The Spirit of the Age as Foundation for Morals
July 9, 2017
It has been quite popular for some time now for people to engage in moral/ethical argument on the basis of what year it is (“It’s 2017.…”) or its sister argument (“the flow of history/right side of history”).
I haven’t decided whether such people really don’t realize how stupid the form of argument is, or whether they actually do, but are so cynical they use it anyway. It doesn’t seem nice to impute that level of obtuseness, but on the other hand, it’s not exactly complementary to impute that level of cynicism either.
If you want to see how frivolous the form of argument is, simply use it with reference to mindsets and attitudes in the past which we now denigrate. For example, the early twentieth century had an extraordinarily high regard for race-based eugenics, not only in Germany, but (sad to say) in much of the West, including the “free democracies,” especially among the intelligentsia. (Of course, this is now largely swept under the carpet.) I can imagine the argument: “It’s 1930; can’t everyone see by now the tide of history is with the purification of the human race?” It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate that form of argument and place it in all sorts of other historical environments.
The truth of the matter is that the fact it’s 2017 has only one bearing upon matters of ethics and morality: the spirit of the age we must deal with is the spirit of 2017, whereas people in the past have had to deal with other variations of the spirit of the age. The high regard we have toward it being 2017 only belies the fact that we are a self-congratulatory generation that thinks very highly of ourselves and our values over against the past. It says nothing about whether we have a legitimate right to our self-regard.
This is why when I appeal to the Bible and people object to how old it is, I don’t bat an eye. If anything, the age of the Bible speaks in its favor rather than to its disadvantage. It has seen the rise and fall of all sorts of nations, cultures and philosophies, whereas the modern critic who so casually disparages Scripture is merely a puff of recent air.
The God of Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is Yahweh—I AM. His very name speaks to his unchanging faithfulness: to his promises, to his people, and to his own character. Christians who capitulate to the spirit of the age are above all else denying the self-revelation of God. They are denying that he is the I AM, instead suggesting he is the “I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”
There is no hope in that sort of God, because in the end that leaves us to our own wisdom, and if we were wise enough to learn from history, we would see that’s not much at all. It is Yahweh the human race needs, and it is Yahweh’s word that will stand long after the spirit of this age recedes in the background and whole future populations laugh at its follies.