Colson begins by looking at who we are. Darwin postulated we arrived because of chance and thus human life is no more sacred than that of animals, as there is no difference between us other than abilities. Although held up as a scientific theory in today’s culture, Colson asserts that Darwinism is really a scientific justification for a philosophy, a worldview without a deity. This philosphy was a little hard to reconcile without some scientific argument, thus the staunch support of Darwinism even by some people who thought his theory was bunk. Darwin himself notes that a biological function that is impossible without all of its pieces existing at the same time would doom his theory, and several of these, like blood clotting, have been found. He also notes that tenets of the Darwin faith have found themselves valuing human nature more than that of animals (Carl Sagan being a notable example).
Proponents of all worldviews all agree that the world is not how it should be, but they disagree on the problem. Historically humanity has tended to believe that there are absolute standards and we have transgressed these standards. With Rousseau, Thoreau we began to think that humans are basically good, and with Freud and Skinner we found we were progressing upwards toward a better society, thinking that Colson dubs the “Escalator Myth.” Yet Colson finds that utopian societies inevitably end up tyrannical—we are basically good, so our government (or organization) is basically good, so the government knows better than we do (being the collective will), so it should enforce this will. In one of the most effective examples in the book, he offers the example of Synanon, originally a drug-abuse collective that became a cult as the leader took on more and more control of the community for the community’s good.
So what are the solutions to the problem of bettering society? The implications of the “Escalator Myth” have been worked out in various forms in the twentieth century. We have tried sexual liberation but the results have been diseases and broken families (which engenders crime). We tried science, but our increased technology does not seem to have fixed our nature much, and Stephen Hawking even suggests that we may need intervention by a more advanced extra-terrestrial race to keep us from destroying ourselves. We tried despair—the world is truly pointless—but then the only logical thing is to do like Hemingway, in suicide. We have tried the New Age method of advancing through mental discipline of learning that we are perfect or that we actually are God, despite all appearances to the contrary. And then there is Christianity, where we are hopelessly lost, but saved by god who died for us in order to restore us.
Our culture is destroying itself through the legacy of faulty thinking, leading to our current postmodern culture where there is no truth besides the paramount value of being able to choose our values, no matter how harmful. Colson offers solutions in various fields. He suggests that we return to a search for Truth. This was the basis for Science, it was the basis for Ethics (how should we live in relation to the Truth), it was the basis of Western education. He suggests that secular work and the arts are important, that Christians should contribute, offering examples of some who have. He offers many examples of governmental policies reincorporating the values Christians have always championed, with great effect—less crime in New York City, and lower divorce rates in cities with marital counselling. Colson suggests that Christians evangelize their values and then their faith, rather than the other way around. Finally, he suggests simply as the apostle Paul suggests: seek whatever is pure and noble, specifically classical literature, great art, excellent music, etc.
Colson has written an examination of the modern worldview, from its source to its implications, through the maturity of the thought and the years. He is thorough, examining many aspects of how modernist thinking has led to its historical results in our culture. He examines the culture’s sacred cows in a way that never really happens within the culture. Unfortunately, the book is much longer than it needs to be, which leads to frustration when reading it. Someone said “this letter is long because I lack the time to make it short” and this is applicable here. Some chapters were clearly written independently, repeating information in a deja vu manner. Some of the examples, the Synanon and New York police officer, are perfect examples, despite their length. Others... aren’t so effective. And perhaps it is a weak criticism, but Colson seems preachy, constantly repeating that only Christianity offers a viable worldview, although he offers fairly convincing evidence that, of the two, the Christian worldview is more tenable. (The difficulty is in the “only”, as he never examines the presumed failures of Islam and Buddhism, two other rather enduring worldviews.)
I believe David Geisler said that Christianity is no longer a plausible in the eyes of today’s culture. Colson examines the problem more deeply: the belief that people are good has changed our worldview and until this changes, more evangelism is not the answer. Before Christianity can even become plausible, we need to debate the worldview itself. This is a book openly about worldviews, a welcome change from the culture at large, where the worldview is assumed but never discussed (as with all worldviews). Definitely a useful read.
Content is good and fairly well organized, although the organization was not so clear until I began writing this review. Writing is rushed. Mental note: do not expect good writing from any book where one of the authors is in smaller type. Good examples and arguments, but Colson tends to assert a little more often than he backs it up. Overall fairly good but the writing really drags it down—I was really frustrated while reading it, because the book has the potential to be so much better (and shorter), yet I still had to slog through it because the content was worth reading (but not so worth reading that it overcomes the writing). By contrast, A Brief History of Time, explains complicated physics so excellently that almost anyone can understand the book, which is rather short.
- “As Christian apologist Peter Kreeft says in his brilliant satire
‘The World’s Last Night,’ we have a society in which the ‘one intrinsic
good, self-justifying end, self-evident value, meaning of life, and
non-negotiable absolute is sex.’” (p. 119)
- “And this is precisely the postmodernist impasse: We want freedom from rules and transcendent moral principles, but we hate the moral chaos that ensues.” (p. 409)
- Broken window principle: the appearance of someone not
caring leads people to feel that if no one cares to fix the window, no
one will care if they break the others, or do drug deals at the house,
or on the street corner.