By Matthew C. Harrison
“René Descartes (1596–1650) … [is] credited as a foundational thinker in the development of Western notions of reason and science. His philosophy was built on the idea of radical doubt. … The only thing that remains true is that there is a mind or consciousness doing the doubting and believing its perceptions, hence the famous formulation, ‘I think therefore I am.’ ” (Kalantzis & Cope, Works & Days)
Modern-day thinkers have built a thoroughly humanistic worldview based on Descartes’ statement. The result? God has been dismissed as the essential cause of all things. This includes the removal of His Law and His moral authority. The theory of evolution moved philosophy and science to view life as the random result of chance events instead of God’s speaking and creating. In evolutionary theory, the family, the state, the church and notions of morality are human constructs that have resulted from myth, power, environment, chance and the will to survive.
Much of what we see today in society results from philosophies and teachings that, like those of Descartes, elevate humanity and thereby eliminate God and His Law. Man has become his own god. Without God’s Word, humanity finds morality in temporary constructs that may be adjusted to current circumstances. If there is no God, human life has no necessary, inherent or eternal value. A billion human lives have been sacrificed by abortion, a human “right” promoted by policies and governments. Some have killed babies as part of an international effort to “save the planet” from overpopulation, while animal suffering, death and extinction is opposed as great evil. Without God, humans decide the value, or lack thereof, of life. When mankind is not viewed as made in the image of God, human life has no more value than that of an animal.
Descartes’ idea, “I think, therefore I am,” shifts the basis for man’s identity away from God’s action to his own mind’s ability to conceptualize himself. Descartes’ teachings taught man to look inside himself — as man thinks he is, he is. It’s a short trip from “I think, therefore I am” to “I think I am male; therefore, my female body does not determine the reality of who I am.”
According to these ideas, the internal, hidden world of the mind trumps the visible, external world of the body (a self-destructive rejection of the Creator and the laws of science). Even small children, therefore, must be allowed to alter their bodily reality to align with their thoughts, and anyone who refuses to allow hormonal treatments or “sex change” surgeries stands in the way of the child’s “reality.” Absent any God-given sense of morality or a trust in the external visible reality of the created body, a child may be convinced that he or she is a she or he, or even an “it” or “they.” As the culture cheers, precious young lives are forever damaged.
A place for sinners
The cause of sexual dysphoria is complex, but the result is irrationality. The NCAA’s promotion of men competing in women’s sports demonstrates the absurdity of it all. Rational female athletes say, “Unfair!” Disney bears Descartes’ ideology as well, with its ubiquitous messages of “Follow your heart” or “I dream, therefore I become.” All this runs smack into common sense. Ideology has run afoul of natural law.
Consider other fruit of this way of thinking. The marriage rate is at its lowest in U.S. history. Pornography allows the indulgence of lust and every form of perverse inclination of the human mind. Loneliness, suicide, sexual abuse (particularly by adult males living with non-biological children), adultery and children born out of wedlock are at record levels. The sexual revolution has left record numbers of women as single mothers, a scenario that is, statistically, the No. 1 determiner of poverty. Recent stats show that homes in which only the mother attends church, as opposed to those in which both parents attend church with the children, have a much smaller likelihood of the children becoming adult churchgoers.
The socio-economic, psychological and even spiritual devastation caused by the decline of the nuclear family is devastating. The church is a welcome home for all of us sinners and must always be a place of compassion for hurting people, but the compassion must be formed by the Word of God.
Why are people suffering? Why such vast confusion? St. Paul lays it out clearly in Romans. The cause is sin, especially the grand sin of the rejection of the Creator, His creation and His law. It’s no wonder that the bishop of our Finnish partner church was prosecuted by the Finnish state for hate crimes, in part for producing a pamphlet that quoted the first chapter of Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation. … So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. …
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. … God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another. …
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. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom. 1:18–32)
Paul does not limit his accusations to matters of sex. He hits the culture head on. He also condemns all of our sins of deed and thought. Christians recognize their own sins. Jesus’ call to repentance is for all: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).
Thanks be to God, Paul delivered the Gospel in the same opening chapter of Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
So long as we are the church, we shall humbly preach this message of Law and Gospel for the eternal salvation of all who hear and believe. Indeed, we all suffer from our sin, and the church is always a place for sinners, of whom “I am chief.”
Descartes was wrong. It is not “I think, therefore I am.” It is, “I have a Creator and Redeemer, therefore I am.”
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Posted April 28, 2022