In the 1960s movements began in earnest to remove Scripture and prayer from Canada’s public schools, striking at the vulnerable soul of a nation seated at small tables to learn in innocence. In 1985, under the Charter, the last vestiges of public Christian identity were abolished in Ontario as the Lord’s Prayer was banned as unconstitutional. The result has been the steady moral neutering of two generations, and the casting adrift of the human personality. It has led to the absolutization of the feeling aspect of human experience so that now, in a plastic world, “I feel, therefore, I am.”
Under the influence of European radicals like Michel Foucault we have been told there is no essential self; the human person and the human family are mere social constructs. We are only what we make and define ourselves to be. In such a cosmos even grammar and pronouns must go since they speak of law and norms – whereas man is nothing more than mere artifice.
By contrast, at the beginning of Scripture we discover the most fundamental aspect of God’s word-revelation for granting a coherent and intelligible vision of the human person:
Then God said, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).
There is no parallel to this starting point anywhere else in human thought. The triune (plural) God of Scripture creates all things out of nothing – all that is distinct from himself – and makes the human person in his image, where the “I” or human ego is established as a transcendent reference point for all the aspects of temporal human experience. As a part of creation, man somehow transcends nature. As Blaise Pascal so well understood, the human person is a mystery that transcends his environment as a living integral being comprehensible only in reference back to the living God as the source and origin of all life, law, truth and meaning.
This unique human identity and the critically important distinction between creator and creature implies, of necessity, a limit to both the reach of human thought and the legislative prerogatives of man. We read in Ecclesiastes, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything’ (Ecc. 11:5).
The average person today however has lost sight of the true nature of man and fallen prey to spiritual nihilism and a world of negation they were taught to embrace. As the great Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, put it regarding modern man, “He has lost all his faith and denies any higher ideals than the satisfaction of his desires.… To him, God is dead…, modern mass-man has lost himself and considers himself cast into a world that is meaningless.”
As a result of this modern temper, there has perhaps never been a time in the past fifteen centuries or more when the Western world faced a greater crisis of identity and thereby confronted so dramatically its own social and cultural ruin. Any observant and thinking Christian can see that we are a radically uprooted and dislocated generation adrift in the world.
Social and cultural philosophers, commentators and theologians have spilt much ink seeking to trace upstream to the font of the problem, following the various tributaries of the crisis toward its common source, but not all have grasped the religious character of its subterranean spring – the decline of the human personality via the apostasy of the heart from God and the consequent emergence of mass-man (i.e. depersonalized, dispensable human beings) in a technocratic society where the individual strives to ‘find themselves’ without God. Not many perceive that our present situation is so precarious that the elegy of Western culture is on the verge of being composed.
We read daily of people in the grip of a radical relativism unimaginable even twenty-five years ago. As abstracted and generalized people reduced to self-created group identities, we no longer know what a human being is. This condition has advanced to such a degree that we are essentially unsure if there are any human norms that transcend radical autonomous desire and subjectivist self-identification. We are not even confident of the intrinsic value of the human person made in God’s image, whether pre-born, new-born, disabled, aging, sick or despairing. Indeed we are so fundamentally uprooted that we are no longer assured of the scientific and chromosomal reality of the binary gender distinctions of male and female, of normative human sexuality, or of the oldest institution known to the human race – marriage and family.
And thus, in a world of flux, of the irrational fluidity of all things, where the possibility of normative differentiation between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, reality and unreality, has collapsed, culture has not simply reached a bump in the road but has been sucked into a kind of vortex of democratic insanity, spiralling toward what Cornelius Van Til called “disintegration into the void.”
In our disarticulated world, the vain rantings of Nietzsche’s overmen, who have gone beyond good and evil, declare the reasonable and sane to be sick, mad or malevolent and demand the voice of plain reason be silenced in the face of the cultural conjurers’ reimagining of the world. The stark reality of our situation is that we are facing the death of man as man in the West. By denying, debunking and defacing the image of God in man we are losing our very soul (Matt. 16:26).
In the state of crisis that results from the illusion of the creative freedom of selfhood, people are often deeply inwardly afraid, even as they revel in an autonomy that finds endless social indulgence and legal sanction. People on every side are gripped by sadness, guilt and despair that no amount of psychotropic prescriptions can finally ameliorate or truly heal – by such technique the fear of disintegration and death is simply supressed. But as Dooyeweerd rightly noted, “it is uncomprehended revelation of God that fills humankind with fear and trembling.”
We may deny God and man as his image bearer, pressing ahead in a suicidal course, but this always proves to be pure vanity, for we are surrounded inside and out by the reality of God and his order. This revelation may well be supressed, but it is inescapable and still grips the being of every person, generating both guilt and deep disquiet. Consequently there is no recovery for our society till we recognise that whatever our gains materially, we have lost our soul and for this Christ warns us that there is a reckoning, for God is not mocked; what a man sows, he reaps (Gal. 6:7). Our only recourse is true repentance, both personal and national.
Man is a worshipping being. As St. Paul makes clear in chapter 1 of his letter to the Romans, if we refuse to worship the living, creator God, we do not cease to worship. Rather we will worship some aspect of creation itself – some being or thing will be absolutized. This the Christian calls idolatry, apostasy from the true God, finding its root in the human heart and spreading out to touch everything. Before renewal of a Christian view is possible, a self-conscious appreciation of from whence we have fallen is necessary.
Today we are in the grip of God’s historical judgements, seen in our growing adherence to very ancient beliefs dressed in a new outfit. Anthropologists in the past called them ‘mana beliefs’ which lay at the foundation of the disintegration of the human personality in pagan cultures.
These beliefs are characterized by a supposed fluidity of reality between the personal and impersonal (nature religion), for mana is a mysterious life force that underlies everything. Millions of people in our culture (often unwittingly) pay homage to such a life force, from the yoga mat and alternative healer, to the science classroom, where nature is deified as an endless stream of life that spontaneously evolved from an original mysterious point of undifferentiated absolute unity. It was such a belief that filled the ancient Greco-Roman world with dread in the face of blind fate, and so promoted the nobility of suicide – a belief re-emergent in our time.
When nature itself is, in various ways, absolutized, culture becomes increasingly decrepit because with all of nature being somehow an aspect of the divine, emerging from an original unity, how can real and meaningful differentiation take place at the familial, biological, ethical, artistic, juridical, moral or even ontological level? In such a view, man and his culture is merely impermanent artifice in a mysterious fluidity.
And, in the post-Darwinian world that we occupy, we can no longer speak cogently or persuasively of even natural law as a moral referent in the way that the pseudo-Christian secularists of past generations did. A mysterious world of chaotic forces can give no objective or transcendent law, and so all that is left to the ‘mana’ world of jurisprudence is positive law which emerges as a development of the reflective experience of the people, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and leading legal thinker, argued. The obvious question is, who will interpret the reflective experience of the people and transform experience into law? Increasingly the answer is a new elite in our courts, cut loose from accountability to God and Scripture’s definition of man as his image-bearer.
This new elite or humanist priesthood (Plato’s philosopher kings) are necessary, of course, because social chaos is not a workable political philosophy, and in a lawless world of radical autonomy, humanity needs salvation from all those fatalistic forces threatening to crush him.
It naturally follows that modern political doctrine rests typically on a set of beliefs that flatly contradict what God says about humanity. It is not that we deny that there is evil in the world, but we locate that evil not in the heart of man (who is thought of as inherently good and perfectible), but in the environment and spheres of social order like the family, the church, private property and other structures of alleged inequality that supposedly war against an original unity.
So, if we abolish marriage and the family, no one will be subject to hierarchy anymore and women and children will not feel subjugated. If we eliminate binary gender norms no one will feel oppressed by distinctions anymore. If we eliminate income inequality, no one will be greedy anymore. If we open our borders and embrace Islamists returning from fighting with ISIS and find them money and housing, they won’t want to crucify and behead Christians anymore or plot against our country. In this view human beings are perfectible by political technique – a repackaged world of magic.
God is thought to be brought down to the level of man, and man raised to the level of God. If the authority of families, parents, the church, pastors, private businesses, guilds, and associations are eroded, if we can abolish all true authority outside of the state and its legislative apparatus that authoritatively interprets the experience of the people, perhaps we can abolish God who stands behind and over all legitimate authority. Critically, centralization and massive political power must be accrued to the state do this. This path, it is held, is true liberation for the human personality. The cultural theologian Andrew Sandlin has summarised it:
Liberals (progressives) since the French Revolution have engaged in one massive liberation project, what has been called ‘the oppression-liberation nexus.’ The liberal religion has become one of never-ending clawing for the liberation of humanity from every tyranny – real or imagined: the secularists must be liberated from the religionists, the parishioners from the clergy, the enlightened from the unenlightened, the citizens from royalty, the poor from the rich, the workers from the capitalists, blacks from whites, women from men, wives from husbands, children from parents, debtors from creditors, employees from employers, homosexuals from heterosexuals, convicts from law abiding citizens – and soon, if the trajectory persists, polygamists from monogamists and pedophiles from prison guards. The Great Liberation now extends even to non-human nature: the liberation of ‘the environment’ from rapacious humanity.
If we had adequately learned anything by now in our historical experience, it should have been that our rejection of God and the image of God in man leads to the endless defacing and destruction of that image and the steady decay of diverse cultural life as the sphere of the state overreaches itself to try to play a messianic role in people’s lives. As man kills himself as God’s image-bearer he languishes in the ruins of a social order that cannot find a solution to its malady from within nature itself.
In pursuit of a true political life, we are dependent upon God’s grace and the working of His Spirit as we seek to oppose and defeat an apostate and destructive religious worldview that is ruining countless lives. We are called in this task to love and thoughtful obedience. And we can be confident of victory in the long run in this battle because an apostate culture of death has no future.
We must continue to serve the cause of Christ to the best of our ability, praying for those in authority, seeking the good of our fellow men, prophetically witnessing against idolatry in its varied forms, and pursuing righteousness and justice. We will not always be loved for this stand, but this is the victory that overcomes the world – even our faith.
With an apostate heart, for almost a century, our culture has been progressively pursuing the death of man as man (as God’s image-bearer), and so we are in that respect surrounded by dead men – dead in trespasses and sins. But the Lord Jesus Christ assures us, “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)
 Herman Dooyeweerd, In The Twilight of Western Thought (USA: Paideia Press, 2012), 120.
 Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (USA: Paideia, 2012), 101.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 28-29.
 Andrew Sandlin, Political Liberalism: Theological Presuppositions (Coulterville, CA: Centre for Cultural Leadership, 2015), 16.