political motive, albeit one based in a strange, drug induced interpretation of the Beatles’ White Album.

Modern mass shootings differ in terms of motives from other types of murders; they are not about profit or power, but become instead the ultimate means of expressing anger, hatred, frustration, and depression; they are often murder/suicides, the goal being to die and take out someone in the class of people the perpetrator believes is harming him. The earliest example I am aware of concerning this modern phenomenon of mass shootings was the Texas University Sniper in the 1966, but the phenomenon started in earnest during the Columbine shootings in the 90s. The phenomenon of mass shootings is frightening, usually happening in gun free zones, but given the ease with which information can be found on the internet, if guns were outlawed, and the statistics hold true, why should we think mass shootings would not be replaced by planting bombs in public places, such as happened at the Boston Marathon?

It seems, the one thing we don’t want to consider is that cultural changes, including the abandonment of Christianity. Mass shootings are a symptom of the ways our cultural values have become defective. No one wants to phrase it this way, we would, for example, rather discuss bullying in connection with school shootings. Personally, I was the victim of extensive bullying when I was in high school, and there were times I had to deal with a great deal of anger and resentment over that bullying. But I never considered taking something like a mass shooting, which I could have accessed, and shooting my tormenters. Nor did the countless potential army of victims generated from bullying that goes back generations. But that was before we abandoned the idea that man is made in the image of God, and before the widespread impacts of moral relativism, existentialism and post-modernism. This appears to be an especially attractive offering for the post modern that finds the dream is elusive, and unreal. Incels (involuntary celibates, a term a group of men who feel despair of ever finding connections with women) are perhaps the best example of this tendency. These millennial men are finding that the post-modern dream is a nightmare for anyone who is socially awkward and not what society considers attractive, many are turning to post-modernism’s ideological cousin, nihilism, as an outlet, and the results have been devastating not only to the incel community, but to a number of women who have been injured by this community.

 

I’m sure the politicians will use these tragedies to their advantage; I’m sure over the weeks and months we will find further grounds for political polarization in internet echo chambers, or in political speeches; extremism always being a problem only in the other party, as the political cycle whirls in a race to the bottom. But until America begins to recognize that this is a problem built in the background of our changing cultural mores, that mass shootings and other types of political violence are not issues of party (as both parties have their rhetorical bomb throwers), then we will continue to merely look at issues of means, rather than the root problem. We should be looking in a mirror, rather than looking at a political party.

Sam Harris: Afraid of Evolutionary Ethics

I recently read Sam Harris’s book, Letter to a Christian Nation, and like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, it reminds me of how the new atheists are the intellectual liliputians in the modern debate. Like Hitchens and Dawkins, he purports to prove there is no God, or no rational reason to believe in God, but his work is an example of cherry-picking, represents no actual interaction with his intellectual opponents, makes a number of errors and questionable comparisons, has shown no ability to work through where his own premises and presuppositions likewise demand development, but centers it all with a type of heavy-handed, venomous, hateful rhetoric that is reminiscent of some of the rhetoric of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

But, while the work has little to commend itself as an actual work of moral reasoning, he is an example, to a greater depth than Hitchens or Dawkins, of the self-refuting nature of the type of moralistic argument at the heart of the new atheists, what Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcy would describe as a dichotomy between facts and values that is so prevalent among western atheists. Harris notes, on slavery, “The moment a person recognizes that slaves are human beings like himself, enjoying the same capacity for suffering and happiness, he will understand that it is patently evil to own them and treat them like farm equipment.”[1] Yet, this is precisely the type of argument no reductive materialist arguing for an atheistic evolutionary theory has the grounds to make, in the first place.

That is, if we accept both that evolutionary theory is a sufficient explanation for the variety of life on the planet, and we accept that no divine architect ever interfered in that process, that no divine legislature designed the algorithm by which it does its works, and no God started the process off with the first bit of DNA, and if a slave is a human being like myself, who enjoys the same capacity for suffering and happiness, then he is a competitor with me for resources, and if I am to be successful, that means I must defeat competitors who would prevent me from securing resources. That is, if evolution is about survival and passing on one’s genes, then someone else’s happiness or suffering is unimportant, all that matters is my own survival and ability to pass along my own genes. Now, of course, it could be objected that humans are social and interdependent, and my survival depends on the flourishing of the group, fair enough, but this still does not make a moral case that I ought to worry about someone else’s happiness or suffering, it makes an instrumental case that in certain circumstances it is beneficial to my happiness and ability to pass on my genes to worry about someone else’s happiness, of course, this also means when circumstances change, its every man for himself.

This also goes for various claims about religious wars, this assumes that war is a morally bad thing, but again, an evolutionary naturalist has no grounds to think of war as anything other than competition for resources, and therefore, is not an evil in and of itself. It furthermore performs natures task, it winnows the weaker societies and individuals so there is more left for those who are more fit. His tirade against Christianity (as his book cannot be described with any term implying reason or logic) ultimately comes down to his embrace of an ethic that is ultimately in contradiction to his worldview. In other words, Harris is one of those atheists who believes that evolution is the cornerstone of the way the universe (not necessarily just biology) works, but on the other hand whose ethics shy away from the ethical ramifications of his own conclusions.

 

[1] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2006), 18-19

All’s Quiet on the Western Front

This blog might appear to have become dormant, and some may have thought I had given up on this project, but the truth is, I’ve been busy. Work, family and being a PhD candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have left my time limited, particularly since I am still recovering from a TBI nearly two years ago. My classwork is going well, and I am in the final stages of my program, facing comprehensive exams and a dissertation, this coming semester my focus will be writing a prospectus on why Old Testament slave codes are not a reason to reject Christianity (Leviticus 25:44-46 being an important point that many apologists overlook in their answers) answering from an analysis of Matthew 19:1-12. At some point I will be applying to teach apologetics in Christian higher education. I will still be very busy, and will not be able to write frequently.

But, besides the issue of time, this blog has not, precisely, been a successful one, at least in terms our culture would consider important. Very few posts are viewed by more than one or two people. I can often become more technical than I mean to be here, and apologetic blogs tend to appeal largely to those who are already engaged in apologetics, or places where a lot of debate is happening. What is more, good bloggers must be good marketers. I have the same relationship with marketing that I have with painting or good bluegrass: I can appreciate it, but I don’t have the skills to produce it. In the long run, I have two things I think Truth in the Trenches will need to be successful, first, this blog has always been a one man show; I am going to need help in the long run. Secondarily, I want to develop a podcast format, but something that is somewhat distinctive; some of my first ideas, for example, were too similar to Al Mohler’s excellent daily podcast to be distinctive enough to be useful.

Some might ask, why bother? Yet, I believe whatever path I have been down, God has led me. I trust this ministry will do what He intends it to do. In the long term, the challenges I list are not reasons to quit but reasons to find a better way to move this ministry forward. I will continue to make updates from time to time as I can. In the near term, I plan to post some position papers, starting with a general statement on Truth in the Trenches “niche,” they are outside of my usual fare for this site and will not, primarily be arguments. Rather they are intended to be useful both as documents I can use to secure a teaching position, and for deciding on what direction, and hopefully for what type of assistance to look for. But, the issue of my intermittent publications will remain in the short term, while I try to work out, in God’s time a different plan for this ministry. Truth in the Trenches is my ministry outlet, my attempt to be useful while still in school, and it may be a repository for work to come later as well as to test ideas and formulations, and if it is small now, well Dr. Bob Jones Senior once noted that the most important light in the house was the backhall light; while I work to find a way to make that light a little brighter and more useful, I will continue to at least use it as I can until those plans come to fruition.

Pro-Choice is Pro-Nazi

Abortion has been a big issue with Christians since the 1970s, when Roe v Wade, when the supreme court expanded federal power to regulate abortion laws, protecting abortion in the first trimester. Some among progressives have tried to argue this is a smokescreen for racism, but this is ultimately something of a conspiracy theory; I’m sure there are some racists that are pro-life (at least, for babies of the desired race), and in the seventies, the religious right existed in both parties; many Christians in the day (including my father) were “blue dog democrats” something that doesn’t seem to exist now. Nor did this lead to an immediate impact for the Republican party, many pro-lifers, for example, voted for Jimmy Carter.

But many today ask why Christians make so much of a big deal on the matter, arguing abortion is only one issue. Why, for example, would we say that being prochoice results in an automatic refusal to receive my vote—my own policy on the issue? The answer can be rephrased this way, I would vote for someone who is prochoice only in those circumstances where I would vote for Hitler as they are ideologically aligned. Many will think this is some extreme statement of political rhetoric, others simply treat this as old hat, and a version of the ad Hitlerium logical fallacy. Now it is true that the ad Hitlerium fallacy is a serious error in reasoning regularly committed in American politics (particularly by progressives), but the problem is, this only works as a fallacy when the comparison is between accidental similarities of policy, rhetoric or presentation rather than essential issues of worldview. That is, it is a logical fallacy to compare the haircut of a candidate, a style of speech or dress, or party organization. Similarly, an expansion of the freeway system (the autobahn being a Nazi contribution), or implementation of socialism are similarities of policy that may be accidental to Nazism rather than essential.

My point, however, is that the core commitments of the prochoice movement are derived principles that are also essential elements of Nazism, that is, the prochoice movement replicates a version of arguments for core Nazi principles, specifically the rationale for the final solution. There are two points of comparison to make. The first was the belief that Jews, Slavs and “easterners” were “sub-human.” That is, Nazis argued that certain racial groups were really not human beings, they were instead closer to apes. Therefore, the Nazis argued that Jews must be killed and Slavs were fit for only slave labor. The prochoice version of this argument comes in two forms, initially there was the direct one, that a baby in the womb (or increasingly an infant) is not human; this was the terminology as I was coming up. Often, for example describing it as a parasite (which is similar but in an accidental way that Nazis spoke of Jewish economic activities). Yet because this is not compatible with the findings of science, it faces severe criticism. A human fetus differs from a two year old child in the same way that a two year old child differs from an adult, that is, the two may be in different stages of development, but there is no fundamental difference between the two. Therefore, because science essentially nullifies that argument, a new version of this Neo-Nazi argument was developed, which argues that there is a difference between being human and being a person.

This second version is a representation of the first one, it dehumanizes infants in the same way the Nazis dehumanized the Jews. This claim is defended with our other point of comparison between the pro-choice movement and the Nazis. The first systematic round of state-sponsored murders committed by the Nazis was not against Jews or Slavs, it was the pursuit of racial hygiene to remove the “unfit” members of society from the genepool. The arguments for the killing varied, but always focused on the physical or mental fitness of the individual, including the level of intelligence. These unfit members were considered a waste of German resources, as a result of their infirmities. This point of Nazi ideology has been brought in by prochoice thinkers to defend “personhood” arguments to defend person/human dichotomy. Most notably, the use of IQ has become a major litmus test to define personhood, thus not only human fetuses, but humans in comas or those with conditions such as Downs Syndrome or more severe cognitive malfunctions are not “persons.” In some cases, like the Nazis these murders are sanction as merciful. Similarly, intellectual criterion were part of the argument to dehumanize Eastern European Jews and Poles.

That is, to put it bluntly, the prochoice crowd, to makes its case (and salves the conscience), with the same type of language and rationale to dehumanize human beings as the Nazis did. This is a point where the philosophical essentials of the pro-choice agenda and the Nazi party are the same, rather than being accidental similarities. While it is true that many politicians have no power to end abortion on demand (say for example, a member of the House of Representatives), it also demonstrates something of the person’s ethical. We would not vote for a member of the Aryan nation for city government on the rationale that they would not be able to institute major Nazi idealogies (no matter what we might think of their economic policies), we would argue that their adherence to Nazism proved them ethically unfit for office. This is my opinion of any pro-choice candidates, I don’t vote for modern Hitlers.

Progressivism as Religion

The usual response to the claim that progressivism is a religion is to treat the matter with a certain amount of derision, or as political rhetoric being used to discredit progressivism. While it is true, I am no friend to the progressive agenda, my point is not an issue of discoloring my opponent, but rather a move towards understanding the conflicts of our times, and pointing out the religious roots of many of our political controversies. One of the back log of articles starting to develop in files on my computer and the back of my mind is a more formal discussion of this topic, though this is outside of most of my studies and may be some time in coming. Some will immediately object, progressivism, they say, builds no churches or temples, there are no sacred texts, or all the other things we associate with religion. But, if my proposal is right, these are accidental aspects of religion, not essential ones, and we must move to what religion is not merely what the guises it wears.

To put this in context, there was a time when medieval European thinkers divided religions into four categories, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Paganism. As the age of exploration began, these four divisions were proven to be inadequate, and the taxonomy of religions expanded, though the activity also influenced religions, themselves. A similar thing has happened in the west as during the enlightenment and post-enlightenment new atheistic, pantheistic and panentheistic philosophies arose that fulfilled the roles not only of philosophy but that held by theologians in the left as well. Naturalism, in the form of Hume’s argument against miracles, or the assertions of Spinoza were accepted as excluding any supernatural content in the world a priori. The atheistic and antisupernaturalistic nature of these philosophies have often led to the claim they are not religious, but the question of the supernatural or God is not the final answer. The atheist claiming he does not practice a religion because he does not believe in anything supernatural is a bit like a Christian claiming Christianity isn’t a religion, it is a relationship. Such statements are good for internal morale, but may not work in actual reasoning.

It will surprise many to know that Communism and Nazism are often noted to have formal, religious elements depending on the system for defining religions. Usually these systems of thought are accorded some related status as “pseudo-religions,” my ultimate proposal is to drop the prefix as unnecessary, and counter-productive. The reason why these philosophies are termed this way is because many philosophical definitions of religion would seem to include these movements, for example, many discussions of religion discuss myth—which is not in philosophy of religion a designation for truth or error, but how stories function, develop and change within a community, and progressives have their myths about the enlightenment, or a cherry-picked version of Western history. Similarly, the utopian dreams of socialism forms their eschatological hopes.

Both Communism and Nazism have been classified as well as “political religions,” this is more common with the Nazis due to some of the rituals the regime engaged in (such as is related to the blood flag or those Nazis who met their deaths during the Beerhall Putsch; and there are indications that Hitler wanted to replace Christianity with a religion based on German blood). Progressives will object that this is again tarring them, but my point, again, is not rhetorical, but taxonomical, and some extreme libertarians (the real “far right” in US parlance, who take the economic principle of markets and turn it into a universal metaphor) would be categorized in the same way, but that is a different argument.

There are two things that are needed to be understood about this proposition, before moving forward. First, I am not using the term “progressive” as a term for the American left, I’m rather using it to distinguish it from the left. The idea of a political “left” and political “right” implies that there are underlying shared premises between the two political sides, but that there are differences in how these principles should be balanced, and applied. That was true when, for example, when Washington was unabashedly in favor of economic capitalism, but there were differences of opinion on how to balance out the needs of social safety nets, and what role government should play in discussions between unions and management. But this is not what I mean when I refer to a progressive, most progressives follow the adage that capitalism should be rejected entirely,[1] this is not a move further to the left on the previous discussions of a political axis, it is rather a rejection of the shared premises that make up that axis, and replacing it with one that is incommensurable. In this sense, the concept of “compromise” with a progressive is impossible to achieve; one can have a capitalist society with safety nets, or one can have a socialist society where industry essentially functions at the will of government, but one cannot have both. Similar things are true about a number of other issues, progressives, for example, issues involving free speech or definitions of justice.

Secondarily, progressivism is not merely another term for “post-modernism” though they are related concepts. One of the major elements in post-modern thought is what news commentators have called “politicization of the humanities;” in colleges, which itself is based some of Nietsche’s ideas communicated into the Academy through Fouchault, the central thesis being that ethics are not about defining how we should live, ethics rather are a lever to control people. Another major component of the genealogical movement are Marx and the twentieth century attempts to repair Marx. This approach is known as the “genealogical approach” to ethics,[2] and it is a major component of the various feminist, ethnic, and queer studies departments on campus. In a sense, this has led to a reversal of the classical Western rational approach to ethics. That is, in the West, the ethics are required to derive their rational basis from other fields, in post-modernism, ethics, particularly social ethics are assumed, and are then treated as axioms for finding truth in fields such as history, where elements of history that do not match the metanarrative are quietly excised. For example, one of the major issues leading to Southern slave codes was the Haitian massacre of 1804, an attempted genocide of the remaining French on the island, and it is often referred to in apologies for slavery. However, in modern treatment (in the dozens of articles I scanned recently on the subject), the importance of the Haitian revolution on slavery on the ante-bellum south is often discussed, usually is propagandized, but the massacre of 1804 is not mentioned (one cannot make the heroes of the Haitian revolution look bad). The “academic” article becomes mere propaganda, and comments to the contrary are not answered with cold reason, but with diatribe, invective, censure and attempts to remove the offender from the academy, itself. That is, the relationship of post-modern philosophy to progressivism is reversed, progressivism is the basis for post-modern philosophy as opposed to the traditional tendency for political systems to be outgrowths of philosophical thought and ideals.

The question, however, is what is a Christian’s response? Our goal should be to win them to Christ, but we need to recognize that this means dealing with progressivism as a religion, not merely as s political ideology. In part, I have a second blog, barely begun and in worse shape than truth in the trenches, in many ways, a political answer is needed to progressivism from the standpoint of countering a false faith. I am not comfortable with this, the tendency for Christians engaging in politics is to let political relationships and alliances dictate truth, this is something to be avoided. Secondarily, the Christian apologist needs to be a defender, in a sense, of the West, as Christianity is, within progressive thought inextricably bound to the west. Works by Rodney Stark are important helps and starting points. Finally, we need to demonstrate the irrational nature of the Progressive ethic. While progressivism is not irrational, it’s proponents believe they are rational. Progressivism is built on the anti-ethical (and anti-intellectualism) of Nietsche, that is, it is based on the idea that ethics (and academic work) are means of power, a way for the weak to control the strong. Ethics, therefore, must be unreal, except that progressives seem to treat their ethical code as if it is both real and self-evident. That is, the progressives do not understand the roots or basis of their own ethical system. For example, pro-abortion proponents rely heavily on a distinction between being human and being a person that is similar to the Nazi arguments that certain racial groups were sub-human, often with the same types of criteria (such as alleged statements of intelligence). There is, therefore, a contradiction in the standard of imitating Nazi arguments on the one hand and decrying them on the other. Some might argue, if progressive ethics are as irrational as I have stated, should I aim for rational discourse? After all, an irrational treatment of an ethic as self-evident must inevitably remain irrational.  But I believe C S Lewis answered this question in Mere Christianity. No matter how much the atheist might try to pretend to deny moral realism (or for that matter rationality), they cannot live as if that denial were true.

[1] Often times this will be objected to, because the left appeals to capitalist states in Europe as models of socialism, but these are actually closer to discussions of welfare liberalism, that is, by American standards they are a left wing movement within capitalism, not a rejection of capitalism.

[2] See MacIntyre Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry

Christianity and Halloween: A Middle Road

So the past few years I have advocated what many cultural apologists have advocated: taking back the types of literature and films that are put forward in the world. To review my essential point, the modern horror movie and horror novelists like Stephen King come from the Gothic novel; a form of literature in which the monsters represent divine justice. As cultural apologists in the tradition associated with Francis Schaeffer have noted, we can trace the changes in the literature to the west’s changes of worldview. Thus, for example, Bram Stoker, in his epistolary novel Dracula clearly treats Dracula as a monster, but the evils that Dracula represents in Stoker’s novel have become a type of anti-hero in modern culture through writers like Anne Rice. Similarly, “torture porn” movies like the Saw and Hostel franchises have become a new tour deforce as people seem to take the same type of pleasure in watching human suffering that the Romans took in the gladiatorial events. This would be unthinkable in past generations.

But one major issue that commonly comes up is the question of Halloween, the time of year when horror movies are central, is one that many Christians think all Christians should avoid. This, again, is a question that I think Schaeffer answers. To those unfamiliar with Schaeffer, Schaeffer was a Christian apologist who brought discussions of worldview back to the table, there are of course issues with this approach. Schaeffer painted with a very broad brush—something that is necessary when worldview scholarship is focused on simple or simplistic comparisons, since worldviews are very large things. Sometimes in so doing his work could lack accuracy (though one of the writers following in Schaeffer’s tradition, Nancy Pearcy who came to know Jesus as Savior through his ministry at l’abri does a much better job in this regard, and her book Total Truth and the follow up works are a must read in the modern world).

When I was a teenager I fell into the anti-Halloween, anti-rock music, anti-modern subculture within some pockets of fundamentalism. These arguments, frankly, had a point,  but this seems to have changed as the rebellion by the modern west from its Christian heritage is so complete that, “if it feels right do it,” is no longer radical, it is typical. Similarly, in the late sixties and early seventies, occultic themes began to develop, as did interests in religions such as Buddhism and other Eastern religions. A sensationalist involved in occultic practices named Anton LeVey published The Satanic Bible, and started the first Satanic church in the mid-sixties; his movement and various splinter factions (such as Setianism, focusing on the Egyptian deity usually identified as either Set or Sutekh, who in at least later versions of the myth was the killer of Osiris, and the antagonist to Horus and Isis), were publicity hounds. During the eighties my family engaged in trick or treating, but the childish fun that was the hallmark of elementary school days began to change as a few Satanist inspired murders began to create a mass panic about Satanic ritual abuse (it was later demonstrated that there was no evidence to support most of the allegations featured on talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera’s, but the allegations tragically led to a number of false convictions that were later overturned). Within Christianity, conspiracy theorists, such as Jack Chick, or Texe Marrs began to argue that there was a secret cabal of Satanists that were secretly taking control of society, following a tradition of poor reasoning and research that is emblematic of Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylon’s.

Yet, there are children who have had no exposure to the gospel coming to our doors. Nor do we wish to teach our children that Christianity means missing out. There is, of course, the fact that we do not  want to teach our children that begging is the way to get things, but this is a different story.

Here is where I think Francis Schaeffer is helpful. My first readings in Schaeffer was the book The Great Evangelical Disaster, which when I was at Bob Jones was considered proof of the superiority of the Fundamentalist position over the Evangelical one. Later, after grad school during my early married years, I read several other books by Schaeffer. It opened my eyes to art and human creativity in ways I had not understood in a seminary education, and it appealed both to my natural eclecticism and tendency for seeking academic breadth as well as depth. The “touch not, taste not, mingle not” approaches to topics such as literature or music assumes only two approaches to literature are possible, we can consume and approve it and allow it to subtly affect our worldview, or we can avoid it entirely. This creates the question of where to draw lines; for example, are we going to reject only modern horror, or Dracula as well? Do we do the same thing with Beowulf due to the growth of neo-paganism? Is it ok to read Greek Mythology, which has both had a massive impact on our literature and represents a real, pagan belief system? Take the old debate about church music; some reformed groups still argue that the only songs that should ever be used in worship are those that are directly quoting Scripture (fortunately they allow translations even if they do not allow paraphrases), everything else that might be produced has been touched at some point by human depravity because it has been handled by human hands and is no longer divine (but again, they sing these Psalms through human translations).

Schaeffer instead argues for reading and understanding the worldview that is implicit in literature and music. That is, it is not merely a question of Christians either avoiding secular literature or imbibing it, but rather do we read it critically? Do we understand literature within it’s own cultural context? Can we take it, and illustrate how Christianity answers the longings of the human heart in ways that other worldviews cannot? There is, in this sense, a middle ground between the two extremes; there is Scriptural warrant for this middle ground, no believer should argue that Paul’s works are something less than Scripture, and yet those Pauline epistles we count as Scripture quote pagan poets. Paul borrowed language from the stoics, though he adapted said language for his own purposes. Similarly, as we live in an increasingly sub-Christian culture it becomes necessary to be able to communicate with that culture within terms it will understand. The modern world has its myths, both in propagandistic takes on history but also in its literature, most notably it’s fantasy, science fiction and horror literature where the existential fears, hopes, and dreams of the generation are recorded. Part of our humanity is represented in our creativity, including  our tendency to communicate our concepts of truth in the forms of stories. Even the most basic texts in philosophy, texts that are still read as a guide for teaching the dialogical method in philosophy classrooms take the form of fictional, literary dialogues. We should not engage with Halloween or anything else with our mind’s turned off, we should filter it through the prism of Scripture and Christian theology and philosophy, but we cannot act as ostriches either if we are to fulfill our role as salt and light.

I won’t tell others how they should respond to Halloween, that is not my point, and I believe texts like Romans 14:10-12 gives us a warning to be cautious in judging other believers in doubtful things. But I hope this backs up the point I have made from C S Lewis in recent years, as Christians we need to engage not only the arguments of the lost, but their imaginations as well, and we do so in large part by engaging the culture with our minds being alert. Schaeffer’s extraordinary legacy is that, when most people were simply laughing at the hippy counter-culture, Schaeffer was winning them to Jesus Christ.