Saturday, December 5, 2009

Socrates, Alvin Toffler, and Attempting to Catch the Wave

To follow up on Jon Rowe's lastest post on the ongoing debate between many of us, including Dr. Gregg Frazer, I would like to add that most of what we have been discussing is the meaning of words.  This is classic "Socratic Dialogue".  The only problem I see is that everyone is talking at each other trying to give their answer and be heard.  I see it all day in my classroom.  When everyone is talking all at once no one hears anything.

So here is a suggestion in the spirit of the "Socratic Method":

Let's attempt ask the right questions in a pursuit to raise the level of discussion.  In other words, if we are asking the wrong questions(I think we are) then lets spend our time trying to formulate the right ones.  In that vain I think Jon has done an excellent job of taking this discussion toward where it needs to go when he brought in "Cato Unbound's" series on how we came into the Modern World.

Why?  I have been teaching about the 3 great waves of change in history based on a book by Alvin Toffler called "The Third Wave".  He says that wave one was hunter to agriculture.  Wave two was farms to factories. Wave three is factories to information.  I have been telling my kids that we need to study wave two(Industrial Revolution) and apply it to wave 3 to understand where we need to go as a society.  This will require bringing in the new without throwing proven principles from the old.

With that said, I think this is what the founders did with America.  They studied other eras and applied what was tried and true to some of the new ideas that progress made then deal with.  It was absolutely not throwing out the old and starting something completely new.  That was the French Revolution.  Why does this matter to us now?  This is because the same battle is going on right now.  It seems that are three main groups:

1. Those who are set in their ways and do not want to embrace change because they favor their traditions
2. Those who want to throw out all tradition and start over
3. Those who want to glean the principles that have worked and use them in the new context

If history really does repeat itself then we are on the right track at this blog when we study this period.  It was pivotal.  Chooses were made that shaped the world for hundreds of years.  Some of them good and some of the bad.  There were ideas behind these choices.

In this vain, I proposed two questions that I think will bring this discussion into a much clearer focus:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world? 

I am not saying that I have the right questions and it is surely debatable whether these questions will take us down the right road to find the truth about American Creation.  But I do think it is possibly a good starting point that all can participate in.  It possibly sets ups all different flavors of "Cultural Warriors" for an interesting debate.  It also begins to move us toward a discussion of "Jihad vs. Mc World" and "The Clash of Civilizations".  

The "Third Wave" is here and we are going to make decisions as a society now that affect the next few hundred years of history.  We better get it right!  This blog is a step in that direction.  Lets spread the joy and invite our friends as we continue to raise the discussion.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Because I am the "Big Mouth" around here, I will go first and hope that I "hit" something....

Who has read Jihad vs. McWorld? I think I remember a book by that name...I'd be interested in a synopsis.

From the Church authority, Luther gave us the individual conscience.
From Monarchy, the Founders gave us "constitutional government".

From Order via God (Aristotle) to Natural Order (Newton) to Relativity (Einstein) to Irreducible Complexity (Quantum theory)...

From agriculture (hunter/gatherer societies) to Industry (local/communal societies) to Technology (international/global).

The problem as I see it, is: Can we and how do we "trust" countries that do not hold our values? Especially when it seems that we have no "infrastructure" internationally, that maintains "law and order". (I don't think the United Nations has done a good job in some situations.)

This is the dilemma about any issue, as it concerns nation-states. We cannot be deluded to believe that all people are the same in their mind-set.

This is of major importance when we talk of technology. Our nation's interests and security is at stake. It is not wrong that we should protect our interests. This is "good common sense". Isn't it naive to think that "peace and goodwill" will survive onslaughts of terrorists?(Some Christian "idealists" would say we need to "turn the other cheek")

Diplomatic efforts have gone on for centuries with these types of people. People who are irrational, cannot be trusted to be reasonable with technological advances, can they? And especially if they do not adhere to our "ideals" of universiality in human rights, (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).

Doesn't America represent 'the Great Satan" because we allow such diversity and subvert their view of "Allah"? Reason is not within thier cultural ideals or values.

Tom Van Dyke said...

From the Church authority, Luther gave us the individual conscience.

This is the argument for the uniquely Protestant contribution toward the Founding. I find it persuasive.

Founding era preacher [unitarian] Elisha Williams,


The members of a civil state do retain their natural liberty or right of judging for themselves in matters of religion. Every man has an equal right to follow the dictates of his own conscience in the affairs of religion. Every one is under an indispensable obligation to search the scripture for himself (which contains the whole of it) and to make the best use of it he can for his own information in the will of God, the nature and duties of Christianity. And as every Christian is so bound; so he has an unalienable right to judge of the sense and meaning of it, and to follow his judgment wherever it leads him; even an equal right with any rulers be they civil or ecclesiastical. This I say, I take to be an original right of the humane nature, and so far from being given up by the individuals of a community that it cannot be given up by them if they should be so weak as to offer it.

jimmiraybob said...

Maybe you can help us focus by describing exactly what you mean by a "Christian idea." Is a Christian idea it based on scripture? An idea developed under strict church guidance? Is it an idea that is held by a Christian independent of a theological basis? And, are there Baptist and Methodist and Catholic and Episcopalian, etc. flavors of Christian ideas.

Are we talking ideas that are completely distinct from the rest of humanity and other religious influences and that have never been thought/proposed prior to or subsequent of Christianity (apostates)? Ideas developed in geographic realms described as Christiandom?

Are we talking about ideas developed at the higher levels of Christianity and passed down or vice versa? Do heretical ideas count or only orthodox Christian ideas? Protestant ideas?

Is there a distinction between a Christian idea and an Islamic idea and a pagan idea, etc.; for instance in cosmology? Can a Christian idea be formulated in solely materialistic terms?

I defining terms I think this has to be hashed out.

I'm sure that some will read this as an attack but for the sake of clarity and to get everybody on the same page at the same starting point there should be some guidance.

Phil Johnson said...

I am approaching this subject from a slightly different angle that might be a mite more productive. I have posited the following in another thread:

As historical facts about the American Founding unfold, we are hard pressed not to wonder how the Founding set directions in which young America was on a course leading us to where we are today.
Exactly what was involved? I see a hugely disproportionate emphasis on the religious. Obviously, the Reformed Protestant and other religious prevalence cannot be denied--they had ruled early American thinking for centuries. But, theirs were not the only shows in town; although there are obsequious attempts to say so.
The Founding was--at least--equally influenced by other forces far less spiritual. I think the underlying currents were fueled by deep and, yet, ideas not well thought out about liberty and rights. But, there was a spirit being born in every red blooded American. It had something to do with the idea of what was being considered as the Public Good. It was definitely afloat in those early and formative years.
Here is an overly simplified example. A fire fighting service was to the public good so that no fire spread out to take the entire village down. Laws alone couldn't create public works to see to the tasks involved. Instead, governments issued charters and licenses to private interests to carry out the tasks involved for the Public Good. And, with came the privilege of collecting fees for services rendered.
That current gets expanded to every aspect of the Public Good including roads, inns, police, and the maintenance of public property. That was the privatization of the Public Good. America, the Land of Opportunity!

King of Ireland said...


I guess I am leading toward the idea of the worth of the individual being the foundation of many of the other ideas natural law and natural rights from an American view point

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Hart said...

I'm a pretty big cynic (the cure of my chosen profession) but I personally doubt that there is any way we (on this blog or mankind in general) can come to any consensus on those two questions. As you mentioned at the beginning, most of this is boiling down to an argument over semantics. When you ask, "Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world" you are going to first have to argue what the word "Christian" means (and as we on this blog know, it means something different to everyone).

So, all semantics aside, this is how I will attempt to answer your questions:

Sure, Christian ideas (in the very abstract definition of the word) helped the modern world. As for specifics, I imagine that we'd all argue ad nauseum as to whether or not Christianity had anything to do with them, so I will bow out on that one.

Like I have mentioned before, I tend to believe that arguing terms (theistic rationalism, Christianity, Deism, etc.) is sort of like arguing over NASCAR drivers. Each car may have its own sponsor, driver, team, fans, etc. but in the end they all make left turns around a big-ass track.

If we are looking for an appropriate definition (or an appropriate way to explain how Christian ideas influenced the founding) I tend to back a definition given by T. Van Dyke quite a while back: "CHRISTIAN-Y."
"Christian-y" ideas helped to shape the modern world in a big way. "Christian-y" beliefs were at the heart of what the founders believed. "Christian-y" ideas helped to bring about the founding of America.

King of Ireland said...


The book Jihad vs. McWorld is about how the modern world symbolized by Mc Donalds and the traditonal world symbolized by Jihad are going to fight it out to see which world view wins.

I read it when I was 18. It was in my grandfather's library. He was a very powerful man with a lot of political connections. I find it interesting looking back that I did not realize how influential he was and how important it was to read some of the same books he did. This one came back to mind when i started to travel and see the book coming to life.

"The Clash of Civilizations" is in the same vain and was used heavily in Bush's foreign policy. Jon has brought up "The End of History" which is also hit this theme as well.

King of Ireland said...


I think a "Christian Idea" in the context of this historical discussion is one that is grounded in a long thread of theological discussion. I also believe that most, if not all, that matters is the political theology in regards to the topic of this blog.

In general these are loaded questions that I hope would be a jumping point toward people that like to comment on these subject to go and research the ideas, determine if they were Christian or not, and then evaluate the impact of the idea on the modern world.

I think Romans 13 is a good point to start. One group seems to take it literal and as an endorsement of the Divine Right of Kings. If someone told me that the Divine Right of Kings was a Christian idea and that they believed it attempted to derail us from moving into the modern world I would agree.

Another group says one should submit no matter what but does not advocate the Divine Right. They would say turn the other cheek and look toward heaven for your reward. If they came to me and said that submitting to tyrants and turning the other cheek were Christian ideas I that helped derail us from moving toward a modern world I would agree to a point. I would also listen to the person who would say that it helped bring us into the modern world. Both are Christian ideas and have some merit in my view.

A third group will read Romans 13 in full context of the passage and the rest of the Bible and say that resistance to tyrants is obedience to God. Is this a Christian idea? I think so. I actually take this position within reason. I also reject most traditional teachings on this because they were handed down by ecclesiastical bodies. I agree with the Founders on this.

This is my view yours may be different. The point Jon originally made that I posted to support him on was the Christians want to claim the good and ignore the bad. I do not. Just because someone says something is a "Christian" does not mean God is behind it.

I hope that brings some clarity. Good questions JRB

King of Ireland said...


What is Christian-y?

King of Ireland said...

I am personally going to focus on the first question and go through some of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and evaluate whether they were "Christian" or not. My post about John Adams was in that vain. I will be following up with a series of posts outlining some of the arguments of Gary Amos I think make good sense.

Brad Hart said...

Christian-y is sort of like describing the color blue. Nobody can tell you what blue looks have to see it and then you know it. The founding of America was "Christian-y." We may fight over whether or not its participants were deists, theistic rationalists, orthodox, etc., but we won't argue over the fact that they were "Christian-y."

Everyone can see the color blue...except for blind people of course. Just like everyone can see that the founding was "Christian-y" except for people on the fringe like Zinn and Barton.

King of Ireland said...


i can probably go for that. But if we keep it too simple then I think we have a hard time judging what ideas to carry into the next era. The founders were huge on looking at ideas that had be proven historically and looking at the roots of those ideas.

It goes back to the whole French Revolution vs. American Revolution thing. Do we start all over or build on what is already here. Angie brings up some good points on technology. This is why I brought in the Toffler book. How do we handle all the changes that have and will continue to happen at such a fast pace?

If we do not remember time tested principles and then add the new ideas to them then we will get off track.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's a fair question, JRB. If Machiavelli is the beginning of philosophical modernity, then "Christian thought" is that Western thought that doesn't shed the God of the Bible.

Further, if we can trace the intrinsic worth, dignity and equality of human beings to imago Dei, being made in God's image, and not classical philosophy, then there's a uniquely Christian dimension there as well.

And I would not discount Luther's, et al., influence on liberty, beginning with that of the individual conscience. The Elisha Williams quote above seems to contain much of the Founding's political philosophy, but its argument is theologically grounded.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our country has been "nation-building" for eons. And we have sought to build democratic governments. Some believe this is good and some don't.

America has also been "re-constructing" or re-developing nations after war.

The State Department is the "prime" governmental organization that does this.

Some in the Christian community want to do this as a "investment", and so they use thier NGOs to do their "thing". This is where technology comes into the mix.

I don't believe that nation building is somethint that the Taliban is open to and many that are under their influence are so "brain-washed" that they would be "hard targets" for a democratic "revolution". It would be like suggesting to those that believe that government is a divinely sanctioned and "ordained" to rebel. This is a repulsive and forbidden idea. So, the question is, should we attempt to democratize such a culture? or not? Why or why not?

History has shown that the people themselves must form the basis of the "revolution", (such as the Eastern bloc countries before the unification of Berlin) which "creates" the "new form" or a democracy. We have sought to militarily support this attempt in numerous countries.

So, "Christian" is not any "special" or distinct "message", "mission", or "idea". The ideas are as old as classical Greece,Rome and the Reformation, itself. It is about Power, Government, Politics and Philosophy. Philosophy being the foundation of the development of "ideas".

Semantics dissolves the 'reality' for me...yet, I understand symbolization...

Phil Johnson said...

This condition of not-getting-it that individualism was NOT part of the American Founding puts up a sizable barrier over which we are forced to struggle so we can discover all that underlays the structure of our American society.
It--that condition--is no small thing. The idea of it, and all that goes into it, is deeply ingrained in the twenty-first century American thinking. Rather than getting way-laid on agenda, it's my opinion that we should stay focused on the hard work of trying to understand the critical influences of our ancestors as they made it through the transition from the Colonial to the Revolutionary to the Early Republic which were the times of the Founding. Those were the years during which the heaviest stones of our American Foundation were laid.
It is no small or easy task to overcome any forgone conclusions about our Founding. And, it will require group efforts to merely overcome our own bias.

King of Ireland said...

Tom has it about right.


The "democracies" we try to build are republics in name only in my mind. That is part of the problem. We say we are spreading the ideals that are a part of our Constitution. I think we violate them and then try and spread that.

Hunington's ideas are more Old European statist than anything that resembles what Jefferson and Madison believed. If one looks back at Europe at the time of the Founding their were few "nations" (ethnic groups) who had drawn their own borders. Overtime many did. This is what threatened the aristocracy and brought the back lash seen in 1815 and 1848.

If you look at the ideas behind the suppression of rights movements and compare them with many intellectual arguments from the elite today you will see a similarity.

To keep this on the topic of this blog, let bring it back to the founding and Christian ideas. Many of the aristocratic families used religion to control people and stay on top. These were Christians and the ideas they promoted Christian. I would say in my opinion that God did not endorse this. There is a difference.

Thus, these would be Christian ideas that probably derailed us from progressing toward the modern world.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Speaking of nation building, I mention that in my newest post. On the one hand, I believe Bush had good intentions in Iraq and that, whether his advisers were Machiavellian or not, their ultimate intentions were the same: Establish "liberal democracy" in the Middle East.

So on that regard, Bush critics, don't like what I have to say (as TVD can attest after I mentioned this theory while guest blogging for Ed Brayton).

On the other hand, I see Bush's idea of God given liberal democratic rights for all as inauthentically Christian, and indeed part of the American-French Revolutionary current, i.e., "the rights of man."

Tom Van Dyke said...

True. Liberal democracy is not required by Christian thought [nor by the classical Greek]. The structure of government is not synonymous with its purpose.

King of Ireland said...

I agree with Tom.


This is your argument and most of what I say I learned from you. How about a follow up post on this from you since you know more about this and can answers questions about it better than I?

King of Ireland said...

Purpose being synonymous with intent I would think right?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Purpose being to ensure rights and liberty. Theoretically, a good God-fearing philosopher-king could fulfill the same purpose. Unfortunately, experience teaches that they are rare in history and selfish tyrants are far more the rule.

Better to take one's chances with a constitutional republic, but that's a prudential judgment, not a philosophical one.

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - I guess I am leading toward the idea of the worth of the individual being the foundation of many of the other ideas natural law and natural rights from an American view point

I think I understand where you want to go as far as inquiry (and we've discussed this briefly awhile ago at Ed's place). I think it would be a more productive route to put forward the proposition that a given idea is a Christian idea such as the one that you mention here.

There are certainly pre-Christian antecedents to valuing the worth of the individual and the poor/dispossessed and the duty of the polis and/or ruler to provide protection - in essence, the idea of natural and/or human rights even if the term "natural or human rights" was not used.

I think that I mentioned Cyrus’s inscription cylinder (ca. 6th century BCE) that some people have held up as a (first?) human rights document and others have called political propaganda. Regardless, it was written in a tradition recognizing the political and religious (unalienable?*) rights of native and conquered inhabitants and at the very least recognized the expediency of honoring the people's expectations to be treated fairly - and in exchange to give their loyalty. Even in 539 BC the politicians were making hay by giving into these expectations (and then there's the question of whether Cyrus was a pious follower of Marduk or just using religion to bolster his political authority? Do things ever change?)

Then there were the stoics and other non-western traditions.

The point being that many "ideas" that we see as "modern" are ancient, more widely held than we often recognize and, when not suppressed, have seen many influences and modifications.

Certainly ethics and morality, as they pertain to the individual and to "natural/human rights," have been developed, but did not originate, in the Jewish and Christian faith traditions - these would have been more readily available to most Americans (from Plymouth to the Founding.) But, as is so well known, many of the founders, including various clergy and institutions of higher learning (the infamous "seminaries"), looked outside of these faith traditions alone and sought out and cited the preceding Pagan Greco-Roman philosophical ideas and principles (that passed through the likes of Augustine and Aquinas and other leading Church intellectuals.)

So, if it were me framing the question, I would ask what ideas influenced the founding and/or the emergence of the “modern” world and what were the unique Jewish and Christian and other influences that shaped these ideas. Otherwise, as you say, the question is loaded and I think unfairly, given the well-documented emphasis of Greco-Roman influences on the leading…uh, most influential…um, most prolific founding thinkers/writers….oh heck, the key founders. :)

*If the most powerful Persian kings paid heed to the foreign traditions of conquered peoples, and under the influence of their most powerful god, then the essence of rights seems to have been honored not as something given by the King but recognized as universal to be respected.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - Further, if we can trace the intrinsic worth, dignity and equality of human beings to imago Dei, being made in God's image, and not classical philosophy, then there's a uniquely Christian dimension there as well.

I guess that I'm having a hard time knowing what makes a unique idea as opposed to a unique influence or conceptualization or practice of an idea. I'd have as hard a time of it if the question was about unique Jewish or Unique Muslim or Unique Pagan ideas.

There has been so much sharing of information over the eons that the more I "know" the more I recognize a common thread of ideas acted upon by different people and belief systems.

In mulling over the KOI's questions I was reading some parts of Aristotle's Politics, particularly on rebellion and the best/worst forms of government, and it seemed eerily modern - in an 18th-21st century way, what with its talk of revolution, rebellion, tyranny, oligarchies, aristocracies and democracy.

And when he writes:

"Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant."

Isn't he placing an intrinsic value on the individual since the greatest happiness and security of the individual (as opposed to oligarchic or aristocratic rule), as part of the non-aristocratic middle class, is in having the greater political power of the city/state? Isn't the ethical and moral value and worth of the individual at least implicit?

What I see unique in the Christian tradition of valuing the intrinsic worth, dignity and equality of human beings is the attribution to imago Deiis.

King of Ireland said...

JRB stated:

"What I see unique in the Christian tradition of valuing the intrinsic worth, dignity and equality of human beings is the attribution to imago Deiis."

Could not have said it better myself. I posted your question on the main page. I think you are heading us in the right direction. Read Tom's comments to Jon's last two posts. He knows way more about this then I do and can answer your questions better than me.