Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

Brain Neuroscience and Philosophy Suggest Existence of Soul

Posted by Tony Listi on August 2, 2012

(This borrows arguments and facts from Dinesh D’Souza’s book Life After Death.)

Neuroscientists study the physical brain, but they also want to understand the non-physical mind. Yet thoughts cannot be collected, weighed, measured, sniffed, or even observed, at least not directly and clearly. They try to reduce the mind to merely physical cause-and-effect relationships. But is it even possible to do so?

Neuroscience has shown that brain states and mental experiences are correlated and that in many cases that certain mental states are dependent on certain brain states, but it HAS NOT shown that brain states cause mental states.

The famous American philosopher William James correctly thought of the brain not as a causal device but as a gateway, receiver, or transmission vehicle for the mind.

As an analogy, consider a radio and music. If the radio breaks and one can’t hear the music anymore, does that prove that the radio causes the music? Of course not. The music/radio waves are actually distinct from and have an independent existence from the physical radio itself. The radio merely channels and manifests the music/radio waves that already exist all around us.

Similarly, music CDs require CD players, but the players don’t cause the music. Software requires hardware, but the hardware doesn’t cause the software’s programs. A fine paintbrush is needed to paint a fine painting, but the paintbrush doesn’t cause the painting but the artist using the paintbrush.

The question materialist atheists have to answer is this: “How do material objects, such as neurons with their associated apparatus of axons and dendrites, cause immaterial outcomes such as sensations, emotions, and ideas?… How can we be confident that the brain is a manufacturing plant for the mind and not merely a gateway or transmission belt?”

If minds are shadows/epiphenomenons that don’t do anything, why do we have minds? It is unlikely evolution would provide mental functions if they were irrelevant.

And if the mind is just an illusion with no existence, then the very thought, idea, and truth of “the mind is just an illusion with no existence” doesn’t exist either. It’s self-contradictory.

The notion that the mind is the brain (Daniel Dennett) doesn’t work either. Mental states are private, known only to the person; brains are not private and can be known by an outside observer. Mental states cannot be spatially located; brain states can. Mental states are about something and intentionally refer to something external to themselves; this is not the case with brain states. A person is infallible concerning their mental state, about their own thoughts; a person cannot be infallible concerning their brain state. A person cannot be mistaken about what they themselves experience mentally; a person can be mistaken about their own brain state, which a neuroscientist may know more about through technology and observation. Moreover, if two different people have the same mental state, that does NOT mean they have the same brain state. Human brains are wired differently from individual to individual.

The mind is not what it makes a person do either. One can remove actions or cease to act and the mental experience still be there. Mental experiences can exist apart from any behavior and perhaps from any physical manifestation.

Philosophers like Thomas Nagel (click here for more info) and Frank Jackson have soundly argued that even a full understanding of brain physiology will never reveal mental states, that mental states can never be reduced to purely physical terms.

The mind is not the output of a computer either. We cannot build computers that do what the mind does and experiences. Of course, the notion of the mind as a computer doesn’t preclude the notion of life after death since one might download and upload the mind. Moreover, a computer merely manipulates symbols; it isn’t really conscious of what it is doing like the human mind. Computers can do syntax but not semantics; they can follow rules but can’t discern meaning. No computer, however complex, will ever be able to think and be conscious.

Neuroscience has only shown its own inherent limitations and blindspots. Science is limited to the study of material things that are objective and publicly observable. The “scientific” argument against the soul (mind/consciousness) collapses because the soul is not material or objective. Neuroscience thus makes life after death a plausible notion, though perhaps not persuasive and credible on its own.

Neuroscience has also shown that mental activity actually reconstitutes and reprograms the neurons in our brain. The mind, the person, the human will, shapes and forms the physical brain.

Physician Jeffrey Schwartz treats OCD patients and developed what he calls “cognitive therapy.” This therapy involves patients learning to refocus their minds away from their compulsions and toward other thoughts and actions. Not only has the therapy been successful in many cases, but it has shown that a person can willfully rewire and bring order to their own previously disordered brains. The mind is controlling the matter, not the other way around!

The placebo and nocebo effects also demonstrate how the mind changes the body, including the brain.

The concept of neuroplasticity is a relatively new term to describe how the mind can change the physical arrangements in the brain. Psychiatrist Norman Doige has employed this concept and a therapy similar to Dr. Schwartz’s to successfully treat a variety of mental disabilities.

If the mind is independent enough to create changes in the body, especially the brain, it seems reasonable to suppose the mind can survive the dissolution of the body, including specifically the brain.

Dr. Schwartz and physicist Henry Stapp are using discoveries in quantum physics to explain these mysterious/miraculous phenomena/treatments. They believe that consciousness operates at the quantum level to create a physical force. They believe the patients can, through trained volition/consciousness, fix and rearrange the position of subatomic particles and thus transform the physical reality within the brain.

Consciousness is perhaps the most perplexing and mysterious subject in science, and yet it is the most obvious and self-evident thing to the ordinary person. Human consciousness has no physical explanation yet we can see its physical consequences in medicine. Consciousness has no good evolutionary explanation either.

Consciousness must exist. If consciousness doesn’t really exist, than we can’t be conscious of the fact that consciousness doesn’t exist. To deny consciousness is self-contradictory.

Philosopher David Chalmers argues we should accept consciousness as an irreducible element of reality, just like matter and energy in physics.

Quantum uncertainty creates rational/scientific room for free will.

“Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” -C.S. Lewis, Miracles

If we presume morality, we must presume free will too. And free will is inherently spiritual and supernatural by definition (i.e. not a result of physical cause and effect). Free will and atheistic materialism are incompatible. Thus morality and atheistic materialism are incompatible.

Posted in Religion and Theology, Science and Religion, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments »

Dance and Theology of the Body

Posted by Tony Listi on June 12, 2011

Traditional dancing between men and women (i.e. ballroom dancing) is a great way to teach and illustrate Theology of the Body. Such dancing reveals visually with the male and female body what God wants men and women to be as men and women in erotic love.

1) Consent: The man should not try to force the woman to dance with him; he should ask for and have her consent. She shouldn’t have to dance if she doesn’t want to. Of course, it goes both ways; the man shouldn’t have to dance with anyone he doesn’t want to either.

Likewise, a man should not try to force a woman to date him, to be in an exclusive relationship with him, or to marry him. The man must ask her and respect her decision. And no woman should try to force a man into such things either. Love cannot be coerced.

2) Male Initiative: Traditionally, the man should ask the woman to dance. Yes, sometimes women do ask men to dance with them, but it is not the norm. The woman taking the initiative to ask in itself may not necessarily impair the dancing, but it could reflect an underlying predisposition of the man being unable or unwilling to assume proper leadership of the dance (see section on Male Leadership below), which would be a problem.

Likewise, the man should take the initiative to ask the woman out, to ask to be in an exclusive relationship, and to ask her hand in marriage. The man should prove his interest, love, and commitment. If the man doesn’t care enough to ask or can’t even muster up enough courage to ask, then he doesn’t really love her. Cowardice is self-centered and unloving, regardless of whether she says “yes” or “no.” It’s not good if the man is more worried about himself and his pride than about the woman, her well-being, and what he wants to do for her. If a sincere and loving man asks, and the woman says “no” haughtily and cruelly rather than compassionately and gracefully, then the man should realize that he is better off without such a woman, who is unworthy of his love and incapable of loving.

Yes, sometimes women take the initiative to ask men out, but again, it’s not the norm and could cause problems down the road, though not necessarily, for the same reasons as stated above for dance. At the higher and more serious level of marriage, I’ve never heard of a woman asking a man. There’s a reason for that spiritually: the man should lead and prove his love.

3) Male Leadership, Activity, & Responsibility: Once she agrees to dance, the woman follows and the man leads. The man actively chooses what dance moves will be done and where the dance will go on the floor. If both try to lead and neither follow, no dancing really occurs. In fact, in the extreme case, they hurt each other and/or part ways. If the man leads terribly, both suffer. Such leadership thus carries with it very important responsibilities. For example, the man must take pains not to lead the woman in such a way that she (or both of them) runs into other dancers on the dance floor.

Why can’t the woman lead the dance? In theory, I guess she could, but have you ever seen a dance where the woman is leading the man, spinning him, dipping him, holding him in her arms, etc.? Does it work? Does it look good? No, it doesn’t because such a dance is not in accord with the natural qualities of the male and female bodies and character (which I will discuss further in later sections). Such is the reality of dancing; different natures must be taken into account and obeyed.

Likewise, in a marriage, the husband is the natural leader, the head of the household, and thus has important responsibilities, including providing for his wife and children. Dating and courtship should be a process of the man gradually learning how to lead his girlfriend in love and service of her.

It is important to point out that Christian leadership is servant leadership. The greatest in the kingdom are the servants of others, using their power and authority to serve others rather than themselves. A leader who abuses his power and authority, lording it over others, is abhorrent. But contrary to modern thought, authority in and of itself is not evil or oppressive.

I think it is also important to point out that, despite the contrary case in dance perhaps, a good leader knows when to follow and let others take the lead, if only temporarily. A good husband has humility and knowledge of both his own and his wife’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows when to follow his wife’s lead and never dismisses or stifles her strengths. Such a good husband never really surrenders his authority but rather exercises it wisely and prudently.

So in a certain sense the man too is called to surrender, to surrender his self-interest for the sake of love and “surrender” his direct and explicit leadership role. These are the kinds of surrender that men must make if they wish to lead well.

4) Female Obedience, Surrender, & Receptivity: Again, the woman’s role in the dance is to follow. She is supposed to let the man lead her. If she doesn’t, both dancers are going to have problems dancing. This follower role doesn’t make her any less of a partner, dancer, or human being. Following is not a role of lesser dignity in dancing; it is merely different.

When a woman is a good follower of a man in dance, she is surrendering herself, especially her body, to that man. If she follows him obediently in more intimate dancing and dance moves, she surrenders her body, herself, to him even more. The more intimate the body movement the more complete her surrender.

Likewise, once married, the role of the wife is to obediently follow her husband’s lead. Admittedly though, a good husband who will lead lovingly and humbly like I described above can be hard to find these days. A woman would be better off avoiding marriage if she cannot find a man who will love her as Jesus loves the Church, eager to serve her and willing to sacrifice himself and suffer for her sake even unto death, despite her flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections.

Dating and courtship should be a process of the woman gradually learning how to trust, how to surrender herself to her boyfriend. Of course, the man has to gradually earn this trust of his girlfriend through acts of love. And the ultimate physical, emotional, and spiritual surrender and act of trust is the sexual act, which is properly reserved only for marriage because the life-long, total fidelity of marriage is a stable foundation for the total trust necessary in the sexual act.

If the woman refuses to surrender like a female dancer who refuses to be led, or if a woman never learns to surrender like a female dancer who never learns from her male lead’s physical signals what he wants her to do, the relationship will have problems, if not collapse.

Contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being (the same could be said about the authority of the pope and bishops in relation to Catholics and non-Catholics). So when St. Paul says a wife should be subordinate to her husband’s authority, he is not saying women have any lower dignity; he’s merely stating their specific role in the marriage dance.

5) Male Height, Size, & Strength: The male body is naturally taller, bigger, and stronger than the female’s on average. It is the man’s height and strength that makes him the natural leader of the dance, for he is able to easily spin, dip, and hold the woman. She typically cannot do the same with him. If the man is not tall enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to spin the woman. If he is not strong enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to dip her, hold her, and do other moves requiring strength. If the man is not tall and strong enough, both suffer.

Likewise, men should put the height, size, and strength of their bodies at the service of women and thus love the women in their lives. A man should open doors, carry things (especially if they are heavy), fix things, and provide other services to women that require strength. This principle is true generally apart from erotic love but finds greater focus and deeper expression in erotic love.  A man should use his strength and size to protect his date, girlfriend, or wife from harm, even to the point of sacrificing his bodily health or life for her sake.

Indeed, men should seek to be physically stronger for the sake of serving their girlfriend or wife. Lifting weights should not be motivated by ego (as hard as that is for us to avoid) but rather by a desire to be prepared for loving service to our girlfriends or wives, to strive for ideal masculinity. This kind of striving for strength should continue even after one has gotten married. Sometimes married men or even men in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being strong for their girlfriends or wives because they think strength is merely for attracting and getting women rather than also serving the one woman who is yours.

With all this in mind, it is quite natural that women desire and seek out men who are taller, bigger, and stronger than themselves. Just as naturally, men desire and seek out women who are shorter, smaller, and weaker than themselves. Despite the best of intentions, disharmony is more likely to arise where these physical inequalities are the opposite of these natural desires. Physical characteristics of the body naturally have psychological and spiritual consequences.

However, physical strength is not enough; a man in a relationship should have emotional, psychological, and spiritual strength to protect the woman’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Indeed, this kind of protection is even more important than physical protection, so cultivating emotional, psychological,and spiritual strength is more important than lifting weights. A boyfriend or husband should be the protector of the body, mind, and soul of his girlfriend or wife.

6) Mysterious and Unveiled Female Grace, Elegance, & Beauty: The female body is naturally more graceful, elegant, and (in some sense) beautiful than the male body (perhaps I’m biased, being a man, but I don’t think so). When the female body is spun, dipped, and held, the natural grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body shine through. It’s very hard to put these mysterious qualities into words, to articulate this mystery of the female body…. But perhaps a man is in a better position than a woman to delve into this mystery.

It seems as if the male body’s leading movements in dance enhance or unveil the grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body that was hidden or not as manifest in the stillness or unrhythmic movement before the dancing. Sometimes the female body seems like it radiates a graceful, elegant, and beautiful energy and dynamism all its own that the male body merely tries to direct and contain like a nuclear reactor directs and contains enormous atomic energy.

Likewise, I’ve always observed that women seem to become more graceful, elegant, and beautiful when they are dating or in a relationship. Sure, one might say that such women have someone to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for, and so they take more pains to be so. Indeed, women should seek to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for the sake of their boyfriend or husband. Make-up, skin care, hair care, etc. should not be motivated by vanity (as hard as that is to avoid for some women) but rather by a desire to look one’s best for and thus please and serve one’s boyfriend or husband, to strive for ideal femininity.

But I think this phenomenon goes or should go beyond merely what the woman does in response to having a partner; the man who she is in a relationship with can and should draw out and unveil her grace, elegance, and beauty by means of his relationship with her, by means of his loving service of her.

Sometimes married women or even women in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being beautiful for their boyfriends or husbands because they think beauty is merely for attracting and getting men rather than also pleasing and serving the one man who is yours.

Of course, it is true that grace, elegance, and beauty are more than skin deep. It is more important for women to cultivate a spiritual kind of grace, elegance, and beauty that infuses the personality than for women to spend hours in front of a mirror. But the body should not be wholly neglected, for the body is who we are too.

As for marriage specifically, the ultimate unveiling of the feminine by the man happens in the sexual act and the consequent motherhood that follows. The grace, elegance, and beauty of the feminine is nakedly exposed in the marital act. The nurturing love of motherhood from development in the womb to nursing at the uncovered breast also has a mysterious grace, elegance, and beauty to it.

7) Only One Partner: A man can only ballroom dance with one woman at a time. He only has one body with two arms and two legs and can only look in one direction. The human body itself places natural limits on what the man can do in the act of dancing. Same goes for the woman.

Yes, it is possible to dance in groups, but that kind of dancing involves little to no intimacy with other human beings. Either no physical touch is involved or the physical interaction is very limited with regard to intimacy because one’s body and attention is divided between two or more other people.

Likewise, a man can only be in a serious relationship with or married to one woman. Sure, it is perfectly fine to date many people at once, to search for a partner who deserves your exclusive focus and attention. But dating is a means to an end, not an end in itself; it is a means to finding an exclusive partner. Treating dating as if it were merely a recreational activity rather than a search of love will cause harm and pain and make it even harder to obtain a stable, loving relationship or marriage.

Marriage is a “dance” in which the “song” doesn’t end until one partner dies and in which we cannot “switch” partners in the middle of the “song” without hurting ourselves, our partner, and others “on and off the dance floor.”

Just as in dance, the human body itself naturally places limits on erotic love. God designed our bodies in a very specific way sexually. Abnormalities of fallen physical nature aside, the body of each and every physiologically normal man and woman has only one set of sexual organs, of genitalia. Thus only one man and one woman can engage in the sexual act at any one time (any attempts to contradict this is a perversion). This act is the climax and consummation of the marriage and is exclusive by nature. If God had designed the male and/or female body in a sexually different way, then we Christians (Catholics) would have a different Theology of the Body. Monogamy is thus natural and right because of the exclusivity of the sexual act itself.

8 ) Focus on One’s Own Partner: Not only does the body place limits on dancing, but so does the mind. While dancing, a man must focus on his own female partner, her body, and leading her well. If the man’s attention wanders, he, his partner, and their dancing will suffer for it. The same goes for the woman. If she is not focusing on him and his leadership, problems will occur.

Likewise, dates, relationships, and marriages are going to have problems if the man or woman isn’t focusing enough on the other and is getting too distracted by others. Obviously though, erotic relationships should not consume our entire lives. Family and friends deserve our love and attention too.

But ultimately, once one is married, one’s spouse should come first before all other men and women, and one’s actions should demonstrate that. And serious boyfriends and girlfriends that could become our husbands and wives naturally deserve a degree of priority. However, good partners allow their significant others to spend quality time with their family and friends and take the time to steadily incorporate them into their own circle of friends and family.

9) Union & Intimacy: Ultimately, the goal of good dancing is union. If both the leading and following are done well enough, the dancers achieve a unity of mind and movement virtually to the point of becoming one dancing body rather than two. But unless the two dancers are of one mind first, agreeing on whether to dance and on who will lead and follow, and actually agree on such things according to their own natures, there will be no unity of body movement.

This may seem kind of obvious, but for the purposes of Theology of the Body it’s worth pointing out that you can’t really dance with someone while they’re all the way across the room or if you can’t even see them. Too much distance makes dancing impossible or, at the very least, much less intimate and hardly dancing at all.

It does not matter really whether the man and/or woman intend intimacy or not when they dance; intimate dancing creates intimacy between the man and woman. Sure, some dancing moves are inherently more intimate than others. Holding hands, standard practice in traditional dancing, is not quite as intimate as moves where the man is actually holding the woman in his arms or close to his own body, however momentarily. Yet the very fact of the man leading and initiating and of the woman following and surrendering, this reality in itself, is intimacy of some sort. So in this sense, dancing is inherently intimate. 

A man should not lead a woman into dancing moves that are too intimate relative to his actual relationship with the woman (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, girlfriend, wife?). And a woman should not surrender her body to dancing moves that are too intimate relative to her relationship with the man (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, boyfriend, husband?). Men and women who are in a serious relationship or married should discipline and guard themselves against too much intimacy when they are dancing with someone other than their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse.

Likewise, as with dancing, erotic relationships of various levels will succeed if the man and woman are fulfilling their natural roles well and thus achieve unity of belief and action. Dating and relationships should be a process of ascertaining whether such unity is possible and of working to establish such unity where possible. Marriage should be the end goal when one has found and established sufficient unity.

With this fact in mind, it is easy to see that erotic relationships between people of radically different religions, politics, and worldviews generally are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be truly loving because these differences prevent union. Couples have to be “on the same page” on a lot of important issues to achieve a loving union.

And of course, the obvious and ultimate union of the bodies of man and woman is the sexual act. But this bodily union cannot be loving unless an emotional and spiritual (sacramental) union precedes it. Without this previous kind of union, the physical union will merely bring pain, disharmony, and separation.

Just as with “long distance dancing,” long distance relationships are kind of an oxymoron. You can’t be in an intimate relationship with someone if you aren’t physically present to them on a regular basis (cf. the Eucharist). It is possible for relationships to endure long distance strain only if intimacy and depth to the relationship have already been built up by prior personal interaction. A marriage, if entered into seriously, should be able to withstand a short period of time of long distance (strictly speaking, a marriage should be able to survive anything with God’s grace, except the death of one spouse).

As with dancing intimacy, it doesn’t really matter whether a man and woman intend commitment or intimacy when they have sex or engage in very intimate touching. The very acts in themselves are the language of commitment and intimacy. To speak this bodily language of commitment and intimacy and yet to will and act otherwise is to lie and harm the person of the opposite sex.

Dancing of any and all kinds has always been something of a spiritual exercise, not merely physical. It is not mere motion but rather an expression of the soul. And thus dancing between men and women is naturally going to reflect the sexual spirituality of the dancers, not mere body movement.

Ballroom dancing and the ettiquete surrounding it were developed during an earlier time when the sexual spirituality of the Western world was much more Christian and thus much more grounded in truth. It is no coincidence that as ballroom dancing has declined and been superceded by unchaste grinding and more individualistic and autonomous dancing, true Christian erotic love has also declined. There is a correlation and probably a symbiotic causation involved. A lack of love leads to unloving dancing and vice versa.

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Catholicism, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Decline of a Nation

Posted by Tony Listi on May 24, 2008

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/decline.html

By Kerby Anderson

Introduction

Doomsayers for many years have been predicting the decline and fall of this country. And while many of these short-term predictions have proved inaccurate, there is some truth to the prevailing belief that this nation will fall like every great nation before it. Apart from revival and reformation, this nation is destined to decline.

The problem with many of these doomsayers is that while their prognosis is right, their diagnosis is wrong. Yes, the future is bleak. But our problem is not ultimately political, economic, or social, as these doomsayers would have us believe. The decline of this nation (just as the decline of every other nation) is due to spiritual factors. The political, economic, and social problems we encounter are the symptoms of the spiritual deterioration of a nation.

Just as there are spiritual principles that influence the life of an individual, so there are political-spiritual principles that govern the life of a nation. And though we may feel that these are obscure and difficult to discern, in reality they are visible to anyone willing to look at the record of history.

Our problem is that we don’t really learn from history. George Santayana said that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” The philosopher Hegel said, “What experience and history teach us is this: that people and government never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it.” Or as Winston Churchill said, “The one thing we have learned from history is that we don’t learn from history.”

The refrains that are often heard are: “It can’t happen here,” or “Our country is different.” But the reality is that nations are born and die just like individuals. Their longevity may exceed the average person’s lifespan. But the reality is that nations also die.

History has shown that the average age of the great civilizations is around two hundred years. Countries like Great Britain exceed the average while other countries like the United States are just now reaching the average age.

Each of the great civilizations in the world passed through a series of stages from their birth to their decline to their death. Historians have listed these in ten stages.

The first stage moves from bondage to spiritual faith. The second from spiritual faith to great courage. The third stage moves from great courage to liberty. The fourth stage moves from liberty to abundance. The fifth stage moves from abundance to selfishness. The sixth stage moves from selfishness to complacency. The seventh stage moves from complacency to apathy. The eighth stage moves from apathy to moral decay. The ninth stage moves from moral decay to dependence. And the tenth and last stage moves from dependence to bondage.

These are the ten stages through which the great civilizations have gone. Notice the progression from bondage to liberty back to bondage. The first generation throws off the shackles of bondage only to have a later generation through apathy and indifference allow itself to once again be enslaved.

This is the direction this and every other country is headed. The book of Judges shows that the nation of Israel passed through these same stages. And this country will do the same unless revival and reformation break out and reverse the inexorable decline of this nation.

The Cycle of Nations

In his book The End of Christendom, Malcolm Muggeridge makes this powerful observation. He says:

I conclude that civilizations, like every other human creation, wax and wane. By the nature of the case there can never be a lasting civilization anymore than there can be a lasting spring or lasting happiness in an individual life or a lasting stability in a society. It’s in the nature of man and of all that he constructs to perish, and it must ever be so. The world is full of the debris of past civilizations and others are known to have existed which have not left any debris behind them but have just disappeared.

He goes on to say that

…whatever their ideology may be, from the Garden of Eden onwards such dreams of lasting felicity have cropped up and no doubt always will. But the realization is impossible for the simple reason that a fallen creature like man though capable of conceiving perfection and aspiring after it, is in himself and in his works forever imperfect. Thus he is fated to exist in the no man’s land between the perfection he can conceive and the imperfection that characterizes his own nature and everything he does.

Nations rise and nations fall. Every nation has followed this progression from bondage to bondage. The nations of this century will be no different. But let us not accept the Marxist notion that these are fixed and intractable laws of history. Christians can point to unusual times when revival has redirected the inexorable decline of a civilization. In the Old Testament, Jonah saw revival postpone God’s judgment of Nineveh. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and John Calvin saw a Protestant Reformation transform Europe. And even in the history of the United States the First and Second Great Awakenings changed individuals and our society.

But apart from God’s intervention, nations will decline and eventually pass off the scene. Much of the Old Testament records the history of the nation of Israel. It passed through these same stages and so will every country in the world.

As Christians we must recognize that nations will rise and fall just as individuals will be born and die. Our civilization will not last indefinitely, but will eventually pass off the scene. Only God’s Word endures forever. We should not put our trust in the things of this world for they are destined for destruction. Instead, we should put our faith in God and His word.

The Decline of the Family

Nations most often fall from within, and this fall is usually due to a decline in the moral and spiritual values in the family. As families go, so goes a nation.

This has been the main premise of thinkers from British historian J. D. Unwin to Russian sociologist Pitirim Sorokin who have studied civilizations that have collapsed. In his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, Carl Wilson identifies the common pattern of family decline in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Notice how these seven stages parallel what is happening in our nation today. In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship. Spiritual and moral development became secondary. Their view of God became naturalistic, mathematical, and mechanical.

In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, and cultural development. Material values began to dominate thought, and the man began to exalt his own role as an individual. The third stage involved a change in men’s sexual values. Men who were preoccupied with business or war either neglected their wives sexually or became involved with lower-class women or with homosexuality. Ultimately, a double standard of morality developed. The fourth stage affected women. The role of women at home and with children lost value and status. Women were neglected and their roles devalued. Soon they revolted to gain access to material wealth and also freedom for sex outside marriage. Women also began to minimize having sex relations to conceive children, and the emphasis became sex for pleasure. Marriage laws were changed to make divorce easy.

In the fifth stage, husbands and wives competed against each other for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children. This resulted in hostility and frustration and possible homosexuality in the children. Many marriages ended in separation and divorce.

Many children were unwanted, aborted, abandoned, molested, and undisciplined. The more undisciplined children became, the more social pressure there was not to have children. The breakdown of the home produced anarchy.

In the sixth stage, selfish individualism grew and carried over into society, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller group loyalties. The nation was thus weakened by internal conflict. The decrease in the birthrate produced an older population that had less ability to defend itself and less will to do so, making the nation more vulnerable to its enemies.

Finally, unbelief in God became more complete, parental authority diminished, and ethical and moral principles disappeared, affecting the economy and government. Thus, by internal weakness and fragmentation the societies came apart. There was no way to save them except by a dictator who arose from within or by barbarians who invaded from without.

Although this is an ancient pattern of decline found in Greece and Rome, it is relevant today. Families are the foundation of a nation. When the family crumbles, the nation falls because nations are built upon family units. They are the true driving social force. A nation will not be strong unless the family is strong. That was true in the ancient world and it is true today.

Social commentator Michael Novak, writing on the importance of the family, said:

One unforgettable law has been learned through all the disasters and injustices of the last thousand years: If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.

The Decline of Values

There are many factors in the decline of a nation. Certainly a major one is the breakdown of the family. But another potent but less perceptible force is the power of ideas.

False ideas are bringing about the decline of western culture. Carl F. H. Henry, in his book Twilight of a Great Civilization, says:

There is a new barbarism. This barbarism has embraced a new pagan mentality . . . not simply rejecting the legacy of the West, but embracing a new pagan mentality where there is no fixed truth.

Today we live in a world where biblical absolutes are ignored, and unless we return to these biblical truths, our nation will continue to decline.

To understand how we have arrived at this appalling situation, we need to go back a century and look at the influence of five intellectual leaders who still profoundly affect the modern world. The first person is Charles Darwin (1809-1882). In 1859 he published The Origin of Species and later published The Descent of Man. His writings blurred the distinction between humans and animals since he taught that we are merely part of an evolutionary progression from lower forms of life. Darwinism, as it came to be called, not only affected the field of biology, but became the foundation for the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

The second person is Karl Marx (1818-1883). He and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto around 1850, and Marx devoted his life to writing about the demise of capitalism and coming of communism. He understood the importance of ideas. Marx once wrote: “Give me twenty-six lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.” The twenty-six lead soldiers are the keys on a typewriter. The pervasive influence of communism in the world today is testimony to the truthfulness of his statement.

The third person is Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918). Although he may not be as well known as the other two men mentioned, his influence was just as profound. He was a German Bible scholar whose theory on the dating of the Pentateuch completely transformed Old Testament studies.

Wellhausen argued that the early books of the Bible were not put together by Moses but were gathered together many centuries later by several different men called redactors who wove various strands together. He and his disciples established an anti-supernatural approach to the scriptures which is influential in most denominational seminaries today.

The fourth person is Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). He merely took the logical implications of what Darwin was doing in biology and applied them to what today is known as psychology and psychiatry. Freud argued that humans are basically autonomous and therefore do not need to know God. Instead, we need to know and understand ourselves since our problems stem from those secret things that have evolved in our lives from our past.

A fifth person is John Dewey (1859-1952). He is the founder of modern education and published his first work, The School and Society, in 1899. John Dewey was also one of the co-signers of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933.

Dewey, like Darwin and Freud, believed that humans are autonomous. They don’t need to have an authority above them but can evolve their our own system of education. Thus the very foundation of modern education is anti-supernatural.

Ideas have consequences, and false ideas can bring down a nation. The theories of these five men are having devastating consequences in our nation and world. Unless we return to biblical absolutes, our nation will continue its decline.

Spiritual Decline

The decline and fall of nations is usually due to internal factors rather than external threats. Even though some may have fallen to barbarians, their demise ultimately came because of moral and spiritual weakness which manifested itself as military weakness. Historians have listed the stages in the decline of a nation. These should not be too surprising to any student of the Old Testament. The stages of decline parallel the stages through which the nation of Israel passed.

But neither should they surprise a student of the New Testament. In the opening chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he traces a similar progression. In fact, Romans 1 shows the decline of a civilization from a societal perspective. Looking at the Hellenistic world of his time, he reflects on the progression of sin in a nation.

The first stage is when people turn from God to idolatry. Although God has revealed Himself in nature to all men so that they are without excuse, they nevertheless worship the creation instead of the Creator. This is idolatry. In the past, this took the form of actual idol worship. In our day, it takes the form of the worship of money or the worship of self. In either case, it is idolatry. A further example of this is a general lack of thankfulness. Although they have been prospered by God, they are ungrateful. And when they are no longer looking to God for wisdom and guidance, they become vain and futile and empty in their imaginations. They no longer honor God, so their foolish hearts become darkened. In professing to be wise, they have become fools.

The second stage is when men and women exchange their natural use of sex for unnatural uses. Here the Apostle Paul says those four sobering words, “God gave them over.” In a society where lust- driven sensuality and sexual perversion dominate, God gives them over to their degrading passions and unnatural desires. The third stage is anarchy. Once a society has rejected God’s revelation, it is on its own. Moral and social anarchy is the natural result. At this point God has given the sinners over to a depraved mind and so they do things which are not proper. This results in a society which is without understanding,untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.

The final stage is judgment. God’s judgment rightly falls upon those who practice idolatry and immorality. Certainly an eternal judgment awaits those who are guilty, but a social judgment occurs when God gives a nation over to its sinful practices.

Notice that this progression is not unique to the Hellenistic world the Apostle Paul was living in. The progression from idolatry to sexual perversion to anarchy to judgment is found throughout history.

In the times of Noah and Lot, there was the idolatry of greed, there was sexual perversion and promiscuity, there was anarchy and violence, and finally there was judgment. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel there was idolatry, sexual perversion, anarchy (in which each person did what was right in his own eyes), and finally judgment.

This progression happened throughout the Bible and to Greece, to Persia, to Babylon, and to Rome. And if it happened to these nations, then it can happen today. Unless we return to God’s principles, decline and destruction are inevitable.

© 1991 Probe Ministries

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