Note: This blog post was originally given as a talk at the 2019 WWP Leader’s Gathering. It’s longer than a typical post, so I beg your patience as I ask for more time than usual in the reading. We are also including an audio link to the talk in case you’d rather listen than read.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman…haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5
I consider these verses a sad and disturbing commentary on the days we are living in. Which begs the question, how did we get here? What has brought us to this point where it seems most people are willing to listen to anybody but never arrive at a knowledge of the truth? Why, even among Church-goers, do we see so many examples of people with “the form of religion” but who don’t live like it makes any difference—who, in essence, deny the power of it? Why are children increasingly disobedient to parents, ungrateful, and unholy? Why do we see more lovers of pleasure than lovers of God? Does it feel like things have gotten worse…that things have suddenly spun out of control?
If you feel that the present moment is spinning by so fast, you are not alone. We are in the midst of an explosion of information and data growth never before seen. The volumes of data are exploding, and more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race.
Inventor Buckminster Fuller is the man who created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.” His research has found that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, human knowledge is doubling every 12 months. According to IBM, the build-out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. So no wonder we feel that things are spinning so fast that we can’t keep up.
But all things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He has got this. And this is His advice to us, found in Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” That is what I intend to do right now. I invite you to slow down and look at history—to explore how we got here and how we should move forward.
Back in the 17th century, a philosopher named Blaise Pascal wrote, “Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.” Sin. A most unpopular word today. In fact, we live in a culture that says sin doesn’t exist. The philosophy of postmodernism says that absolute truth does not exist; as a result, nor can a definitive definition of right and wrong. This makes any discussion of sin not only tricky, it sounds archaic and judgmental. “Who am I to judge,” the motto of the current age, makes it difficult to move beyond superficial conversation. But tolerance is often simply a mask for intellectual laziness. It’s easier to say, “You do you, boo,” than to engage in thought-provoking discussion and respectful argument.
Any discussion of sin seems harsh and degrading to a culture that hails self-esteem as one of its core values. Most people believe that humans are intrinsically good, and that given the right social conditions, we will make the right choices. When things go wrong, we blame poverty, or dysfunctional childhoods, or sexism, or racism. I am not saying that those societal problems are not incredibly damaging and that they do not significantly contribute to what goes wrong in our world. But it’s a “utopian view” of man that leaves all the blame there and assigns none to personal responsibility and choice.
Where does this utopian view come from? It has its roots in two intellectual movements: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. These philosophies or ideologies spread throughout Europe during the 1700s. The intellectuals of the Enlightenment movement rejected traditional religious views and embraced reason, skepticism, and individualism. Romanticism reacted to the belief that reason was the chief means for discovering truth and instead focused on poetry, feelings, emotions, and nature. Both of these intellectual movements rejected traditional religion.
In their rejection of the traditional understanding of sin, they still needed to explain where all the problems came from. They pointed to products of the environment as the cause: poverty, ignorance, and bad social conditions. Given the right conditions, they believed that an ideal society could be created. The influence of the Enlightenment and Romanticism movements gained traction and had tremendous impact on the 20th century. The interplay between the two intellectual movements could be said to make up that period of history’s worldview. It’s called the Modern World View or “modernism.”
This was the century of Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing. A century that had dawned with so much hope in terms of what man could do—how much progress he could make—ended up being the bloodiest in history. As G.K. Chesterton said, the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by the centuries of recorded human history.
When we deny that man has a sin nature and that it’s sin that’s at the root of our troubles, we don’t end up with a better society. We end up with tyranny. This is what was proven in the 20th century. Why? Because with God out of the picture, there is no accountability for the leader, no higher authority. This means that they can try to make a perfect society, by doing whatever it takes. In their mind, the end justifies the means. In the words of Adolf Hitler, “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
What became of sin? How did sixteen centuries of understanding human nature and society in a certain way become so thoroughly replaced by a utopian view? The Enlightenment ideals deeply impressed one particular man in the mid-eighteenth century who went on to have profound influence in the centuries to come. We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it, communicates well what we’ve all been feeling, powerful trends are born. This is what happened when a French philosopher and writer named Rousseau burst onto the intellectual scene.
If we were to look back at the history of philosophy, we would find that from the time of Aristotle, philosophers have taught that people are by nature social, and that they come to their greatest fulfillment in the context of family, church, state, and society. Organized institutions. But Rousseau believed the opposite. He saw society as artificial and detrimental. He was convinced that it was only by moving away from social institutions that man could become his truest and best self. That it was society’s artificial rules that was the problem.
Why did this hit such a resonating note with the people of that day? Rousseau lived during the time of the French aristocracy of the 1700s. This was a time of excess; France before the revolution. He saw it for what it was: artificial, pompous, and self-indulgent. It was a world of excess, while the people around the aristocracy suffered and starved. Rousseau, although born to privilege, fled this world, and dressed in simple and shabby clothes. All that is fine and well.
But he didn’t stop there—he went on to explore the concept of freedom. He believed that individuals needed to be free to discover their own identity, to create themselves, to figure out who they were, apart from society’s conventions. While he considered society (family, church, local community) to be problematic, he did not see the same problem with the state. In fact, he saw the state as a liberator. His famous words, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” became a rallying cry for people who believed that they could appeal to the future—to what they could create—if only the current chains were thrown off. This gave birth to the modern concept of revolution.
What this meant was that all sorts of atrocities could be justified if they were occurring because the perfect society was being created. The deal was this: you give me absolute power, and I will give you the ideal society. You might wonder why people didn’t question this—why people didn’t know that absolute power always corrupts. It’s because when you don’t believe that man has a sin nature, then you believe man is naturally good. This produces a certain blindness to what can happen down the road.
Rousseau's writings gave birth to the French Revolution. Robespierre, the architect of the French Reign of Terror, imprisoned 300,000 nobles, priests, and people who disagreed with the new world order. 17,000 citizens were killed within the year. Robespierre, influenced by the philosophy of Rousseau, knew that building a perfect society always meant killing the people who were getting in the way—those who were holding on to the old way of doing things.
We see this same belief system at play in Marxism. Marxist philosophy has inspired countless attempts to create utopian existences around the world. Because Marx denied the existence of God, he also did away with any absolute standard of good and evil. As a result, societies created based on his philosophy have not been founded on moral principles or measures of justice that go beyond man (this is called natural law—something we would do well to understand), and have no limit on bloodthirsty cruelty.
We find these same ideas at the root of fascism. There was no philosopher more loved by 20th century fascists than Nietzsche. Nietzsche denounced sin, considering it something invented by a wretched band of ascetic priests. He saw the moral life—kindness, humility, self-sacrifice, obedience—to be not just a buzzkill but a pathology. He believed that it would be possible for a race of ubermensch (super men) to be created. He believed this would be possible when any man with superior potential completely mastered himself, threw off “Christian herd morality,” and created his own values. No doubt, Nietzsche was not envisioning what the Nazis came up with. He wanted a “Caesar with the soul of Christ.” Nevertheless, Nietzsche became the Nazi’s inspiration. Ideas have consequences.
What effects of this utopian view do we see in the United States today? We see this influence any time society puts all hope for change in politics. We see this influence when we think that external laws will solve problems of human behavior that are actually rooted in the heart. Yes, public policy matters, but if we think that a perfect society will be made when politics are the way we like them, we are displaying a utopian view and ignoring the inherent problem of sin.
The utopian view has also impacted modern psychology. It is undeniable that the work of Sigmund Freud has had a tremendous impact on western culture. He considered words like sin, soul, and conscience to be old fashioned, and instead used words like “instincts” and “drives.” Freud reduced the sense of personal moral responsibility and muddied the water in terms of what could be considered evil. Following Freud’s theory, we can always say, “I can’t help it. I’m in the grip of unconscious forces that I can’t control.”
Behaviorism, a psychological approach built on Freud’s foundation, proposed that human flaws aren’t the result of moral choices but are simply learned responses. This school of thought teaches that those learned responses can be unlearned, and people can be “reprogrammed” by being placed in a different environment. Fixing what is outside a person can then reprogram them to be happy and adjusted, living harmoniously in society.
This utopian thinking has also had a tremendous impact on education. In the past, the focus of education was on pursuing truth and training moral character. But if you are looking at human nature as something that simply reacts to stimulus, if our flaws are caused not by moral corruption inside of us but by learned responses, then we can blame all sorts of situations and people outside of us for our personal choices.
Our education system has been deeply impacted by behaviorism. In the words of the founder of behaviorism, J.B. Watson, “Give me the baby…and the possibility of shaping in any direction is almost endless.” We have given our education system our babies, and they have been shaping them in a certain direction. There was a time when our education system was focused on pursuing truth and training moral character, but when your culture is a postmodern one that does not believe in absolute truth, that academic “pursuit of truth” often results in dissonance and disequilibrium and confusion. Our teachers are actually being trained to this end.
A friend of mine just got her Master’s degree in education from a very well-respected Catholic university. In one of her classes, she asked her professor if he could explain how to best teach the subject matter by teaching the students to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness. She was quickly corrected by the professor. “As teachers, we do not take on the role of the expert in the room,” he said. Now I don’t know about you, but I find that concerning. The teacher is not the expert in the room on the subject matter to be studied?! “Each child,” she was told, “is the expert of his or her own experience. The student is not a vessel to be filled with wisdom, knowledge, or information by the teacher. The student is not like a lump of clay to be molded and formed by the teacher—especially not morally.” So what is the teacher’s job? “The teacher’s role in the classroom is to ensure equity of experience, to facilitate a classroom, never ‘manage,’ and to make sure every lesson culminates in a call to social justice. The purpose of good education is to bring attention to injustice in the world and prepare a generation to combat that injustice to create a more just and equitable society.”
Have you heard of the game Taboo? It’s a game where you are given a word, and you have to get your teammates to guess what the word is. The tricky thing is that you are given five words that you aren’t allowed to use, and they are the words that would make it most clear—the words that would be most helpful. Watching a person try to describe something without the needed words can be quite funny. But it isn’t so funny when you are trying to do that in real life and you’re trying to answer the significant questions that people are wrestling with. Most children don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about moral choices—sin, repentance, responsibility, right, and wrong. We have taken the key words that would help us make sense of what is wrong with the world out of our vocabulary. That’s one of the reasons we run into trouble. We are trying to explain life with some of the most critical concepts “not allowed.”
Do we not see this resulting confusion in our children and grandchildren? They cannot answer the most important questions: why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? The majority of our schools, in their determination to be tolerant and politically correct, are doing more to confuse our children than instruct them.
And what are we doing with our confused children? We are entertaining them. We are logging more hours at sports practices and games than in meaningful conversation. We are making sure they have well-rounded experiences but aren’t so sure what we should do about their character. We are putting screens in their hands whenever they are bored or need a break. How are we raising our children? Like parents or like cruise directors? And the result of giving so much—and we are giving a lot—isn’t gratitude. It’s entitlement.
We see this issue of entitlement in our criminal justice system as well. We could already see this in the early 1900s. Clarence Darrow (you’ll know his name from his defense of Darwinism in the Scopes trial) gave a speech to the prisoners in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. This is what he said:
There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood…I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.
We point to poverty, racism, mental illness, and dysfunction in childhood as the true cause of crimes. And they play a significant part. But when are we allowed to call a heinous crime sin—a choice made to do evil?
I say this carefully and pray you do not take my words out of context, but we have got to stop giving psychological labels to sin. Do psychology and mental health counseling have their place? Yes. Definitely. But counseling that ignores the doctrine of original sin can do someone more of a disservice than help.
I wrote the Bible study Fearless and Free: Experiencing Healing and Wholeness in Christ because I know and believe our hearts and our mental health matter. Not so that we can be victims. Not so that we stop with the diagnosis. Not so that we have new excuses. I wrote Fearless and Free so we could be healed and then step out as warriors.
Instead of looking outside ourselves for the solution, saying things like, “If only he would change, my life would come together,” or “If only my parents hadn’t divorced, I would be different,” or “If only we had more money, or less stress, or better health, then everything would be good,” we need to take personal responsibility for our lives. Yes, there are things out of our control and outside of ourselves that are not ideal. Yes, many of us, as a result, have some significant things to work through. But let’s own our own part in things and get down to the business of working through our stories. Enough of being embarrassed about seeking professional help from a mental health profession. There is too much at stake for you to be stuck. We need you healthy. But get help that takes man’s sin nature into account or you will end up more confused than healed.
In 2 Timothy 3:7, St. Paul prophesied that a day would come when weak women will be captured and “burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” This isn’t just true of weak women, this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously, and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion—either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children’s tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order—even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable.
I know of no other response right now than to go to our knees. To repent—both of our individual sin and the collective sin of our nation. To repent of the ways in which we have failed the next generation. Someone once said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” That person was Hitler.
I believe that far too often we have entrusted our children’s minds and hearts to the wrong people. It is time to bring them back home. It is time to pray. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray, because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.
May we not forget God’s words to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We started with Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” There’s a tragic addendum to that verse. The verse ends with the words, “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
May our story be different. May we take the road less traveled and point the way to it. May we confess the times we have left that path and blaze a new trail for the future.
P.S. Let's pray together! Please join Lisa along with Father John Riccardo, executive director of ACTS XXIX, and Michelle Benzinger, host of the Abiding Together podcast, as we collectively pray the rosary for our nation. Register now for this Rosary Call (on Zoom) to pray with us on November 3, 2020, at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.
 Bernard Marr, “Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read.” Forbes.com, September 30, 2015.
 David Russell Schilling, “Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours.” Industrytap.com, April 19th, 2013.
 Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 148.
 Measured by the total number of deaths from violence throughout the century.
 Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution: Templeton Address Delivered by Chuck Colson at the University of Chicago, September 2, 1993.” Cardus.ca, September 1, 1993.
 Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1957), 3-4.
 Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.