Back to the basics…
In 1974, the University of Southern California football team trailed Notre Dame 24-6 at halftime. The game was over. But USC returned to the basics and the second half was very different. 2009 is halftime for Darwinism. It enjoys an impressive lead defining reality today. But if we return to basics, the second half might be different.
The 1974 game is a sore spot for Notre Dame fans. Trailing 24-0 late in the first half, USC eked out a touchdown but failed to convert the point after. At halftime, USC coach John McKay told his team they were returning to the basics – blocking and running. Anthony Davis took the second half kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and the Trojans proceeded to pummel Notre Dame, winning impressively, 55-24.
The early church scored impressive wins in the Roman Empire, for example – but it took more than four quarters. More like 300 years. By AD300, “the Christian church had already gained a prominence far out of proportion to the relatively small number of Christians, as a whole, within the empire,” Peter Brown writes.1 Christianity defined reality for business, education, family life, health care, and government. “The third century, indeed, was an age of surprising Christians,” Brown notes.2
But that was long ago and far away. This Thursday, February 12th, is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. November of 2009 will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species – marking halftime for Darwinism. Darwin’s definition of reality currently holds a wide lead in education, media, and economics. Yet a return to basics by believers could make the second half very different. What “basics?”
When the scriptures defined reality, it was understood that “all human faculties had legitimate objectives entitled to fulfillment,” writes Harvard Professor Emeritus Daniel Walker Howe. “An unregulated faculty – whether pride, licentiousness, or some other appetite or emotion – was called a passion. The good life required continual self-discipline, as one sought to ‘suppress his passions’ or ‘cultivate and improve his virtues.’”3 It was the task of mentors to shape conscience, cultivating virtue. Passion was an unregulated appetite requiring management.
The Bible says we never “manage” people but only animals, our appetites and assets. A wild donkey, “accustomed to the wilderness” that “sniffs the wind in her passion” is how the Bible views an unregulated faculty (Jer. 2:24). Not good. People, however, are not like “the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check” (Ps. 32:9). They’re supposed to be mentored.
The 19th century was the Great Reversal of this definition of reality. With the publication of Origin in 1859, Darwinism declared that people are merely evolved animals. In 1882, “Nietzsche published The Gay Science and there declared that God was dead and all god-terms with him,” one cultural analyst adds.4 With God gone and people demoted to the level of animals came The Great Reversal: passion became a healthy appetite, a virtue.
Any reversal is ecological. “I mean ecological in the same sense used by environmental scientists. One significant change generates total change,” Neil Postman notes.5 The new Darwinian definition of reality accounts for why we hear little about conscience. It’s why mentoring has largely disappeared and why modern management theory gained traction in the 20th century. We want passionate workers, not conscientious colleagues.
Any reversal is also institutional. It is better to think of culture as a thing, a product, if you will, manufactured not by lone individuals but rather by institutions and the elites who lead them. Influentials like Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”), John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William James disseminated Darwin’s ideas. Today, passion is paramount. New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, asks how magazine editors – month after month, year after year – can churn out “page after page on lip-gloss trends, armoire placement, or powerboat design” without getting depressed. The answer? “These editors have, to use their favorite word, passion.”6
Passion however is pointless. In 2008, Langham Auckland launched a winter weekend package, Passionate for Prada. “Diabetes is our Passion,” advertises Novartis. What makes George Washington University’s MBA program great? Passion. Pierce Brosnan is pursuing his two great passions – environmentalism and movies. Bratz has a passion for fashion slippers and flip flops. Yanni sells Reflections of Passion. Lauryn Hill’s got Passion. The Cure is cuter – Plastic Passion. Duran Duran – Of Crime and Passion. Jimmy Buffett – Cuban Crime of Passion. Stop the madness! Somebody, do something!
The most important thing anyone can do is name something, Albert Einstein said. 2009 is halftime for Darwinism. Even though faith communities are trailing, they can return to the basics. They could promote mentors who cultivate a protégé’s conscience. They could play down passion as an unregulated appetite. Who knows what might happen in the second half? If we return to the basics, the next 150 years might play out very differently.
1 Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom (Malden MA: Blackwell, 1996), p. 31.
2 Brown, Rise, pp. 24-25.
3 Daniel Walker Howe, Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 6.
4 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority,
Kenneth S. Piver, General Editor, Volume I, Sacred Order/Social Order (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006), p. xxiv.
5 Neil Postman: Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, NY: First Vintage Books Edition, 1993), p. 18.
6 David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 188.