Ethics and History - RR132B4

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Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: Ethics and History
Course: Course - Contemporary Cultural Ethics
Subject: Subject:Culture
Lesson#: 4
Length: 0:48:13
TapeCode: RR132B4
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format
Contemporary Cultural Ethics.jpg

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission.

……is Ethics and History. In a sense this is very closely related with what we dealt with this morning when we considered in the other class, permanence and change, because we were there also concerned with history. And our subject this afternoon in a sense is an extension of our subject this morning. A very common statement that we encounter regularly as we talk to clergymen and laymen is that eschatology does not matter, that it doesn’t make any difference whether you are post-millennial, and I am putting that first with malice or forethought, or ????Ah-millennial or pre-millennial as long as you believe that the Lord is coming again. In fact, I had one minister, a very fine man, very outstanding man; tell me he was pan-millennial. Unfortunately what you are saying if you are saying that eschatology does not matter is that no philosophy of history is necessary for a Christian. And that is a radical of surrender of a vast area of life to the enemy. Time is a creation of God, the history of this world was ordained by God and we have a commission in terms of that history. It is therefore important we know what God’s purpose is, what God’s plan is in history, how He plans to have us function, what His program for the development of events within history and at the end of history means. As a result we cannot avoid eschatology without avoiding a philosophy of history. And, if we avoid a philosophy of history we are then saying we have surrendered the vast areas of ethics in favor of a pietistic conception of ethics. Their ethics are limited to exclusively personal domain. When we have done that we have abandoned the Reformed faith because the Reformed faith is emphatically a world and life view. [00:03:15]

This was something that at the very beginning even...[edit]

This was something that at the very beginning even Rome recognized. It recognized that the course of Christian history was going to be determined in terms of a conflict between Rome and Geneva. And the more far seeing thinkers within the Roman communion see the basic problem still as between Rome and Geneva. Because they recognize that here was a totality of a faith, of a theology, of a philosophy, that it was not just a matter of saying justification by faith and truncating the faith there as Luther did so that his perspective was a seriously limited one, great as it was within that domain, but limited. What the Reformed faith gives us is a world and life view. We cannot therefore neglect the subject of eschatology. Now Calvin never did write on Revelations. The concerns of the Reformers were strictly limited to the very contemporary issues and they did not have the opportunity to deal with all problems and there are gaps in their ability having only one life time in which to work, to write commentaries on everything and consider every subject in full. But, there is no question that John Calvin, in particular his commentary on Isaiah does manifest eschatology, a post-millennial eschatology let me add. But none the less he has there set forth a philosophy of history and it is precisely because of this that Calvin and his followers had a world and life view, they had a program and it was Reformed armies that were on the march in Europe in terms of a world and life view. It was Reformed ministers who were on the march to bring one area into captivity to Christ after another so that whatever area of life you look at it was the Reformed thinkers, it was the Puritans in England who were the basis of the royal academy developing scientific thought, they were the foundations of the new sciences. [00:06:02]

In one area after another it was Reformed men, Reformed...[edit]

In one area after another it was Reformed men, Reformed scholars, Reformed statesmen that exercised leadership and it was because of the default of other groups who lacked a philosophy of history. And today the collapse of so much Christian power is in part due to the lack of a philosophy of history, it is due to the fault of pietism which has restricted the domain of God to the soul of man. Now the soul of man is an important domain and God commands that it is the starting point. But we cannot restrict it to that anymore then we can say when a child goes to school, “Now look here the beginning of education is the ABC’s so spend your life majoring in the alphabet.” No, we learn the alphabet as small children in order that it can unlock a whole world of learning for us and so it is, and so indeed, is it the starting point in order that it might unlock the whole world of the new covenant. In order that we might move out in terms of God’s program, God’s plan to exercise dominion in one area after another. The denial of God’s Lordship of history and the pietistic perspective means ultimately that personalism is for most of reality the basic fact. Dr. VanTil has commented, and I quote, this is from his Christian Theistic Ethics. “We may say that all believers in Christianity will, if they see the implications of their position, be opposed not only to determinism but also to indeterminism as these terms are usually understood. Both determinism and indeterminism place man in an impersonal environment from which God is wholly excluded. In contrast to this we must ask Christians think of man as a creature of God. And this is of the utmost significance for the proper conception of his freedom. It implies that man’s freedom consists in doing of his own accord the will of God. It implies that there was nothing in man’s environment nor in man himself that would force him not to do the will of God.” Unquote [00:09:29]

Now, this is a very important point...[edit]

Now, this is a very important point. I don’t know how many of you have read Charles Norris Cockran’s “Christianity in the Classical World. How many of you have? Now, that is sad but I trust you will get it. It is available in paperback. It is the most important book written in the past fifty years. Written by classical scholar, not a Christian, and yet a most eloquent testimony in spite of itself to the Christian faith. Because what Charles Norris Cochrane, in compelling fashion, declares in that book is this, and Dr. VanTil incidentally was one of the earlier readers and was the one who informed me of its significance so that I read it very early; the Greco-Roman world affirmed the freedom of man. No God up there controlling man or predestinating man. So they affirmed a radical freedom on the part of man; his free will. But, says Cochrane, as against the Greco-Roman emphasize on the free will of man and against the early churches emphasize on the predestination of man by God it was the early church who produced the free man. It was the early church and the predestinarian who were the champions of freedom. Why this contradiction? Well, this was the problem. In the Greco-Roman world view man, as an individual, was surrounded by a vast ocean of change, a brute factuality. This brute factuality overwhelmed man in his solitary freedom here; it crucified him because all the factors in this brute world of factuality being random, overpowering factors bore down on man. The stars determined him, heredity determined him, environment determined him, his parents determined him, his education determined him, his society, his political order, and you name it, determined man. So man with this radical freedom of will in an ocean of brute factuality ended up a hopelessly determined creature. [00:12:32]

But, man created in the image of God and predestined...[edit]

But, man created in the image of God and predestined by the Sovereign counsel of God as set forth by the church body in terms of victory moved by in a world which was totally predestined by God in which he himself was totally predestined but in which he had as a creature created in the image of God a secondary freedom, a secondary causality, so that he was not determined. He was God’s free man. So you have the amazing paradox in all the controversy back and forth between the early church fathers and the pagans. The pagans insisting on the free will of man, ending up by concluding man was totally determined and being totally pessimistic, seeing no hope for man, and the Christian affirming God’s predestination and ending up by being the champions of man’s freedom, delivering man, you see, from this world of environment, of heredity, of the stars, of politics and saying, “NO, these things do not determine man.” As a consequence, he says, intellectually, the classical worldview collapsed, it was a failure, and it could not stand up to the arguments and to the witness of the early church so that philosophically the victory went to the church fathers. Let me state again the title of that book because it is eminently worth your while, Charles North Cochrane - Christianity and Classical Culture. It was originally published, and I think almost certainly still is, by the Oxford University Press. Now, of course, this is precisely the problem that modern man faces, that which Cochrane described of the world of the early church. Existentialism today seeks to assert the radical autonomy and the radical freedom of man. It says that man is so totally free that his own, that he does not even have a subconscious or an unconscious so that there is nothing outside of him nor anything within his own being that can determine him apart from his rationality. [00:15:38]

But, all that is left in the domain of the personal...[edit]

But, all that is left in the domain of the personal is man. So man is a lone island in the cosmic sea of meaninglessness and nothingness and is a lone island of the personal, of the ethical, the ethical being whatever he chooses to do, being his own god, determining good and evil for himself, is very easily and very readily overwhelmed by that world. The odds are too great. Man who is born to die but whose passion is to be god. How is going to assert himself in the face of this? D??????????????? gives us in The Possessed, literally the title of that novel is The Deep Demon Possessed, the strange figure of a ????Negine person, ??? who has determined that man is God and how is he going to eliminate. How is going to eliminate the threat to his deity, because death closes it so he can affirm as against death which is going to bear down on him some day that I am indeed God. ?????Computerloft concludes the only way I can do it is to say, “Is not the gods, or God, or fate, or time that is going to take my life away, I will declare myself God by making it my will. I will commit suicide.” And he does. That was the logic of course of existentialism. And a French dramatist of the new drama, the far out dramas, chose the same course and he decided to do it dramatically. It was too quick with a gun. He sat down and proceeded over a period of a very reasonably short time, to drink himself to death, making a witness all the time, that this was his goal and it was his way of witnessing that he affirmed himself against God and against the universe. That he, the person of a new god, of his own free will, said life to me is nothing, I choose death and thereby I declare myself God over my being. That,in a sense, epitomizes humanism. It is suicidal. In a futile gesture it affirms its independence and it can do nothing except to kill itself. [00:19:01]

But in the process having limited the domain of the...[edit]

But in the process having limited the domain of the personal to the lone figure of man and having said of the ethical is that which I choose to do so that the ethical has no relationship to the outside world. It is only myself, in my own being. It also witnesses to the death of the ethical. Because, the ethical is overwhelmed, it has no meaning in a cosmic sea of meaninglessness and man must say, “I too must die and therefore ethics dies with me. The absolute dies with me.” But for us, unless we are pietists, unless we are hostile to Biblical eschatology and will not set forth our eschatology, the domain of the personal is not limited to God. Every fact, every fiber, every atom, every hair on our head is the personal creation of the absolutely Sovereign and personal God so that every fact in the universe is a totally personal fact. Now, when I sit at the table in my dining room and look around the room I do it with a real satisfaction and pleasure, with a pride. Because, I look at the things that I have and I thank God for them and that He has given me the privilege of having the possessions I do. And I look at a picture on the table and I remember it is a very personal thing, that picture, when my wife and I chose it. And I look at the furniture and I remember why my wife decided she wanted it and what she likes and doesn’t like about it now that she has it and I could look around the house at the pictures and I can feel the feelings that I had when we got that painting or remember the artist that gave it to us and so on and everything in that house is very personal. It represents a part of the experience of my wife and of myself as we accumulated those few things and delight in them. So that none of those things are impersonal to us and of course, as a realistate agent remarked to us once that one of the hardest things to do is to get people to sell a home they live in for many, many years and in which they reared their children and to do it realistically, knowing the value thereof, in objective terms because they look at it and they say, “You know, my kids slid down that banister and had so much fun and I scolded them so often for doing it and now I wish I could see them do it again.” Or, “It was in this room that my little girl died” and so on. Everything has a meaning to them, a very personal meaning. There is nothing impersonal about that house because they have lived with it. [00:22:53]

Well, that’s only a fragment of personalism when you...[edit]

Well, that’s only a fragment of personalism when you realize that God in His infinite wisdom created all things in terms of His personal will and purpose, a totally self-conscience God. There is no unconscious or subconscious with God and the wisdom and majesty of His creation so that there is not a single needless detail or atom or hair but all in terms of His sovereign purpose have a meaning that staggers us because it is so total, so omniscient, we must say that universe is a totally personal universe, totally personal. All facts are personal for God so that we cannot limit the scope of God and His ethical Word to our own soul. It covers everything. This is why in the Scripture in the law of God it says, “The earth is mine” and therefore He proceeds to give His law. And Moses declares the earths is the Lord and therefore when you go out of the camp carry a shovel with you so that when you have to use the earth for a toilet purpose you cover it because this is God’s Word, His moral Word that you should be mindful of His earth. When you besiege a city you do not destroy the fruit trees in the area. It is a sin. It is a violation of God’s purpose. God’s moral Word governs our use of the earth, of trees, of people, of all things. Hence it is that His is the total Word, the only Word for history. Anything but a Biblical position because it reduces the world of the personal to man must reduce the world of morality to man. And with that it collapses because man then is overwhelmed by the impersonal and man being then meaningless very quickly is hardly a matter of moral concern. We must therefore say that if you forsake the doctrine of God as creator you very quickly forsake a philosophy of history and you have no moral concern about history. This is why, for example, the concern of modernism with history the social gospel is less and less a moral concern all the time. And it is a technology concern, a socialist concern, because it reduces history to impersonal factors and therefore it places the blame not on man as sinner but on institutions, on capital, or on parents. It will have a Marxist or a Fabien socialist or a Freudian or a what-have-you orientation not a moral orientation, a sociological or a psychological orientation which is anti-ethical, which is a form of determinism having to die to the predestinating counsel of God and affirm the radical autonomy of man it ends up by leading man determined by his environment. [00:27:27]

Thus, the modernists lose any moral concern with history...[edit]

Thus, the modernists lose any moral concern with history. They surrender history. Only where you have the totally personal God who is totally the creator do you have a totally personal universe. This is why of necessity Biblical law IS God’s Word for the whole of life. God as Lord must govern all things. You cannot have a theology without having a theonomy. And, very soon I trust, one of our Chalcedon books, Greg ????Baunsons’s study of theonomy will be available. It is a very important work. It is time we concerned ourselves with theonomy, with God’s law because if we affirm Him as Creator, if we affirm a philosophy of history we must inescapably have a theonomic concern. We cannot be in our philosophy of history humanists and still be Christian. We cannot look for man to be the source of law there and still continue to affirm the sovereignty of God. Thus ethics is definitely concerned with the domain of the personal. The pietists are right. The domain of morality is the domain of the personal. But, what we must say is that the domain of the personal is to be identified not in terms of man but in terms of the sovereign God and therefore the domain of the personal is all inclusive. And hence we have a universal word from the universal God. Are there any questions now? We have several minutes.


[Rushdoony] Yes, Jacque A L????? is essentially Neo-orthodox and as a result as he faces this impersonal world which is in a sense the creation of his philosophy he’s horrified by it. He wants the domain of the personal and so he reacts histarically against this and he becomes an anti technological man. So, in a sense he says I want to outlaw this whole world which is no answer at all. He wants to roll back progress. There is a professor I believe at Dartmouth that came out with a book a couple of years ago in which he espoused the abandoning of all technology although allowing most of the United States to revert to its original state and for us to live like Indians on the boundaries of the new forests which would be created. Now, Jacque ????DeLou by no means goes that far but he is a part of that same kind of reaction. Now, the answer to Jacque ????DeLou is that this technological society is not to be cast aside. You render it as an impersonal thing because you have withdrawn God from the world and so if you abolish technological society you going to still face the world of nature as a similar impersonal juvernaught. It’s not going to be any different because that’s what it was to pagan man. Exactly the way you view the technological world so pagan man viewed the natural order.

[Audience] [00:30:36]

[Rushdoony] Yes, Eastern thought is very popular with...[edit]

[Rushdoony] Yes, Eastern thought is very popular with us today and it’s tragic that it is because what they are looking to in eastern thought is the collapse of eastern thought. Now, eastern cultures were far, far ahead of western in antiquity, no question about it. They came to grips with the problems and have been suffering the consequences since whereas western society has only lately come to grips with the problems. They were faced with a problem of how to deal with the problem of the one and the many, the problem of particularity and oneness with the problem is the world to be seen monastically or dualistically and they pushed very logically and consistently with their philosophies the dialectically tension either into an ultimate dualism or an ultimate monism. In either case they destroyed meaning but it was logically. Now western thought stopped short of that over and over again and tried to maintain the two in dialectical tension. But the dialectic keeps breaking down into either monism or into dualism. And so western thought has not been as successful and now that as it is collapsing naturally it’s reaching to the collapsed statists of eastern thought and saying, “Ah, there is something that is similar to what we want.” But eastern cultures have been paying the price of their logical thinking in terms of these factors during the centuries. And what these men are trying to do is to reproduce that same failure. This is why Eugen, or in German Oidin, Rosenstock, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, one of the most brilliant thinkers of recent years, a Dartmouth sociologist, spoke of John Dewey’s thought as the Chinavication of America. [00:35:19]


{Rushdoony} Grant it that in Calvin’s day the issues were not as sharply focused I would still say that yes, Calvin was a postmillennial. I think Dr. Bahnson could tell you more there because he had …… the history of eschatology quite extensively and he has a forthcoming book on Revelation which will be a landmark study. The most thorough and the finest study of the subject yet made and he will deal with Calvin’s views therein quite extensively.


{Rushdoony} Yes, your opening comment I think is very interesting. He said secular historians tell us certain dates are more important than others. They do this until they come to the logic of their position. A few years ago at a major university a professor of history began his course with this statement, “History is nothing but myth. There is no meaning to history, no significance to it. And all the histories that are taught are pure mythology but he said the state is paying me a fairly good salary to teach you history so let us proceed.” He may have been cynical but he was honest you see. Once you destroy any plan, any philosophy of history then every date is equally meaningful and equally meaningless. In terms of a Biblical philosophy of history we have our basic pattern here. It gives us the development of history from creation to Christ to the second coming. And, everything has significance in terms of that. And, things are peripheral if they are not directly related to that. Let me illustrate that. I spent, as some of you know, eight and a half years on an Indian reservation. I think I know a great deal about the Indians and their problems and their weaknesses but I am very fond of them. I really enjoyed being with then despite the gravity of their problems and the difficulty of the work because Indians are, perhaps next to Muslims, being the most difficult people to evangelize. I could talk to you by the hour with a great deal of pleasure on Indians. I have a collection of Indian artifacts that are a real source of pleasure and pride to me. But, I think it is ridiculous that today as part of our sentimental humanism children are getting so much in many schools as a part of their curriculum life and culture. Far more than they ever get on Christ, on the Bible, on the history of the faith you see. Now that’s pure irrelevance. Now, I might for myself find meaning in Indian history and life because I have a personal involvement, a personal fondness and one of my six children is adopted and he is Indian. But this doesn’t give it significance in terms of writing a history. If I sit down and write a history of America or of the world, a world history, I have to deal with it in terms of progress, of God’s plan. And what belongs in that history is what has relevance to it. For example, if I may take a moment to develop it. The council of Chalcedon is, I believe, one of the most important events in history. In the year 451 the whole idea of the state as a divine human order, as the incarnation of God was shattered by the fathers at the Council of Chalcedon. William Carl Bark and other scholars who are rarely heard from see it as the beginning of the charter of freedom for the western world. But how many of you ever heard of it in the history as you read it. Or, the significance of the Legal Revolution wrought by Justinian and Theodora. I will be dealing with that tomorrow at four. That is a commercial. Tremendous, it is the most important thing in the history of the western world. Today we have a revolution against what Theodora wrought. They don’t tell us that and all that you get in the textbooks is slander concerning Theodora. Now, if you were to deal with these facts in a Christian history you would give priority to those things rather than what our textbooks do at present so that you have a radically different perspective. [00:42:33]


{Rushdoony} The term is not mine. It was coined by an Austrian scholar Peter Drucker who by no stretch of the imagination would be on our side basically but none the less he called it a conservative counter revolution because its basic premises were very definitely of the colonial Christian tradition. It was not a revolution it was a war of Independence. Moreover, it’s an ironic fact that the pamphlets that were used in that war against the British were used by the South against the North and as a result of that they just took and crossed out the name George the Third and substituted the federal government in Washington D.C. and used some of the same pamphlets. And that is why our whole interpretation of the War of Independence was radically altered from there to the present. Now there is so much that could be said but in essence Colonial Culture was Christian to the core. Up through the 1820’s, 30’s and 40’s in this country the Bible was the common law of the land. Jury and judges decided cases not out of statute law but out of the Bible. The whole purpose of the constitution was to limit the right of the federal government to intervene in the life of the states and of the peoples and their religious establishments. And so it was Congress that was prevented from any establishment of religion. The states could have them, the counties could have them. Most of the states had an established church, nine of the thirteen in the beginning. The other three had Christianity as the establishment. It was a matter of state option whether they would have an established church or an establishment of Christianity as such rather than a church. Now the issue in the War in 1860 was not so much slavery, that was a pretext, slavery had become a problem to the south as well as the north; the only southern state that was proslavery was South Carolina. That may come as a surprise but remember that one out of eighteen southern whites only was a slave owner, only one out of eighteen. The other seventeen resented slavery. They resented it bitterly. Most of the slaves more over were nonproductive it was a welfare system. As a matter of fact Dabney one of the greatest theologians this country has ever produced. A tremendous man by the way, very delightful, said that slavery was a form of communism and he was anti-communist. But he said what the federal government in Washington and what the unions and the corporations in the North was a more vicious form of slavery and that is why he was going to fight them. He said incidentally of corporations, that the trouble with them was that the corporations have no soul to be damned nor a backside to be kicked. Now, Dabney was right. The issue then was centralism and it was a means of foisting centralism. You see every time you have a war you increase the power of the central government and the basic drive of those who were for the war, who were basic to it and to forcing the issue was a desire to force centralism on the country as against the power of the constitute unites, the states and so slavery was the convenient issue. Here they had a built in situation they could exploit.