Truth or Tolerance?
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
The booklet below was originally written and published as a handout for showings of a German-language multimedia show titled, Das gibt es NUR in Amerika! (Only in America). I showed this presentation at least 50 times in Austria, where we lived for 38 years. The first edition was published just prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The cover was the same as on this copy except for the English title.
I would like to share the extremely unusual if not miraculous circumstances and experiences relating to this multimedia show and the accompanying booklet. I will start at the beginning.
The idea for the project came to me back in the mid 70s when I organized a concert tour for eight musically gifted Europeans. We toured and gave concerts in many eastern States plus Ontario, Canada. The Austrian pianist also accompanied us across country by car and was able to see much of the USA. The impressions these young Europeans gained of an America that they did not know existed was my inspiration.
During the next two decades, I gathered information and pictures about unique aspects of America that are little known in Europe. Advancing technology made various types of multimedia feasible, so I investigated these, choosing what I felt would be the best method to present my program to larger audiences. The system I chose consisted of four Ektapro slide projectors, a digital data projector, a complete stereo sound system for music, voice and special effects, and computer programmable presentation software and equipment from Stumpfl, an Austrian firm of world renown.
The multimedia show consisted of more than 1,000 slides and several video clips, covering ten unique aspects of America:
1) Europeans think immediately of big cars and trucks when they think of the USA, so I of course included these. But I also showed mobile home parks, modular homes, and RVs. I showed pictures of moving large structures, including a brick bank which my Grandfather moved in 1927, using only horses, rollers and block & tackle.
2) Another segment had to do with show business and covered theme parks, Hollywood, and other aspects of the entertainment industry.
3) Shopping in America was also covered and included malls, outlets, yard sales and the unique American auction experience.
4) American sports (baseball, football, basketball and rodeo).
5) Most Europeans live in heavily populated areas, and are fascinated to learn that there is a gigantic natural forest (the New Jersey Pinelands) on the doorsteps of New York City and Philadelphia.
6) The fragile barrier islands and Intra Coastal Waterway, which stretch from New England to the Florida Keys.
7) Milking trees to obtain maple syrup.
8) My brother's bee farm with around 5,000 beehives. Viewers are especially intrigued by photos of my nephew, covered from head to feet with millions of bees! He was entered in Guinness Book of Records.
9) Towards the end of the show, I cover high tech, including computerization, Silicon Valley, a tour of a TV station and an atomic reactor.
10) In stark contrast to the section on technology, the final segment depicts German-speaking Americans called Amish, Hutterites, Brethren and Mennonites. Some of these groups live much the same as they did centuries ago, without automobiles and electricity.
The monster project was finally completed in the summer of 2001. I picked the town we lived in for the first showing.
A large hall was reserved for September 27. Posters and invitations were printed. I took the invitations to the Post Office and asked that they be delivered to every household. The invitations were delivered Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
It had been raining in the morning, but the sun was shining at 2:30 pm on September 11, so we set out on our daily walk. It would have been 8:30 AM in New York City.
After half an hour, winds picked up and soon dark, threatening clouds collected over our heads. The terrible hail storm of July 4th, 2000 was still fresh in our memories and those clouds looked the same as then. There was no place to take refuge, so we decided to head for home as fast as possible. We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the door of our house, just before the full force of the storm hit.
We were hardly inside when the telephone rang. It was the retired farmer who lived across the street. He said we should come over right away. An airplane had crashed into a New York skyscraper and they were showing pictures on television. He knew that we didn't have a TV.
There is not much on Austrian television during the day, but a technician had just repaired his TV. Our neighbor turned it on to make certain that everything worked properly and happened to see the first pictures of what is now simply called "9/11". At that time, reporters still thought that it was a tragic accident and were not even certain about the size of the plane.
We got to their house just in time to see the second plane hit. With horror, we watched live reports of events that "changed the world." When the towers collapsed in a cloud of dust and smoke, it seemed like a bad dream. We continued watching as a third hijacked plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in western Pennsylvania, an hour from where Verna grew up.
Only a couple of hours before the news broke, every household in our town had received a flyer in their mailboxes advertising our multimedia slide and video presentation, scheduled for September 27th. One segment showed New York City and many of the pictures were taken from the top of the World Trade Center. The famous towers were depicted prominently in the already printed color posters and on our website. The cover of the booklet we planned to give each guest had a photo of the ruins of Delphi in Greece, and below it, a picture of New York, with the World Trade Center in the foreground.
Needless to say, we were in a dilemma, wondering what we should do. Should we cancel the event? Everyone would understand if we did. If we went ahead with the show, people might ask if we had no respect for the victims. On the other hand, we could expect the hall to be filled to capacity. I decided to change the section that covered NYC. I inserted pictures of the terrorist attack with the burning towers and then paused the show for 30 seconds of silence. I showed the presentation over 50 times in cities throughout Austria, and the halls were filled.
Here is the English translation of the booklet we distributed to guests. It is long, but I believe worth reading.
WHERE IS CIVILIZATION HEADED?
First printed in German, August, 2001; Translated into English October, 2003.
A CHANGING WORLD
The photo above is from the Wall Chart of World History (Dorset Press, 1988). It clearly depicts the tremendous political upheavals which have taken place in the past two centuries. These changes came gradually at first because people were skeptical of change. But soon, the changes increased in pace and enormity. The above wall chart ends with 1985, at a time when changes were becoming even more dramatic. That was before the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe was liberated from Communism. At least 20 new nations have been formed since 1985. Here are just a few examples of change in the past 200 years, to which I can personally relate.
My Father-in-Law was born near Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin Drake drilled the world's first oil well in 1859. The oil was much easier to obtain than whale oil, and although refined by primitive methods, it had a higher quality. The discovery of "black gold" led to a boom that surpassed the "California Gold rush" of 1849. Almost overnight, 40,000 whalers and 700 whaling boats were put out of operation and within three years, the price of oil had fallen to a mere 10 cents a barrel!
Until 1900, oil was used for light, medical purposes and for lubrication. A side product of the refining process, called gasoline, was considered a dangerous nuisance and simply dumped into the river! It wasn't until the invention of the automobile 30 years later, that good use was found for gasoline. The whales were perhaps saved from extinction, but many fish died in the river, which was appropriately named "Oil Creek." In reality, the automobile drastically improved life in the cities, which were plagued with filth and disease due to the accumulation of horse manure.
For seventy years, America was the world's leading oil producer. Then large oil reserves were discovered in Arabia in 1938, transforming poverty stricken nations into the wealthiest in the world. Today, most means of transportation by land, sea and air are fueled with oil. A great number of homes and businesses are heated with oil, but perhaps of even greater importance are the plastics, medicines and cosmetic products which come from oil.
Industry was largely dependant upon waterpower until steam power and then electricity was introduced. Just consider the dramatic effect that this has had on our lives! Light, household appliances, radio, television and computers are just a few of thousands of products we now take for granted. During World War II, my Father worked at the Dupont Company in Delaware, where he unknowingly helped to build the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. Although controversial, the peaceful use of atomic energy has probably had a greater effect on our world than the bomb. Cheap and plentiful energy has contributed much to the wealth of the western world.
My wife is supposedly a descendant of Samuel F. B. Morse, but we haven't taken the trouble to trace her roots. Morse invented the telegraph in 1837 and it took seven years for a skeptical government to recognize the significance of this invention. It was another 78 years (43 years after Morse's death) before telephone lines stretched from coast to coast.
During the sixties, my brother was a specialist for video recorders working at a NASA tracking station on Ascension Island. He later joined CBS and developed the first cableless TV-camera in 1972. The world has become much smaller due to satellite dishes and internet communications.
Our son-in-law is Software Developer for Microsoft. His 700-page book, Programming Bots, Spiders and Intelligent Agents in Microsoft Visual C++ appeared in April 1999 and promptly hit the best-seller list of Amazon.com. Media giants are presently creating "omnimedia", which combine telecommunication, TV, radio and internet into one giant communications conglomerate.
I recently sat in a jumbo jet flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet near the speed of sound. I was making a "routine" trip from Salzburg to New York, working on my laptop computer and listening to stereo music. Next to me was a child playing with his "Game Boy" and in the back of the seat-rests were telephones with which one could call the home or office and even check e-mail. A normal private office contains more electronic technology today than the largest industry ten years ago. Computers, automatic telephone answering machines and cordless phones can be found in nearly every household. We talk about electronic banking and "dot-coms". Prefixes such as macro, micro, mega, giga and nano have become a part of our everyday vocabulary.
QUALITY OF LIFE
People once worked from sunrise until sundown, often under conditions that were both unhealthy and dangerous. They were happy to earn enough money to keep themselves and their families supplied with the basic essentials of life. Today, we work 40 hours or less a week with paid vacations, social and retirement benefits and plenty of time for hobbies, entertainment and sports. Only the wealthy had clocks or watches 200 years ago, but we now wear quartz watches, and some are automatically set by atomic clocks. Participants in sporting events are stopped by watches that measure time in hundredths of a second increments!
Thanks to modern medicine, we now live twice as long, enjoying a life that would cause King Solomon to turn green with envy!. We have modern hospitals and labs equipped with x-ray and ultra-sound machines. They are staffed by highly trained physicians and surgeons who operate with remote control lasers on internal organs with no blood loss.
We can get every variety of fruit and vegetable year round, which are kept fresh in refrigerators and freezers, prepared in modern kitchen appliances and consumed in air-conditioned dining rooms or restaurants.
We surround ourselves with quadraphonic sound and drive cars with automatic transmissions, cruise control and every other conceivable comfort.
FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE
The second half of the 20th century has witnessed more and greater changes in the areas of culture, politics, science, economics, education, government, society and religion, than all of world history prior to this time. But not all change has been good and most of these changes have both positive and negative aspects.
The Russians sent their first "Sputnik" into space in 1957 and Americans followed up by sending man to the moon. Unmanned spaceships can now reach Mars and Jupiter and communications satellites circumnavigate the earth in exactly defined orbits, sending TV or other signals back to earth. Our military has developed "Smart bombs" and guided missiles which can hit their targets with precision accuracy.
Organ transplants, surrogate mothers, genes experimentation and cloning are becoming more common with each passing day. The emerging "nanotechnology" promises to open the door to even more of this type of thing.
As air travel and modern communications bring people closer together, there is more global awareness. We now speak of a "New World Order" or "global community". People everywhere are concerned about the vanishing rain forests in South America and ozone readings in the Arctic Circle. They are determined to prevent the sinking of oil platforms in the North Sea and atomic testing in the Pacific. Movements like "Green Peace" and "Amnesty International" are very popular and self-help organizations quadrupled between 1990 and 2000.
Newspapers report daily on gigantic bankruptcies, takeovers, mergers and privatization of public utilities. Huge shopping malls have driven many small shop owners out of business and a major portion of the goods they sell are now made in China. We hear a lot about downsizing and automation which leads to high unemployment. Governments call upon citizens to tighten their belts while taxation continues to climb. No one seems to understand the stock markets, with the NASDAG first climbing to unprecedented highs and then plummeting to all-time lows. The same confusion is evident in international money markets. Trillions of Dollars, Euros and other currencies are circulating via paper, credit cards and electronic transmission, which don't even exist!
The world-wide political situation is in a state of constant upheaval. Nations once forced to beg for bread have become the wealthiest nations on earth due to the discovery of oil. Other rich or powerful countries have broken apart and are now dependent upon foreign aid to keep their citizens from starving. Romania was called the "Breadbasket of Europe" a century ago, yet the median income today is less than $100 per month. The Russian Bear is now at the mercy of both the Mafia and World Bank while great monarchies, colonialism and communism are subjects for history books.
I am alarmed that our world is largely without strong political leadership. A sickly Boris Jeltsin turned power over to a largely unknown hard-liner, Vladimir Putin, at the end of 1999. US President Bill Clinton exited the political arena after a scandalous term in office and was replaced by George W. Bush in the closest election ever. Following 9-11, Bush's popularity soared, but we know how quickly the situation can change. America, England and Israel are presently displaying solidarity, but nearly every other political entity on earth is opposed or sharply critical of our stance in Iraq. Although it is a scary thought, Fidel Castro has been more successful in retaining power than most if not all democratically elected politicians of this century. Osama Bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein may be in hiding, yet they still have tremendous influence among Arab Muslims. North Korea and Argentina are the next big trouble spots on our small planet.
Despite calls for unification, nations are breaking apart rather than merging. Hardly a week passes without some country dividing or changing its government. Consider the changes that have occurred in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989, or what has transpired in Asia, the Near East, Africa and South America during the past couple of decades. People are discovering that it is possible to throw off the yokes of bondage which despotic communism; greedy industry, big government and the institutionalized church have placed upon them down through the centuries. And they are doing exactly that! There is increasing disenchantment with and suspicion of bureaucracy and institutionalism of every kind. On the other hand, citizens of so-called "free western nations" feel frustrated with conditions over which they seem to have no power.
The evolution of the European Union represents a notable exception to what is transpiring around the globe. I see this as a sign of things to come. Europe is NOT copying the United States, but building on the combined experiences of member nations and learning from centuries of political upheaval and dissention. Once powerful and influential monarchies first turned into small squabbling countries, but they are now uniting to form one single powerful union. The EU is determined not to make the "mistake" which America made, by giving too much control to its citizens. But even in the EU, there is much dissention between the liberal socialist left and the populist right.
Political experts may differ strongly in where the course of history will take us during the first century of the new millennium, but all agree that changes will be dramatic.
A MOST DISTURBING CHANGE
As thought provoking as the above changes are, I am most concerned about the dramatic changes in the area of morals and religion. It is not the divisive factors between or within religious bodies, or the radical and violent tendencies of Muslim fundamentalists, or the mushrooming number of religious sects that disturb me most. I am deeply concerned at the almost universal rejection of truth.
WHAT IS TRUTH?
Pilate asked this question of Jesus, shortly before he was crucified, but it has been the key question posed by man from the beginning of recorded history. Pilate was not the only person of his time who asked that question. The Greek thinkers, called Skeptics, Stoics, Epicureans, Sophists and Cynics were heavily engaged in the quest for truth. Most of us read some of the works of Aristotle and Plato in school.
For centuries, representatives of all races, nationalities, religions and political bodies agreed upon the basic premise, that there were two opposing poles, by which all actions and thoughts may be judged. These were known as "right and wrong" or "truth and error". The quest for truth has been the cornerstone of science (which speaks of facts or natural laws rather than truth) and the foundation of culture throughout history. Only that which could be proven was considered truth. All else was labeled theory or faith. The greatest disparity in the past was found in religion, but religion is based on faith and not science.
Men have fought wars over the various definitions and interpretations of truth and over consequences for those who disregarded it. Man has attempted to relativize, manipulate, cheat and ignore truth; but they have historically agreed that such poles existed and that everything could be judged upon the basis of established truth. This was the case when Adam and Eve ate from "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" and it didn't change until recently.
Modern humanistic thought has paved the way for a total departure from traditional rationality. Diametrically opposing and conflicting arguments or actions are now experiencing a strange romance. What was once perceived as good and evil now live in harmony. Truth and error are found in warm embrace. Millions of people the world over, now prefer atheistic philosophical thought to the traditional Judeo- Christian code of ethics, which nearly all the civilized world had come to embrace.
The absolute authority of truth no longer remains unchallenged. Unproven theories and even contradictory statements are accepted as "science" and the historic thesis/antithesis method of solving differences has been discarded like a worn-out pair of shoes. The basis for researching the unknown was always that which could be tested and proven (truth or fact) but today, men make unproven postulates and often give pure speculation precedence over scientific facts. They can even get very irate when anyone dares to challenge or question their claims or the methodology used in reaching conclusions.
Champions of this new type of thinking claim that the pursuance of truth has only led to hatred, fighting, wars and divisiveness. They believe that discarding the truth will usher in an age of peace and unity. Since church and religion are traditionally considered to be interpreters and protectorates of truth, these institutions have also fallen into disregard if not disrepute. I can understand that some would reject the interpretations of truth given by certain religious bodies, but to deny the very existence of truth is insane.
A WISE OBSERVATION OF SAMUEL F. B. MORSE
I already mentioned an ancestor of my wife, Samuel Morse. Morse not only invented the telegraph, but he was also a pioneer in the field of photography and a talented artist, who produced over 300 masterpieces. His painting, Gallery of the Louvre, is considered to be his most valuable work and probably the greatest piece of American art ever produced. He presented this painting to his good friend and writer of fifty books, James Fennimore Cooper. The author of this booklet just happens to be a direct descendant of William Cooper, who founded Cooperstown and fathered James Fennimore. I trace my roots to his half brother, John Cooper.
Samuel F. B. Morse's father wrote the first geography book in America and his grandfather was President of Harvard University. Morse believed that all men should be educated and to help attain this end, he founded the National Academy of Design. Together with his brothers, he published the New York Observer and Journal of Commerce.
Morse was a devout believer in God, which the first sentence spoken on his telegraph might indicate. The question, What hath God wrought! (Numbers 23:23) is indicative of his faith. Although he attained great fame during his life, he used every opportunity to give the Creator credit for his worldly achievements. He held biblical teachings to be the most important aspect of education. He once stated, "Education without religion is in danger of substituting wild theories for the simple commonsense rules of Christianity."
Education, science and religion have a common denominator in the quest for and establishment of truth. None of these is ever perfected in this life, but we continue to learn until death. Anyone who receives a diploma and thinks he is educated, has been badly deceived. A scientist who retires after making a great discovery ceases to be a scientist. Anyone who shies from theological discussions by claiming, "I have my religion" only lays bare his own spiritual depravity.
In place of truth, man has inserted a thing he calls "tolerance". The traditional meaning of the word "tolerance" would be "allowance for error". In industry, a norm is ascertained and then measurable tolerances are specified for any permissible departure from the norm. This is still the case in manufacturing, economics and science. Toleration allowances have become extremely narrow and are hardly measurable today.
Allow me to illustrate the traditional meaning of the word "tolerance", using a personal experience.
MY FIRST CARS
Two years before I was old enough to obtain a driver's license, I purchased my first car. It was a 1924 Model "T" Ford. I determined to restore the 30-year-old car to its original condition and began with the motor. My Father had owned several Model "T"s and gave me valuable tips. He showed me how to assess the condition of the four-cylinder engine as follows:
"First, you take off the cylinder head and crank the motor until a cylinder is at the top. With your index finger, try to wiggle the cylinder. If it moves a lot, you may have to add sleeves and install new pistons. If it only shows a little bit of play, you can get away with new piston rings." Fortunately, my car only needed rings, but this illustrates the allowed tolerances in the twenties. How things have changed since then!
Two years later, I purchased a 1946 Ford convertible. I had to buy feeler gauges before "souping up" its V-8 engine. Tolerances had changed considerably between 1924 and 1946, yet I was still able to rebuild the engine with normal tools in our own garage. Today, no one attempts to adjust his own carburetor! Toleration allowances have become extremely narrow and are hardly measurable without special computerized equipment.
Tolerance is still defined in this manner in most situations. If the police department declares that motorists will not be ticketed for going five mph over the speed limit, it is assumed that there is a posted speed limit. Without a speed limit, a five mph toleration would be meaningless. Supposing your bank tells you that they are doing away with all calculations and that in the future, they will simply bill and credit your account as they feel like it. You would certainly have some questions to ask! Or what if your doctor claims that your pulse and temperature are not important. Tell the next policeman who stops you for running a red light that he should be more tolerant. No, there is little tolerance in most areas of life.
When applied to morals, ethics and religion, however, the opposite is true. The goal is not to establish a norm with certain allowances for error, but rather the attainment of the largest possible margin of tolerance, even to the total elimination of any norm. When hearing the word "tolerance" today, people think immediately of permissiveness. According to tolerance, everyone should be allowed to think and do as he or she pleases. "Live and let live!" Toleration requires a person to ignore situations that would have been inconceivable a few decades ago. This tolerance tolerates everything but truth. In fact, truth is presented as the greatest enemy of tolerance because truth is intolerant! Tolerance has always depended on an absolute, a normal condition or some standard. But this radical new definition of tolerance does not need a norm or standard. Tolerance is the norm!
After a lengthy and gruesome tour of the former Nazi concentration camp, Mauthausen, our tour guide said, "What we need to learn from all we have seen today is to practice tolerance." He obviously did not mean that we should show tolerance for the atrocities committed in that death camp, but it serves to illustrate how senseless tolerance can be without an established norm or standard.
How did this radical change in thinking come about? Surely, it didn't happen overnight! In order to understand what has happened, we need to open our history books.
In the first pages of the Bible, we have the report of Adam and Eve, who yielded to the devil's temptation to "become as god". Satan argued that they themselves should decide what is right for them. Eve then looked at the tree and saw that is was lovely to look upon and its fruit desirable to eat. It was no longer God who determined truth, but man's own perception of truth.
Adam and Eve departed from God's truth, but they still sought after truth. They didn't entertain any thoughts about tolerance. It was either God who determined truth or man and they chose the latter. This was pretty much the case throughout recorded history. Either man recognized God's truth and obeyed it, or he took the matter into his own hands and paid dearly.
Conservative evangelicals today, still believe in the absolute authority of the Scripture as the sole basis of determining truth and practice. Such a position is not only highly suspect in the minds of modern man, but it is even considered a hindrance to establishing world peace.
So when did man begin to consider an alternative to truth for determining human behavior? When did that magic word "tolerance" begin to gain entrance into our values system? Allow me to take you back through the pages of history to find the answer to this question.
In their attempt to discover the realities of life, early Greek philosophers gradually came to believe that all things found purpose of life only in the polis (state, community). Whatever served its purposes was proper and anything that did not serve the purpose of the state was considered evil. Their quest for truth led them to the conclusion that there was no absolute truth, but all was relative to the well-being of the state. In place of truth, the philosophers spoke of justice, but esoteric investigations disclose what the philosophers actually meant by this term. Justice demanded that all people be subject to cosmos, or according to the order of the gods. Of course these gods had their human protectorates: the philosophers! The greatest goal of philosophy was therefore to make every man conscious of this "justice," if necessary, by force!
"Justice" was a virtual dictatorship of the intellectuals over the masses, which were seen as the property of the state. Freedom was accordingly seen as the greatest enemy of justice. Until his condemnation, the famed Socrates and his followers led a four-year reign of terror in Athens.
The Greek philosopher Democritus of Abdera (the word democracy stems from his name) taught that every man was his own law, which comes close to the postulates of later philosophers. Still, the Greek philosophers could hardly be considered "humanists," but rather "naturalists." The glorification of human beings was confined to the masculine gender, and primarily his intellect. Democritus recognized a "micro-cosmos" in men. Women and slaves were seen as useful implements of the state. The basis of Greek philosophy can be recognized in the chaos/cosmos dialectic. The woman represented chaos, from which all order (cosmos) originated. The primary value of women was producing men. For this reason, homosexuality was practiced widely among the philosophers. In his "Symposium," Socrates recognized the "Keys to the Universe" in pederasty (homosexual relationships with young boys). Plato ("Republic") also held this view.
The democracy we are familiar with is basically a delegated form of government. The people elect representatives to rule over them, who in turn create laws, by which all must abide. Later philosophers would someday attempt to sell humanistic philosophy as a preferable form of democracy, but if God and truth are left out of the process, there is no limit to what "the people" would desire and even demand.
In contrast to the Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians, who made great accomplishments in the areas of education, agriculture, the sciences and political systems, the Greeks were so bound by their philosophers, that later generations were endowed with little more than confusing philosophical postulates. In all this, the proletariat was not helped. The Greeks destroyed their nation by draining wetlands and burning their forests. Cruel wars between the states or cities (polis) decimated the population and brought the people into a poverty, which prevails to this day. Modern philosophers prefer to close their eyes to the ugly practices and dictatorial attitudes of their Greek forbearers. They rather seek arguments in their works which serve to support their own humanistic propositions.
General DeGaulle once said, "Aristotle lies beneath every one of Alexander's victories." The Romans may have conquered the Greeks militarily, but Greek philosophy ruled the "Holy Roman Empire" for centuries to come.
Although early Greek philosophers displayed little tolerance, they did pave the way for later humanists by departing from the threshold of truth as a determining factor on what is right or wrong and presenting themselves as gods in charge of their own destiny.
The only reason for the existence of religion is to interpret and relate truth, but unfortunately, there have always been differing interpretations of truth, which led to strife and even wars. Unfortunately, this is also true of Christianity.
After Constantine embraced the Christian faith, the church gradually began to assume the task of determining what was right and wrong, allowed or forbidden. At first, these rules were based on Bible teachings and the result was largely positive. As the Holy Roman Empire continued to gain power, the Bible gradually lost is significance in political decision-making. Ruling Monks, Bishops and secular Monarchs began to fight over territorial rights. Laws were mainly designed to keep the peasants in subjection and to secure a steady income for the rulers' lavish tastes and for financing wars. Lowly peasants had no say in politics or religion and even a mild protest was often met with torture or death.
Under the Habsburgers, church and state cooperated at least to some extent in ruling Europe. Although there were many disputes and shifts of power, the basic alliance remained intact for six centuries. The clergy served the secular nobility in reminding peasants of their "God-given duties" while the secular Lords reinforced the church's authority, confining dissenters to dungeons and torture chambers. Laws of the state became religion and loyalty to the state church was enforced by secular rulers.
Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440 made the Bible accessible to more people, but it was first printed in Latin and few peasants could read. Thanks to educated and devout religious leaders such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, printed literature became more readily available in the language of the people. Luther's German translation of the New Testament was printed in 1522 and was expensive, but it found ready customers all over Europe. Luther and other reformers taught that God's Word was the highest authority and that it was intended for everyone to hear. Bible truth had long been withheld form the common people, but now it was captivating the minds of learned theologians. These men began to preach the newly discovered truths in the Roman Catholic Churches and Monasteries where they served. By 1528, there were eager disciples of the new teachings in nearly all cities and districts of Austria. Many Lords and city officials had become converts of the new teachings.
Higher church leaders and the ruling secular powers were not at all happy about this development. There had been numerous peasant uprisings in Europe, which were put down by brute force, but this was equivalent to general insurrection and a declaration of war. The leaders were most alarmed about the teaching, that we are to obey God rather than man - including royalty and clergy. This teaching stood in direct opposition to the statist alliance of the Habsburgers and Catholic Church.
Now that the scriptures were available in the language of the people, there was no longer a felt need for human translators, or for someone to interpret God's will for man. For the first time since apostolic times, man was being reminded of his personal responsibility to know and obey God's Word. And this was not just a privilege, but man's Christian duty!
Luther's teachings were more successful than he had ever dreamed or hoped for. In fact, the teaching that Christians were to obey God more than man boomeranged and proved to be a thorn in the flesh for Luther and his Protestant Lords. Not only was the absolute power of the Habsburgers and the Catholic Church being challenged, but many of the protestant nobility also met strong opposition from their subjects. The peasants experienced no relief from the burdensome taxation and could see little change in the exorbitant life style of their masters as a result of protestant teachings. But they did find much truth and comfort in the scriptures.
As peasants and common tradesmen learned to read, religious leaflets and articles began to flood Europe. Some of these early tracts were written by protestant dissenters, who soon became known as "Anabaptists", or re-baptizers. This term is not a fair representation, however, for these Christians merely rejected the practice of infant baptism and insisted that scriptural baptism was one which took place after conversion. In German, historians prefer to call the
Anabaptists Täufer (baptizers), a name that is more fitting. Early in the reformation, Luther too, favored rebaptism, but changed his mind rather than risk losing a large segment of his following over such an unpopular concept. Lutheran Pastors recognized Catholic baptism and also continued the traditional practice of baptizing infant children of its members.
Because it could confuse readers of this essay, I will use the term Anabaptist rather than "baptizers."
Soon after the Lutheran reformation gained traction and began to spread, Anabaptist preachers were also traveling throughout the countryside, preaching the same gospel and teaching from the Lutheran's Bible, but they did so with even greater enthusiasm and gained a large following, especially among the peasants. The best educated
Anabaptist teacher and writer was Dr. Balthasar Hubmeier, whose slogan, "The truth cannot be killed!" was printed on all his books. Hubmeier was burned at the stake in Vienna on March 10, 1528 and his wife was drowned in the Danube River three days later. Hans Hut was another well-known
Anabaptist preacher who met a similar fate. Leonhard Friesleben published protestant tracts in Linz, Austria as early as 1521, even before Luther's New Testament was printed. He later joined the
Anabaptist movement and died a martyr's death. Thousands of other Anabaptists met similar fates in the next decades. It is understandable, that the peasants readily embraced
Anabaptist teachings, but not a few merchants and handworkers and even some of the nobility also became converts.
The baptizers began to multiply in Upper Austria until they outnumbered both Catholics and Lutherans in some regions. Luther attempted desperately to stop their teachings and in 1530, he wrote a decree, demanding the persecution and execution of teachers who insisted on spreading "divisive teachings". Soon, baptizers were being persecuted and martyred by Catholics and Lutherans alike.
A little known fact of the reformation, is that a group known as the Waldensians was a primary factor in the reformation's success, especially in Southern Europe, Bohemia and Moravia.
Centuries before Luther, there were thousands of Christians in Europe, who believed and taught much as the later reformers and
The Waldensians were named after Peter Waldo, whose teachings and those of his followers had a tremendous impact in Europe. Waldo was a wealthy merchant in Lyon, France, who lived an ungodly life. He converted to Christ around 1160 when a friend he had been drinking and joking with suddenly dropped dead. Waldo took upon himself a vow of poverty and set out to share his conversion experience with others. He called upon men to repent of sin and follow Christ. He was an educated man and preferred to translate from the Latin Bible and teach in French, something unheard of in that time.
Waldo's teaching was effective and he soon had a large following. After several restraining orders from the Pope went unheeded, Waldo was pronounced a heretic in 1183. Soon executions and persecutions became the fate of those Waldensians who were caught. In 1215, 89 Waldensians were burned at the stake in Strasbourg. In the next three centuries, ten thousands of their fellow believers met similar fates, yet the Waldensians continued to multiply in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and even in Bohemia and Moravia. As early as 1322, Catholic sources reported 50,000 Waldensians in the Dioceses of Turin und Embrun and spies sent out by the Bishop of Passau found no less than 42 Waldensian groups with as many as 500 members alone in the Diocese of Passau (primarily what is now Upper Austria). A Waldensian Pastor, Stefan of Basel, was executed for his faith in Vienna in 1467. During the horrible torture he experienced before being executed, he admitted that there were at least 80,000 Waldensians in Austria alone. He said that in Bohemia and Moravia, they were innumerable.
Jan Hus, a recognized and well-loved Professor in the University of Prague, became infatuated with the teachings of John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into the English language in 1380. Hus became a dedicated follower of Christ and preacher of God's Word, whose teachings spread throughout Bohemia and across Europe. The Pope forbade his teachings in 1409, but when Hus continued to preach, he was excommunicated. On July 6th, 1415, Hus was burned at the stake. The followers of Hus were called Hussites, but many of them departed from Hus's teachings after his death and turned to a quest for political power. Those faithful to the gospel became better known as "Bohemian Brethren" or simply as "Brethren". These Brethren seem to have had close ties to the Waldensians and it is often not clear in reports, which group was meant. It must be remembered that from apostolic times, true followers of Christ were usually named by their enemies, and these were not particular about the accuracy of their identifications! Most of the brethren groups of Hussite descent later joined either the Lutherans or the
LUTHERANS AND CATHOLICS AGAINST THE BAPTIZERS
The "Counter Reformation," also called the "Thirty Years War" or "Peasant Wars" (Catholics
call it "Reformation"!) lasted from 1618 until 1648 and was probably the bloodiest war ever
fought on European soil to date. That is saying a lot! Most church historians teach that this
was an attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to re-convert protestants and bring them back into
the fold of the "true church." Under "protestants," most people understand Lutherans, but this
The Counter Reformation was at first an attempt of both the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans to
destroy their common enemy, called the Anabaptists. Political and financial factors outweighed
theological issues on the part of the Catholics and Lutherans, but for the Anabaptists, it was
both a theological issue and a matter of life or death. Thousands chose death rather than
By 1529, the Lutherans held a religious majority in Austria and were quite wealthy. Emperor Ferdinand desperately needed their money and soldiers to defend his territory from Turkish aggressors. The Emperor sought and obtained financial and military support from the Lutheran nobles, but had make certain
concessions. The Catholic Habsburgers and Lutheran nobility also agreed to a cooperative effort in suppressing the Anabaptists.
When peasant rebellions erupted in 1594 in Upper Austria, it was the Lutheran General, Gotthard von Starhemberg, who was primarily responsible for their defeat. The Catholic Governor Loebl of Upper Austria joined with Starhemberg on August 25, 1597 and by the end of September, the uprisings were finally put down. Starhemberg erected no less than 27 gallows in different towns of Upper Austria, on which the rebel peasant leaders were executed. From this and similar events, it is clear that the peasants were not Lutherans, but mainly Anabaptists.
The Lutherans were in for a rude awakening, however. After this victory, Emperor Rudolph II signed a decree in Prague, which strictly forbade all protestant teachings in his entire kingdom.
It took fifty years and many similar threats, before the Catholics were successful in enforcing that decree. There was relative calm during the first two decades of the 17th century. Anabaptist preachers were still active during this period, but it seems that the Lutherans had relaxed their persecutions.
Perhaps the Emperor suspected that the Lutherans and Anabaptists had formed some kind of truce. Whatever the case may have been, when renewed uprisings of the peasants took place in 1625 und 1626, the Emperor was no longer prepared to show any lenience to the Lutherans. The Thirty Years War began officially in 1618, after a Catholic Regent was thrown from the window of a castle in Prague, but it was now bitter earnest for the Lutherans.
Ferdinand II, who had been crowned Emperor in Vienna in 1619, formed an alliance with the Bavarian King, Maximilian. The latter appointed Adam Graf of Herberstorff as Upper Austrian Governor. Herberstorff was from a wealthy Lutheran family, but Jesuit Priests promised him a position of power if he would convert to Catholicism, which he did. The Catholic-Habsburger-Bavarian alliance was called the "Unholy Trinity" by protestants. Graf Franz Christoph Khevenhueller was also born into a Lutheran family that ruled vast territories in Carinthia and Upper Austria. Franz ruled an area of Upper Austria that included Attergau and Frankenburg. As the wars and threats of war increased, his relatives in Carinthia were forced to flee and seek exile in northern Germany (1628), but Franz converted to Catholicism in order to keep his holdings.
The "Unholy Trinity" found a valuable tool in Khevenhueller, who was not only able to suppress the peasant uprisings (many thousands were slaughtered in the process), but who convinced many of his subjects to reconvert to Catholicism. Historians have calculated that 30,000 to 50,000 Upper Austrian peasants were killed alone in 1626. The peasants, with their hand-made weapons fabricated from farm implements, proved no match for the heavily armed Catholic alliance. Once the peasants had been suppressed, the "Unholy Trinity" began to systematically eliminate the Lutheran opposition.
Contrary to the fate of Anabaptist peasants, few Lutherans were killed. They were given the opportunity to choose between becoming Catholic or leaving their homeland. For those who converted to Catholicism, the conversion was often viewed as a piece of paper. In their hearts, they remained Lutheran. However thousands of Lutherans chose to flee, selling their homes, businesses and belongings for nearly worthless money.
RELICS OF THE PAST
To this day, there are German-speaking colonies in Romania, Russia and other lands, whose forefathers came from Austria. The same is true of many
Anabaptists who fled Europe and settled wherever religious freedom was promised. Most of the latter finally settled in North America after a zigzag migration path throughout Europe and Asia.
The Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites and a number of different Brethren groups have kept at least some of their identity to this day. These chapters of history make missionary work in Austria difficult today. Christians, who were committed to their Lord and God's Word, were either killed or driven out of the country. Nearly all modern day Austrians are descendents of those who had either never been protestant, or who made outward compromises in order to remain in their homeland.
We lived in a region where some of the worst incidents of the counter reformation took place. In 1626,
Anabaptist Christians who refused to return to the Roman Catholic Church, were gathered under a large tree in an open field about two miles from where we lived. They were forced by soldiers of the ruling Habsburgs to roll dice. Two by two, they rolled the dice and the one rolling the lower number was executed on the spot. Some of their bodies were hung from church steeples in surrounding towns as a warning to others who might dare to defy the Emperor's decree.
Every two years, local citizens reenact this tragic incident in Europe's largest open-air theater. Thousands of tourists come to see the play from all over German-speaking Europe. About 50 horses and 350 local citizens, nearly all of them Roman Catholic, participate in this event. The Mayor proudly states that the object of this theatrical performance is to remind people not to allow religious bigotry to rule their lives and actions. They should exhibit a spirit of toleration for those who believe differently. Yet when we tried to find a public meeting hall for a multimedia presentation on the Thirty Years War, the first question we were asked was, "Are you Catholic?" When we replied negatively, no one would rent us a public meeting hall!
Although the counter reformation officially ended in 1648, repeated persecution and migrations of protestants continued throughout the 17th century. In 1655, some 8,000 Waldensians were slaughtered by Catholic soldiers in the Piedmont Valley. Even after the Edict of Toleration, in 1781, another wave of persecution drove the few remaining protestants out of Austria.
Anabaptists might have been tempted to conclude that Dr. Balthasar Huebmair's famous slogan had been proven false. His words, "Die Wahrheit ist untödlich!" (The truth cannot be killed) must have seemed like open ridicule of their faith. Not only Huebmair and his wife, but also thousands of others were martyred for their faith, forced to recant, or to leave their homeland. Had the truth really been killed?
Those of us who are privileged to live in America should know the answer to that question. Most non-Lutheran refugees eventually settled in North America and these immigrants have made great contributions to the strong economy and cultural heritage of our nation. The counter reformation succeeded in making Austria 100% Catholic again, but the results were devastating for the economy, education and social services. An archive report from the industrial city of Steyr dating from 1645, describes the typical situation in many towns and cities of the time. According to this report, 402 of 600 buildings in the city were desolate and empty. No one wanted to take possession of the properties, because they couldn't afford to pay the taxes.
It was 200 years before economic conditions became comparable to those of the reformation period. The reformation also had a tremendous positive impact on Northern Europe, which experienced no counter reformation. While Catholic Europe was struggling with poverty and its effect on education and culture, protestant Europe enjoyed material wealth and ushered in many educational and cultural advances. The foundation for the industrial revolution was laid and seeds of democracy were sown.
The spiritual situation in northern Germany was soon to change, however. Because Lutherans baptized infants as did the Catholics, the church soon became filled with unbelievers who strongly influenced its direction. Before long, humanistic philosophy was being perpetrated in the northern universities, even affecting the theological faculties.
HUMANISTS OF THE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES
Many men have rebelled against truth and reason, but it was philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and later, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who succeeded in making the rejection of truth popular and acceptable in what was considered Christian nations. Hegel, Kant and company became the new reformers. Although well educated and raised in the Christian faith, these men dared to call God's commandments publicly into question. The truth became a plaything and their brains served as a playground. They mixed thesis with antithesis to create a curious synthesis. Their version of "truth" was uncoupled from the Bible, relativized and protected from scientific scrutiny.
These humanistic philosophers declared that man himself could best determine what was good or evil, allowed or forbidden. They saw man as the central figure around which everything else revolved. The fulfillment of human lusts and desires was in their view both natural and legitimate; the suppression of which could lead to serious psychological or physical disturbances. The biblical definitions of right and wrong were made responsible for most problems in life and a serious deterrent to happiness. They claimed that the historic arguments of "good versus evil" had only resulted in war, hatred and division.
Eighteenth century humanism claimed to be democratic, and in reality, it was the purest form of democracy ("self-government"). Everyone lives to please himself. This can also be called "egoism," "narcism" or "chaos"!
ALL DOORS AND GATES LEFT OPEN
Humanistic philosophy led the human race into a purported paradise of unlimited freedom. Men declared themselves to be freed from the chains of Christian moral laws and ethics, which their ancestors fought to uphold. It was the great sacrifices and deep-rooted faith of their parents and grandparents, which led to the founding of the universities, in which these teachings were being espoused. Once the heart and conscience of man was thoroughly brainwashed by what I call "hegelistic compost", Darwin's evolutionary theories found a fruitful soil in the minds of men. This soil began almost immediately to produce poison which brought horrible death and suffering to tens of millions, and which enslaved hundreds of millions of other human beings. Man began to consider ways to accelerate and improve the evolutionary process. Its tenants consumed Marx, Lenin and Stalin. Hitler dreamed of creating the human super race. Even today, millions of abortions are performed under the umbrella of evolutionistic thinking. The so-called "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Kosovo is another outgrowth of humanistic and evolutionary philosophy.
REACTION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
One might think that the Catholic Church would energetically oppose these new philosophical teachings which began to filter down from protestant Europe, but this was not the case. Ironically, the church which had shed so much blood fighting "heretics", chose an alternative method of dealing with humanism; peaceful coexistence! As long as Catholics were not leaving the church in droves, humanistic teaching was simply tolerated.
Actually, this should not surprise us when one considers the fact, that during the 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church confiscated and burned Bibles and Christian literature by the tons. Over 10,000 Bibles were collected and destroyed alone in the city of Graz, Austria. More than 60,000 books were publicly burned in Prague. No one bothered to count them in Steyr, but one witness saw 20 wagonloads of confiscated Bibles and protestant books on their way to be burned. Waldensians and
Anabaptists were tortured and burned at the stake for preaching and teaching from God's Word. Lutherans too, suffered persecution and were driven out of their homeland for declaring God's Word. Having destroyed God's standard, the church had no other recourse than to seek a substitute. Tolerance became a new way of dealing with differences. Being a "European" is now synonymous with being a "Christian". Few citizens of Europe would be confused by the headline I recently saw in an Austrian daily paper, which read, "Thousands of Believers Leave Church". In North America, people would ask, "Did only the unbelievers remain?" For Europeans, the word "believer" simply means "church member".
An insurance company put up billboards all over the country to warn drivers against drunken driving. The billboards read, "The quickest way to get to heaven is to drink and drive!" For Europeans, "heaven" simply means "death" and has little if any theological connotation.
We once lived across the street from a tavern notorious for early morning drunken brawls. A sign over the door read: "Tavern to God's Blessing".
In 1986, several Austrian business establishments appealed to the government to allow Sunday commerce. The Catholic Church opposed changing the blue laws, arguing that church holidays must be kept sacred. Yet there is hardly a church in Austria that does NOT conduct business on Sundays and holidays. In our town, the Catholic Church sponsors Christmas Markets on Sundays and celebrates its annual "Church Consecration Day" on Mary's Ascension Day, one of the holiest days for Catholics. Streets are filled with market stands, beer halls and amusement rides. The odd part is that no one seems to see any incongruity in this.
THE NEW WORLD
Many thousands of Christian refugees migrated to North America. In spite of sickness and hardships, which cost many settlers their lives, the colonists began to rebuild their lives and futures. Tens of thousands found religious freedom and received land grants (peasants had not been permitted to own property in Europe) in "Penn's Colony," a large area which included Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and part of Virginia. Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren and Reformed groups cleared ground and built successful farms and businesses here.
About 15,000 Hutterites fled from Bohemia and Moravia. After futilely attempting to settle in Transylvania and Russia, they too migrated to North America. A score of large affluent Hutterite Colonies still thrive in the USA and Canada.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, there were so many German-speaking colonists, that the German language almost became the official language of the United States! Although ridiculed by Europeans, North Americans clung tenaciously to the "old time religion" for many years. The words In God we trust were printed on our money and until the middle of the twentieth century; many Americans lived according to that motto.
During the past few decades, however, Americans began to shift their allegiance from God to the flag and finally to "the rocket's red glare". Military, technical and economic superiority led many to feel that God's "sea to shining sea" blessings could be taken for granted. Interest in God's Word waned and humanistic philosophy coupled with materialism took its place. Moral decay began to permeate public life and every other facet of society.
In June of 1963, the Supreme Court outlawed every form of religious expression in public places. Simultaneously, statistics on crime, drug abuse, pornography, illegitimate child births, venereal diseases, AIDS and broken marriages began to spiral upwards at an alarming rate. Academic achievements of American students fell to all time lows. The government retaliated by lowering educational standards, while sincere Christians founded private schools in order to provide their children a quality education.
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was encouraging to see all members of our government united in prayer for our nation while TV cameras rolled. A few months later, it was business as usual. Americans should have recognized their fatal mistake in banning the truth from public life after the demise of communism. Nations formerly ruled by godless communist dictatorships, recognized the reason for their sad predicament and invited Christians from the West to teach their children Christian ethics.
Like a stumbling drunk clinging to an empty whiskey bottle, America stubbornly clutches godless humanism. Having deserted the truth, God has apparently turned Americans over to their own depraved minds.
REFORMATION OF HUMANISM
My brother, who once worked at a NASA tracking station on Ascension Island, showed me a photo of the only vehicle on the island, which had veered off the island's only road and hit the only tree in sight! The driver was of course drunk. Where there is only one car on one road, one might get along without laws, but as soon as a second car and driver is added, the situation demands a rule book. In our society, there are many "drivers" in many "vehicles," all going in different directions. Doing away with truth is an open invitation to disaster. It didn't take people very long to recognize this weakness in early humanistic philosophy. People who do as they please will sooner or later collide with others doing the same and the situation can get quite tense. As modern methods of communication and travel brought people into a closer proximity, the idea of humanistic tolerance began to cause big problems. The neighbor's property rights stop where your property rights begin, but you see and hear each other. Must you tolerate his taste for loud music and the bright purple siding on his house? Many knowledgeable men, who would normally have embraced the humanistic teachings of Hegel and company with open arms, drew attention to this more than slight imperfection. Toleration with no standards is highly problematic.
In recent years, humanistic philosophy has undergone a few cosmetic changes – or should I say extensive plastic surgery? Humanism was too closely associated with egoism, which had a negative connotation for many. As illustrated above, humanism based upon the singular pillar of tolerance, proved unstable in many situations. A new form of reformed humanism has emerged under the enticingly attractive name of "Pluralism". Pluralism is humanism with a face lift.
Pluralism has virtually replaced the concept of humanism, but tolerance still plays an important role. Humanism rested on the singular pillar of tolerance, but pluralism has added two more pillars, called "solidarity" and "emancipation".
By nature, there is little cohesion or attraction between emancipation and solidarity. Like magnets, they tend to repel each other unless the poles are perfectly matched. The two pillars of pluralism, however, are accompanied by tolerance. In pluralism, the tension created in this magnetic field is compensated by tolerance. This idea has given birth to the term "political correctness".
Statism ruled from the top down. The state was god and the people its possessions. Today, the order has been reversed. Under the new brand of humanism, corporate man is god who owns the state.
The idea for this concept borrows from the idea of democracy with which western nations are quite familiar. Elected representatives determine the rules by which we must abide. Philosophically, a new collective form of humanism has emerged in which anything is allowed that does not exceed the toleration level of the status quo. In order to explain how this works, allow me to illustrate, using recent developments in the sexual revolution as an example.
Sexual equality used to refer to male and female representatives of society. In the past half century, equality has been largely achieved in the work place and elsewhere. Although a few members of society, who exploited women for financial profit may have objected, we can safely contend that most women and men view this as a favorable development.
More recently, homosexuals and lesbians have become accepted as normal members of society with all rights and privileges. This, although only a few claim to be homosexual and a majority still considers homosexuality to be abnormal behavior. This development is a result of pluralistic thinking. Most believe that we must be tolerant of people with differing views and lifestyles in a free (emancipated) and strong society (solidarity). Same-sex marriages are next on the agenda and although few individuals consider such unions to be right and proper, most will show a spirit of toleration rather than risk being viewed as extremists, who are viewed as a threat to freedom and solidarity. This is where political correctness comes into play.
This unprecedented sexual emancipation would have been inconceivable a few decades ago. There are, however, certain areas which are still too controversial for the majority to tolerate. Doing away with male and female categories for sports contestants, and doing away with separate toilets for men and women are still not within the toleration limits of the masses. Perhaps next year?
The pluralistic society is sometimes referred to as "multiculturalism" and terms like "the new world order" and "the international community" are closely associated expressions. In this paper, I refer to man's effort to build his modern Tower of Babel as "new humanism".
The bottom line of pluralism or new humanism, is unlimited freedom as long as the freedom of others is not infringed upon. It is expected that each individual show the greatest possible measure of tolerance for those with differing opinions, views and lifestyles. This new concept is gaining in popularity since words like "plurality", "tolerance", "solidarity" and "emancipation" have an aura of generosity and togetherness about them. New humanists believe that the primary goals of humanity; happiness, peace, prosperity and unity can be best achieved by embracing this new humanistic concept. It is no longer personal Freedom, but collective Freedom which has become the decisive factor in new humanism. One thing has not changed, however. Truth is not desirable! The contention that truth determines "good" and "evil" reflects religious values and poses a threat to the success of new humanism. Truth is considered a relic of the past which should be buried together with God and religion. Those who fail to cooperate in strengthening the pillars of new humanism are called "fundamentalists" or "extremists". They are a detriment to peaceful coexistence and a deterrent to happiness. Those who believe that truth is absolute and that truth determines what is good or evil can still be tolerated if they keep this conviction to themselves. If not, they are labeled a threat to civilization. According to new humanism, what is allowed or forbidden is ideally determined by the will of the majority. In reality, the majority has little knowledge of this process. Only a selected few make the decisions, which others blindly follow.
The popularity of films that portray romantic relationships between ugly creatures and beautiful people can also be traced to new humanistic thought. There has always been a certain fascination with stories about the placation or reconciliation of good and evil forces in nature and society. Nursery tales like "The Frog Prince" or "Cinderella" are familiar to us. But any child knows that nursery rhymes and fairy tales are not to be taken seriously, lions are dangerous and poisonous snakes to be avoided. In books and films, one can portray new humanism in a wonderful light, but in real life, it takes on uglier forms. Weaker beings are abused, misused, devoured or destroyed by the stronger.
The new generation of philosophers and their adherents now seek ways to exploit their idea without suffering negative consequences. That is not a simple matter. Americans were strongly critical of Hitler, who sought to eliminate the Jews and develop the perfect race, yet American politicians and philosophers seek to achieve similar goals through equally dubious and even immoral means. Genes manipulation, cloning, Abortion (including commercial exploitation of the fetus), distribution of condoms to school children, "mercy deaths" for the sick or aged and legalizing drug use are just a sampling of their ideas. The Serb's campaign of "ethnic cleansing" was no less noble than our own brand of self improvement!
CHANGES IN SOCIETY
Single parent households now outnumber the traditional dual parent variety in most major cities of Europe. Homosexual and lesbian relationships have not only received recognition as being normal, but same sex marriages are being granted equal status in many lands. Organ transplants and modern medicine have extended life expectancy, but an increasing percentage of funerals are of young people. Some die accidental deaths, but many are drug related, caused by aids, violence and suicide. In America, Christian symbols and activities have been banned from public places and a growing movement now seeks to ban the words "In God we trust" from our currency. Sex and violence have made their triumphal entry into entertainment, literature, media and taken their toll on the family and society. Abandoning God, the truth and common logic has been an expensive and dangerous experiment, but no one seems prepared to reconsider.
The religious situation has also been radically changed by new humanistic philosophy. Many are leaving institutionalized churches or at least becoming estranged and detached from them. Instead, they have become infatuated with esoterics, New Age and various forms of "spirituality". The influx of foreigners in many European countries has tipped the scales in ways that no one could have imagined a few years ago. When we first arrived in Austria, 94% of the population was Roman Catholic and 4% Lutheran. The other 2% included sects, atheist, Jews, Muslims and evangelicals. The second largest religious group in Austria today is now the Muslim religion and those claiming no religious belief whatsoever are even more numerous! Catholics and Lutherans baptize babies soon after birth, so they should show at least organic growth. But they have lost 20-30% of their membership in the past two decades. New humanism has had little influence in non-Christian religions. The Muslim religion, for example, places little value on truth, personal freedom and human life, of women in particular. Muslims believe in solidarity only when it relates to measures against Israel. Otherwise, they are a quarrelsome bunch that show little tolerance or concern for members of their own religion, let alone for Christians. Changes in evangelical churches are also worrisome, particularly the "feel-good" trend.
Old terminology takes on a new meaning in new humanism. Love is no longer a concern for the other person's welfare but a reciprocally pleasing relationship. Peace is achieved not by resolving differences, but living with or ignoring them.
EXAMPLE OF THE COLOR PALLET
Philosophers who preach new humanism like to use photography to illustrate its advantages. A photograph is made up of many colors, contrasts and shades. If we were to insist that one color is best and all others be eliminated as inferior, what would happen to the photo? I will respond to this question later, but this kind of argumentation has led to unprecedented freedom of expression. Until recently, adultery was considered wrong but now some argue that it can keep a marriage from becoming dull and boring. According to new humanism, it would be better to avoid marriage altogether and "seek a wide range of pleasing relationships which would enhance our color pallet".
PROBLEMATIC COLORS – OR IS IT OUR PERCEPTION?
As already stated, convictions and principles based on truth, on the truth of God's Word in particular, have no place on the color palette of new humanists. The success of new humanism depends upon the elimination of absolutes and truth is by nature unbending and therefore intolerable.
It is not easy to eliminate truth after centuries of being "brainwashed by religion". Some prefer to speak of "facts", but there is really no difference between fact and truth. Others attempt to make the truth relative. They argue that people have different perceptions of truth which are all legitimate. As an example, they explain that some people cannot recognize certain colors, or that some shades are very close and difficult to distinguish. The problem lies with our perception, however, and not in the colors. And if we fail to recognize truth, we are to blame.
Interestingly, politicians are still expected to keep their promises after getting elected. But their dishonesty is soon forgiven because we are tolerant. Witnesses in courtrooms are told to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth", but many do not and the consequences are minimal, because there are times when we too find lying convenient. Customers get irate when they buy a product that doesn't live up to the manufacturer's claims, but they continue buying it. "After all, it is only advertising." Christians forgive, but there is a big difference between a forgiving spirit and the spirit of toleration. Forgiveness is granted to those who do wrong, but according to tolerance, there can be no wrong, so you just tolerate.
Europeans laugh about America's "religious fanaticism and antiquated puritan attitudes" Smoking is not allowed in most public places and people are not permitted to go naked on public beaches. There is little that a European cannot tolerate today and European Christians have also been infected by the tolerant spirit of new humanism. Many evangelical churches are more characterized by solidarity and tolerance than their adherence to doctrinal truth.
Our children's school bus stop was right in front of a movie marquee that always showed livid scenes from the pornographic films they were showing. I suggested to the Deacons of the Baptist Church, that they formulate a letter of protest, but they responded by saying, "The kids might as well get used to it;
that's life." Shortly afterwards, we were visiting the home of one of the deacons. Our children quit playing with their children, but came in to sit with the adults. We asked why, and they said, "Their kids are in bed with no clothes on, playing adult". The parents just laughed!
Unfortunately, America is not far behind Europe. Tolerance has become the predominant religion in this country. Some Christians were upset about Bill Clinton's sex escapades, but the majority of Americans thought the President's behavior was his own private matter and showed toleration. Few Christians have a problem with worldliness and materialism, which the New Testament defines as idolatry! Christians watch shows on TV that their parents would have called immoral or even pornographic. Even open immorality among fellow believers and members of the church causes little more than a raised eyebrow – and gossip. If Christians have reservations or convictions about a situation or deed, they frequently shut up and tolerate. If they do speak out, however, fellow Christians may accuse them of being unloving (intolerant).
Considering the godlessness of most Europeans, some Americans wonder that they, unlike Americans, tolerate crucifixes in school classrooms and manger scenes in public parks. But these have no meaning to Europeans. Like the huge cathedrals, they are simply artifacts of the past. When truth becomes an icon of the past, Americans too will tolerate Bibles in school and the Ten Commandments in a courthouse. But for now, these mean too much to too many and it is therefore a hot issue.
WITHOUT BLACK AND WHITE, NO COLOR!
The combination of all colors may produce white or black. It just depends on whether the colors are solids or colored lights. Solid colors are dependant on light, however, and not vice versa. We get rainbow colors by splitting light with water, glass or prisms. You can live in a world full of rich, bright colors, but if there is no light, you grope in the darkness.
It is the same with the truth. When we walk in truth, we walk in the light and our lives can be colorful and fulfilling. Those who don't walk in truth can never find true satisfaction or purpose in life. Nor do they have any reliable means of recognizing happiness or determining what is worthwhile, detrimental or dangerous to their own well-being. New humanists don't like absolutes, but tolerance without a standard is absolute nonsense!
Our world is floating and drifting aimlessly with no values, purpose or direction. We pool our resources, float currencies and the stock markets are based on supply and demand. Air and water are cheap because they are plentiful, so we get wasteful and don't hesitate to pollute them. Yet air and water are our most important and useful commodities. We can live weeks without food, but only days without water and minutes without air. Because it costs very little to pump oil out of the ground and refine it, this commodity too is cheap. In a hundred years, it will be vastly different if man is still around.
There are myriads of examples of the world's truthless values system which should shock us. But we have become tolerant and nothing shocks us anymore. Experts estimate that over 500,000 women from formerly Communist countries are now enslaved as prostitutes in Western Europe. Their "protectors" are wealthy and European men get what they want, so the government is only concerned that they pay their income tax on this legal but dirty trade. That is Europe, you say. Have you read the want ads in your newspaper lately? Dating websites are the second highest source of income for the internet, outflanking commercial enterprises and only surpassed by porno peddlers.
The most dangerous place in the world today, is in a mother's womb. In America, the chances of getting out alive stand at 3 to 1. Anyone who damages the egg of an American eagle can be fined $5,000. But doctors earn plenty for performing abortions and the clinics earn millions more, marketing tissues and organs from the human fetus. The older a child is at the time of its aborting, the more valuable he or she is for such purposes. There is of course much more that I could mention, but these two examples must suffice.
NOT SOLIDARITY AND TOLERANCE, BUT GRACE AND TRUTH!
God demands absolute obedience to His commands and allows no room for tolerance! Nor can he, for he is perfect. But fortunately for us, God is also love. He loves us so much, that he sent his Son to die for us in order that we might be forgiven and be freed from darkness to walk in the light. That is why the Bible declares that Jesus is full of grace and truth. Grace is God's answer to man's transgression of the truth. If we accept God's provision for grace, we can enter into the wonderful realm of grace and truth.
The truth is intolerant, but truth does not stand alone. Since Calvary, grace and truth are united in one person; Jesus Christ. God can not tolerate evil and disobedience, but he loves all men and women. God's love alone was not enough to rescue us from His judgment. God MUST judge every departure from truth and He did just that! Jesus Christ, God's Son paid for our sin. That is why the Apostle John wrote in the beginning of his gospel,
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
The central theme of the New Testament is forgiveness. Jesus lived three intensive years with 12 men who didn't meet God's standards. Jesus didn't tolerate them, but he loved them and forgave them. He would have forgiven Judas, had he asked. But Judas went to a priest to confess his sin instead. He even offered money in hopes of undoing his sin. But God expects perfection and there is nothing we can do to pay for our sins to make them good. All that we are and have is a gift of God or obtained dishonestly. We have earned nothing but judgment, so how could we do anything for our own salvation? But Jesus offers forgiveness to all who repent and believe. One of the criminals who was crucified with Christ repented and asked for salvation. He didn't get baptized or join a church, but he is in heaven because he went to the right person. Jesus is full of grace and truth.
In what we call "The Lord's Prayer" (actually an example for us), we are told to ask God to forgive us just like we forgive others. Forgiveness is much more than toleration. Tolerance doesn't love, and separated from the truth, it has no value whatsoever. Grace and truth are found only in Jesus.
Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth" (Is. 42:3). Love is humble, caring and self sacrificing (I Corinthians 13). Jesus told his followers,
"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples; if you have love one for another" (John. 13:35). He didn't say we should tolerate each other or that we had to agree. We are to love and forgive each other just as Christ forgave us.
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision (Daniel 2). He saw the giant image of a man, with a head of gold, breast of silver, thighs of bronze, legs of iron and finally, feet of iron mixed with clay. Like that mixture of iron and clay, solidarity and tolerance does not make a solid foundation. Nor can tolerant egoists attain solidarity. There is no such thing as tolerance without a value, norm or standard. The image of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream was crushed by a "rock not made with hands" and it not only fell, but was ground to dust by the rock.
Jesus Christ founded his church on a rock that was not made with hands, on the Word of God – truth. The church will withstand all efforts of wicked men to destroy it ("The gates of hell shall not prevail against it"). Jesus said,
"I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father except through me." That is a very dogmatic statement, but Jesus allowed no room for tolerance.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most logical, dependable and reasonable answer to all of this world's needs and problems. The Bible is truth and I believe it. I don't believe the Bible because millions of others down through history have done so, although this is so. Nor do I believe the Bible because gifted and noble personages have convinced me of its value. I believe because I have come to know the author and found that He keeps His Word. His Word is truth!
Anyone who lives according to God's Word will have the same experience. That is not just my promise, but God's. One of my favorite verses from the Bible is found in John 7:17. Jesus was asked to prove that his words were from God. He answered by saying,
"If any man will do his [God's] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself". If you are wondering what to believe, the key lies in the first part of this verse. If you are willing to DO what is right in God's eyes, you can recognize the truth. If you insist that there is no God or truth and that you yourself are the center of the universe around which everything revolves, you have the other option. Iron and clay.
Where is civilization headed? None of know the answer to that question, but we can all know where we are headed! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no man or woman can attain salvation and spend eternity with God except through faith in him who paid the price for our disobedience. He is full of grace and truth.
Ralph V. Harvey