How shall we then live?

Let us posit that humankind will emerge the other side of the current crisis. The question that immediately arises is how our lives might be lived on what will ostensibly be a new shore. The title of this, the first, of many short articles on the blog New Utopias references a book by Francis A. Schaeffer "How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture." Published in 1983, it remains a strangely prescient text. His approach to Christian apologetics is a presuppositional one, the author maintaining that "most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society, the way that a child catches the measles", adding that "people with understanding realise that their suppositions should be 'chosen' after careful consideration of which world view is true".

So what do we presuppose? Which is to ask, what do we really need? Survival experts tell us that we can survive for three minutes without oxygen, for three hours without shelter, for three days without water, and for three weeks without food. This is the "rule of three". Readers can google it. Note that food is at the end of the list. 

But before this blog turns into some kind of dystopian vision, let us examine what Schaeffer wrote and note exactly what the author maintained. 

(Just to go off at a tangent for a moment, Schaeffer's own son, Frank, has been accused by many of ransoming his father's thinking in order to build a new platform for overtly political diatribes promulgated by today's right wing evangelical charismatic theologians.) 

Schaeffer starts with "The Roman Age", during which there were two perspectives on life. The Roman one was grounded in an infinite, absolute base of God. Schaeffer argues that the Christian perspective is a better one because the Roman Empire collapsed whereas Christianity continues to this day. In Chapter Two, on "The Middle Ages", his argument is simple: The pristine purity of the New Testament Church was corrupted during this era, those of faith struggling how to be in the world but not of the world, i.e., learning to live with material possessions, how to understand the relationship between church and state, and how best to approach the symbiosis of Christian and secular thought. Most important is the argument that Aquinas put reason on the same level as revelation and, moreover, introduced the Aristotelian emphasis on particulars. When dealing with "The Renaissance", Schaeffer opines that the secular thinkers of this period made man autonomous. The result is the familiar nature-grace dichotomy with nature "eating up" grace. Schaeffer claims that Renaissance thinkers were unable to find universals to give meaning to particulars. When describing "The Reformation" in the next chapter, the author's basic contention is that it corrected the distortions of the early church and substituted salvation by grace alone with salvation by works. 

But let us skip to Schaeffer on "The Revolutionary Age". Here, he believes that when countries like America that had experienced the Reformation finally achieved political freedom, the result was not chaos. Whereas with countries that lacked this reform base (such as Russia) the result was societal mayhem.

In the final chapters, on "The Scientific Age", "The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence", and "The Alternative", Schaeffer largely explores the notion of a closed system with man as part of the machine, and how modern science has produced racism, genetic engineering, determinism and the use of drugs to control behaviour. He holds that humanism, which he feels has replaced Christianity as the dominant world view, has only two values: personal peace and affluence. 

Finally, Schaefer claims that since Christianity no longer provides a mould for normative culture, something must take its place to stave off chaos. The vacuum, he argues, is authoritarianism, maintaining that the form this takes will be by government by an elite rather than a dictatorship, will achieve its goals by the use of drugs, genetic engineering, and manipulation of the mass media, and will change the laws of the land through the courts rather than through the legislatures.

I trust I have not strayed to far from the initial thought posited: how shall we live, i.e., what do we really "need" to live. The reason for providing readers an admittedly late precis of Schaeffer's book was to provide some context of where we are today. The question has changed, I think, from "how shall we live?" to "how shall we survive?" And we now need to examine to what extent we will be forced to live different lives, this in parallel to what degree we can just carry on as before. 



Next to come "Manis javanica: The Pangolin Strikes Back"