American withdrawal from Viet Nam has increasingly clarified the fact that the war in Asia was not really the prime cause of domestic unrest, even on the nation’s campuses. Liberal social critics routinely oversimplify the root dynamics of human behavior, concentrating on isolated issues and promoting short-range benefits. Soon radical activists will mass banners against some other ogre that presumably stands between us and utopia, and equally uncritically will blame this ogre in turn for the pervasive anarchy in modern life.

Such analysts take insufficient account of the totality of human experience. Their anguished concerns are too thin and narrow to cope with the main current of events. Demonstrative exercises in ego extraversion may attract gratifying media coverage, but they do not have a decisive influence upon the national mood.

University spokesmen today give multiple readings of the human predicament. But their verdicts lack a coherent view of the meaning, worth, and purpose of human existence. Campuses once offered students a persuasive and arresting life-and-world view. Today youth is trapped in a value-vacuum; integrating principles and ultimate purpose are largely forsaken concerns.

The universities themselves eclipse much of the knowledge available to man about his own nature and plight. Their approach to learning is mainly quantitative; students are caught in a data whirlpool and burdened with an overload of revisable information. The decline of intellectual tone on many campuses is attested by neglected library stacks and a growing faculty disposition to repeal many if not most fixed requirements for a degree, and even more by the evasive neglect of deeper questions of truth and value.

An inevitable result of rejecting the meaning that Christianity assigns to history and life is the adjustment of human affairs to unrealistic premises about the nature of reality and man. The assault on modern problems, whether personal or national and international, is then mounted in a dreamland of imaginative possibilities. Man is thought to supply by himself the plan of the cosmos and the plot of history. Instead of identifying his real predicament—that he is a pale shadow of what God intended him to be, a wretched spirit trapped in a labyrinth of moral shame, unable by his own devices to escape life gone flat and stale—man nominates himself to replace God as the measure of all things: everyman is his own lord and makes his own truth and right. Given this mythological transformation of the true nature of things, and its vain presumptions about the course of reality, the future can hold only a disenchanting climax that will lead to man’s own undoing.

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Small wonder that the problem of legitimating any and all authority haunts contemporary youth. Given the secular philosophers’ smug disdain for the Judeo-Christian heritage, their denial of the sinful condition of man and of the providential constitution of the external world, and the studied exclusion of evangelical scholars from many philosophy and religion departments, this self-satisfied rebellion against all transcendently objective claims is likely to remain a feature of campus learning. What earnest grappling with fixed truth and meaning is to be expected when the spiritual realm is routinely dissolved into evolutionary naturalism? What scope remains for a serious view of sin and grace where man’s soul and afterlife are catalogued with the ancient myths? In these circumstances the contemporary spirit understandably balks at a sober wrestling with final truth, unchanging good, and enduring purpose. What is more natural than for men adrift to give themselves over to changing notions of right and wrong?

The biblical affirmations about history and man have implications not for private worship only but for the whole range of moral relationships, including political theory. Ethical personality is significant for the whole span of cosmic interests. If education is to remain a serious pursuit, the modern classroom cannot simply transfer to courses in literature such critically significant concerns as the unyielding purpose of God in the earthly history of mankind, the disruption in the moral order consequent upon the fall of mankind, the important though limited function of civil government in a fallen society, and the spiritual renewal of human nature available through redemptive forgiveness and grace.

Westerners cannot even understand their own heritage unless they identify the impact of the religious faith of earlier generations upon our traditions. Do the products of liberal learning any longer know what for centuries elevated the West above its pagan past, let alone the considerations that made credible and persuasive the Christian confidence in the reality of a supernatural Creator, an eternal moral law, and a divinely willed order in nature and history and society?

We live on a planet of paralyzing problems, and man can cope with only a limited number of them. The deployment of laboratory genius to barbaric ends, the enslavement of large masses of mankind by totalitarian tyrants, and the technocratic dehumanization of existence have reduced the prideful confidence in scientific reasoning. No age in history has so glamorized a single method of knowing and produced so many puny personalities.

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Not uncommonly, self-satisfied humanists declare it lacking in intellectual comprehension of the complexities of contemporary life—in short, simplistic—when Christ is affirmed to be “the answer.” But the naïveté is on the other side, in its artificial reduction of reality to impersonal processes and events, and its non-comprehension of spiritual verities. To demean Christians as lacking an alternative is highly presumptuous; the arrogance lies in the assumption that there is no viable alternative to the settled modern prejudice that the theistic option is passé.

In our generation the intellectual zeal to penetrate the complexities of the moral and spiritual order has wilted. Disoriented spirits offer privately conceived myths that sustain neither the unity of the creation, the glory of the good, or the brotherhood of man, let alone define the viciousness of vice. Would-be steersmen of states and satellites accept the illusion that social change is all that matters.

The purposelessness of the present generation is a consequence of its myopic concentration on change as if it were progress and its intellectual indifference to enduring concerns. The contemporary liberal spirit may not be of one mind about the present world and its possibilities, but it tends to be mindless concerning objective truth and unchanging good. Not only has the good lost its identity and sin its seriousness for the products of this mentality, but life itself has lost any sure goal and destiny. That is why the secular outlook can offer no fresh hope in a time of intellectual exhaustion.

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