Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… Much of the thinking prevalent in Canada today are due to a few highly influential thinkers. We should be familiar with them to adequately address the questions they were asking.
I recently came across Justin Taylor’s “Crash Course on Influencers of Unbelief” online. I encourage you to check out his blog on the Gospel Coalition website, but let me give you Taylor’s brief synopsis:
1. Niccolò Machiavelli (16th Century)
· Who was Niccolò Machiavelli?
He was a Florentine political theorist who founded modern political and social philosophy.
· When did he live?
1496-1527 (For historical reference, Machiavelli was born 13 years after Luther and 13 years before Calvin).
· What was Machiavelli’s significance?
Seldom in the history of thought has there been a more total revolution.
· Did Machiavelli recognize how radical he was?
He compared his work to Columbus’ as the discoverer of a new world, and Moses’ as the leader of a new chosen people who would exit the slavery of moral ideas into a new promised land of power and practicality.
· What is his most famous work?
The Prince (The print version was published posthumously in 1532).
· What are the three key assumptions of The Prince?
Everything that Machiavelli says in this book follows from three assumptions:
1. Metaphysical assumption: Reality consists only of material facts (not objectively real ideals, goods or values).
2. Anthropological assumption: Man, by nature, is wicked, selfish, competitive and immoral. (Matter is essentially competitive and so is man; therefore, “morality” contradicts reality.)
3. Epistemological assumption: Reality is revealed only by sense observation. (Human history is an empirical science.)
· For all social thinkers prior to Machiavelli, what was the goal of political life?
Virtue. Politics was the art of the good. The conception of a good society was one in which people are good.
· For Machiavelli, what was politics?
The art of the possible.
· How much did this point influence subsequent social and political philosophers?
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Dewey all subsequently rejected the goal of virtue.
· What was Machiavelli’s argument?
Traditional morals are like the stars (beautiful but too distant to cast any useful light on our earthly path). We need instead man-made lanterns (i.e. attainable goals). In other words, we must take our bearings from the earth, not from the heavens; from what men and societies actually do, not from what they ought to do.
· According to Machiavelli, what is the relationship between the actual and the ideal?
The ideal should be judged by the actual, not the actual by the ideal.
· For Machiavelli, what is the relationship between the means and the end?
Not only does the end justify the means (any means that work), but the means even justify the end (the end is worth pursuing only if there are practical means to attain it).
· For Machiavelli, what is the greatest good?
Success. (He is the father of pragmatism.)
· What did Machiavelli think about morals?
He was an anti-moralist. A successful prince, he wrote, needs “to learn how not to be good” (The Prince Ch. 15), how to break promises, to lie, to cheat and to steal (Ch. 18).
· How did he view religion?
He believed that every religion was a piece of propaganda whose influence lasted between 1,666 and 3,000 years. And he thought Christianity would end long before the world did.
He saw his life as a spiritual warfare against the Church and its propaganda.
· How did social relativism emerge from Machiavelli’s philosophy?
1. Morality can only come from society (since there is no God and no God-given universal natural moral law).
2. But every society originated in some revolution or violence.
3. Therefore, the foundation of law is lawlessness. The foundation of morality is immorality.
· How did Machiavelli criticize Christian and classical ideals of charity?
1. How do you get the goods you give away? By selfish competition (all goods are gotten at another’s expense: if my slice of the pie is so much more, others’ must be that much less).
2. Thus unselfishness depends on selfishness.
The argument presupposes materialism and it is flawed (spiritual goods do not diminish when shared or given away, and do not deprive another when I acquire them).
· What was Machiavelli’s anthropology (view of human beings and their nature)?
Machiavelli believed we are all inherently selfish. There is no such thing as an innate conscience or moral instinct. The only way to make men behave morally is by force – in fact totalitarian force, to compel them to act contrary to their nature.
If a man is inherently selfish, then only fear and not love can effectively move him. He wrote, “It is far better to be feared than loved” (Ch. 17).
Peter Kreeft wrote:
“The most amazing thing about this brutal philosophy is that it won the modern mind, though only by watering down or covering up its darker aspects. Machiavelli’s successors toned down his attack on morality and religion, but they did not return to the idea of a personal God or objective and absolute morality as the foundation of society. Machiavelli’s narrowing down came to appear as a widening out. He simply lopped off the top story of the building of life; no God, only man.”
2. Karl Marx (19th Century)
· Who was Karl Marx?
A German philosopher-economist and revolutionary socialist who founded Communism.
· When did he live?
· What is the significance of his philosophy?
Marxism is not the most important, the most imposing or the most impressive philosophy in history.
But until recently, it has clearly been the most influential. In just two generations, Marxism inundated one-third of the world – a feat accomplished only twice in human history (by early Christianity and early Islam).
· What is Marx’s most famous work?
The Communist Manifesto (1848), co-authored with Friedrich Engels.
· How was Marxism structurally and emotionally like a religion?
Marx took over the forms and the spirit of his Jewish religious heritage, but not the content. He retained all the major structural and emotional factors of biblical religion in a secularized form.
o Marx, like Moses, is the prophet who leads the new Chosen People, the proletariat, out of the slavery of capitalism into the Promised Land of communism across the Red Sea of bloody worldwide revolution and through the wilderness of temporary, dedicated suffering for the party, the new priesthood.
o The revolution is the new “Day of Yahweh”, the Day of Judgment.
o Party spokesmen are the new prophets.
o Political purges within the party to maintain ideological purity are the new divine judgments on the waywardness of the Chosen and their leaders.
· Where did Marx’s ideas come from?
1. Hegelian philosophy
2. Enlightenment rationalism
3. Economic reductionism
4. Utopian socialist thinkers
· What is communism?
Marx wrote: “The theory of communism may be summed up in the single phrase: abolition of private property.”
· What are some objections to Marxism?
1. Marx’s appeal for “Working men of all countries, unite!” even if pragmatic, is still self-defeating. Marx believes in fate, not free will and the revolution is inevitable. Therefore, he can’t appeal to free will while denying it.
2. The predictions simply have not worked. The revolution did not happen when and where Marxism predicted. Capitalism did not disappear – nor did the state, the family or religion.
3. Communism has not produced contentment and equality anywhere it has gained power.
Peter Kreeft wrote:
“All Marx has been able to do is to play Moses and lead fools backward into the slavery of Egypt (worldliness). The real Liberator is waiting in the wings for the jester who now “struts and frets his hour upon the stage” to lead his fellow “fools to dusty death” the one topic Marxist philosophers refuse to face.”
3. Sigmund Freud (20th Century)
· Who was Sigmund Freud?
An Austrian neurologist and author who founded psychoanalysis.
· When did he live?
· What were his main vocations and what was his influence in each?
1. He was the inventor of the practical therapeutic technique of psychoanalysis. (He was a genius; psychologists today stand in his debt for some of his insights.)
2. He was a theoretical psychologist. (Like Columbus, he mapped out some new continents but made some major mistakes.)
3. He was a philosopher and religious thinker. (Here he was strictly an amateur and little more than an adolescent.)
· How did Freud approach Psychology
He wanted to reduce the complex to the controllable and he wanted to make psychology into an exact science. (This doesn’t work, though, because man is never only an object but also a subject.)
· What was his greatest work?
The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He rightly emphasized the subconscious forces that move us, but he underemphasized their depth and complexity.
· What was Freud’s most influential teaching?
As an atheist, Freud reduced God to the dream of a man.
As a materialist, Freud ultimately reduced man to sex.
· How did Freud divide up the human psyche?
He identified three divisions, but these are not the same as the traditional notions of appetite, will and intellect (and conscience).
1. Super-ego. The unfree, passive reflection in an individual’s psyche of societal “thou shalt nots” — restrictions on his desires. We need to realize that our “own” insights into good and evil is simply a mirror of man-made social laws.
2. Ego. A mere façade; there is no free will.
3. Id. The only real self is impersonal; it’s comprised simply of animal desires.
Just as Freud denied God (“I Am”), he denies God’s image, the human “I”.
· For Freud, what was the fundamental illusion of humanity?
· What did he see as the only light?
· What are his most famous anti-religion books?
· Moses and Monotheism (1939)
· The Future of an Illusion (1927)
· What was the argument?
The meaning of life and human happiness are unattainable. But we can experience psychotherapy, moving “from unmanageable unhappiness to manageable unhappiness.”
1. We are animals seeking pleasure, motivated only by “the pleasure principle”.
2. We need the order of civilization to save us from the pain of chaos.
3. But the restrictions of civilization curtail our desires.
4. So the very thing we invented as a means to our happiness becomes our obstacle.
Peter Kreeft wrote:
“Freud prophetically saw the power of the death wish in the modern world and was unsure which of these two “heavenly forces,” as he called them, would win out. He died an atheist but almost a mystic. He had enough of the pagan in him to offer some profound insights, usually mixed up with outrageous blind spots. He calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ description of pagan mythology: ‘gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.’
“What raises Freud far above Marx and secular humanism is his insight into the demon in man, the tragic dimension of life and our need for salvation. Unfortunately, he saw the Judaism he rejected and the Christianity he scorned as fairy tales, too good to be true. His tragic sense was rooted in his separation between the true and the good, “the reality principle” and happiness.
“Only God can join them at their summit.”
Have a blessed week!