Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” - John 14:6
(Originally published in the Fall of 2020, we continue our reflections on Christianity, Church, and Culture. Fourth in the series, this meditation is the third on John 14:6. I chose to approach these in reverse order because of our tendency to overemphasize Jesus Christ as the Way and underemphasize Jesus Christ as Life and Truth.)
In the last three weeks, I have made three specific points: first, the time has come that we must choose between Christ and the culture. The choice is whether to be people of faith in and obedience to our God or to embrace secularism, which recognizes no transcendent Being. Second, we need to recognize the humanism in American culture and choose between personal happiness confined to this life alone, or we die to self and rise with Christ to abundant life, to eternal and Divine life. Third, Christians are called to adapt ourselves to the truth and to conform to Jesus Christ, growing in virtue and love, or we can join in the relativistic American amoral zeitgeist of self-determination, embracing our wants and passions. In this final meditation on Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth and the life, I want us to consider what Jesus meant when Thomas asked to know where Jesus was going, especially as that relates to contemporary American society.
If we take secularism, humanism, and relativism together, we end up with progressivism. Progress sounds good, and very clearly, we can point to great progress all around us. I am typing this on a machine with far more computing power than was used to send men to the moon. That’s progress. My son has Type 1 diabetes, meaning insulin dependent. As recently as a hundred years ago, the only outcome when diabetes developed was death, typically within weeks – or even days in some cases – of diagnosis. Insulin was discovered in 1921, and my son has lived with diabetes for over three decades. That’s progress. But the discussion that is important for us is not a technical or medical discussion. We are talking about ideas. The idea of a godless society holding the highest good to be human happiness and well-being, defined differently by every person, is contrasted with the superstitious belief in a transcendent, invisible God Who imposes unwanted restrictions on the human race.
The ardent intellectuals who crowd our universities and form the minds of the last two to three generations, including many of us, pride themselves for breaking free of the constraints of past religious superstitions and the incumbent restrictive morality entailed. The progress toward atheism established in the humanism of the Renaissance gained strength and acceptability in the rationalism of the Enlightenment. With Darwin’s serious and thoughtful defense of natural selection, absent any creative force in the universe, the impetus of unapologetic atheism increased exponentially. The great claim of the intellectual class in contemporary America is that humanity has finally come into its own, free to be fully human without religious relics hanging around in the mind. Really? How accurate is this vision? Because it is the vision of the cultural leaders and intelligentsia, and it permeates every aspect of American life.
I would suggest that the much-acclaimed human progress arguably is closer to human regress. For example, Americans are enamored with being in love and with beauty and youth. In 2018, we spent around $16.5 billion on cosmetic surgery. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and passion. One of the most prominent causes in our nation today is the environment and maintaining the earth in its natural and beautiful state. Gaea was a primordial Greek goddess of the earth. Americans suffer from a host of excesses. Obesity is an epidemic, and there are 12-step programs for every imaginable kind of addiction. About $150 billion is spent on illegal drugs every year. With the pandemic, Americans couldn’t go to church or gather for family events, but liquor stores remained open. Dionysus (or Bacchus) was the Greek god of licentiousness and intoxication. Plutus was the Greek god of wealth and prosperity. Athena was the goddess of wisdom. I could go on. Militant atheism really encourages nothing more than the ancient worship of a pantheon of gods that reflect human experience – human reason and passions, needs and fears. Intellectuals have not abandoned religion, but rather, have exchanged life in the true God for an inferior religion. How embarrassing for them that they do not see.
The triumph of human progress that is the ethos of contemporary culture is empty. As Solomon wrote, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” Yet, progressivism pushes onward, with the certainty that, if said long enough and loudly enough, their ideas will prove to be correct. The deception of progressivism is what is not seen and not made clear. While we average, dull citizens go about trying to make ourselves happy, progressivism works steadily toward an undefined (and unattainable) utopic vision created by atheist intellectuals. As the inimitable Thomas Sowell observed, “Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering they are not God.” Theories of everything that do not include God are not actually theories of everything. They are intellectual theories overseeing the decline of a civilization too blind or too arrogant to realize its own self-destruction.
In 1943 in The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote, “The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long-run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.” (emphasis added) Compare Lewis’ comment to the current frontrunner for “most formidable atheist in the world,” Peter Singer of Melbourne Australia, who believes adult non-human mammals are of greater value than unborn, newborn, mentally defective, or comatose human beings. If Singer’s progressive atheism carries the day, then we can begin shedding all human beings who are less than an ideal established by… him, or by the next formidable atheist who takes his place. Singer is a clear example of what Sowell meant when speaking of mistaken identity. Singer doesn’t need to believe in God because he and others like him know who is worthy of life and who is not.
What I hope to convey to Christians is not simply that we must choose for whom to vote, but rather, the time has come that we acknowledge the choices before us are not finally political, but religious. Politicians are simply the middleman of ideas and implementation. Christians need to recognize that progressivism is an alternative religion and not Christian. Progressivism is more than a political party espousing platitudes about compassion, care, and policy. It is an ideology that demands Christians conform to the (assumed) superior knowledge and will of the “few lucky people” who decide the shape of human beings in our current generation.
In 1976, Francis Schaeffer wrote, “There is a death wish inherent in humanism – the impulsive drive to beat to death the base which made our freedoms and our culture possible… [M]an destroyed the base which gave him the possibility of freedoms without chaos. Humanists have been determined to beat to death the knowledge that God has not been silent, but has spoken in the Bible and through Christ – and they have been determined to do this even through the death of the values that has come with the death of that knowledge.”
This is where we are living today, in a culture without God, with relativistic values, and with the imposition of the will of the select in the formation of society. Chaos reigns, and intellectuals congratulate themselves for having risen above the messiness of religion. What are you going to do? What do you intend to believe? Who are you going to trust?
When Jesus said He was the way, the truth, and the life, He was closing a discussion begun in John 13. Following Judas’ departure, Jesus told the disciples He was to be glorified, His time was short, and the disciples couldn’t follow where He was going, which led to the statement Jesus made in John 14:6. Jesus told the disciples He was leaving them to prepare a place for them, but the way that Jesus took was through the Cross. The Cross is what glorified the Son of Man, and in His glorification, God also was glorified.
The way in which Christians are called to live is the same way in which Jesus lived. We are called to lay down our lives for the good of others – to love without limit, to forgive and to extend mercy, to abide in truth and to lead people to life. That is the way Christians should live. Personal happiness is not the goal of Christian life. Obedience is. In John 13:36, Jesus told Peter, and by implication all of the disciples, that they would follow Him in due time. All of Jesus’ disciples were martyred, except for St. John, who was exiled and persecuted in Ephesus and on the Island of Patmos. Our world is rapidly becoming just as intolerant of Christianity as the first century was, but that stands to reason since the atheists and progressives of today very nearly promote a technologically advanced first century religion. So, it is not that religious faith that is bad. Christianity is the threat already seen as a form of neurosis in some quarters, a delusion that must be subservient to the zealously religious intellectual guardians of human life and human value.
We are not electing a spiritual leader in American government. We are voting for the ideas that make possible our freedom to worship. The church is so compromised with ideas antithetical to the Gospel that many of us are not fully aware of the stakes. Our episcopal leader called much of the Christianity in the pews today “functional atheism,” but the clergy are still asked to participate in online seminars that tout a host of worldly wisdom and do not mention humility before God, repentance, or new birth.
It is time, Christian. We must choose whether to be part of the culture or part of the Body of Christ. That is true even inside the Church. We cannot live complacently in our culture, then go to church on Sunday and feel confident in our salvation. This is the God Who made the heavens and the earth, Whose touch stretches beyond the ends of the universe, even as He numbers the hairs on each head, and listens to the whispered prayers for the puppy from a toddler’s mouth. Our God is so vast, so beyond anything we can comprehend, that we unwittingly trade the riches of life so we can fit in a culture determined to die.
I don’t have words… So much, so much is offered to us if we have the courage to take the Gospel seriously and not to capitulate to the wisdom of the world. I am not even talking about the future of this nation, but rather, I am talking about our future, the future of each individual who claims to follow Jesus. There is no room for humanism in Christianity because humanism will not tolerate a God greater than human beings. There is no place for secularism in Christianity, because godlessness cannot co-exist with the God in Whom the whole of the material world lives and moves and has being. There is no space for relativism in Christianity, because all truth proceeds from the mouth of our God, and finally, there is no accommodation in Christianity for progressivism, because the unrestrained arrogance that desires to jettison God with human progress is the very idea that originally brought death to humanity.
As we descend into the chaos of violence, canceling culture by restricting speech, banning books, erasing history, and manipulating minds with blatant deception, what are you going to choose, Christian? Which way are you going to go? The words of Jesus resound across the centuries: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We can choose another way. The world has plenty to offer. But be assured, whatever way we choose will not be true or life-giving or the way we are called to live.
Reflect long and hard about your life. If you want to follow Jesus, then the influences of worldly wisdom need to be purged from your thought. Dying to self is incredibly hard to do, but it is the way to life.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau