How influential ideologies’ distorted view of man led to the death of millions and threatens to destroy our future.
“To celebrate God aright, one must fully understand and celebrate humanity itself.”
– D. Bonhoeffer
“Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality… not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of the final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.”
Christian Manifesto, Francis Shaeffer
Ideas have consequences.
Influential ideas of the 18th and 19th centuries shaped the story of the 20th century and continue to shape our world today. Some of these ideas already proved to be deadly, leading to countless wars, horrific tyrannies, unimaginable poverty and famine; and to the violent death of hundreds of millions. Yet once again, at the dawn of the 21st century, these ideas are evolving and merging into each other and becoming more and more popular, saturating not only the educational arena, but our whole world–even misleading many believers. Anyone who knows a bit of history can see that the trajectory of today’s narrative unavoidably will lead us to repeat the horror of the past century as we, once again embrace those ideologies that gave birth to such demonic evil.
The core of these ideas is the axiom that “God is dead”. Once God is out of the equation we face some major challenges of which the most important is that we also need to redefine “who man is”. Since “God is dead” we will need to find a definition, an origin, a purpose, a structure and a destiny for mankind. If God does not define man’s existence then we need to recreate meaning and purpose if we don’t want to face an existential crisis. These seemingly harmless, first isolated ideas led to the deadliest story in human history causing unimaginable sufferings and injustices impacting our lives even today. Leaders, thinkers and activists of our age want to use these same ideas to cure the problems caused by these ideas. The question remains–how many times can we survive these deadly experiments?
We should have learned by now that when we disregard God and turn away from the Biblical definition of man, from the sacred value of life and the guidance laid for us in the Bible; the results are always death, destruction, poverty, broken relationships, suffering and growing injustices. But since we “refused to love the truth and so be saved, God sends us a strong delusion, so that we may believe what is false” (2 Thess 2:10-11)
Below I will summarize the 5 most influential ideologies that led to the disastrous consequences that are shaping our culture today. I will give a brief summary of each ideology, their view of mankind and replace it with the Biblical view of man.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Robert Owen (1771-1858 – father of utopian socialism).
Main idea: utilitarianism teaches that the ultimate goal of life is to avoid pain and pursue happiness. The highest value is to pursue the common good and happiness of most men. The individual’s happiness and well-being can be sacrificed for the happiness of the community. What brings the most utility for the society will become the driving force and highest value even if it means we need to cause pain or harm for the individual. Harming the individual can be justified if through that we pursue a greater common good.
Main problem: Who is going to decide what is best for the whole community? Who selects who needs to be harmed for the well-being of the common good and how far can we go to cause harm to the individual in order to serve the common good? For example: Can we sacrifice the life of the individual for saving other lives? Who decides when this can be done? That’s what people did in the ancient times when they sacrificed man-children to the gods to claim protection and well-being for the community. This kind of thinking sees the individual only as a tool (utility) to serve the good of the society. The society, the community becomes the most important entity. But then this raises another question: which community/society/nation/ethnicity’s happiness should be served if there is a conflict between them? If the individual is stripped away from his/her god-given dignity and becomes nothing but a means to serve the common good, then the leaders and power players in the society can decide his/her value and place in society.
Utilitarian view of man: man exists to serve the common good.
Biblical view of man: God created man for his image, he didn’t create societies to be his image-bearer. Christ died for the individual, not for the community or nation. Man is eternal, societies, communities and nations are not. That’s why God forbade the sacrifice of man as it was a custom to save the community, get a favor from the gods in the ancient world. He hated that practice, because he saw the value of the individual over the community.
2. Perspectivism and nihilism
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
Main idea of perspectivism: Nietzsche claimed that the death of God would eventually lead to the loss of any universal perspective on things and any coherent sense of objective truth. Nietzsche rejected the idea of objective reality, arguing that knowledge is relative to various fluid perspectives or interests. This leads to constant reassessment of rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives. There are no objective facts, truth is separated from any particular vantage point, and so there are no ethical absolutes.
Main idea of nihilism: When we find out that the world does not possess objective value, meaning or purpose (since God is dead) we find ourselves in a crisis. Nihilism is emptying the world and humanity from its inherent meaning, purpose, truth and essential value. Life has no purpose, no meaning, no origin and no destiny. Therefore, everything that makes you happy is permissible.
Main problem: if there are no objective values by which we need to govern our lives and if there is no origin and purpose of mankind then nothing holds us back to pursue maximum power and well-being for ourselves since this short moment (called life on earth) is the only moment we can possess anything. This idea justifies and leads to totalitarianism, when a group of people grab power over others. Also, if there is no meaning, purpose and value-systems that govern us, then we have every right to do and live as we wish since everything leads to nothing (nihilism) and what remains is mere momentary pleasure. Denying the origin, the purpose and the meaning of life leads to self-destruction (i.e. addiction, broken relationships, depression, suicide, etc.). The emptiness caused by this nihilistic self-destruction should prove to us that we have detoured from life’s original purpose and meaning.
Perspectivism’ and nihilism’ view of man: man is purposeless without any inherent value, living in an empty world where everything is relative and he/she is the creator of his/her own values and reality. Man’s only purpose is to pursue momentary joy.
Biblical view of man: God created man with a purpose, we have an origin and a destiny; we have inherent value and God gave us objective truth to guide our life.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Main idea: Darwinian theory is a theory of biological evolution stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. It is the survival of the fittest.
Main problem: Darwinian theory denies the biological uniqueness of mankind and asserted that human beings were but one of many species of animals. This view of mankind reduces us to nothing more than the production of an unintelligent, random, purposeless, cruel process and makes us no more than a biological being without moral character, purpose, origin, designer or destiny. We come from nothing, are going to nothing, yet we randomly find ourselves in the middle of these two “nothings”. This view of life justifies and necessitates the survival of the stronger and the murder of the weaker. When humans are viewed as nothing else but a complex biological mass, then the more powerful have every right to do anything with the weaker since the only way the evolutionary process can continue is if the stronger one survives. The weaker have no right for life as their life undermines the evolutionary process–which is supposed to serve the survival of life. So the very existence of the weak is an attack on the future. It is the mandate of the stronger one to eliminate the weaker one; not doing so will not serve the survival of life. This evil idea led to eugenics (arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of inheritable characteristics regarded as desirable) and to death camps.
Darwinian view of man: Mankind is simply a biological being produced by a random, unintelligent material process and as such exists without inherent value and moral law; is mandated to survive even at the cost of violating his/her own conscience.
Biblical view of man: Man was created as God’s image-bearer; does not only have a body, but a soul (mind) and a spirit as well. Man is more than just a sum of cells. God gave mankind moral laws to guide them (put it in their heart, revealed it in nature and in the Bible).
Karl Marx (1818-1883); Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).
Main idea: marxism is a materialist interpretation of human history. (Materialism means denying God’s existence and putting the highest importance on material possessions. It equals our value with our material possession/power.) Marxism views human history as a war between classes, between those who have and those who do not have material possessions and/or power. The ultimate value of man in marxism is power and material possession. Everything in human history is centered around the fight for material possession. Those who possess material goods, possess power. Societies are structured based on material/economical power and possessions. Those who have material possessions and power are the oppressors and those who do not have, are the oppressed–the latter are simply considered the victims of the oppressing systems. Everything in marxism is simplified to a zero-sum conflict between oppressors and oppressed. Oppression is only understood systematically–that’s why ‘victimized’ individuals can’t do anything to change their lives until the system is changed. All problems in society are caused by those who possess material resources and power, therefore the solution to the problem is to violently take away these material possessions and power from those who have them. All means are justified in this war: rioting, looting, killing. In the marxist view, societies are organized by classes. Each member of the society is part of a class based on their economic power / possession or based on any artificial categories viewed as power-holders or oppressor (for example: religion, race, family status, gender, sexual orientation, etc.). If you are born into a certain class, you can’t do anything about changing your status: you are either a member of a class that has intolerable privileges or a member of a class that suffers incredible oppression. In this ideology, man is merely an ‘avatar’ of the class he/she belongs to; the individuals’ personal performance, character, behavior, action does not matter. Humanity’s problems in marxism are always outside of the individual–the broken, unjust system or someone else is responsible for the individual’s problems, actions and behavior. The individual can’t do anything about changing his/her problems, actions or behavior. The individual is only a victim of circumstances or oppressive systems, all his/her faulty behavior (crime, immorality, etc.) is only viewed as a result of the oppressive system. Because of that the only solution for changing the individual’s life is changing the system.
Main problem: the value of man does not originate from his/her material possessions or power. Marxism justifies all means for acquiring material goods and power. This philosophy forces people into classes and degrades them into being only a representative of their class. The individual doesn’t carry any inherent value, as this person is nothing more than a prototype of his/her class. A social class is identified by its power. Marxism denies the individual’s responsibility and power over his/her life; views sin as a reality in the system, not in the individual. Because the individual is not sinful, his/her action needs to be evaluated by the class that he/she belongs to. Any sin committed by the individual can be redeemed and justified if the class approves it (i.e. murder of someone who is in another class, theft from the “oppressors”, etc.). If an individual is a member of the “oppressor” class, he/she is automatically viewed as immoral and sinful and needs to pay for his/her sins. If an individual is a member of an “oppressed” class, he/she is viewed as a victim, so his/her misbehavior or even criminal action can be justified and that individual cannot be held accountable for it. Marxism views that the problem of the individual is not within himself, but in the system. Therefore the individual cannot do anything to make his/her life better. The only option to bring change to the individual’s life is to destroy the system (built by the “oppressors”) by all means. Those who are in the “oppressed” class are always good and their every action can be justified (even murder, concentration camp, etc.). Those who are in the “oppressor” class are always bad and every action against them is justifiable. The marxists solution to the problem is to take away from those who have and give it to those who don’t have. They redefine equality. Equality for them is the equality of the outcome: equal possession and power. But the only way to create such equality is if we treat people unequally. Marxism denies the individual’s performance, talent and hard work as they take away from those who achieve anything more than those who are less talented and less dedicated. Marxism always keeps people in poverty as they will not be motivated, skilled and allowed to better themselves or to create a better life for themselves. Mankind already experimented with this philosophy for 100 years and it led to nothing but poverty, dictatorship, stripping people away from their freedom, censorship and to the violent death of approximately 150 million people. (Marxism killed more people in one day than the Crusades in 100 years – said Alexander Solzhenitsyn.)
Marxist view of man: Humans are no more than producers and consumers of material goods. All that matters is the possession and power you have, as that gives you your identity in society. Humans have no moral obligation when pursuing power to meet his/her material needs; man does not have individual responsibility for his/her life.
Biblical view of man: Man is more than economic power; each person is responsible to better his/her life and others; every man is sinful regardless of the class they belong to; man is not a representative of a class, but an individual who reflects God’s image.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).
Main idea: Freud redefined human nature and consciousness. Sex drives everything, sex makes the world go around. Any sexual need not satisfied will ultimately manifest itself in some deep psychological eccentricity, neurosis or emotional disorder, even psychosis. Freud saw self-control as a mental illness, and he viewed all human nature as explainable strictly in terms of sexuality and emotions. He called religion the universal obsessional neurosis and a mass delusion; he saw free will as yet another delusion, and he viewed the family as a negative, authoritarian institution. Freud thought that every negative attribute of any person was due to some repressed memory of something horrible, usually of a sexual nature, that had happened to that person. He discovered that people could easily be made to remember things that had never even occurred.
Main problem: Freudianism says that guilt and shame are destructive, the very idea of sin is destructive; all desires must be fully and completely satisfied. There is nothing wrong with satiating lust, even gluttonous lust needs full satisfaction. The truth is that we are more than the sum of and the slave of our sexual desires. Living out our desires without any restraint leads to more problems than it solves (broken relationships, health problems, addiction, etc.). There are moral, relational and social consequences for our personal desires. Desires need to be controlled and guided. Some desires are destructive. A society where people live out their desires becomes an unsafe place. People who live out desires without an outside objective guidance will cause harm to themselves and others. The outside objective guidelines (what the Bible gives us about how to live out our desires) are critical for our future happiness, for our physical, relational and mental health.
Freudian view of man: mankind is nothing more than the sum of their sexual and other kinds of desires, and all their desires should be lived out without any control.
Biblical view of man: as God’s image-bearer mankind is more than the sum of their desires; power and responsibility is given to mankind to guide their desires to serve their best interest and future.
God’s View of Man
Opposite to these ideologies, the Bible gives a clear definition of man: Fallen Image.
“In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). God’s definition of mankind starts here: “in the beginning, God”. The definition of humanity starts with God. We can’t understand man outside of the realm of God. It says that man had a beginning, a Creator. Humanity’s story didn’t start with nothing–it came from somewhere, from Someone.
Man is an image-bearer. There is nothing else in the universe that carries God’s image. Man is not equal with God, just as an image is not equal with the one the image is made of. The image makes the original recognizable. If we look at mankind we should recognize God.
When we don’t respect God’s image, we don’t respect God himself.
Man is an IMAGE
Being created in God’s image means we can be in a RELATIONSHIP and we have a RESPONSIBILITY. We have the ability to be in a relationship with our Creator and we have a responsibility to carry out a task to reflect our Creator. God gave us special skills to live as image bearers.
- Ability to think. We know that animals are thinking, too. But the huge difference is that we are able to ask questions about what we think about. Our ability to intelligently ask questions and process our thoughts is a way to reflect God. We have a mind that is unique to our image-bearer identity. What we do with it is crucial in reflecting who God created us to be.
- Ability to talk. God created the world with his words. Words have power. God gave the power of words to mankind. Through our words we have the power to reflect God.
- Ability to create. God is a creator. He is creative. He loves beauty. Nature proves both. We have the skills and the means to create beauty. Our work, our discoveries, our creations prove that we are God’s image-bearers.
- Ability to make decisions. As God’s image-bearers we have the ability, the freedom and the responsibility to make decisions. We are not bound by our instinct. We are moral creatures. Our morality and freedom to choose the right thing reflects God. It’s amazing how much freedom God gave us, but freedom comes with huge responsibilities.
Any system, ideology, society, regime that does not respect man as God’s image-bearer will manifest itself in controlling man’s ability to think (freedom of opinion), to talk (freedom of speech), to create (freedom of enterprise) and to make decisions.
Man is FALLEN
The other reality we learn about man is that he has fallen. The image is broken. Sin is a very personal reality for every single individual. Sin separates each and every individual from God and makes each of us responsible for our actions. No one else can be blamed for our faults and misbehavior other than ourselves. Systems are not causing our personal sinful behaviors. Our sinful nature causes us to create broken systems. Because of that, the ultimate solution is not reparation of systems, but the recreation of the condition of the human heart. That’s what Jesus came to do.
The revolution that needs to happen is the revolution of the heart.
When we discredit how God defines mankind in the Bible the consequences are dire. People will think that they set the rules of life–they assume that they can conquer something they have not created. They think they can decide who can be born, who can live and how long they should live. Such a messed-up, false way of thinking leads to ideas and ethical distortedness that manifests itself today in many ways. These twisted, evil ideologies created a society where–as Albert Camus writes “crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age, it is innocence that is called on to justify itself”. Mankind has an undeniable and unalienable value originated in God’s creation. God’s goal in history is to pursue the eternal well-being of mankind. When we need to defend human life, dignity, property, freedom, free speech and freedom of assembly then certainly we have arrived at an age that the Bible calls the last days: “in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” 2Tim 3:1-5.