Three reasons why we are so messed up

Here is a fascinating essay by Ed Driscoll on different theories about why the modern/postmodern world has gone wrong.  Is the culprit moral relativism?  the omniscient state?  Or the assumption that we can reinvent everything from ground zero?

Or all of the above?

That “begin from ground zero” characteristic is, perhaps, the one that most of us will not have thought about, but which is most telling now that we have thought about it.  It explains everything from modern art to gay marriage, the various political/social  experiments (communism, fascism, the various kinds of socialism) to the way many Christians approach theology.

Do read the whole essay:  Ed Driscoll » Beyond the Theory of Moral Relativity.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Susan

    Good article. If “begin from ground zero” has the same underlying concept as “re-invent yourself” and “transform society” – it appears to be a belief that man has the power and authority to recreate himself/mankind: if he does X, he can “be as God.” It seems to embody original sin; the fount of all other sin.

  • Susan

    Good article. If “begin from ground zero” has the same underlying concept as “re-invent yourself” and “transform society” – it appears to be a belief that man has the power and authority to recreate himself/mankind: if he does X, he can “be as God.” It seems to embody original sin; the fount of all other sin.

  • Trey

    I’m glad he mentions Darwin and eugenics. Once evolution was made fashionable truth waned. If our brains evolved then we cannot hold them to know right from wrong. All things become relativized. This is the consequence of such a belief system.

  • Trey

    I’m glad he mentions Darwin and eugenics. Once evolution was made fashionable truth waned. If our brains evolved then we cannot hold them to know right from wrong. All things become relativized. This is the consequence of such a belief system.

  • Booklover

    The danger is in not teaching history to our young children. Check your local school’s curriculum and see how much history is required. Ours almost wiped out history a few years back. They have recently re-added one or two history requirements.

    Chuches are even worse. The knowledge of the past is wiped out.

  • Booklover

    The danger is in not teaching history to our young children. Check your local school’s curriculum and see how much history is required. Ours almost wiped out history a few years back. They have recently re-added one or two history requirements.

    Chuches are even worse. The knowledge of the past is wiped out.

  • Booklover

    I really can spell “churches.”

  • Booklover

    I really can spell “churches.”

  • John C

    Yet another screed that suggests the 1960s spawned some form of moral relativity and we are all going to hell in a handbasket.
    Given the gridlock in congress and the backlash against science, women, the enviroment and the gay community, Republicans should look within rather than others for the current malaise.

  • John C

    Yet another screed that suggests the 1960s spawned some form of moral relativity and we are all going to hell in a handbasket.
    Given the gridlock in congress and the backlash against science, women, the enviroment and the gay community, Republicans should look within rather than others for the current malaise.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Every age thinks that the present is in some horrible mess compared to the past. But the glorious past is a myth – in fact, we’ve always been messed up, and we’ve always had glorious moments. “Ground Zero-ism”? Have you ever read Pliny’s commentary on the youth of his day?

    We should the advice of Solomon…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Every age thinks that the present is in some horrible mess compared to the past. But the glorious past is a myth – in fact, we’ve always been messed up, and we’ve always had glorious moments. “Ground Zero-ism”? Have you ever read Pliny’s commentary on the youth of his day?

    We should the advice of Solomon…

  • aletheist

    I tend to agree with Edward Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, that the problem really goes all the way back to Descartes and the dawn of modern philosophy. Abandoning formal and final causes has led to tremendous scientific and engineering progress at great moral and spiritual cost. Phillip Johnson’s book, The Wedge of Truth, also rightly calls attention to the shift from mind and personality as the most fundamental aspect of the universe (John 1:1) to matter and energy: “In the beginning were the particles . . .”

  • aletheist

    I tend to agree with Edward Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, that the problem really goes all the way back to Descartes and the dawn of modern philosophy. Abandoning formal and final causes has led to tremendous scientific and engineering progress at great moral and spiritual cost. Phillip Johnson’s book, The Wedge of Truth, also rightly calls attention to the shift from mind and personality as the most fundamental aspect of the universe (John 1:1) to matter and energy: “In the beginning were the particles . . .”

  • Tom Hering

    Driscoll’s view of history seems one-sided. Simplified to suit his ideological purpose. Hasn’t the desire to “start from zero” been characteristic of Western culture since the Renaissance? How about the rise of capitalism? How many centuries of social wisdom (things like public commons) were done away with to accomodate that rise? How about the industrial revolution – how much of traditional society was killed off in those years, when progress was profit’s hit man? What about the American experiment? What nation has gloried in being a blank slate more than we have? Or given birth to more new religions? Not to mention that we were the leader in the eugenics movement. No one promoted or implemented it more than we did, before the Nazis ran with it. (Sure, you can say it was the work of America’s progressives, but it was still very American. A natural continuation of our culture’s traditional division of human beings into higher and lower. A division once used to justify an economy based on slavery, as well as westward expansion. In short, a new and better land required new and better people. A view that was hardly unique to America’s progressives.)

  • Tom Hering

    Driscoll’s view of history seems one-sided. Simplified to suit his ideological purpose. Hasn’t the desire to “start from zero” been characteristic of Western culture since the Renaissance? How about the rise of capitalism? How many centuries of social wisdom (things like public commons) were done away with to accomodate that rise? How about the industrial revolution – how much of traditional society was killed off in those years, when progress was profit’s hit man? What about the American experiment? What nation has gloried in being a blank slate more than we have? Or given birth to more new religions? Not to mention that we were the leader in the eugenics movement. No one promoted or implemented it more than we did, before the Nazis ran with it. (Sure, you can say it was the work of America’s progressives, but it was still very American. A natural continuation of our culture’s traditional division of human beings into higher and lower. A division once used to justify an economy based on slavery, as well as westward expansion. In short, a new and better land required new and better people. A view that was hardly unique to America’s progressives.)

  • Tom Hering

    By the way, how did “starting from zero” morph into “starting from ground zero” here? Dr. Veith? Tsk tsk. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    By the way, how did “starting from zero” morph into “starting from ground zero” here? Dr. Veith? Tsk tsk. :-D

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Man has always had an overabundance in confidence, firmly convinced they can solve every problem. In some ways it became more pronounced with the rationalism of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. When it collapsed in war, the failure of prohibition, and economic collapse people were floundering and grasped on to the first thing they could, strong governmental leaders. They replaced science and rational thought with charismatic leaders. When they failed we became cynical, but we never left behind the hope that a strong government could fix our problems.

    I think some of that is the result of education since about mid 20th Century which has played with our children chasing every pet theory to come out of the universities while also indoctrinating our children in accordance with the teacher’s/administration’s pet topics. Leaving our children adrift in an educational maliase ripe for the exploitation of entertainers disguised as news media, who feed us what ever sound bite the can find to push us towards what ever reaction they desire. And we love them for it because we do not know better.

    The best thing to happen to me was to have a mom who studied history who opened my world to the greater world of historical research and didn’t leave me to the whims of the schools.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Man has always had an overabundance in confidence, firmly convinced they can solve every problem. In some ways it became more pronounced with the rationalism of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. When it collapsed in war, the failure of prohibition, and economic collapse people were floundering and grasped on to the first thing they could, strong governmental leaders. They replaced science and rational thought with charismatic leaders. When they failed we became cynical, but we never left behind the hope that a strong government could fix our problems.

    I think some of that is the result of education since about mid 20th Century which has played with our children chasing every pet theory to come out of the universities while also indoctrinating our children in accordance with the teacher’s/administration’s pet topics. Leaving our children adrift in an educational maliase ripe for the exploitation of entertainers disguised as news media, who feed us what ever sound bite the can find to push us towards what ever reaction they desire. And we love them for it because we do not know better.

    The best thing to happen to me was to have a mom who studied history who opened my world to the greater world of historical research and didn’t leave me to the whims of the schools.

  • aletheist

    Dr. Luther@10: The education establishment talks a lot about teaching critical thinking, but then insists on dogmatically maintaining its hegemony over the curriculum and punching out students who can give all the right answers on standardized tests. It is up to parents to train their children to question what they hear and read in school–in particular, the underlying assumptions–rather than simply taking all of it on faith.

  • aletheist

    Dr. Luther@10: The education establishment talks a lot about teaching critical thinking, but then insists on dogmatically maintaining its hegemony over the curriculum and punching out students who can give all the right answers on standardized tests. It is up to parents to train their children to question what they hear and read in school–in particular, the underlying assumptions–rather than simply taking all of it on faith.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @11 I have also found an unwillingness to lay the foundation that is desperately needed for critical thinking.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @11 I have also found an unwillingness to lay the foundation that is desperately needed for critical thinking.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Not to mention that we were the leader in the eugenics movement.”

    Galton was British. It was popular in Europe. So, I am not sure we were any more interested than they were/are. The eugenic impulse is probably endemic to human experience.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Not to mention that we were the leader in the eugenics movement.”

    Galton was British. It was popular in Europe. So, I am not sure we were any more interested than they were/are. The eugenic impulse is probably endemic to human experience.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom @ 8 – I disagree with your historiography. I don’t think the Renaissance was an effort to erase the past, but rather embrace the past that had been recently recovered. The Renaissance was still medieval in many ways, but it did have an expanded cultural and philosophical milieu with which to work. In some cases, older practices did give way to new ways of thinking (that were actually older practices in place before the old practices). The Enclosure movement is interesting; it was not specifically a capitalist policy venture, but it did fit in with the nascent capitalism that was beginning in England. Enclosure took centuries to accomplish, almost 450 years by several historian’s reckoning, beginning in the 12th century and concluding in the middle 17th. That is hardly an overnight sweeping away of what has come before and starting from scratch. Perhaps if it is viewed as part of the outcome of 1066 it could be viewed as the culmination of the overthrow of the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans.

    Further, many actions have to be seen and taken in the context of what has gone before. Rejections of the past may come about because of actions or events that came into being precisely because of previous events or as the result of working things out over a century or two. The American adoption of religious toleration as embodied in the First Amendment had as much to do with the events from the late 16th through the middle of the 17th centuries – the period when Europe was attempting to deal with the ramifications of political and religious pluralism that spilled over into the Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War. 1648 was not so much of a distant memory to the Founders in 1789.

    Now the Industrial Revolution did create sweeping societal changes, primarily with the adoption of steam engines for production and transport. I must look at askance at your notion of progress as capitalist hitman – progress freed millions of people from grinding poverty. Sure, many simply translated their poverty from a rural context to an urban setting, but it was the growth of the Age of Steam that allowed for the emergence of a truly populous middle class. More people were raised out of poverty than became mired in it. In that context of sweeping away the past, it has been a sizable net benefit for all of humanity. One outcome of that has been the radical reduction in the division of class here in America. Class divisions here are ephemeral – they are constantly changing and continuously swept away. Again, I would argue that this development is a good thing – while we have hierarchies to some degree, they are rarely permanent. Oddly, I find it is the Left that often embraces these hierarchies and idolizes them. While the Right gave us Bush I and Bush II, the Left still idolizes and worships the Kennedy clan. Moreover, look at the Clintons and the continual calls for Hilary to run, and the gushing excitement that their daughter might have political ambitions. Bush or Kennedy or Clinton, such investment in families is highly questionable and not altogether cricket.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom @ 8 – I disagree with your historiography. I don’t think the Renaissance was an effort to erase the past, but rather embrace the past that had been recently recovered. The Renaissance was still medieval in many ways, but it did have an expanded cultural and philosophical milieu with which to work. In some cases, older practices did give way to new ways of thinking (that were actually older practices in place before the old practices). The Enclosure movement is interesting; it was not specifically a capitalist policy venture, but it did fit in with the nascent capitalism that was beginning in England. Enclosure took centuries to accomplish, almost 450 years by several historian’s reckoning, beginning in the 12th century and concluding in the middle 17th. That is hardly an overnight sweeping away of what has come before and starting from scratch. Perhaps if it is viewed as part of the outcome of 1066 it could be viewed as the culmination of the overthrow of the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans.

    Further, many actions have to be seen and taken in the context of what has gone before. Rejections of the past may come about because of actions or events that came into being precisely because of previous events or as the result of working things out over a century or two. The American adoption of religious toleration as embodied in the First Amendment had as much to do with the events from the late 16th through the middle of the 17th centuries – the period when Europe was attempting to deal with the ramifications of political and religious pluralism that spilled over into the Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War. 1648 was not so much of a distant memory to the Founders in 1789.

    Now the Industrial Revolution did create sweeping societal changes, primarily with the adoption of steam engines for production and transport. I must look at askance at your notion of progress as capitalist hitman – progress freed millions of people from grinding poverty. Sure, many simply translated their poverty from a rural context to an urban setting, but it was the growth of the Age of Steam that allowed for the emergence of a truly populous middle class. More people were raised out of poverty than became mired in it. In that context of sweeping away the past, it has been a sizable net benefit for all of humanity. One outcome of that has been the radical reduction in the division of class here in America. Class divisions here are ephemeral – they are constantly changing and continuously swept away. Again, I would argue that this development is a good thing – while we have hierarchies to some degree, they are rarely permanent. Oddly, I find it is the Left that often embraces these hierarchies and idolizes them. While the Right gave us Bush I and Bush II, the Left still idolizes and worships the Kennedy clan. Moreover, look at the Clintons and the continual calls for Hilary to run, and the gushing excitement that their daughter might have political ambitions. Bush or Kennedy or Clinton, such investment in families is highly questionable and not altogether cricket.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Bush or Kennedy or Clinton, such investment in families is highly questionable and not altogether cricket.

    Yeah, I would like a president who did not go to a university that is in the northeast. Someone who went to a state school would be refreshing. Some folks like that on the Supreme court, too. Not all, of course, but a protestant who went to a state school not in the northeast would add needed diversity to the court. Only RC catholics and Jews on the court, neither diverse nor representative. Sure doesn’t “look like America.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Bush or Kennedy or Clinton, such investment in families is highly questionable and not altogether cricket.

    Yeah, I would like a president who did not go to a university that is in the northeast. Someone who went to a state school would be refreshing. Some folks like that on the Supreme court, too. Not all, of course, but a protestant who went to a state school not in the northeast would add needed diversity to the court. Only RC catholics and Jews on the court, neither diverse nor representative. Sure doesn’t “look like America.”

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 14, I don’t claim that my historiography is correct. Only that my understanding of the facts is no more narrow and ideological than Driscoll’s.

    As for class in America, it’s always been based on income and ownership. So it’s ephemeral insofar as an individual’s fortunes are changeable. Increase your income and your ownership of impressive stuff, and you move up. Lose your income and your stuff, and you move down. Obviously, the harder it becomes for people to improve their lot – and it’s arguably become harder than it used to be in America – the less upward mobility there is.

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 14, I don’t claim that my historiography is correct. Only that my understanding of the facts is no more narrow and ideological than Driscoll’s.

    As for class in America, it’s always been based on income and ownership. So it’s ephemeral insofar as an individual’s fortunes are changeable. Increase your income and your ownership of impressive stuff, and you move up. Lose your income and your stuff, and you move down. Obviously, the harder it becomes for people to improve their lot – and it’s arguably become harder than it used to be in America – the less upward mobility there is.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Tom, I wanted the metaphor to emphasize the razing of existing structures–getting down to the bare ground–which is then followed by trying to build a new structure. As opposed to just a mathematical metaphor.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Tom, I wanted the metaphor to emphasize the razing of existing structures–getting down to the bare ground–which is then followed by trying to build a new structure. As opposed to just a mathematical metaphor.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    The Renaissance was never about starting at “ground zero”! It was about the “renaissance”–that is, the rebirth–of ancient Greek and Roman learning. The Enlightenment, though, was about starting over with something new–the metaphor in the name implying that the past was nothing but darkness–and capitalism, industrialism, eugenics, etc., were indeed “modernist” enterprises.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    The Renaissance was never about starting at “ground zero”! It was about the “renaissance”–that is, the rebirth–of ancient Greek and Roman learning. The Enlightenment, though, was about starting over with something new–the metaphor in the name implying that the past was nothing but darkness–and capitalism, industrialism, eugenics, etc., were indeed “modernist” enterprises.

  • Tom Hering

    Dr. Veith @ 17, I see, but I think the natural association of “ground zero” with 9/11 is a bit confusing. Unless you’re making the point that Darwin, et al., were cultural terrorists.

    @ 18, yeah, my view of the Renaissance may be too 19th century. I understand that more recent scholarship sees the humanists as serving Christianity, rather than trying to replace it, and I probably need to update what I learned so many decades ago. :-)

  • Tom Hering

    Dr. Veith @ 17, I see, but I think the natural association of “ground zero” with 9/11 is a bit confusing. Unless you’re making the point that Darwin, et al., were cultural terrorists.

    @ 18, yeah, my view of the Renaissance may be too 19th century. I understand that more recent scholarship sees the humanists as serving Christianity, rather than trying to replace it, and I probably need to update what I learned so many decades ago. :-)

  • Stephen

    Wasn’t the United States of America a “revolutionary movement” and itself an attempt to start fresh? Why did thos ePuritans come here anyway? And isn’t it the very quality of “exceptionalism” that many conservatives both promote and lament losing?

    Everyone look at a dollar bill. Notice the landscape behind the pyramid. Desolate. This is a reference to Europe and its values. Why is there an eye on top of the pyramid? We do it all, building the great society (city on a hill – take your pick) with by own “enlightened” selves. God looks down in approval.

    We do not value history in this country. We’d rather plow it under and put up a shopping mall. “History is bunk” said Henry Ford.

    And then there’s denominationalism, a quintessentially American invention.

    This article is silly.

  • Stephen

    Wasn’t the United States of America a “revolutionary movement” and itself an attempt to start fresh? Why did thos ePuritans come here anyway? And isn’t it the very quality of “exceptionalism” that many conservatives both promote and lament losing?

    Everyone look at a dollar bill. Notice the landscape behind the pyramid. Desolate. This is a reference to Europe and its values. Why is there an eye on top of the pyramid? We do it all, building the great society (city on a hill – take your pick) with by own “enlightened” selves. God looks down in approval.

    We do not value history in this country. We’d rather plow it under and put up a shopping mall. “History is bunk” said Henry Ford.

    And then there’s denominationalism, a quintessentially American invention.

    This article is silly.

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  • Dust

    Stephen at 20…..

    “And then there’s denominationalism, a quintessentially American invention.”

    Why blame America? Why not blame the Reformation? Or the Church of England? Both proceeded what the aletheist points out in 7…correctly!

    Now you is silly :)

    Cheers!

  • Dust

    Stephen at 20…..

    “And then there’s denominationalism, a quintessentially American invention.”

    Why blame America? Why not blame the Reformation? Or the Church of England? Both proceeded what the aletheist points out in 7…correctly!

    Now you is silly :)

    Cheers!


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