Excerpts from: Can Man Live Without God

Posted by Ravi Zacharias on November 15, 1994
Topic: Apologetics Training

Topic: Can Man Live Without GodTopic: Cultural IssuesTopic: EthicsTopic: Just Thinking MagazineTopic: Worldview

“We have educated ourselves into imbecility,” quipped the noted English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, as he bemoaned the many nefarious ideas that are shaping modern beliefs. Venting an identical disillusionment in his commentary on the American culture, George Will averred that there is nothing so vulgar left in our experience for which we cannot transport some professor from somewhere to justify it. Why this juxtaposing of aberrant behavior with the halls of learning? The answer is well worth pursuing if we are to deal with our present cultural malaise by understanding its progenitors, and thwart what looms as a future with terrifying possibilities. It is not unprecedented that as a young nation begins to reach its adolescent years, it craves freedom from any restraint. In psychological terms, it seeks to repudiate its father.

But the grasping after this sort of unbridled liberty and absolute individual autonomy could be fraught with opposition, and the best hope for securing such release is to undermine the convictions and philosophies that have hitherto held sway and to counter with claims of greater knowledge, newer truths, and superior insight into the issues that divide the past from the present.

Emulating a legal proceeding in which an attorney tries valiantly to discredit witnesses who injure his or her case, secular thinkers unleashed a concerted effort to prejudice the minds of this generation. If even a slight doubt could be raised upon any minutiae of theistic belief, it was exultantly implied that the whole worldview should be deemed false. The goal was to forge a new breed of young scholars and opinion-makers who would be perceived as saviors, delivering society from the tyranny of a God-infested past and remaking culture in their own image.

Such machinations which combine linguistic trickery and the distortion of truth are familiar fare in law courts, bringing about the desired end of an utterly confused juror. And this, may I suggest, has been the precise approach taken in the battle of ideas that has occupied center stage for centuries. The road from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, right down to our postmodern deconstructionist worldview, was predictable. All through those centuries warnings were sounded that if indeed man was the measure of all things, someone had to determine “which man.” Was it going to be Hitler or Hugh Hefner, Stalin or Mother Teresa?

But that question was too discomforting and the answer too foreboding. Since questions that bring such unease or expose contradiction are often buried under a welter of verbiage or vitriolic counterattacks, the strategic course taken was to establish a new reigning worldview by merely casting aspersions upon ideas that stood in the way and to “win” the battle by sheer default.

The principal means to accomplish this was to take control of the intellectual strongholds, our universities, and under a steady barrage of “scholarly” attack, to change the plausibility structure for belief in God, so that God was no longer a plausible entity in scholastic settings. This assault on religious belief was carried out in the name of political or academic freedom, while the actual intent was to vanquish philosophically anything that smacked of moral restraint.

Unblushingly, the full brunt of the attack has been leveled against Christianity as Eastern religions enjoy a patronizing nod and the protection of mystical license. As for Islam, no university dares offend. Hand-in-hand with this unmasked intellectual cowardice and concealed duplicity came mockery and ridicule of the Christian, which has now become commonplace, a “civilized” form of torture.

In such fashion came the onslaught of all that had gone before; the pen became the sword and the professorial lectern, the pulpit. If young, fertile minds could be programmed into believing that Truth as a category does not exist and that skepticism is sophisticated, then it would be only a matter of time before every social institution could be wrested to advantage in the fight against the absolute.

However, over time the sword has cut the hand that wielded it, and learning itself has lost its authority. Today as we look upon our social landscape, the answers to the most basic questions of life, from birth to sexuality to death, remain completely confounded.

The very scholars who taught their students to question authority are themselves disparaged by the same measure. No one knows what to believe as true anymore; and if anything is believed, the burden of justification has been removed. Interestingly, the word university means “to bring unity in diversity,” and the idea of the academy was to impart knowledge and virtue. Neither of these goals are recognizable today. The Sartrean longing to unify knowledge never materialized, and it is now a tacit assumption that the hallmark of modern education is skepticism, going back to the Cartesian model, in which the only thing one can be certain of is doubt. However, tragically unlike Descartes, there is no god to guard us against deception, and where Descartes began the modern skeptic has ended.

Many years ago author Paul Scherer alerted us to this downward slide. Referring to the volatile exchanges between the Church and its detractors he said:

“One by one the generation that refused to be bound by the Pope, and refused to be bound by the church, decided in an ecstasy of freedom that they would not be bound by anything, not by the Bible, not by conscience, not by God Himself. From believing too much that never did have to be believed, they took to believing so little that for countless thousands human existence and the world itself no longer seemed to make any sense. Poets began talking about the `wasteland,’ with ghostly lives,’ as Stephen Spender put it, `moving among fragmentary ruins which have lost their significance.’ Nothingness became a subject of conversation, nihilism a motive, frustration and despair a theme for novelists and dramatists, and the `edge of the abyss’ as much of a nautical term among the intelligentsia as it was for explorers in the days of Columbus!” (Paul Scherer, The Word God Sent, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 11).

Yet, all is not lost. In spite of the varied and willful attempts made by antitheistic thinkers to undermine the spiritual and to thrust it into the arena of the irrational, or at best deem it a private matter, the hunger for the transcendent remains unabated. After nearly two decades of crisscrossing the globe and lecturing at numerous campuses around the world, it is evident to me that the yearning for the spiritual just will not die. In fact, at virtually every engagement I have found the auditorium filled to capacity and the appreciative response quite overwhelming, even in antagonistic settings. There is no clearer demonstration of this unrelenting hunger than the experiences of Russia and China as each has in its own way tried to exterminate the idea of God, only to realize that He rises up to outlive His pallbearers.

Our universities tell a similar story. Though proud skepticism is rife in academic bastions, the human spirit still longs for something more. This tension must be addressed, especially at this time of cultural upheaval, and it is imperative that the answers we espouse meet not only the intimations of the heart but the demands of the mind. Here the greatest question of our time must be considered: Can man live without God?

But in all fairness there is another side to this story, justifiably provoking the contempt of the skeptic. Much of what has passed off for the Christian message was nothing more than frothy God-talk, mindless, thoughtless, and in its exploitation of people, heartless. This too will not do. Just as so much of antitheistic thinking when scrutinized is sensically impoverished, so also much religious verbiage steeped in emotional drivel and bereft of reason can be tossed at unsuspecting audiences in the name of orthodoxy. The ruinous end of the latter in its destruction of lives plundered materially and spiritually may be of greater harm than the ideas perpetrated by the openly cynical. Is there an answer to all this? I sincerely trust there is. And it is to find that common ground of interaction that this material is presented.

In this book I am delighted to include two lectures that were delivered at Harvard University at the invitation of several groups, and one lecture given at Ohio State University. As the lectures were delivered extemporaneously, it was not always possible to present the full context of the argument. I have therefore expanded the original content so as to pull together the loose ends. However, in a subject as wide-ranging as this, one cannot muster every argument in a few brief lectures. Hopefully sufficient reason has been given to defend strongly the theistic worldview in general and the Christian one in particular. By contrast, I hope I have shown the many logical and social breaking points of atheistic thinking, which is just too incoherent to be true, and as a system of thought, is incapable of dealing with the intellectual and existential rigor that life places before us.

I should add further that the responses of the audiences were extremely gratifying and greatly encouraging. Even at points of disagreement the students nevertheless respected the arguments and the presentation. To their heartfelt applause and expressions of thanks I will ever be grateful. The familiar adage rings true that the mind is too great an asset to waste, for it is the command control of each individual life. It is my desire that through these presentations each of us may recognize the greatest mind of all, even God Himself, whose existence or non-existence is essential to defining everything else.