Beyond Belief – What Lies Behind Today’s Disturbing Headlines?

Many Americans now rely on the Internet as their primary source for news.  Online sites such as the Drudge Report collect headlines from around the nation and world, enabling users to point and click their way into the leading stories of the day.  The following are samples of news headlines from Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

Rioting in London

Police lose control of London's streets for THIRD night...

Rioters rob people on street, force them to strip naked...

Cops: Youth pastor secretly filmed teen girls showering at church...

Obama to scrap testing requirements; too many students failing...

Army approves atheism-themed concert at Fort Bragg...

Philadelphia Implements Strict Curfew To Combat Violent Mobs...

Thieves Lift Six A/C Units Over 6-Foot Fence At Church...

OBAMAGEDDON...

CURSED: S&P falls 6.66%

OBAMA: MORE SPENDING!

 

What in the world is going on?!  People are rioting in the streets in multiple countries around the world.  Mobs of violent teenagers are harnessing social media’s instantaneous messaging capabilities to schedule flash mobs in numerous U.S. cities.  Utopian government programs are failing.  Ridiculous, irresponsible economic policies are being adopted.  Crimes which were unimaginable yesterday are now committed weekly.

It seems that the top has blown off the world’s sanity.  Nothing seems to matter anymore; no one seems to care.  Culture’s basic courtesies and protections are no longer reliable.  As uncertainty grows, so do people’s fears, all of which provokes even more senselessness.  What in the world is going on?

I believe the answer is tied to a fancy-sounding term called post-modernity.  I’ll describe what it is and how we landed in the middle of it in a moment, but let me just say that we now live in a post-modern culture.

If you’re the type who keeps your eye on culture and questions why society moves and shifts in certain directions, then perhaps you have come across this term, post-modern.  Astute cultural observers introduced it a few years ago as a way of saying that Western culture has now moved beyond what we once called modern; it is now post-modern.

A little background might be helpful.  Let’s oversimplify Western culture’s development over the past five hundred years (and by Western culture, I mean primarily European and North American culture).  During that time, we progressed from traditional to modern to post-modern.

The traditional viewpoint regarding life, meaning, and eternity was shaped by the pervasive influence of the Holy Bible.  Its teachings permeated every corner of European civilization in the years following the Protestant Reformation.

Up until then, mankind had been kept largely ignorant, illiterate, ill-informed, and powerless.  The Reformation, however, sparked a revolution that swept through Europe.  The masses were soon educated; they were taught to read.  And thanks to the printing press’ recent invention, scores of books were available.  Scholarship, exploration, and science soared in the aftermath.

The proliferation of the Bible and its cohesive story of the meaning of life, man, and eternity provided a sturdy foundation from which cultures flourished.  People believed in God, and they embraced their role as His creatures.  They read in Scripture that all of life was to be lived to His glory, so they embraced this God honoring path and lived life to the fullest.

They saw meaning in their individual lives and decisions.  Each person held inestimable value, because they bore God’s imprint.  Right and wrong were absolute, because God declared them to be so in Scripture.  Life on earth resonated in eternity, because, as Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

In short, man’s view of life in the traditional era was shaped by the Bible.  He recognized that he was God’s creature and needed, as such, to place his belief in the gospel as the only means to enter heaven.  This was the driving force that swept through Europe.  It was the wind in the sails of the Pilgrims’ Mayflower.  It is the bedrock upon which the United States was founded.  Ultimate meaning was found in God alone.

Gradually, however, Western culture began to shift.  It became, in time, modern.  In spite of the shift, however, mankind’s ultimate goal remained consistent; in other words, he still believed in life beyond death; he believed in God; he believed in mankind’s amazing capacity for growth and advancement; he believed that life holds great meaning; he believed that life on earth resonates in eternity.

Lady leaps to safety in London riot

What changed with modernity was the path to reach heaven; what it takes to achieve ultimate meaning.  As opposed to embracing the literal gospel story, modern man substituted other means for reaching God.  This gave birth to what is called The Enlightenment Period.  Educated man now saw himself differently.  He was no longer ignorant and oppressed.  He was free to think, learn, create, and build.  He observed his great inventions.  He saw the rapid change of the world, as it transformed from ancient to modern before his very eyes.  Vast advances in science, medicine, travel, technology, production, and education prompted man to see himself as his own savior.

Make no mistake, people still thought transcendent thoughts; in other words, they still believed by in large in a higher power (He might or might not be the God of the Bible) and eternity.  They just shifted their view of what it takes to attain the splendor of the afterlife (and many still considered this to be the paradise of heaven).

Modernity’s radical shift essentially lowered God’s status and elevated man’s.  People still believed in God, but He was no longer needed in any real, practical way for everyday life.  Nor was He needed for reaching heaven; Enlightened man was fully capable of forging his own way.  In short, man was in love with man; he was in love with his innate goodness and his ability to reach new heights and solve any world problem.

Then, World War II happened.  Mankind was suddenly forced to acknowledge humanity’s dark side; we were not as pure and pristine as we had thought.  The presence of evil popped up around the globe, whether it was Hitler’s Holocaust, or Stalin’s wholesale slaughter of millions of Russians, or Mao’s atrocious tyranny in China.

Allied troops forced SS officer Eichelsdoerfer, the commandant of the Kaufering IV concentration camp, to stand among the corpses of prisoners killed in his camp

Whereas Western culture had believed it could create its own path to heaven (modernity), it now realized that it could not.  Modernity had built its own ladder to heaven, leaving behind the gospel (tradition) as the only means.  But when mankind’s wickedness kicked the modern ladder away, what died as a result was belief.

Enter post-modernity.  In the aftermath of man’s atrocities in the 20th century, entire cultures lost their belief in transcendence.  God “died” as a result.  Absolute truth – right and wrong – which had been embraced for centuries, was no longer believed.  Heaven and hell, once seen as literal realities, were increasingly seen as myths.  Human beings, once esteemed as God’s precious creatures, were now seen in existentialist ways; in other words, “might makes right”; survival of the fittest explains life; evolution makes sense; the afterlife is a naïve myth for weak people; life doesn’t resonate in eternity, because there is no eternity – here and now is all there is.

These thoughts represent post-modernity…and we are living smack-dab in the middle of it in the U.S. and around the world.  God has been kicked aside, as has any semblance of moral truth taught in the Bible.  Mankind no longer believes in anything…so anything goes.

I contend this is what lies behind today’s troubling news headlines.  Young thugs live packed together in urban jungles where they have never known traditional families and timeless values.  Ultimate meaning eludes them.  They have never seen the fruits of hard work.  They know only darkness and “might makes right.”  With no meaning to cling to, no God to love, and no hope, why wouldn’t they organize into roving bands of violent thugs?

Looting in London riot

Around the world, as one economy after another topples as a direct result of socialist driven economics, why should we be surprised by rioting?  When nations ignore God’s timeless wisdom which says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), why should we be surprised that recipients of entitlement programs are now angry that their “cut” of someone else’s tax money is being cut?

We have created selfish, lazy beasts, and they are now hungry!  They rattled their cages for a while; now, they’re racing through the streets, looting businesses and ruthlessly attacking people, and they have no idea why they’re behaving in such manner.  They are responding on impulse, because they never learned that many impulses are sinful (tradition).  Remember, once God was “killed,” His morality and truth died with Him.  Once ultimate meaning and longings for heaven were dashed on the altar of post-modernity, man no longer saw the direct tie between his present behavior and his place in eternity.  With God “dead,” there was no place for His role as Creator anymore; meaning that mankind no longer sees value in those around him.  Just as one beast attacks a weaker one, savage, godless humans follow suit.

What a grim picture I paint!  But this is where we are.  We live in a post-modern world.  I suppose I could accurately substitute the word “godless” for post-modern.  And this brings me to the only ray of hope in this otherwise dreary article.

What has never changed in the midst of the endless cultural changes is that God is alive!  His word is as true today as when He first breathed it.  His power is as matchless today as when He spoke the universe into existence.  Demons still fear Him, kings are still subservient to Him, weather patterns still obey Him, and His gospel is as alive today as the day Christ rose from the dead.

Rather than running in fear, Christ’s followers today should press on with greater intensity than ever with the risen Lord’s final charge: “Go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Our powerful Holy Spirit has not faded even a shade.  Our marching orders have not been rescinded.  God’s gospel is powerful unto salvation.  If the Lord can save the savage man within whom the legion of demons dwelt (see Mark 5), He can save anyone!  Our dark, post-modern times desperately need the gospel.  It is their last hope and our only hope for restoring safety and order to a disordered world.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK