How to Defeat a False and Destructive World View
“I have now seen everything,” began the Facebook post from my friend Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. The Harvard Health Policy Review had invited him and Princeton professor Robert George to write an academic article about Planned Parenthood funding. After they submitted the article the editor had some comments that put his or her worldview on display for us all.
“But intentionally killing innocent human lives is never good,” wrote Anderson and George. The editor responded, “In general, we would prefer to avoid absolutes, as they do not convey an academic tone. Could this be rephrased?” “Bad,” they were told, “is a non-descriptive word and not appropriate for this article. Could this be rephrased?” And, “Words such as ‘killed’ and ‘innocent’ should be avoided if they are just being used for emotive effect.”
“Uh, no,” Ryan commented in his post, “they’re not being used just for emotive effect. They are being used because they are precise and accurate. They describe the reality inside Planned Parenthood clinics.”
Reading the post came on the heels of George Will’s column in this Sunday’s Washington Post. Does Iran’s anti-Semitism run too deep for deterrence? it asks. This too is a worldview question and in addressing it, Will cites a book by Yale Historian Timothy Snyder who looks at the worldview of perhaps the most famous anti-Semite in history, Adolph Hitler.
“In Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning,” writes Will, “Snyder argues that the Holocaust’s origins have been hidden in plain sight, in ideas Hitler articulated in Mein Kampf and speeches. Snyder presents a Hitler more troubling than a madman, a Hitler implementing the logic of a coherent worldview.”
Hitler believed “the law of the jungle was the only law” and that races are like separate species competing for this world’s goods much as animals do in the wild. The Jews, however, rejected this supposedly universal law, promulgating a different worldview, one that gave them the upper hand. Part of it was the notion of transcendent good and evil beyond the survival of the fittest. From Hitler’s point of view, this ethic poisoned everything and sealed the fate of the Jews. Their worldview needed to be eliminated so they needed to be exterminated.
“Ideas have consequences,” concludes Will.
That is the title of a 1948 book by Richard M. Weaver. Writing in the aftermath of World War II, Weaver was trying to make sense of the destruction and horror of Nazism and of war. He wrote about the power of ideas, that is, about worldviews.
We take as axiomatic that it’s up to each of us as solitary individuals to make decisions about life, morality and God. Weaver argued that this idea began around the time of the Protestant Reformation and mutated from there. “For four centuries,” wrote Weaver, “every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.” We have lost touch with any notion of transcendent and thus absolute truth and morality. Instead good and evil merely distinguish the things we like and want from the things we dislike and reject.
With that worldview, it makes perfect sense that “we would prefer to avoid absolutes” in academic articles and in everyday life. It makes sense that words like “killing” when applied to abortion convey nothing about reality, but are merely emotive.
“The denial of universals,” wrote Weaver, “carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably — though ways are found to hedge on this — the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of ‘man the measure of all things.’”
There is only one way to fight a wrong and destructive worldview. Playing Whack-A-Mole with every manifestation of the error will accomplish nothing and “I have now seen everything” will sooner or later refer to far worse than post-modern trendiness at academic journals.
Instead, the words of legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardy apply: “The best defense is a good offense.”
The only way to counter wrong and destructive worldviews is with a true and life-giving Christian worldview, something that demands we get beyond our individual encounter with Christ and personal piety into the battle for the minds and hearts of our neighbors and the culture.
Developing a Christian worldview cannot be viewed as an option. Love for God and love for our neighbors demand it and besides, there’s a war going on out there. We need to be ready for battle.