The Secularists' Dilemma

CECIL THE LION.jpg

By Daughter#3 - Cecil, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42030099

© 2016 Robert Osburn

Remember Cecil the Lion?  After killing Cecil in Zimbabwe, the hunter, a Minneapolis-area dentist, was forced underground for several months because his life was repeatedly threatened.  As recently as 15 days ago, nasty, hostile comments were posted on his clinic’s Facebook page.   Ironically, Zimbabweans have been his major defenders.

Contrasted with the calls to humiliate, imprison, or even kill the lion hunter was the media response to last summer’s stunning revelations about Planned Parenthood.  We learned the organization casually deals in the body parts of innocent human babies who suffer bloody deaths in human wombs.  Outrage over the game hunter contrasts with media tepidity over thousands of victims every day inside human wombs.  

Are Westerners misanthropists?   A few, perhaps.  But, the dramatic contrast in the way we respond to human fetal suffering versus animal suffering unveils a striking dilemma that most secularists, the vast majority of whom are materialists of some kind (whether naturalists, existentialists, nihilists, or postmodernists), would rather not think about. 

The dilemma has two parts. The first is this: Even though their deepest assumption (“matter is all there is”) makes humans mere sophisticated blobs of matter, the same secularist demands that these sophisticated blobs steward, cherish, and preserve non-human life.  Even as late moderns diminish our uniquely noble status as God’s image bearers, we simultaneously elevate human responsibilities toward the rest of creation.  We are disposable blobs, on the one hand, and grand saviors of nature, on the other.  Human beings-in-utero are not safe, but the lions, blue whales, and giant redwoods are, thanks to humans who are just “stuff.”

The second part of the secularists’ dilemma is the part that troubles and twists our dear secular friends into knots: In order to justify caring and cherishing animal and plant life, secularists must assume a parasitic relationship with their Christian host. If you consider this in terms of the biblical text, the first part of Genesis 1:26 (“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image…”) has been sliced away from the last half (“and let them rule over…).  

Considered philosophically, secularists have rejected a Christian worldview and substituted a naturalist, existentialist, nihilist, postmodernist, or New Age worldview. In other words, they are philosophical parasites trying to destroy their host (Christianity).  When I call this a parasitic/host relationship, I mean that because Christianity has given human beings noble dignity as God’s image bearers while also commanding them to protect God’s creation, well-meaning secularists must nevertheless feed on Christian thought in order to sustain their vision to rescue Cecil and his friends.

Let me be blunt: For secularists, this ends badly.  Before I tell you why this ends badly, first let me explain a little more about the problem the secularist environmentalist must face.

The Western philosophies listed above did not and cannot on their own generate a moral vision to care for creation (or, nature, as they know it).  As materialists of some sort or another, the simple unavoidable truth is that matter cannot and never will generate instructions for how we are to live.  At best, all secular materialists can do is make up ideas about how to live, or, better, borrow Christian ideas of care and compassion.

By contrast, Christians know that we need revelation from outside of us in order to know what we ought to do.  Our job is clear: We are to both protect God’s world and produce what is needed to enable humans and the rest of creation to thrive.  Why? Because God says so and because He has made us as His noble image bearers. The two halves of Genesis 1:26 (human identity and human purpose) are perfectly aligned and philosophically consistent. 

So why do non-Christian Westerners (secular materialists) default to God’s instructions about human purpose (stewarding creation) while simultaneously rejecting God’s design for human identity (royal image bearers)?  Quite simply, today’s educated Westerner wants moral responsibility for the planet, but denies that he is a being capable of possessing that responsibility (since he/she is pure matter). Metaphorically, our secularist wants us to fight fires while, at the same time, denying that we are firefighters.  The only way around this problem is to make a parasite out of the secularist who must constantly munch moral purpose off the back of his Christian host.

Remember: As I wrote above, this ends badly (if you are a secularist). Either the secular parasite kills the Christian host, or the host keeps on thriving (and so does the secular parasite).  The only winner here is God.  I repeat: God wins, secularists lose, and Christians rejoice.

And so, perhaps the best case scenario for the future of the West (and of much of our planet) is the continued molding of Christian thought as a solid and reliable body of knowledge from which secularists, in turn, are free to mine moral purpose.  It is a scenario full of secular contradictions, but I prefer a friendly secularist pacified by what he/she doesn’t believe than one whose materialist logic unleashes another Adolf Hitler.

Whatever scenario, this ends very well if you are a Christian: God wins.