The modern world is insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal as because it cannot recover the normal.
Our modern world finds itself in a truth conundrum. Trapped between reality and autonomy, unable to move forward without a blow to pride or sinking into further delusion.
The mess of irrational truth claims we encounter can likely be attributed to any number of things, but wherever we point fingers: post-modernism, technology, censorship… what is undeniable is that we have arrived in a place where, “cognitive dissonance is the normal state of things” (Alan Noble).
It is considered scientific to view nanobacteria as life, while the mother-dependent fetus–with eyes, nose, toes, and a proclivity for thumb sucking, is only a “clump of cells”. It has become perfectly acceptable to look at a heartbeat in the womb and determine on the one hand: if it is planned and wanted it is worthy of a name and valuable, while on the other hand: if it is “unwanted” it is not only worthless, but ought to be forced to stop beating. One can hold both the belief that women are uniquely oppressed, while also claiming “man” and “woman” are mere social constructs. It is considered to be reasonable to note the complexity of the universe, to even commit our lives to studying its every detail, noting the astounding uniqueness of Earth’s ability to sustain life, and also dogmatically exclaim it could only have emerged by mere happenstance.
In our progressive thought, it is possible to claim, “I love Jesus,” while rejecting ninety percent of the book that tells us why we should love a 1st century Jewish man at all. One can say they “follow” him, and never know him, rejecting the very words he commanded his followers obey.
What’s more, there is no place to challenge these contradictions. For, “in a world of discontinuities, contradiction is useless as a test of truth or merit, because contradiction does not exist” (Neil Postman).
Experience is Queen. Even if our experiences contradict one another, or if my own experience contradicts what I felt was true yesterday. The modern archetype is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Underground Man,
“My God, but what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if for some reason these laws and two times two is four are not to my liking?” (The Underground Man)
Our quest for autonomy from God has left us unable to grapple with reality. We have no reliable categories for what we know, experience, and see because we have been set on freeing ourselves from the fulcrum of reality: Truth himself. We do not wish to bow to him, and so we keep dodging reality in an effort to maintain our feelings of independence. Marx claimed religion was the opium of the masses but, “the true opium of modernity is the belief that there is no God, so that humans are free to do precisely as they please” (Alister McGrath). We can love who we want, fantasize about whatever makes us feel vindicated, satiated, or comfortable, covet what we don’t have, set fire to what we hate, kill our progeny or our elders, rewrite history, and even deny empirical evidence when it contradicts what we want.
It’s a bit like tumbling down the rabbit hole, with the Queen of Hearts fact-checking us while shouting that a Raven is a writing desk–or men have periods. We’re moving down the table without finishing our tea, wondering what happened to the “justice” of yesterday as it is replaced with whatever is on the table today, and everyone is shouting “off with their head!”.
Irrationality is the only logical conclusion to a culture that is hell-bent–quite literally–on denying God. Truth has continuity, and so when the most crucial piece is cut from our worldview, everything else deteriorates. In our secular age we have decided not to repair things accordingly, we just keep chipping away at each foundational truth while attributing that destruction to everything but the hammer in our own hand. We embrace inconsistency and illogical conclusions, and we bully into silence anyone who may point them out.
Inevitably, our aim at autonomy and supposed freedom have missed their mark. We’ve landed with a thud under shackles of mismatched human-made rules that change like the tides, we can’t make sense of the world, and we’ve confused future generations by forcing them to question what their very eyes observe. We’ve made a mess.
Despite us though, “there are still stars that move in an ordered and beautiful rhythm. (Madeleine L’Engle).
The natural world continues to be ordered. The universe still holds together despite the fact that we do not know why. God is still there, still making the sun rise and set, still bringing babies into being, still making women women and men men. God is there unchanging, and good, and true.
Christians unfortunately are not immune to thinking the Cheshire Cat has a point when he says, “I’m not crazy; my reality is just different from yours” (Lewis Carroll). If we are not careful we can slip into the delusion of Wonderland, we can become mad citizens instead of rational intruders. We adopt irrational justifications, and tend to reject God’s word for more palatable explanations.
So what does one do? We remember who we are: not Cheshire Cat, Underground Man, nor lost child of curiosity, but children of God through Truth himself.
We must scrutinize our own thinking. Instead of ignoring cognitive dissonance we face it head on and work through it. We recover normal in its truest sense, not nonsense that’s been accepted as normalcy. We cannot be apathetic in our pursuit of truth, we have to do the hard work of thinking through conclusions we’ve drawn that may be built on premises that begin not with God, but against him.
We test the world’s claims of things like “love”, is it consistent with Love that came down from heaven, that demands sacrifice, holiness, and abiding in and serving the One who is love? We recognize the categories that God has made. We define value by his terms. We are on guard against claims of “the good” that do not begin by acknowledging that “no one is good but God alone”. We are careful of “justice” that exists without the cross.
The Queen of Experience might rule Wonderland for now, but not forever. For it is the truth that will set us free. Not “my truth”, not shifting cultural “truths”, but Truth: he who made all things, holds all things together, came down and dwelt among us, died because we are liars and madmen confusing murder for justice and evil for love, and who will return as triumphant, and rightful, King.