“Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.” –Psalms 146: 3-4
What hope do we have in this life or in this world? I blog about fitness and health, as we can make the most of the hand we have been dealt in life by wisely cultivating health promoting choices and habits. These habits may impact how many healthy years we have, economic costs to ourselves and family, and how we feel (our quality of life) during those years. However, at the end of the day, none of us escapes our mortality. So what is our hope?
Will science lead us to a golden age of peace, love, and happiness?
Is our hope in science? Will science and academia lead us to a brave new age of equality, evenly distributed wealth, happiness, health, and peace? If the past is any indication of the future, the answer is a robust “no.”
First of all, science is incapable of providing guidance on morality, such is not within the scope or purpose of science (Carroll, 2010). As Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist notes:
“The big problems of morality, to state the obvious, come about because the interests of different individuals come into conflict. Even if we somehow agreed perfectly on what constituted the well-being of a single individual — or, more properly, even if we somehow “objectively measured” well-being, whatever that is supposed to mean — it would generically be the case that no achievable configuration of the world provided perfect happiness for everyone” (Carroll, 2010, section 3, para 1).
Carroll goes on to state:
“So how are we to decide how to balance one person’s well-being against another’s? To do this scientifically, we need to be able to make sense of statements like “this person’s well-being is precisely 0.762 times the well-being of that person.” What is that supposed to mean? Do we measure well-being on a linear scale, or is it logarithmic? Do we simply add up the well-beings of every individual person, or do we take the average? And would that be the arithmetic mean, or the geometric mean? Do more individuals with equal well-being each mean greater well-being overall? Who counts as an individual? Do embryos? What about dolphins? Artificially intelligent robots?” (Carroll, 2010, section 3, para 2).
Any argument for rights, duties, obligations, and distribution of limited resources is going to encountered by arguments that those rights, duties, obligations, and limited resources are to be extended or allocated elsewhere. Science cannot answer these questions.
Whose rights, what creatures’ rights for that matter, are honored? Animals? Insects? Bacteria? Plants? Artificial intelligence? With rights comes obligations and duties on the part of others. How can science prescribe who has responsibilities and duties and to what cause? Based on what? Based on what’s best for humanity? Says who? What if what is best for humanity is not the best for other species? Besides, how do you define “best” for humanity? Is it quality of life? What is “quality of life”–that means different things to different people.
Can we trust in the “goodness” of humanity?
According to humanists, “Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives” (BBC, 2009, para 6). That sounds beautiful. However, if human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives…what if that meaning and shape for me means taking your things for myself–by force and violence if necessary? Some people actually find meaning and shape in their lives by harming others. Is that ok, if its “what gives them meaning?”
“Humanism is democratic…” Ok. Majority rules. The norm throughout history has been that the masses of one group, society or nation exploit and take things by force from other weaker nations, other groups of people, or societies. Because the majority within a society hold a certain value at a given moment in time, does that mean that such a value is “right?” How can humanism differentiate between what one democratic society or group of people “wants” and another democratic society or group of people wants when both societies are in conflict with one another?
Are humans “basically good?” Can we trust in the goodness of humanity to eventually “figure it out?” To usher in an age of utopia, equality in rights and resource distribution, environmental subsistence, and sentient-being equanimity? The past strongly suggests otherwise.
Many people think the Nazi movement was an exception in history, a freak occurrence where the worst conditions imaginable conspired together to create a singular example of the darkest potential held within human capabilities. However, a quick study of history tells you that such dark horrors are not the exception for human movements–instead, they are common and have occurred both before and after World War II. In fact, mass extortion and genocide occurred throughout known history.
As noted by anthropologist and author Jared Diamond:
“The cruel reality is that there have been lots of genocides since the end of World War II, a couple of them topping 1 million and quite a few topping 100,000. That’s because we’ve got this false view that genocide is something that’s done by rare, crazy people like the Nazis. And the fact is that it is a widespread phenomenon in human history, that lots of people have done under various circumstances” (Diamond as cited in Venables, 2013, para 5).
Can we trust in large groups of humans working together for a common cause to do the right thing? Our common humanity and history suggests we absolutely can not. What seems “right” (such as vengeance or justice or some other rationalized justification) to one group at one given point in time frequently is reflected upon as an atrocity by other groups.
Academia: Can we trust in our elite, enlightened minds? Our “best and brightest?”
The professors, those in academia, who devote their lives to garnering knowledge concerning science, ethics, religion, and history among other disciplines…perhaps these highly educated, wise instructors can guide ourselves and our youth to a brighter world. Certainly, they see themselves as responsible for doing such–in the U.S., many universities see themselves at the forefront of social justice movements and as the new providers of instruction in modern, secular morality. Here too, lessons from the recent past can provide instruction and warning for the future.
In the book Mao: The Unknown Story (Chang & Halliday, 2006), the rise of communism in China is traced from its early roots, through the communist revolution, the following culture wars and up to the time of Mao’s passing. During the social revolution of China, more than 70 million Chinese perished due to war, starvation, and orchestrated genocide. Mao Tse Tung, eventual ruler of the Communist party in China during its rise, first encountered its Marxism-Leninism teachings, principles, and tenets as a professor at Peking University. Among university students and professors across China, communism principles imported mainly from the Soviet Union found fertile soil (Chang & Halliday, 2006). By the time many of the students who signed up as foot soldiers for the revolution were able to see the principles play out in real life across China, the movement was too strong and well-armed to leave it or stop it.
Pol Pot, the communist dictator of Cambodia during its revolution and responsible for over 1.5-2 million deaths in Cambodia due to genocide, starvation, and war, encountered Marxism-Leninism while in Paris on a scholarship. Himself educated at elite schools and later a teacher at a private school, he sought to employ the communist principles in his home country of Cambodia (History.com, 2018). Imagine how shocked I was during my Bachelor’s program when my own university had required readings that were: openly sympathetic to Marxism, posed considerations about the ethics and pros/ cons of “post-birth abortion,”–meaning the child has been born already and is then killed, showed sympathy for China’s violently enforced 1-child policy, promoted moral relativism “what is wrong for me is not necessarily wrong for you” and “who are we to say what is right, or what is wrong” among other stunning “high brow” concepts.
Who are we to judge–oh really? Can we at least agree genocide, starvation, and death of 60 million people is wrong no matter the culture? Indeed, it was the “enlightened” classes of academics, philosophers, and the highly educated that stoked the fires of the French (Schama, 1989) and the Russian Revolution (Duncan, 2020) through manipulation of the population. Like in China and Cambodia, those that were supposed to benefit from such revolutions often paid the highest price.
Rather than freedom or equality, terror and tyranny ensued in the years that followed these revolutions. To be clear, none of these places were social utopias prior to the revolutions, and many of the grievances of the population were often real and justifiable. However, the enlightened minds of Russia, France, Cambodia, China, and many nations led the populations into horror, death, and despair on unimaginable scales when implementing their “educated” philosophies.
Can we trust organized religion?
“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18: 36, NKJV)
It seems the Catholic Church has been doing a lot of apologizing lately. From the infamous plague of pedophilia and coverups to despicable complacency, and in some cases, facilitation of murder during the Rwandan Genocide (Carmody, n.d.), the Church has a prolonged history of cruelty, torture, murder, political intrigue, cover up, and other atrocities. And such is not just limited to the Catholic Church. Indeed, churches in the north ,and churches in the south during America’s Civil War encouraged Christians to kill each other along with other population groups in their “service to God.” The same has played out throughout history across the globe.
Many churches purposefully ignore Christ’s example and teachings. Christ himself grew up under the thumb of the Roman Dictatorship. He did not raise up a rebellion against Rome. Nor did he attempt to overthrow the corrupt leadership of the Jewish leaders of his day. He rejected attempts to make him king (John 6:15). He famously replied when asked about paying taxes to the oppressive Roman government “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17; NKJV).
Frequently, leaders of churches forget that “…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3: 20; NKJV). This is despite the examples of Christ and Paul (among many others in the scriptures) who saw themselves as in the world but not of the world, who saw their kingdom as not one of politics but of a separate, heavenly nature. Churches and church leaders see fit to take political stances that when reviewed after the fact frequently throughout history, facilitate tragedies and travesties. Indeed, the world will wage its wars, run its revolts and revolutions, claim its many righteous causes to justify horrors. This will never change in this age. We are to follow Christ and use our talents to help others while remembering “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19, KJV).
In whom do we trust?
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Ps 28: 7; NKJV)
If you say, “I trust in myself,” I ask you to reflect how many times your desires have led you down a path you later regretted? As Christ teaches: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matt 15: 19-20)
Instead, our duty in this life is summarized by Christ: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22: 37-40; NKJV).
What if that means hardship? As Paul notes, following Christ is NEVER a guarantee of an easy life: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor 11: 23-29; NKJV)
And yet, Paul also tells us: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4: 11-13, NKJV)
Indeed, a duty to learn His ways, His commandments, to learn about His truths and works, to teach others, and to put these things into action to help others–such are the examples left to us by Christ and His disciples. Then, on that day of our inevitable death, we hope to hear ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt 25: 34-36; NKJV).
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BBC. (2009). Humanism. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/types/humanism.shtml
Carmody, E. (n.d.). The Catholic Church, the Rwandan genocide, and reconciliation. Retrieved from https://www.avila.edu/_userfiles/Education/Fulbright-Hays%20Project/Educator%20Microsite/Special%20Topic%20Presentations/The_Catholic_Church_and_the_Rwan.pdf
Carroll, S. (2010). Science And morality: You can’t derive ‘ought’ from ‘is.’ Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2010/05/04/126504492/you-can-t-derive-ought-from-is
Chang, J. & Halliday, J. (2006). Mao: The unknown story. New York, NY: Random House, Inc
Duncan, M. (2020). Revolutions podcast: Season 10: The Russion Revolution [Pod cast]. https://www.revolutionspodcast.com/
History.com. (2018). Pol Pot. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/pol-pot
Schama, S. (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York, NY: Random House
Venables, M. (2013). Jared Diamond on traditional society, warfare And eschewing technology plus updated commentary. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelvenables/2013/02/12/jared-diamond-and-updated-commentary/#277cb9742bf5