Russell and Duenes

They Won’t See Because They Can’t

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I was having lunch the other day with a colleague, and as it happens, we got on to the subject of what it means to be human. He made a rather startling claim. He began by saying that he agreed with Richard Dawkins that being human means, biologically speaking, that we are nothing more than gene-preservers. The nature of being human is, at its essence, simply the business of passing on one’s genes. Yet my colleague, a bright and accomplished man, then proceeded to tell me that this biological reality did not preclude there being a deep and robust conception of human rights. In other words, though we are nothing more than chemical conglomerates attempting to survive by passing on chemicals, we still ought not to oppress minorities, nor enslave the weak, nor exclude certain others from the social benefits of marriage, and on and on. It simply doesn’t follow, said he, that we need “God” in order to have this robust conception of rights and morality. After all, we’ve developed our morality over time, and that’s the nature of what we do as human beings.

Of course it is true that one need not believe in God in order to believe in and practice a “robust conception of rights.” But that’s never been the issue. The issue is always and everywhere whether one can ground one’s “robust conception of rights and morality” in any kind of standard or authority that is binding on all people, everywhere, at all times. One can protest that he does not need God in order to do so, but this is not the same as demonstrating it. Without a transcendent God, our “development” of morality and rights is nothing but a utilitarian calculus, subject to the whims of the powerful. And if the powerful happen to be the Nazis or the Communists or the Khmer Rouge and what they’ve developed, then that’s our morality. But we know this is wrong. It’s wrongness is something that is impossible not to know, and yet my colleague claims not only that he does not know it, but that its ridiculous. But why? Why does he not see?

Is it for want of intellect or learning? That cannot be, for his intellect is first rate, and so is his curriculum vitae. Is it for lack of evidence or logic? Nope. It’s not logical to think that we’re all just a bunch of gene-transmitters, the products of material forces and irrational, random mutations, who then can turn around and possess robust rights and morality in an objective sense. So why the evasion of the real issue? Why the changing of the subject, from dealing with the issue of whether one can truly ground his morality in some standard and make objective moral claims, to averting to the subject of whether we need God in order to be moral in our behavior? One may be quite moral in his behavior without believing in God, just as one may buy drinks for the house with his dad’s money (HT: Douglas Wilson). But again, that’s not the question, is it? So why the evasion?

It’s because we won’t see. We don’t want to. And we don’t want to because we can’t want to. St. Paul reminds us that the mind without Christ “is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to God’s law; indeed it is not even able to do so.” (Rom.8:7). Paul says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4) They are “kept” from seeing the truth. They will not see it because they cannot. Moreover, the unbeliever is “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). That is, the devil is the power that is at work in “the sons of disobedience.” We all once walked in his ways. (Eph. 2:3). God has “blinded their eyes and hardened their heart.” (John 12:40). They must evade, suppress and banish that which they do not want to know.

This is the reality of our human condition. It manifests itself in different ways, but it came clear to me in stark relief this week. We are blind. We are, as Paul says elsewhere, people who have turned aside from God, who have become worthless, who lack all understanding, who do not seek God, whose throats are open graves, whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, who spew forth the venom of snakes, who run quickly to evil and bloodshed, who run in the paths of ruin and misery (even if such paths are dressed up in good intentions), who have no fear of God before our eyes. (Romans 3:9-20). And thus, only God can “grant us repentance” and remove the veil from our hearts.

It is a sobering thought. But we ought not be taken aback when we see the evasions and obfuscations of the truth. We ought to remember what we are, and what we need, which the new birth that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. And we ought to consider that it is God who is “rich in mercy,” who loves us with a great love, and who, according to His sovereign will, makes people “alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2).



Written by Michael Duenes

September 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm

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