A MADMAN OR A PROPHET?

We are clearly living in a USA, as the theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) described, which is now in a “post-Christian era.” America began as a nation founded on Biblical principles and a strong belief that guidance from “Divine Providence” was behind its formation. How, then, did we get to the place in our country where we now see the abolition of belief in a Supreme Being and the belief there no longer exists absolute moral values which were given to us by our Creator for the purpose of guiding human behavior and the preservation of order in society?

When the USA was barely a hundred years removed from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there was a “prophet” living in Germany who “prophesied” the day would come when Western civilization would declare God to be dead, reject the Christian faith, and adopt the philosophy of nihilism. The word nihilism comes from nihil, a Latin root meaning “nothing” or “that which does not exist.” Nihilism is the belief that there is no basis for absolute truth and rejects the existence of all religious, ethical and moral principles. Nihilism believes that established moral, social, religious and political systems must be destroyed in order to pave the way for the replacement of new forms of moral and political structures. Nihilism advocates anarchy and revolutionary activity to achieve such an objective.

One would have to be blind not to see that the dark shadow of nihilism is falling across this land in the advancement of godless secular humanism; in the formation of groups and movements, many with Marxist connections, who are calling for the destruction of traditional moral values; lawlessness, violence, and vandalism in the streets; disrespect for authority and law and order; the calling for the removing of all statues and monuments that have any hint of being offensive; and the call for replacing the current religious and economic systems, which are considered obsolete, with new ones that will rest on the shifting sands of relativism.

How did we get to this point in our society? In the nineteenth century there lived in Germany a philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). He was a self-proclaimed atheist, who “prophesied” that Western culture would eventually reject Christianity, declare “God is dead,” and nihilism would be embraced. How right he was! Nietzsche’s views were extreme, and many of his day considered his views bizarre. Eventually his extremist writings pushed him to mental and emotional exhaustion, and he spent the final years of his life in a state of insanity. While some label Nietzsche a madman, some of his views have proven prophetic.

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Nietzsche attacked Christianity relentlessly, declaring  “God is Dead.”  He “prophesied”  the day would come when Western culture would proclaim the “death of God.”[1] He contended the “death of God” would occur when Western man’s consciousness rejected Christian values and morality and dismissed Christian “truth” as being the ultimate ground and support of all reality. According to Nietzsche, “Nihilism is the belief that everything deserves to perish, to be destroyed…This includes the belief in God and an essentially moral order [as] untenable.”[2] Once God is rejected, traditional values must be abandoned, as well. With Christianity rejected, according to Nietzsche, man will be forced to look within and rely upon himself where “there is no one to command, no one to obey, no one to transgress.” [3] If the God of the Bible does not exist, reasoned Nietzsche, then the moral values taught in the Bible will no longer have sway in society.[4] Once Biblical values are rejected man will face an ominous dilemma, for to proclaim the death of God is to deny what once gave society ultimate meaning and value, and there will be no alternative but to embrace nihilism, which will bring chaos.

Nietzsche  foresaw the day when Western culture would enter a state of culture decline and man would find himself helplessly caught between two worlds, one dead and the other powerless to be born. Nietzsche feared when the Christian worldview was no longer the dominant influence of the thought of Western culture, it would be replaced by a liberalism that was incapable of giving birth to a new world. He was correct in his prediction. Liberalism today is giving birth to a culture that is still born, bringing forth a cultural of death not renewed life. Ignoring history doesn’t change the fact that Western culture is rooted in Christian values, and to remove those values the foundation of society dissolves into dust. And that is exactly what we are witnessing today as nihilism begins to pervade our culture and society.

Nietzsche being an atheist, he rejected the premise that there existed absolute truth and values; therefore, once Nihilism is embraced, man is free to be his own God and create his own morality and ethics. [4] However, what Nietzsche didn’t comprehend (and all those who follow such thinking), is that once God is declared as non-existent, society implodes because culture is built on the quicksand of ever-changing relativism. Nietzsche was confident that through reason man could find alternative truth and morality by which he could live. He falsely thought man could become fully human without God, but in reality, without God man becomes less than human. The consequences of living without God and morality only leads to hopelessness, despair and self-destruction.

Time has proven Nietzsche’s basic “prophecy” correct, in that Western culture has gradually denied that God is necessary and the abandonment of Christian values. This has resulted in the denial of absolute truth and that moral values exist, which has led to the embracing of nihilism and chaos in society.  Philosopher Peter Kreeft succinctly states, “One need not share Nietzsche’s atheism to agree with his historical, not theological, dictum that “God is dead”—i.e., that faith in God is dead as a functional center for Western civilization, that we are now a planet detached from its sun. One need not share Nietzsche’s refusal of morality and natural law to agree with his observation that Western man is increasingly denying morality and natural law…” [6]

As Christians we should not be resigned to the current societal climate in which we are living, we must be courageous trumpeters who are consistently sounding the alarm of the dire consequences that result when God is dismissed from culture and Biblical values are abandoned. It is painfully clear that we are living in a society that no longer views life from the perspective of a Biblical worldview, but sadly a godless humanistic view of life is sweeping the land.[7] Man refusing divine revelation, he is left to his own version of what is truth and reality, which has no fixed ethics. It is up to Christians to proclaim without apology the truth that reality is found in the revelation God has given to humanity in Jesus Christ and through His inspired Word, the Bible. The “freedom” that nihilism promotes leads to chaos, bondage and ultimately collapse.

Francis Schaeffer wrote shortly before his death, “Learning from the mistakes of the past, let us [Christians] raise a testimony that may still turn both the churches and society around—for the salvation of souls, the building of God’s people, and at least the slowing down of the slide toward a totally humanistic society and an authoritarian suppressive state.” [8]

Nietzsche’s “prophecy” of descent into nihilism is being fulfilled in our current culture and as Christians we must be about the business of defending the reality of revealed truth found in Jesus Christ. What we are witnessing today in actuality is not the death of God, but we are witnessing the death of man spiritually, morally, socially, and further alienation from his Creator. As man distances himself from his Creator, his love for his fellowman also wanes….and while shouts call for exhibiting respect for the integrity and sanctity of human life the opposite occurs because God who gives value and dignity to human life has been rejected.

Unless there is repentance on behalf of Christians, prayer for a return to a Christian worldview permeating society, and a proclaiming with boldness the truth of the Gospel that Christ redemptive grace embraces all humanity, the “prophecy” of Nietzsche will be fully realized in a culture that will drown in the dark and deathly waters of nihilism. There is no hope outside Jesus Christ, individually or societally.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnotes

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1960), 95-96.
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vantage Books, 1967), 18-19.
[3] Nietzsche, Portable, 143.
[4] Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 408.
[5] Francis Golffing, The Genealogy of Morals, (New York, 1956), 288, 296-298.
[6] Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis for the Third Millennium (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 107.
[7] Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1981), 17-18.
[8] Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. IV (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 274.

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