Chapter 9


Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology

“Downstairs” in the area of humanistic reason, man is a machine, man is meaningless. There are no values. And “upstairs” optimism about meaning and values is totally separated from reason.
  • Modern people have put various things “upstairs” in the area of non-reason in a desperate attempt to find some optimism about meaning and values.
  • …existentialism. They talk about or act upon the idea that reason leads only to pessimism. They say or act upon the concept “Let us try to find an answer in something totally separated from reason.”
  • With those following Jaspers, the problem became how one could be sure he would ever have a big enough final experience (or, even if he had one, how he could ever have another) and there was no way to be sure.
  • Aldous Huxley proposed drugs as a solution. We should, he said, give healthy people drugs and they can then find truth inside their own heads. They can then have the final experience any time they wish; they do not need to wait, hoping that something will happen.
  • This emphasis on hallucinogenic drugs brought with it many rock groups. As a whole, this music was the vehicle to carry the drug culture and the mentality which went with it across frontiers which were almost impassable by other means of communication.
  • The next accepted version in the West of life in the area of non-reason was the religious experience of Hinduism and Buddhism. Young people (and older ones) tried the drug trip and then turned to the Eastern religious trip. Both seek truth inside one’s own head and both negate reason. In this flow there was also the period of psychadelic rock.
  • Another example of what can be put in the area of non-reason is found in the thought that the art of Salvador Dali. At first, Dali was a Surrealist. Surrealism is the uniting of Freud’s concept of the existence of the unconscious with Data-an art and life form in which all was seen as absurd.  Eventually, Dali abandoned Surrealism–with its acceptance of absurdity–and began his mystical paintings in which Gala, his wife, became the focal point in his leap into the area of non-reason in a hope for meaning.  Dali explained in his interview that he had found a mystical meaning for life in the fact that things are made up of energy rather than solid mass.
  • From the advent of Kierkegaardianism, there has been a widespread concept of the dichotomy between reason and non-reason, with no interchange between them. The lower story area of reason is totally isolated from the optimistic area  of non-reason. The line which divides reason from non-reason is as impassable as a concrete wall thousands of feet thick, reinforced with barbed wire charged with 10,000 volts of electricity. There is no interchange, no osmosis between the two parts. So modern man now lives in such a total dichotomy, wherein reason leads to despair. “Downstairs” in the area of humanistic reason, man is a machine, man is meaningless. There are no values. And “upstairs” optimism about meaning and values is totally separated from reason. Reason has no place here at all; here reason is an outcast. This division into these two areas is the existential methodology. This methodology is the hallmark of the modern stream of humanistic thinking. Once people adopt this dichotomy–where reason is separated totally from non-reason–they must then face the fact that many types of things can be put in the area of non-reason. And it really does not matter what one chooses to put there, because reason gives no basis for a choice between one thing or another.
  • Karl Barth made his own kind of dichotomy and brought the existential methodology into theology. Thus, though the Reformers had rid the church of the humanistic elements which had come into it in the Middle Ages, a more total form of humanism entered the Protestant church, and has gradually spread to all the branches of the church, including the Roman Catholic. The concept of man beginning from himself now began to be expressed in theology and in theological language. This attempt has often been called religious liberalism.
  • The rationalistic theologians could not separate the historic Jesus from the supernatural events connected with him. History and the supernatural were too interwoven in the New Testament.
  • Karl Barth held until the end of his life the “higher critical” views of the Bible which the nineteenth-century liberal theologians held, and thus he viewed the Bible as having many mistakes. But he then taught that a religious “word” breaks through from it. This was the theological form of existentialism and the dichotomy. In other words, the existential methodology was applied to theology. This meant that theology had now been added to all the other things which had been put into the area of non-reason.
  • The new liberal theology, because it says that the Bible does not touch the cosmos or history, has no real basis for applying the Bible’s values in a historic situation, in either morals or law. Everything religious is in the area of non-reason, and since reason has no place there, there is no room for discussion; there are only arbitrary pronouncements. Because the pronouncements of these theologians about morals or law are arbitrary, in a different mood they, too can be totally reversed.
  • The new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem as the Hindu philosophers have; that is, they must say that finally everything that is is equally in God.
  • Nietzsche knew the tension and despair of modern man. With no personal God, all is dead. Yet man, being truly man, cries out for a meaning that can only be found in the existence of the infinite-personal God, who has not been silent but  has spoken, and in the existence of a personal life continuing into eternity.  Thus his words are profound: “But all pleasure seeks eternity–a deep and profound eternity.” Without the infinite-personal God, all a person can do is to make “systems.” In today’s speech we would call this “game plans.” A person can erect some sort of structure, some type of limited frame, in which he lives, shutting himself up in that frame and not looking beyond it. This game plan can be on e of a number of things. It can sound high and noble, such as talking in an idealistic way about the greatest good for the greatest number. Or it can be a scientist concentrating on some small point of science so that he does not have to think of any of the big questions, such as why things exist at all. It can be a skier concentrating for years on knocking one-tenth of a second from a downhill run. Or it can easily be a theological word game within the structure of the existential methodology. That is where modern people, building only on themselves, have come, and that is where they are now.
Cover Photo: Portrait photograph of Salvador Dali, including objects, cats, and water caught in surreal motion, by Philippe Halsman (1906-1979).
This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of How Should We Then Live? by Francis A. Schaeffer. 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition, © 2005 by Crossway Books.

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