Many among the secular ruling elites (even at the local level) cannot begin to grasp or even imagine that some of their fellow-citizens would base their actions upon theological considerations or upon high ethical principle. This is inconceivable to them and will lead them to conclude that these poor (Christian) people are either ignorant or are irrationally acting against their own best interests or are trying to establish a theocracy; such deluded people must of course be stopped and re-educated. Those who seek to be consistently Christian will be met with an attitude of condescension and hostility, in response to which will be required a significant measure of fortitude, patience, and grace as they seek to communicate the gospel and to live accordingly amidst a perverse culture.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. . . . And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:18, 28, ESV).
It is worthy of more than passing notice that some quite capable minds have seen the twentieth century—a century which could be seen as particularly characteristic of the modern era—as one which sought to banish God from human consciousness and human life. The first phrase of Romans 1:28, quoted above, could be said to provide a fitting epigram for the century, a phrase aptly rendered by Greek lexicographer J. H. Thayer: “they did not think God worthy to be kept in knowledge.” The significance of such a designation is that the twentieth century has perhaps been—among all the centuries of human history—the most willfully destructive of human life, the most stridently expressive of the human rebellion against the moral order instilled by God in the universe, and the most perversely detrimental to human culture and human flourishing. The twenty-first century is merely seeing the continued outworking of these tendencies.
Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, describes the influence of the “modern naturalism” which had arisen in the late seventeenth century with English Deism and had recently come to full fruition (“it has at length run to seed in our own day”).
It has invaded with its solvent every form of thought and every activity of life. It has given us a naturalistic philosophy (in which all ‘being’ is evaporated into ‘becoming’); a naturalistic science (the single-minded zeal of which is to eliminate design from the universe); a naturalistic politics (whose first fruits was the French Revolution, and whose last may well be an atheistic socialism); a naturalistic history (which can scarcely find place for even human personality among the causes of events); and a naturalistic religion, which says ‘Hands off’ to God….”
In retrospect, Warfield’s observations seem prophetic of the entire century.
No less an intellect than the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, attempting to identify the salient characteristic of the twentieth century, put his finger on human forgetfulness of God. In his Templeton Lecture (delivered in London in 1983), after mentioning the disaster which had befallen his homeland in the Russian Revolution, Solzhenitsyn continued: “if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entiretwentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘Men have forgotten God’”—a Russian saying recalled from his youth. He went on to affirm, “The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.”
Solzhenitsyn’s suggestion finds support in the later work of Peter Conrad, an Australian literary scholar, lately of Oxford University. Conrad defines the project of the twentieth century, displayed in its art, as the banishment of God and God’s replacement by man. As the twentieth century began—under the influence of the mighty changes of the nineteenth century—“its plot seemed radiantly clear: in the future, men would replace God.” But along the way, it became apparent that “The older version of human nature . . . was far from obsolete, and history seemed to demonstrate that man remained a savage.” On the last page of the book, Conrad concludes, “Modernity had a single, simple project, carried through in all fields of mental endeavor. Declining to give God credit for creation, it took the world to pieces.” It is striking that a cultural historian, with no apparent religious axe to grind, should identify anti-theism or the “death of God” theme as the central feature of twentieth-century culture. He mentions it not merely at the beginning and the end of his account, but repeatedly throughout.
That this anti-theistic outlook was the driving force of the twentieth century is lent credibility by a review of the origins of the disastrous and destructive events of that century. The first half of the century was marked by two horrific world wars and communist revolutions in Russia and China. Both world wars (1914-18; 1939-45) arguably originated with Germany, which in the preceding century had adopted and advanced a destructive intellectual movement, historical criticism of the Bible, which was based on naturalistic premises and required the elimination of a personal and infinite God from any explanation of the origin of the Bible and the events it records. The second of these wars involved the explicit effort to eradicate European Jews, the people who were instrumental in giving to the world the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament), including the Ten Commandments. The two communist revolutions (Russia in 1917, China in 1949) were both explicitly atheistic, as Marx’s ideology prescribed. Taken together, these two wars and two revolutions resulted in the deliberate deaths of untold hundreds of millions of human beings, making the twentieth century the most deliberately deadly in all human history. All this was undertaken against the background or in the interest of the banishment of God—the God of the Bible—from human consciousness.
The same tendency was evident in the internal cultures of the nations of the West during the first half of the century. Historical criticism of the Bible became the accepted mode of removing the biblical worldview from serious engagement by educated people in both Europe and the United States.