Humanism, Infallibility, and Money (1)

The Last Days of Humanism

R.J. Rushdoony

In the days before Martin Luther, Europe actually had more peace than it had enjoyed for some generations. There was more prosperity, conditions in every respect were materially far better than Europe had known for generations, or was likely to know again for a century or more. And yet, in the generation prior to Martin Luther, Europe lived, according to one scholar who was by no means a Christian, to use his expression; “In a universal dread of dissolution.” In a fear of impending doom. It was the end of an age.

The medieval church was no longer providing a foundation for people spiritually. There was no longer a faith for living and a faith behind the institutions and the forms of life. And so, men were deeply distressed, filled, as this historian AG Dickens had said, filled with; “…a universal dread of dissolution.”

All around them there signs of decay. The universities for some time had been a battle ground and there were wandering groups of professional students who went from campus to campus doing little but creating disturbance. They were known as ‘the Goliards,’ folksingers of their day. Carrying their musical instruments on their backs, going onto the campus strumming songs, having mock worship; it was rumored but never proven or disproven that they had their secret bishop, and conducted their own blasphemous rites. They were dropouts, at war with the establishment of the day, sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Because we too, today, are at the end of an age in the last days of humanism and all around us we find the children of humanism protesting, turning against their own world, against their own establishment, because it doesn’t deliver and they no longer believe in its promises. Recently, a cartoonist caught the spirit of the whole thing with a very telling cartoon. He showed a bearded, unhappy hippy parading with a picket sign down the street as a sad prophet of doom, and on his sign were the letters;

“We are doomed, the world will not end”.

That of course expressed the mood. The end of the world is no longer a frightening fact for people. It’s the idea of this world continuing on and on and on as it is. This is the mood of men at the end of an era, men lose faith in the ability of that culture to maintain the necessities of a bearable life let alone fulfill the promises which the culture makes.

Let us turn back the pages again to another time at the end of an age. The last days of Rome. There were two great men who chronicled the events of that time; one was St. Augustine, The City of God, the other was Salvian. In some respects, I find myself enjoying Salvian a little more, because I find his observations are sharper, are relevant to us today and Salvian gives us a vivid picture of the collapse of morality and morale throughout the empire. The citizens had lost all desire to defend Rome. There was neither faith nor morality. A welfare state was exacting higher and higher taxes, until they had reached the point of confiscation. There was no law and order, so there was no safety for any man and his wife and children, and Salvian tells us that some people actually picked up what little possessions they had and they walked towards the barbarians saying; “We will be robbed once and our womenfolk will be raped once and it will be over and we will not be living in the perpetual nightmare of lawlessness that we have here in Rome.” There was a tremendous centralization of power, but no enforcement; more and more laws, but no enforcement or any morality, until finally there was no desire left on anyone’s part to defend Rome.

Rome was not overthrown, it collapsed. The millions of Romans were unable and unwilling to defend themselves against the few tens of thousands of barbarian tribes who simply wandered in, and took city after city, and finally sacked Rome with no resistance. The presbyter Savlian tells us of Rome; “It is dying but continues to laugh.” He was present during the barbarian seizure of Trier, and he gives us a frightening picture of it. He said that even as the streets were filled with the cries of the ravished and the dying, the shouts of those who were enjoying the races in the arena were drowning them out. And when the invasion of the city was completed, and the arena burned to the ground, and the barbarians had passed on, the men who were still alive of the city council gathered together, and they sent a petition to Rome to the Emperor asking that he rebuild the arena so that the games and the circuses could be established for the morale of the people. Rome was dying, “…but it continued to laugh.”

Salvian gives us a vivid picture of the new morality of his day of the impurities of the theater and of the circus. William Carrol Bark, a Stanford historian, calls attention to Salvian’s observations, and he comments;

“Few observers of this period of history can have failed to ponder the fact that millions of Romans were vanquished by scores of thousands of Germans. According to Salvian it was not by the natural strength of their bodies that the barbarians conquered, nor by the weakness of their nature that the Romans were defeated. It was the Romans’ moral vices that alone overcame them. Narrow as it is, this judgment by one very close to the events remains respectable. As for the men of more exalted position, the well educated noble men who fled to the barbarians in order to escape the persecution and injustice that prevailed among the Romans, it is clear that they, like their poor compatriots, had given up hope of obtaining justice and protection from the Roman state and its law. Their flight confirms the fact that in large areas of the Western empire, public spirit and public justice had disappeared and that men were obliged to act privately and locally in matters that had formerly been regulated by central governmental authority.”

Rome died, why? Rome had become humanistic, to the core. This is implicit in the philosophy of Rome from the very beginning. The one basic law in Rome which progressively took action was this; ‘the health (or the welfare) of the people is the highest law.’ Now, over the centuries this law was applied more and more systematically, so that the republic gave way to the empire and the empire progressively did that which the Republic had not done: catered to the mob. A welfare mob was created. Relief was not enough, it had to be bread and circuses. So they were given free housing, apartment houses were built for them, they were given food, and they were given free tickets to the circus so they could go to the arena and see the Christians thrown to the lions. They were given free wine, but of course they always wanted more, and Aurelian, in 274 AD, gave way to another demand. The mob was becoming concerned it was traumatic for their young people when they became old enough to marry to have to go down on and apply for relief, it really hurt their feelings! And so what was the demand of the mob? They had cradle to grave security, they wanted welfare for their children without application, and so Aurelian and the government said that every child born to every welfare family will have welfare as his birthright. He won’t have to apply and answer a lot of nosy questions from our officials. And his children and his children’s children will all have welfare as a birthright. Of course, the mob was happy, and the coins of that year, 274 AD, celebrated Aurelian as ‘our savior and our god.’ But the poor man had nothing to deliver the next year, so they killed him.

All this sounds familiar does it not? The health of the people, the welfare of the people, is the highest law. So this meant progressive integration downward; integration downward into the void. And of course, when you have integration downward, it is to the lowest common denominator, and the lowest common denominator begins to govern. So you create a new incentive for each group to be the lowest common denominator to become lower than the previous lowest common denominator. We have a group in Los Angeles that boasted it is tougher, more violent, and further out then the Black Panthers, and they’re right. Integration downward into the void. ‘The welfare of the people is the highest law,’ so you get new definitions of welfare continually to drive you downward. That’s humanistic law, and Rome was destroyed by that humanistic law.

Our civilization, our culture today is not Christian, it is humanistic. The thing that governs the supreme court is an established religion named ‘humanism.’ In its ecclesiastical form its name is ‘modernism,’ in its philosophical form its name is ‘existentialism.’ They’re all the same thing, just different facets of one common faith. It is no wonder that our age is called ‘the modern age,’ our age reveals itself by its name. The concept of ‘modernity’ is new in history. Five hundred years ago they did not consider themselves ‘modern.’ What is the basic principle of ‘modernity’ and of humanism? It is the belief in the relativity of all truth, coupled together with an evolutionary concept of man and history. Modernity means that the present moment is its own truth, and that true freedom requires that the spirit of an age be free to fulfill itself without reference to past laws or higher truths.

One of the most powerful humanists, and a Unitarian of the last century was OB Frothingham, whose dates were 1822 to 1895. And OB Frothingham was decisive in his input. He defined the spirit of humanism and modernity in these words from his book The Religion of Humanity or The Religion of Humanism;

“The interior spirit of any age is the spirit of God, and no faith can be living that has that spirit against it. No church can be strong except in that alliance. The life of the time appoints the creed of the time, and modifies the establishment of the time.”

Now when Frothingham used the word ‘God,’ he did not mean any God beyond a supernatural personal God. He meant literally that the spirit of any age, man’s spirit, and in any age is the spirit of the god of that age. And that the spirit of the age is the only binding quality of that age. It is the infallible voice for that age, and therefore, anyone who denies the spirit of the age is then denying God, the God of that day. Now this is existentialism.

Existentialism says that man is to be determined not by any laws above and beyond him or behind him in the past, but by the existential moment, that is the moment uninfluenced by the past or above but purely by the biology of the moment. This is the new morality, you do that which pleases you. This is humanism. The spirit of an age is thus its god and is beyond judgment by that age, being infallible and inspired precisely, because of its total humanism; its total modernity. Now the roots of this are Kant and Hegel. They are present in their fruits in all our philosophy today, and virtually all our theology. They exalt the moment, they are hostile to the past and to higher law, and they are characterized, religiously, by what a French scholar who was a champion of this faith, Georges Bataille, has called; “the religious spirit of transgression.”

The religious spirit of transgression. Now, in terms with this faith, this concept, so beautifully expressed by Bataille, what is a truly religious man? For humanism? For modernity? For modernists? It is the one who systematically breaks the laws of the past. The truly religious people of our day in terms of humanism, are the student rebels, the rioters in the ghetto areas, and the religious revolutionists who gathered together and created new forms, new creeds, new rights for the church in contempt of all that represents the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints. Because the religious spirit of humanism is this spirit of transgression. The greater the transgression, in other words, the greater the faith and the religiousness in terms of this humanistic faith. You’ve got to give these people credit. The children of darkness are more zealous and wiser too often than the children of light. They are living rigorously, zealously, intensely in terms of their faith.

But this modernist age, this humanistic age is dying around us. It has been rich in its promises to man, it has offered cradle to grave security, but that’s an impossibility. Scripture tells us concerning life and this world that it is; “…founded upon the seas and established upon the floods.” A totally precarious foundation. That’s why God drove man out of the garden of Eden, that he have no security in sin. And so all history is; “…founded upon the seas and established upon the floods…,’ by the sovereign providence and decree of God. So cradle to grave security doesn’t work. But humanism has promised it.

Humanism has promised equality but equality is a myth, an impossibility. ‘Equality’ is a term derived from mathematics. It deals with abstraction; two plus two equals four, both sides of the equation are equal. But when you turn to life, you are not dealing with abstraction. Can you say two Englishmen equal two Negroes? No, you cannot. Why? You have no way of knowing what the two Englishmen are, and what the two Negroes are. They may be, on either side, two godly men, or two hoodlums. Nor can you measure their abilities. There are so many, many things that characterize the man, that are beyond measurement. You cannot apply a concept that is derived from the most abstract of sciences to the human scene. But this is what they have done, the humanists, they have taken a concept from the most abstract of sciences and said; “we are applying it to mankind” and it doesn’t work! So again, humanism is failing. They promised a rich life for everybody, and they cannot deliver, they cannot deliver.

A friend of mine who taught school for a while in Watts, told me of what the belief of the children is, and she said they refused to learn. Why? Because they have been led to believe that they are entitled to the best houses in the best neighborhoods and they don’t have to learn anything, it is theirs by right. Those children are very good students, even though they are not learning how to read and write, they learned the basic lessons that humanism is teaching; ‘everything for everybody.’ What they have to learn is that humanism promises but it cannot deliver and this is why there is disillusionment, this is why you have the bitter hatred of the liberals, mind you, the liberals by the negroes and their violence.

All these glorious promises and no delivery, so they are turning on them to rend them and the whole society asunder. Men have been promised the abolition of poverty, ignorance, war, disease, even of death itself, and humanism is not delivering. The world gets a little more complicated and a little worse every day. Modern man believes, because he has been taught by his established religion, humanism, that he was going to have utopia, it was just a little ways away. First he became impatient at failure, and now he is outraged. And meanwhile all around us we see the growing collapse of humanism. Instead of giving us peace it is giving us more wars. Instead of a paradise on earth it is giving us wholesale pollution. Instead of giving us more life it is filling man with suicidal tendencies increasingly so that the suicide rate is ascending rapidly. In every area it is failing.

One of the signs of the end of an age is the prominence of psychology. In every civilization when you approach the end of an age, psychology suddenly blossoms as an important subject, whereas previously it had been relatively unimportant. Why? When man becomes a problem to himself then psychology become important. When man is confident, when he has a faith in terms of which he can live and act, he acts, he does, he’s not introspective. But, when his faith begins to fail and his age, his world around him begins to collapse, he suddenly makes psychology his most important subject, and he begins to analyze himself endlessly. And, as this man’s inner problems grow, his ability to cope with his outer one decreases. A psychology-oriented age is an age of decline. It is unsure of itself, it is incompetent in the face of responsibilities. A man who has to go to a psychiatrist, or to an institution, is a man who is either incapable of meeting his problems or responsibilities, or has collapsed in the face of them. And a psychology-oriented age is likewise an age incapable of coping with its problems, and collapsing in the face of them.

Then again, we have another word that is common to prominence in recent years: ‘alienation.’ ‘Alienation’ and ‘communication.’ Very interesting that those words are so prominent now. ‘Alienation’ is created by humanism, by modernity. Every man is his own god. Every man is a law unto himself and no communication between man and man in terms of God’s sovereign law and God’s grace. And so, the communication problem comes in. The loss of communication is the sign of an end of an age. The essential faith which binds man to man has then lost its cohesive power and men are strangers one to another. And then the popular reaction…today it’s with the Goliards at the end of the middle ages, and with similar groups in the last days of Rome: the dropout reaction. The children of humanism turned bitter. The dropout is a true believer in humanism, but bitter because of its failure to deliver its promises. So, the dropout shows his bitterness by conspicuous acts of offense, and of non-participation. He turns on the very things that created him. He rails at them because; “…you have promised and you cannot deliver.”

And as a result, we have around us, a growing dropout generation. Hundreds of thousands of youths today who are drifters across the United States. And the number is growing daily. It will not decrease because the public school only creates more and more dropouts. The essence of the dropout philosophy is existentialism which as we have seen is another word for humanism. Dr. Levi at the University of Indiana has said concerning Sartre, the great existentialist, that the heart of Sartre’s strategy for freedom is an attempt to destroy the decisiveness of the past. To cut off all roots, to be totally modern, totally humanistic, to have no influence from law, or from parents. Everything in modern education creates more and more of this every day.

What are educators teaching? I go across country quite often in the course of the year and I’ve heard student after student tell me across country what the professor of education is teaching. And the gist of it is this; that, as teachers when you go out you cannot teach a subject or a content because the world is changing, and the facts you think are important today are not going to be important when these young people grow up. There is no such thing as an unchanging absolute truth. All truth is relative. What are you going to teach then? There’s only one thing you can teach and that’s change. That the world is in perpetual change. Condition, therefore, your children to this idea; perpetual change, perpetual revolution. The miracle of the matter is that there are not more students who are dropouts than campus revolutionaries. This is what they’re educating for.

And so, humanism is going down the drain steadily. On all sides it is destroying itself. Every age, of course, has its problems. There has never been a time in any culture, any civilization, when man has not had problems, but the test of a healthy civilization is its ability to meet its problems and to maintain law and order. But our culture today is unable to cope with its problems. Humanism today has lost the most elementary ability of any culture. Namely the ability to discipline its own children. Whenever that ability is lost in any civilization it is gone. It’s only a question of time. Since it cannot discipline its children, how can it keep law and order in the streets? It is dead, and it is only a question of time before the corpse of humanism will be gone. Thus, the modern age is dying around us. In effect, it’s dead and it is only a question of time before it collapses, probably in blood. We do face dark days ahead, but this in of itself is a cause for hope.

The death of humanism is cause for hope because it makes possible the birth of a new culture. And such an event, however turbulent, is always an exciting, challenging venture. The times are ripe for another Reformation. God knows how deeply and desperately the church needs reformation today as much as it ever did in Luther’s and Calvin’s day. God knows that state and school are in far worse state than they were in Luther’s day, and in Calvin’s day. And the dying culture around us is losing its will to live. We have, therefore, a time of tremendous opportunity, a time to sound again the whole counsel of God, because the days are fast coming when every child of humanism will know that it has cried for bread and received a stone, and then they will turn to those who truly and faithfully preach the whole Word of God, who offer the bread of life and we should see again a great and a glorious Reformation.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting:

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