By Paul Bright
You Know It’s Hot When the Swamp is On Fire
Driving to a vacation spot this summer for our annual sabbatical at the beach, my wife and I were on Interstate 12 near Stennis at the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Like much of southern Louisiana and Mississippi, this area is filled with wetlands, bayous, creeks, cricks, rivers, and overgrowth that rivals any dystopian, apocalyptic movie. And it was on fire. A burn ban had been in place for quite some time, but the extended heat of the summer and the lack of rain had turned the vegetation into a tinderbox. The flames had jumped from the westbound lanes, through the median, and onto the eastbound lanes. Thick smoke filled the whole area, making visibility impossible and covering everything with soot and charred smell. In my characteristic deadpan humor, I turned to my wife and said, “You know it’s hot when the swamp is on fire.”
A Quick Laugh and Further Reflection
Only my wife can chuckle at such dry humor. However, the conditions for a fire in a swamp were clear and longstanding due to the combination of neglect, rebellion, and environment. The surprise of driving through a swamp fire was humorous and ironic, in that it illustrates the swamp fire of Western Culture. But what are some of the conditions that lead to the blazing chaos that is burning through our culture, and why are there so few Christians who seem unaware or willing to do anything?
The Putrid Soil of Idealism
Idealism, philosophically defined, is the theory of epistemology that teaches that the mind forms reality. Historically, idealism arose from pursuing rationalism during the Enlightenment in thinkers such as Hegel, Leibnitz, and, to a lesser extent, Kant. In the proponents that followed the Enlightenment, pure subjective idealism became not merely Optimism but also a teaching that the mind does not create the idea but the thing itself. Thus, pure subjective idealism results in the creation of the thing directly. Through the power of the mind, man creates the very thing imagined by thought. The subject creates through noumena (from the Greek word, nous, “mind”). “The duality of the matter and mind,” as Bavinck surmised, has been “denied, and the thing and the representation of the thing, being and thinking, are viewed essentially as one.” 1
The Voracious Weeds in the Swamp
Pure subjective idealism infected Christianity directly through the charlatans of the Word-Faith movement and continues in a more mass-appealing form in the hucksters peddling the prosperity gospel, where the conjoined sins of self-worship and greed increasingly breed ever-blasphemous pronouncements in the name of Christ. The recent history of Western Christianity is dominated by these popular teraphim (from the ancient Hebrew, “false idols”) that are adored and emulated. There is a headlong rush toward any living savior who can speak of money, fame, and celebrity as a blessing. Their numbers are only limited to how quickly followers can heap on teachers. Their influence is only limited by their opportunity to jump from a smaller idolatrous family to a whole tribe (Judges 17-18). They are weeds, all. Truly, truly, they are cursed directly by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:24-26).
The Impenetrable Undergrowth
Growing unchecked out of this idealism is the regurgitated anthropological teaching that the affections are granted a substance and an epistemological and moral priority. Feelings are given a “soul” with an unyielding, undiminishable, and immutable authority. Feelings are an abiding revelation, a self-originating, self-authenticating, self-interpreting impetus, as base and necessary to existence as breathing air. Thus, feelings are presented as a prius (from Latin, “a prior thing”), not a posterius (from Latin, “a following thing”). Feelings internal and subjective are the ousia (from Greek, “substance”) and hyparchis (from Greek, “abiding presence”) and are, similarly, necessarily detached from phenomena (Greek from phenoo, “I observe”). The new category is aesthemena (Greek from aesthima, “feeling”).
Swamp Undergrowth is Not a Garden
This affectional ratio ad vitam (Latin for ‘meaning for life’) corrupted historic Christian theology by a deceptively disastrous mutation in the skewed recharacterization of God’s love as eros (from Greek, “sensual love”), not agape (from Greek, “love by choice”). Popularized by multiple, respected, well-studied, philosophical, historical, and exegetical preachers and teachers, the apex of Christian virtue became “Glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Feelings as motive, as drive, as the substance was drunk in, as living water. Passion and pleasure were put forward in man and God as the only true achievement, embodiment, and reciprocation of glory. Anything of will and duty is of works and baseless and useless. Rather than growing a well-tended garden, the result was an entangling, unstable, impenetrable overgrowth of affectional mass. Undergrowth is not beautiful, and it was part of the curse (Genesis 3:18). Man was never designed by God to be led by affections.
The Match Was Thrown
Is it any wonder that the current cultural climate is one where the mind exhibits and engages in pure subjective irrationality from the prius of the feelings? This is why debates based on phenomena and logic are rejected immediately, comprehensively, and violently based on feelings. The person who believes that the mind is an organ of feelings that stimulate the creation of reality is irrationally enslaved. These persons will go to great lengths to subjugate their thoughts and the observable world around them to conform to their feelings. These persons must create from the inside out, from the affections as the source, through the mind as means, to the outside, as the transformative object. These have made themselves as Deity in their feelings, to which any, and eventually all, must prostrate in obedience.
The Fire Consumes and Is Healthy?
However, in order to create, these persons must first destroy. They will destroy all norms, whether individual or societal, amoral or moral, religious or civil. Worse still, this destruction and recreation is repackaged as a necessary mental health crisis for these individuals when the world outside of them does not immediately conform to their idealism. This explains why their verbal and material reactions include radical outbursts of violence and, contradictorily, simultaneously and exclusively, claim themselves to be recipients of violence. You have, in their reality, assaulted their most complete and necessary substance and being.
Where there is Fire, there is Smoke
The pursuit of this idolatry will destroy them internally as well as raze relationships, morals, institutions, and societies. The consequences of idealism are already observed and experienced in the institutions of society through education, government, employment, military, health services, the family, and religion. The planned destruction through idealism is combined with the blatant realignment of the historic political foundation of our country. Marxism, at its roots, views man as tolpa (Russian for “herd”). The target of Marxism has always been and will be the most innocent and vulnerable…children. Familial, ecclesiastical, educational, technological, governmental, and societal fumes will billow from the smoldering miasma of this Idealism and Marxism.
Putting out the Fire Through the Promise of Repentance
The only recourse for change is direct confrontation. Exposure of the insane irrationality comes through the proclamation of the objective revelation written in the Scriptures. There is hope that the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) will shatter the illusion of self-deification. The promises of God to work for regeneration seen in true repentance have never been revoked.
Corporately, Christians should pursue the position of illuminator and preserver (light and salt) through soberness, prayerfulness, engagement, and, as is customary in the course of Christian history, a willingness to suffer. It behooves Christians to live circumspectly, pure, clean, and with holy wisdom that comes down from the Father of Lights. Also, Christians should actively prune the undergrowth of this idealism and live worshipfully with the rich communities established on the Reformed doctrines of grace, which oppose idealism. Finally, Christian parents need to understand that the current culture fire is specifically designed to disintegrate their God-given position and responsibility as moral teachers and examples in the minds, hearts, and souls of their children in all respects. So, parents must make a choice and act. What will you choose to do?
Paul Bright currently works in the field of Biotechnology. He is a native of Evansville, IN, and an alumnus of Purdue University and The Master’s Seminary. He was a Systematic Theology and Ancient Hebrew professor in Samara, Russia. He and his wife, Jennifer, homeschooled their daughter all the way through high school and currently reside in Covington, Louisiana.
- Herman Bavink, Reformed Dogmatics. Vol. 1. (MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 216. ↩︎