by Bill Nugent
Socrates (470-399 BC) is reputed to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living” and also “All of life is a preparation for death.”
This is the 100th “Defending the Faith” article. I hope these articles have encouraged you to examine your lives and prepare for the ultimate retirement — the hereafter.
I ask my fellow Christians not to be disquieted by my frequent quotes of Pagan philosophers. I would point out that Paul the apostle quoted Pagan sources in his sermon to the Athenians in Acts chapter seventeen. Paul found common ground in the words of Pagans and used this common ground to build a bridge to reach the Athenians with the message of salvation.
In this article I wish to give you a brief view of the search for truth and meaning in the western philosophical tradition. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle built their philosophies on the concept of the “Unmoved Mover” or the “Causeless Cause.” In other words they built upon the concept of God. They had the simple humility to acknowledge God as the foundation of all truth. They did not use “self” as the starting point like so many of the Sophist philosophers who opposed them. Some go so far as to say that Aristotle was a Christian before Christ Came. We can say that perhaps Aristotle was looking forward to Christ in some sense. (I do acknowledge that though there is much practical wisdom there is also much error in the teachings of Aristotle.)
God intervened in history and sent His Son Jesus, the Redeemer, the promised Messiah of Israel who came in fulfillment of prophecy and whose life was validated by signs, wonders and miracles. The Bible calls Jesus “the chief corner stone”(Ephesians 2:20) and also calls Him the “foundation” (I Cor. 3:11). Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Christ’s influence on western philosophy was profound.
For more than a thousand years the dominant stream of western philosophy was built on the foundation of Christ and His teachings. Virtually all of western philosophy was built upon this foundation until the time of Rene’ Descartes (1596-1650) when a very significant change occurred. It was at this time that leading philosophers began to drift away from Christ and began to build upon another foundation. They began to build without the chief cornerstone.
Rene’ Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” This statement is an innocent sounding truism yet in it we see the beginning of a mindset that puts self, not God as the starting point. For this reason Descartes has been called the father of modern philosophy. Descartes himself was rather moderate and was a lifelong Roman Catholic. As is so often the case however, those who came after him took his basic assumptions to their logical extreme.
More than a century after Descartes we encounter the period known as the Enlightenment typified by the atheism, skepticism and empiricism of David Hume (1711-1776) and others. The 1800s saw the rise of existentialism which could be called “selfism.” The atheist origins myth called Darwinian evolution also arose at this time.
Hard on the heels of Darwinism came the radical totalitarian political philosophies called communism and fascism. These two political philosophies, these twin terrors, would plunge the world into war and genocide and kill over 100 million people. Darwinian evolution undermined the concept of the sacredness of human life taught in the Bible. Once the sanctity of life was removed, the brutality of fascism and communism naturally followed.
The vacuousness of secular philosophy has been played out to its destructive end. People have seen the results of building without the chief cornerstone who is Christ. Seminary professor and writer, Greg Bahnsen, Has produced a powerful lecture called The failure of Unbelief. In it he details how the various streams of modern and postmodern philosophy have reached a dead end. Atheistic philosophies, whether they be Enlightenment or Existential, modern or postmodern have not supplied an objective basis for the value or purpose of human life.
Bahnsen exhorts the people to look to God through Christ. People should look to the simple teaching on the meaning of life contained in The Westminster Shorter Catechism.. It is given as a question and answer: Question:”What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Communism and fascism have fallen and many people are returning to Christ who alone offers reconciliation with God. Christ offers truth to live by in this life and eternal bliss in the hereafter.