As regular readers of this blog know, I believe a certain image of the human self drives modern progressive culture ever closer to the abyss of moral nihilism. I argued in the previous two essays that this image of the self was constructed by transferring the divine attributes of absolute freedom and unlimited power from God to humanity. Of course progressives know that human beings are not yet in fact absolutely free from all alienating limits; divine status is an aspiration. As an aspiration, however, it drives technological advancement, individual behavior, and progressive social change toward the goal of total liberation of the self from all limits into complete self-mastery. As this description makes clear, modern progressivism possesses many of the hallmarks of a religion; in fact it is a heretical distortion of Christianity. In progressivism, God is replaced by humanity, divine grace by human striving, sin by finitude, and heaven by an ever-receding earthly utopia. Traditional moral rules and conservative social forces—systemic racism and capitalism—take on the role of the devil. Social activists and political leaders serve as saviors, prophets, and priests. Modern people want it all, here and now, their own way.
You Can’t Have it All…That Way
But that’s not going to happen. Everyone knows in their heart of hearts that we are not gods and will never achieve the status of divinity. We will never be absolutely free from all limits. We will never have power over all things. The progressive image of humanity is an idol, a mental representation of our fantasies. And yet, in service of this falsehood people have fought devastating wars, sold their souls, ruined their health, committed murder, and mutilated their bodies. In their despairing hope they strain to make the impossible happen. Why?
Its falsehood must not be completely obvious to those deceived. Perhaps the growth of control over nature advanced by modern science and technology gives some plausibility to the idea that technology will one day achieve final triumph over all physical limits. Or perhaps there is some truth mixed in with the illusions. Human beings are amazing! Our reason, imaginations, and desires seem unlimited. We have accomplished great things. What may be most significant of all, however, is this: progressivism arose, received its initial plausibility, and still lives parasitically from the energy unleashed into the world by Jesus Christ and his disciples. Progressivism is a secularized form of Christian faith, hope, and love, and in hidden ways—in fading memories and leftover habits of thought—these three virtues still root progressivism in a powerful vision of reality in which all things come from God and move toward God by the power of God. But progressivism has long since cut itself off from Christianity, the original source of its plausibility; indeed progressivism views Christianity as its chief rival and arch nemesis. Hence it is but a matter of time before façade of its idealism falls away and is replaced by the exercise of raw power in service of the interests of whatever progressive group can gain and maintain the levers of power. Idealism without principles leads inexorably to coercion without conscience.
You Can Have it All
The irony in progressivism’s quest to have it all in rebellion to God is that in Jesus Christ God promised that we can have it all! What progressivism attempts futilely to snatch by effort, God wishes to give by grace. Jesus promises a “glorious freedom” (Romans 8:21) wherein God makes us his own dear children who can have anything we want, because, having been made holy by the Spirit, we want only to be with our Father and to receive from his hand all good things (James 1:17). Because God raised Jesus from the dead we can be confident he will raise us to glory, immortality, and incorruptibility (1 Cor 15:53-54). “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23). When we see Jesus we will be “like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Instead of a pathetic imitation divinity, boastful and proud, but impotent against sin, death, and the devil, the Christian hope envisions for us such an intimate union with God that we will enjoy God’s presence as the true fulfillment of our aspiration “to be as God.” We will be permeated by the Spirit and completely conformed to the image of Christ who is the image of God. Compared with what Jesus promises, progressivism’s ambitions appear shabby indeed.
I want it all! I’ve always wanted it all. But for a long time, I did not know in what the “all” consisted, where to find it, or how. Now I know. I want to know and experience the infinite and eternal good that God is. Nothing greater is possible. Nothing less will do.
This third continuation on this theme of yours is really very good- thank you!
You’ve written ” transferring the divine attributes of absolute freedom and unlmited power from God to humanity”.
You can’t send electrical power backwards through a diode- this seems to be what humanity does though, doesn’t it?
Absolute freedom and divine help is what God offers us, we can’t take it without looking for the ‘door’, acknowledging this door’s existence, then trying with our all to walk through into the light…
We most of us teach our kids, from as soon as they start to talk ( and in some cases, well into their fifties) that they need to think about their “choices” in life. We correct, help, inform and enourage the right choices as part of our loving parenthood. This is in fact, a very natural way of teaching some of John Locke’s ideas on ‘free will’. Some might say almost Hobbesian, some.
It worries me that amongst those who debate compatibility and determinism, without first thinking like a parent, with unconditional love (in theory at least)- that they have completely ignored the precepts of Divine Love allied to this freedom.
A lack of understanding and appreciation of the principle, first written by the american prophet, Kahil Gibran ” if you love something, let it go free- if it returns then it was love. If not, it was never meant to be”, tends to lead to this situation of what the purpose of free will, or choices in life is all about. As you say Ron, God offers us all so much, not the least of which are grace we don’t deserve, and instead of punishment we do, mercy.
Finally, as Locke suggests, pitting free will against immanence, omniscience and omnipotence won’t get very far. Our own choices made, and our alledged ‘free will’ extended can only happen in a physical plane of time. Therefore God himself has no comparable ‘free will’ attribute because He is atemporal. Jesus expresses it thusly “not my will, but thy Will father”.
The vanity of human wishes do not in any way compare to God’s immanence.
Blessings. And thanks again Ron.
Again, insightful and encouraging comments! I am at present reading for the second time Michael Allen Gillespie’s book Nihilism Before Nietzsche. He details the background of the “great transfer” (of God’s attributes to humanity) in late medieval voluntarism and nominalism. This transfer began in earnest only with Descartes’s grounding of all certainty in the self. Only the self (understood as free will) possesses the power to order the world in a meaningful way. The self knows the real world not by perception or intuition but by its own creative act of will. (BTW This is the way the late medieval nominalists understood God’s mode of knowing. God knows because he wills the world to be, not because he perceives or intuits it.) The self understood as free will is infinite like God…not infinite in power and knowledge but infinite in will, in potential power and knowledge. This assertion set the agenda for modernity…to expand humanity’s actual control of nature ever closer to total control.
Thank you Ron.
The christian essences of “free will” as a concept were supposedly dated to the third century CE and around the time of Nicea, but we’ve all come across Aristotle’s philosophy of determinism and classes of compatablity some 650 years earlier.
My view is similar to Locke’s. And i find reformed theology’s use of rennaissance thinking rather inconsistent to say the least. See counter arguments of Arminius ( for those reading- not Ron).
I agree with you regarding the created aspect of existentialism, however, a very long time ago when i was about 10 years old, i questioned if we live and exist in a ‘construct’ which only God can ever fully understand (after death who knows exactly what may be revealed- see St Paul and Jesus?) And from this, as a child, i decided that God could record everything in a marvellous video unit, on a divine video recorder, re-run replay and over-write at His Will. So i asked myself how would i know the differene between my reality and God’s? It never occurred to me that so many tyrants had used a claimed ‘knowledge’ of God to themselves become ‘god-like’.
The conclusion that i came to at that time, was that in actual fact, i could well be living in a video recording now- but just didn’t know it, and could never know or prove it either way! Implying that God’s video recording of me would be so perfect and splendid, that it really didn’t matter. Then i heard some quotes from the ‘prophet’ i’ve named above, and it convinced me from an early age, as it does today, that Free Will is an attribute not an automatic relationship to the entity of ( Divine) love. A gift if you wish. Examning free will from the perspective of bondservant writings in midrash is also interesting.
Lastly, i like to ask folks that i meet, and talk with ( be they Christians, believers, non-believers or other)- what do you perceive exists beyond the known margins of the universe? Or put another way, what are things expanding into? My video tape analogy is not so childish or naive now, is it?
Such considerations can bring very valuable insights into our own understanding of the self, and our human quest for knowledge through religion. The greatest limitations of which are attributable to a denial of the necessity of worshipfulness.
I think we have to be cautious about making theological doctrine from godly attributes that are nothing more than vain wishes (see reformed theology).
I’m reading late Prof. J. Wentzel van Huysteen ” Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology”. See Chapter 12. The Shaping of Rationality in Science and Religion.
As an ‘expert’ in QM it doesn’t surprise me that Heisenberg has exploded many of the myths used to try to explain divine compatability issues. But i’m saddened that there remains an unnecessary “us and them” between science and theology. Van Huysteen is quite brilliant on this and related topics, even if i don’t come to the same conclusion.
Boy do i wish you lived closer to me Ron.