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Leadership is about ideas and actions. Put simply, it is about implementing new ideas into creative

actions to achieve desired results. Doing so, however, is far from simple. We know leadership re-

quires considerable skills and abilities. It requires knowledge and insight—about one’s organization

or entity, its people, goals, strengths and market niche. Yet, something more is needed. Leadership

also requires a kind of awareness beyond the immediate, an awareness of the larger pictures—of

paradigms that direct us, beliefs that sustain us, values that guide us and principles that motivate us,

our worldviews.

This article will, first, briefly examine how the concept of worldviews is used in leadership study

and the contexts in which it arises. Second, it will critically look at worldviews, recognizing that they

are not always coherent and that our belief systems are often fragmented and incomplete. Third, it

will argue for the relevance of the concept worldview in leadership study as a way to explore vari-

ous visions of life and ways of life that may be helpful in overcoming the challenges we face today.

Fourth, it will examine how national and global issues impact worldview construction, especially

among the millennial generation. Our conclusions set some directions for leadership action in light

of worldview issues.


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JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls 55

as well as the effect of dispelling earlier assumptions of
an overriding homogeneous and uniform worldview
embraced by all.

At this point the concept of worldview is often used
interchangeably with terms such as mental models, par-
adigms, organizing devices, contexts, and operating systems
(Beck & Cowan, 1996; Klenke, 2008). A worldview is
seen as serving a particular function, encompassing
deeply held beliefs about reality that shape and influ-
ence how individuals think and act. Worldviews deter-
mine priorities and reinforce one’s view of reality and
of what is true and right (Barrett, 2006; Ciulla, 2000;
Hames, 2007). Yet, where it has focused specifically on
worldviews, leadership study has confined it largely to
religious and spiritual worldviews as applied to indi-
viduals and groups or organizations (Hicks, 2003;
Lindsey, 2007). It has left numerous secular world-
views largely unexamined.

The concept of worldview does surface within lead-
ership development. It is recognized that a person’s life
context shapes how one develops—altering one’s
life context alters one’s course of development (Luthans &
Avolio, 2003). Further, each person interprets and as-
signs significance of meaning to different events, which
in turn become a lens through which we view the world
around us (Avolio, 2005). These are what Gadamer,
Weinsheimer, and Marshall (2004) called prejudices:
points of view that define our immediate horizon of un-
derstanding. Self-awareness, or learning to identify and
understand one’s own worldview, becomes a cornerstone
of leadership, for a leader’s worldview impacts an or-
ganization and those that operate within it. From the
perspective of leaders as change agents, this becomes
particularly important. Leaders assist others in creating
and making sense of their experience and in so doing
“reconstruct reality” and “recompose truths” (Drath,
2001, pp. 144, 147).

How Robust Is the Idea of
As scholars begin to incorporate the idea of worldviews
in leadership study, some may ask whether the concept
itself is sufficiently robust at this point for leadership study.
Setting aside for the time being the particular content of a
worldview, as well as the degree of one’s commitment to a

The Concept of Worldviews in
Leadership Studies
Multiple ways of knowing and cross-cultural literacy are
goals of leadership. As such, leadership study requires
broad awareness in order to build bridges of understand-
ing. It necessitates worldview literacy and the ability to
communicate in plural and diverse settings. Essentially,
it encourages awareness of one’s own view or vision of
life as a means to better engage with others. Awareness
of diverse views or perspectives is necessary so people
can engage in common cause in a multifaceted world
(Drath, 2001).

Worldview is a concept that requires an interdiscipli-
nary, multidisciplinary, and perhaps even transdiscipli-
nary approach to fully understand its tenets and
application. It is overtly and robustly defined in certain
disciplinary areas—religious studies, philosophy, and
anthropology—but is only slowly surfacing in leader-
ship study (Crumpton, 2010). Here, it is used with lim-
ited clarity and consensus, with only some semblance
and points of agreement.

Lack of worldview definitional clarity and precision
within leadership study should not be surprising given
that leadership study has undergone significant para-
digm shifts. Leadership study emerged within the con-
text of modernity and its emphasis on objective
rationality. But it came to be influenced by postmoder-
nity and its emphasis on multiple ways of knowing,
and language and knowledge construction. Today,
much of leadership study embraces what is often re-
ferred to as glocalism, an emphasis on thinking glob-
ally and acting locally (Antonakis, Cianciolo, &
Sternberg, 2004; Burke, 2008; Northouse, 2010;
Schwandt & Szabla, 2007). Leadership study recog-
nizes that increasing cultural and racial diversity have
been brought on by globalism. Further, technology has
opened the door for alternative ways of viewing the
world and the necessity of new leadership practices
such as global or cross-cultural leadership and intercul-
tural communication (Chhokar, Brodbeck, & House,
2009; Rondinelli & Heffron, 2009). As such, the im-
portance of exploring similarities and differences be-
tween worldviews has surfaced. With it comes fostering
self-awareness (what is my worldview?) and the under-
standing of others (what is another person’s worldview?),

56 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls

Knowledge of words spoken does not automatically
imply understanding; that they make sense to someone
else. Our powers of comprehension or even inference
are not infallible.

A worldview is also dynamic—it changes over time.
Jaspers characterized “the construction of worldviews
as a continuous, lifelong process stimulated by the ex-
perience of disturbance” (cited in Webb, 2009, p. 15).
What one believes and values today can be quite differ-
ent tomorrow. Measuring something that does not hold
still is difficult (Aerts et al., 2007). Kegan refers to these
as “a succession of holding environments” (cited in
Webb, 2009, p. 50). Aerts et al. (2007) maintain that
any worldview is “fragile” (p. 10). Broekaert (1999) em-
ploys the more optimistic term openness—every world-
view is open to revision or even replacement.
Worldviews are dynamic; they can evolve (Vidal, 2007).
Webb (2009) credited Jaspers with insisting that a
worldview is indefinite and fluid, a work in progress.

Woodrow Wilson (1952) wrote about leadership
as an academic administrator. But did the same thoughts
and attitudes prevail in his mind later during his years in
public office? We know certain leaders change their
views because they attest to that change and lead dif-
ferently thereafter as a result. In other situations, of
course, the change might be subtle or even unconscious.
But do changes in some of the views one holds entail a
wholesale change in the worldview one holds?

Many people today are unaware of or have doubts
about their own worldviews. Sociologists refer to this
as anomie, based on the Latin, “being without coherent
wholeness” (Webb, 2009, p. 1). Some seem not to care
whether or not they have a worldview. Noonan (1990)
alleges that U.S. President Ronald Reagan was quite
oblivious to his own worldview. Henry Adams (1999)
said much the same thing about President Ulysses
Grant. Neither man was known for being particularly
introspective. Yet each president in his own way was a
leader. Is awareness of one’s own worldview, therefore,
a precondition for leadership?

It can, nonetheless, be argued that everyone has a
worldview of some sort ( Webb, 2009). Worldviews are
socially constructed over time (Vidal, 2007). The com-
munities to which people belong—religious, social, ed-
ucational, and political—influence what they espouse
(Smith, 2003; Wacquant, 2006). Yet, just as no two

given worldview, a question remains as to whether the
very idea of discussing or incorporating “worldviews” en-
hances leadership study (Webb, 2009). An investigation
into worldviews might begin with an epistemic question
regarding the detection and examination of a worldview.
Can one infer the presence of worldviews? If so, what
can be inferred based on the evidence?

Laing (1967) concluded that the study of the experi-
ences of others will indeed be based on inferences since
no one has direct access to the minds of others. Never-
theless, in ordinary experience, people do believe there
is something there, which suggests there is something
there to interpret. People seem to have reasons for what
they do, even if those reasons turn out to be difficult to
establish. Reasons for action are linked to worldviews.

Dennett (2005) impugns folk psychology, wonder-
ing how anyone can know what somebody else might be
thinking—or whether they are thinking at all. He main-
tains that it is next to impossible to really know some-
one else’s worldview. Even if one does claim to have a
worldview, he or she may well be mistaken as to its
structure and content. He or she may also not neces-
sarily act in light of it.

Dennett’s claims notwithstanding, perhaps most ob-
vious to the notion that a person has a worldview is
what he or she might say about it. Friedrich Nietzsche
(1887/1956), among others, speculated that humans
give reasons for their behavior not because those rea-
sons did in fact lead to particular decisions, but because
of the desire to rationalize behavior after the fact. Do
people admit to a worldview to avoid the truth about a
basis for action they would prefer to disguise or dis-
avow? Might avowals of a worldview be evasions or ra-
tionalizations, disguising what really goes on in the
human mind? Nietzsche was quite suspicious of peo-
ple’s testimony. In fact, Lansky once referred to the
“doubting of surface rationalization that so dramatically
characterizes virtually all of Nietzsche’s work” (1999,
p. 179). The suspicion is that reference to one’s world-
view might be a smokescreen of self-justification,
whether conscious or unconscious. In other words, as-
suming to know someone’s worldview based solely on
what is reported about it can be problematic.

Language itself can be a barrier to effective understand-
ing of the worldviews of others (Aerts et al., 2007). This
holds even when two people speak the same language.

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increasingly elaborate and complex—arguably exceeding
any one individual’s powers of explanation. Understand-
ing worldview complexity becomes another challenge for
leadership study (Aerts et al., 2007; Webb, 2009).

There may be more challenges. What role, for in-
stance, do factors such as lust, pride, or greed play in
determining worldviews? We know they can play a
formative role in leadership action, but how constitutive
are they in determining beliefs and values? Do they con-
tribute to worldview incoherence, or even worldview
schizophrenia, potentially creating discrepancies be-
tween espoused belief and concrete action? These factors
may be internal to the individual but nonetheless in-
fluence and shape external behavior.

Worldviews and Their Implications
for Leadership
It was the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Won-
derland who said, “If you don’t know where you are
going, any road will get you there.” To rephrase only
slightly, if you do not know your own beliefs and values,
any will do, as will any road or virtual highway. But
thoughtful minds are more discerning. A Lutheran
“Here I stand” or a Gandhian “Be the change that you
want to see in the world” requires careful reflection in
order to achieve the world we need or want, for the
world we need or want is crucially linked to our world-
view—our beliefs and values. Leadership for action re-
quires reflection on our worldviews.

In light of the challenges posed in regard to use of
the concept of worldview in leadership study, world-
view development, or “know thyself ” as the Oracle of
Delphi decreed, is crucial for studying the past, assess-
ing the present, and planning for the future. Worldview
development, however, must also be linked to compar-
ative religionist Max Muller’s dictum, “He who knows
one, knows none”: knowledge of one’s own worldview
cannot be accomplished without some knowledge of
those of others (cited in Sharpe, 1975, p. 36).

G. K. Chesterton argued that “the most practical and
important thing about a man is his view of the universe”
(1986, p. 41). According to Parks (1991), humans have
an inherent desire to make sense of their universe: we are
meaning-makers. We need and desperately want to make
sense of our world: to compose/dwell in some conviction

people are the same, so no two worldviews are the same.
No matter how thick the spirit of homonoia or like-
mindedness, there will always be at least some variation
(Webb, 2009). Further, worldviews are not ascribed ex-
clusively to individuals; a community can also be de-
fined by a particular worldview (Aerts et al., 2007;
Webb, 2009). Thus, one can speak of a collective world-
view influencing individual worldviews and that indi-
vidual worldviews can also influence a collective

In all of this, worldviews require interpretation. Here,
two challenges present themselves. First, any interpreta-
tion of a worldview will be filtered through the world-
view of the interpreter (Klüver, 1926). An investigator
must recognize and take into account that he or she,
too, has a worldview. That worldview serves as a lens or
framework through which the worldview of another is
interpreted and described. The existence, character, and
content of one’s own worldview do not imply anything
similar in regard to that of another person. One is ill
advised to jump too quickly from the content of one’s
own mind to inferences about the content of another.

Second, worldviews can often be fundamentally inco-
herent, inconsistent, and unclear (Aerts et al., 2007).
They may be tattered, makeshift constructs that make
some sense of daily life, but may also be little more than
evolutionary truces or temporary versions of an adopted
worldview, as Kegan (1982) inferred. Worldviews may
be partial—comprised of bits and pieces that lack ap-
parent connection. They may be filled with unresolved
contradictions and may change over time. A person’s
worldview may resemble a patchwork of evolving sub-
worldviews and not something coherent and complete,
a notion consistent with the pluralistic imagery es-
poused by James (1909/1996).

Yet, any concept is an abstraction from lived reality
and certain features will be included and others ex-
cluded. No worldview is so elaborate as the reality it at-
tempts to depict. That is impossible, and misses the
point of worldview construction ( Whitehead, 1938,
1951). Worldviews, however articulate or inarticulate,
coherent or incoherent, complete or incomplete, are ab-
stractions of the world in which we live. But worldview
development is the very act of overcoming inarticulate-
ness, incoherence, and incompleteness (McKenzie,
1991). What is constructed will invariably become

58 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls

academic disciplines attempt to understand, identify,
and describe larger patterns of thinking and/or acting,
frequently employing the term worldview in the process
(Foltz, 2003; Kriger & Seng, 2005; Sire, 2004).

These larger patterns of thinking or worldviews come
with totalizing narratives: assertions or explanations of
“the way the world is” as seen from a particular perspec-
tive. But all perspectives require interpretation, for real-
ity and a particular view of it are not synonymous. No
one stands at the mountaintop. For this reason, our
worldview is necessarily a “leap of faith” about the na-
ture of reality, which requires at minimum a small meas-
ure of humility and a great deal of interpretation.

Perhaps it has been the reluctance to distinguish real-
ity from its interpretations that has led postmodernism
to reject the totalizing or meta-narratives often implied
or assumed in worldviews, arguing that these narratives,
if not the worldviews themselves, need to be decon-
structed for what they really are—struggles for power,
control, and domination. History is replete with such
worldview struggles, and the current era is no different.
Yet, it would be an oversimplification to assert that all
attempts to understand one’s own worldview or those of
others automatically translate into struggles for or pre-
sumptions of moral, religious, cultural, and economic
superiority. In leadership studies a genuine desire to un-
derstand “the other,” in order to better know the self,
might be more appropriate as we come increasingly to
recognize ourselves as citizens of a global world.

Reflection on our visions of life and our ways of life—
on what we believe and value and why, and the partic-
ular kinds of directives and actions that result from
them—is important in the academic training of lead-
ers, especially when postmodern fears of distinguishing
differences will lead to pursuits of power, attitudes of
superiority, or false notions of what is real and true.
That became apparent in issues surfacing at the 1993
World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. Ingham
(1997) mentions that leading scientists stated, in a sur-
prising turn of events, that solutions to the world’s
biggest challenges lay not in more political action, better
technology, or increased economic initiatives. Solutions,
they argued, lay rather in guidance from some of the
world’s most respected spiritual leaders. Tapping into
the wisdom of the past, understanding its relevance
for the present, and allowing it to guide us into the

of what is ultimately true (Peterson, 2001). In the
process, we create things, ideas, stories, and experiences
that speak to some of the deepest realities of our lives.
The result is “worldview construction”—creating mean-
ing in a world that can appear confusing and meaning-
less (McKenzie, 1991; Naugle, 2002). Worldviews are
thus meaningful visions of life.

Worldviews are also ways of life. Everyone has a con-
scious or subconscious way of acting and behaving in
the world based on particular beliefs and values. These
may be known, articulated, or discerned by individu-
als or groups to greater or lesser degrees. Achieving con-
sistency and congruency in our visions and ways of life
is challenging: We all readily profess one thing and do
another. Beliefs can be loosely adhered to, incompatible,
or in tension, leading to inconsistent or contradictory
action: “talking our walk” does not always match “walk-
ing our talk” (Olsen et al., 1992; Olthuis, 1985). This
may readily reflect human weakness but does not erode
the need to be anchored in some coherent sense of the
reality we experience.

The reality that we experience does, of course,
change. As our reality changes, so does our understand-
ing of ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit. In
some cases, our worldview changes dramatically but
more often than not it is aspects of our worldview that
are expanded and deepened. Core philosophical, onto-
logical, or epistemological aspects are seldom discarded
or abandoned. Further, giving articulation to our world-
views is not easy. Often, philosophers, theologians, or
poets express what others may only feel or believe in-
tuitively. As such, they become spokespersons, leaders,
or individuals of great influence, of which Socrates,
Martin Luther King Jr., or Vaclav Havel are but a few

When we hear and read of perceptions of the world
expressed by persons of great influence, or even others,
we come to recognize that those perceptions or perspec-
tives can be considerably different. The worldview per-
spectives of a Richard Dawkins, Donald Trump, or Karl
Marx, for example, differ radically from those of a
Desmond Tutu, Chief Seattle, or the Dalai Lama: They
are simply not the same and we know it. We also see
them played out. We come to know that Capitalism,
Communism, and Confucianism differ from one
another both as visions of life and ways of life. Various

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future may greatly assist us in overcoming our greatest
challenges. It has been noted, sadly, however, that the
depths of wisdom offered by many of the world’s tra-
ditional religious worldviews, each accustomed to ask-
ing life’s so-called “ultimate or existential questions,”
are accessed by only a very small percentage of leaders
today (Valk et al., 2010).

Asking these big questions in regard to business devel-
opments, political action, international relations, and
concern for the environment might well, however, lead
to some startling discussions and revelations. Incorpo-
rating worldview study into leadership study might, for
example, change our notions and understandings of
wealth and wealth creation. The capitalistic drive to gen-
erate wealth might lead from a narrow focus on maxi-
mizing profit to a broader one that includes living wages
for workers, healthy families, and sustainable environ-
ments. Engaging multiple perspectives or worldviews
can enhance dialogue as debates of intense public in-
terest play out in the public square.

It is also in engaging multiple perspectives in the pub-
lic square that we need to increase our critical aware-
ness of the different perspectives that are part of our
plural society. Fixating on “Christianity lite” or “Bud-
dhism lite” renders only dumbed-down and distorted
versions crafted for media sound bites or scoring points
in public debates. In-depth leadership study must avoid
cheapened versions, opting rather to plumb the depths
of various perspectives to extract wisdom so desperately
needed in our society today.

Critical awareness is also required to achieve balance.
Careful scrutiny is needed in discerning when, for ex-
ample, consumer capitalism’s desire to generate wealth
throughout the world digresses to little more than a
dominant strategy to increase world market share and
seek cheap labor in order to maximize profits (Wexler,
2006), or when religious worldviews focused exclusively
on the spiritual neglect the impoverished reality of their
devotees. Open dialogue and discernment involving
multiple perspectives will assist in distinguishing true
human needs and longings from those that are con-
trived, truncated, and insatiable. Discussions also should
not be confined to national boundaries or single disci-
plines: economic issues are at the same time environ-
mental, cultural, spiritual, religious, scientific, and

As we deal with the challenges of the 21st century,
clearer senses of purpose and direction are required—in
essence, clearer visions linked to specific actions. Inves-
tigating the bigger pictures—worldviews of self and
others—will give guidance and direction to leaders in
new or unique ways. We live in a global world. Chal-
lenges and issues confronted by one organization, re-
gion, or nation invariably become global challenges and
issues. Just as leadership must extend beyond the narrow
confines of one’s own organization, it must also extend
beyond the narrow confines of one’s own perspective.
As well, it must dissuade giving prominent voice to
those with worldviews that dominate and distort, dis-
tain and detract, impede and restrict. Rather, opportu-
nities ought to be created for those with visions that
strive for balance, have concern for the common good,
are understanding of others, and discern paths needed
to create the world we truly need or want. This becomes
most relevant as dynamics unfold at a larger national
and international scale. Those dynamics are beginning
to shape individual and collective worldviews in ways
not previously experienced, and the changes are impact-
ing some generations more than others.

Worldviews and Generational
Winston Churchill once said that “the longer you can
look back, the farther you can look forward” (Langworth,
2008, p. 577). Amidst the current global economic cri-
sis there is a need to examine and learn from the past
mistakes of the global consumer capitalist worldview in
order not to perpetuate those mistakes in the future. Ig-
noring the past and looking only to the future may be
a human tendency, but it is fraught with shortsighted-
ness. Can a people, nation, or organization truly move
forward without continually examining its presupposi-
tions and paradigms?

According to Strauss and Howe (1991, 1997) and
Howe and Nadler (2010), we are living in a period of
“civic crisis.” The West is confronted with environmen-
tal devastation, economic downturns, social upheavals,
housing crises, civic unrest, and political polarization
in a manner not seen for some time. While most of this
turmoil is not new on the human stage, what is new
is the extent of its reach in the information age. Crises

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networking occurring across cultural, national, and
worldview divides on a scale never witnessed before.
Fourth, family is again seen as the ultimate safety net,
largely out of economic necessity in light of a weaken-
ing or collapsing of public support mechanisms. Rela-
tionships of intergenerational trust are emphasized and
strengthened, with less focus on materialism and money as
primary drivers. Finally, diversification, which nets knowl-
edge and fluency in languages, cultures, and technology,
is stressed. A generalist with survival skills may have an
edge over specialists with focused skills (Strauss & Howe,

Strauss and Howe (1997) make the case that the
worldviews of Millennials are more globally focused, a
shift from the individual to the community. Social net-
working takes them outside national borders to the
global stage, where technology provides open channels
for communication and information sharing to all parts
of the world. They exhibit a common willingness to col-
laborate among all nationalities, working together to
help solve societies problems in ways that will benefit
all (Bradley, 2010; Hernandez, 2008; Howe & Strauss,

Franklin Roosevelt once remarked that the objectives
of his generation of young people had changed away
from “a plethora of riches” to one of a “sufficiency of
life”—an advancement “along a broad highway on
which thousands of your fellow men and women are
advancing with you” (Roosevelt & Hardman, 1944,
p. 243). For the Millennials, this highway is the virtual
one, the World Wide Web that has facilitated commu-
nication in real time across the globe. Its ability to reach
the far corners of our world has seen a transformation
that bodes well for the Millennials as they spread their
community-based leadership and action across our
world, in essence, as they spread their worldview.

There is an extensive if not diverse use of the concept of
worldview in scholarly literature. That use has also
slowly begun to emerge in the leadership literature. The
need to link this literature and get beneath the casual
uses of the concept becomes paramount. The forego-
ing begins a process of laying out the parameters neces-
sary to link worldviews and leadership in a scholarly

played out on the world stage are today visible in our
very living rooms. But according to Strauss and Howe,
they impact different generations in different ways.
They have formative influence on the worldview devel-
opment of younger generations and increasingly so.

Generational scholars have characterized the large
postwar Baby Boom generation as predominantly self-
focused—inward-looking to fulfill individual needs
(Dychtwald, 2005; Howe & Nadler, 2010; Strauss &
Howe, 1991, 1997). The Baby Boom generation has
been privileged with tremendous social mobility, eco-
nomic growth, political liberty, and individual freedom
of the last half-century. But they have also witnessed
environmental devastation, fiscal implosions, demo-
cratic disengagement, and poverty in the midst of af-
fluence (Howe & Strauss, 2000). The result is that a
younger generation now considers upward mobility, in-
creased wealth, and improved lives—a sense of genera-
tional progression—illusions of a generation past.
Further, new generations—Millennials, “13ers”—may
be required to act as “repair generations,” “fixing the
messes and cleaning up the debris of others” (Strauss &
Howe, 1997, p. 326).

The worldview of the young Millennial generation
will be more globally encompassed because we now live
in a global world. This will have a great impact on lead-
ership as a new generation takes the reins and attempts
to remain upbeat about the future of their world. Sev-
eral factors, some new and some not so new, influence
and shape their worldview formation. First, emphasis
on the virtues of honesty and integrity, on reputation
and trust building, is again important (Howe & Nadler,
2010). These virtues have been integral to traditional
religious or spiritual worldviews but have become ab-
sent in growing individualistic, secular, and consumer
worldviews (Martinsons & Ma, 2009). Second, con-
nectedness to a community comprised of worldview di-
versity rather than worldview homogeneity has become
the norm (Bartley, Ladd, & Morris, 2007). But that di-
verse community also has its eyes on government to
meet society’s basic needs. Barack Obama, the United
States’ first president of color, was proactive in bring-
ing together diverse groups for common cause (Alex-
Assensoh, 2008). Third, personal relationship building
and teamwork is paramount. While some of this comes
with an expected loss of personal freedoms, there is

JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls 61

Making the concept robust for leadership study re-
quires certain depth and complexity in understanding
worldviews. Constructing a deeper understanding of
worldviews requires certain mindfulness, not least
of which is the degree to which our own worldview may
filter our perceptions of others. Awareness of one’s own
perspective requires scrutiny while engaging that of an-

Worldview construction is complex. One’s view of the
world is initially shaped by the immediate context out of
which one emerges—family, community, social, and cul-
tural environments. But there are also other factors at
play. As our larger world increasingly impinges upon us,
global factors also begin to shape our worldviews. This
becomes evident especially with generational differences,
where a balance of factors internal and external to our
immediate contexts begins to play a larger role.

Nonetheless, the nature of leadership reveals that great
leaders take action in the world from a clear place: they
are anchored in a particular view of the world.
Humans are meaning makers, and when leaders assist
others in making sense of the world through a clearly
articulated and coherent worldview, solid action can fol-
low. Thus, while we need to be cognizant of the diversity
of worldviews and the diversity of uses of the concept, we
also need to recognize that particular visions of life and
ways of life can be powerful and compelling. The chal-
lenge to leadership is to find ways to more explicitly map
out these worldviews, discerning those that tend to im-
pede and restrict from those that seek to enhance and
expand the world we truly need or want.

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John Valk is associate professor of worldview studies at
Renaissance College, University of New Brunswick, Canada.
He received his doctorate from the University of Toronto. John
can be reached at [email protected]

Stephan Belding teaches at the Universities of Phoenix and
Marylhurst. He has an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
He is currently working on his doctorate at Capella Univer-
sity. Stephan can be reached at [email protected]

Alicia Crumpton is the director of the Center for Global Stud-
ies and teaches Leadership Studies at Johnson University. She
received her doctorate from Gonzaga University. Alicia can be
reached at [email protected]

Nathan Harter is professor of Leadership and American Stud-
ies at Christopher Newport University. He received his juris
doctor (JD) at Indiana University School of Law. Nathan
can be reached at [email protected]

Jonathan Reams (Ph.D.) is associate professor in the De-
partment of Education at the Norwegian University of
Science and Technology. Jonathan can be reached at [email protected]

For any of us to be fully conscious

intellectually we should not only be able

to detect the worldviews of others

but be aware of our own—

why it is ours and why in light of so many options

we think it is true.

Other Books by James W. Sire

How to Read Slowly
Scripture Twisting
Beginning with God
Discipleship of the Mind
Chris Chrisman Goes to College
Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All?
Jesus the Reason (Bible study guide)
Habits of the Mind
Václav Havel
Naming the Elephant
Why Good Arguments Often Fail
Learning to Pray Through the Psalms
A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics
Praying the Psalms of Jesus
Deepest Differences with Carl Peraino

A Basic Worldview Catalog


J A M E S W . S I R E


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Fifth edition ©2009 by James W. Sire. First edition ©1976 by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the United
States of America. Second edition ©1988 by James W. Sire. Third edition ©1997 by James W. Sire. Fourth edition
©2004 by James W. Sire.

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Design: Cindy Kiple

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open door: Nicolas Loran/iStockphoto

USA ISBN 978-0-8308-7742-3

To Marjorie

Carol, Mark and Caleb

Eugene and Lisa

Richard, Kay Dee, Derek, Hannah, Micah, Abigail and Joanna

Ann, Jeff, Aaron and Jacob

whose worlds on worlds

compose my familiar and burgeoning universe


Preface to the Fifth Edition 9

1 A World of Difference: Introduction 15

2 A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God:
Christian Theism 25

3 The Clockwork Universe: Deism 47

4 The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism 66

5 Zero Point: Nihilism 94

6 Beyond Nihilism: Existentialism 117

7 Journey to the East: Eastern Pantheistic Monism 144

8 A Separate Universe: The New Age—Spirituality
Without Religion 166

9 The Vanished Horizon: Postmodernism 214

10 A View from the Middle East: Islamic Theism 244

11 The Examined Life: Conclusion 278

Index 287


It has been more than thirty-three years since this book was first
pub lished in 1976 Much has happened both in the development of world-
views in the West and in the way others and I have come to understand
the notion of worldview

In 1976 the New Age worldview was just forming and had yet to be
given a name I called it “the new consciousness ” At the same time the
word postmodern was used only in academic circles and had yet to be
recognized as an intellectually significant shift Now, in 2009, the New
Age is over thirty years old, adolescent only in character, not in years
Meanwhile postmodernism has penetrated every area of intellectual life,
enough to have triggered at least a modest backlash Pluralism, and the
relativism and syncretism that have accompanied it, have muted the dis-
tinctive voice of every point of view And though the third edition of this
book noted these, there is now more to the stories of both the New Age
and postmodernism In the fourth edition I updated the chapter on the
New Age and substantially revised the chapter on postmodernism

In the fourth edition I also reformulated the entire notion of world-
view What is it, really? There have been challenges to the definition I
gave in 1976 (and left unchanged in the 1988 and 1997 editions) Was it
not too intellectual? Isn’t a worldview more unconscious than conscious?
Why does it begin with abstract ontology (the notion of being) instead of
the more personal question of epistemology (how we know)? Don’t we
first need to have our knowledge justified before we can make claims
about the nature of ultimate reality? Isn’t my definition of worldview de-

10 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

pendent on nineteenth-century German idealism or, perhaps, the truth
of the Christian worldview itself? What about the role of behavior in
forming or assessing or even identifying one’s worldview? Doesn’t post-
modernism undermine the very notion of worldview?

I took these challenges to heart The result was twofold First was the
writing of Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, published at
the same time as the fourth edition of The Universe Next Door Here I
addressed a host of issues surrounding the concept of worldview Readers
who are interested in the intellectual tool used in the fourth edition and
this one will find it analyzed at much greater depth there To do this, I
was greatly aided by the work of David Naugle, professor of philosophy at
Dallas Baptist University In Worldview: The History of a Concept he sur-
veyed the origin, development and various versions of the concept from
Immanuel Kant to Arthur Holmes and beyond, and he presents his own
definition of the Christian worldview It is his identification of worldview
with the biblical notion of the heart that has spawned my own revised
definition, which appears in chapter one of the fourth edition and the
present book

Readers of any of the first three editions will note that the new defini-
tion does four things First, it shifts the focus from a worldview as a “set
of presuppositions” to a “commitment, a fundamental orientation of the
heart,” giving more emphasis to the pretheoretical roots of the intellect
Second, it expands the way worldviews are expressed, adding to a set of
presuppositions the notion of story Third, it makes more explicit that the
deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of
the “really real ” Fourth, it acknowledges the role of behavior in assessing
what anyone’s worldview actually is To further emphasize the impor-
tance of one’s worldview as a commitment, in this fifth edition I have
added an eighth worldview question: What personal, life-orienting core
commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Nonetheless, most of the analysis of the first four editions of The Uni-
verse Next Door remains the same Except for chapter three on deism,
which has been significantly expanded to account for the diversities
within this worldview, only occasional changes have been made in the
presentation and analysis of the first six of the eight worldviews exam-
ined It is my hope that with the refined definition and these modest revi-
sions the powerful nature of every worldview will be more fully evident

Preface to the Fifth Edition 11

Finally, there is one major worldview now affecting the West that I
have not treated in any of the previous editions Since September 11,
2001, Islam has become a major factor of life not only in the Middle East,
Africa and Southeast Asia but in Europe and North America as well The
Islamic worldview (or perhaps worldviews) now impinges on the lives of
people around the globe Moreover, the term worldview appears in daily
newspapers when writers try to grasp and explain what is fueling the
stunning events of the past few years Unfortunately, I am not personally
prepared to respond to the need for us in America to understand Islam’s
understanding of our world So I have asked Dr Winfried Corduan, pro-
fessor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University and author of a
number of books but especially of Neighboring Faiths, to contribute a
chapter on Islamic worldviews 1

One final comment on my motivation for the first edition It has trig-
gered numerous negative comments especially among Amazon com re-
viewers who complain that the book displays a pro-Christian bias They
want an unbiased study There is no such thing as an unbiased study of
any significant intellectual idea or movement Of course an analysis of
worldviews will display some sort of bias Even the idea of an objective
account assumes that objectivity is possible or more valuable than an ac-
count from a committed and acknowledged perspective C S Lewis,
writing about his interpretation of Milton’s Paradise Lost, once com-
mented that his Christian faith was an advantage “What would you not
give,” he asked, “to have a real live Epicurean at your elbow while reading
Lucretius?”2 Here you have a real live Christian’s guide to the Christian
worldview and its alternatives

Furthermore, I first wrote the book for Christian students in the mid
1970s; it was designed to help them identify why they often felt so “out of
it” when their professors assumed the truth of ideas they deemed odd or
even false I wanted these students to know the outlines of a “merely”
Christian worldview, how it provided the foundation for much of the
modern Western world’s understanding of reality and what the differ-
ences were between the Christian worldview and the various worldviews
that either stemmed from Christianity by variation and decay or coun-
tered Christianity at its very intellectual roots The book was immedi-

1Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1998)
2C S Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), p 65

1 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ately adopted as a text in both secular institutions—Stanford, the Univer-
sity of Rhode Island and North Texas State, for example—and Christian
colleges Subsequent editions have been edited to acknowledge readers
with other worldviews, but the Christian perspective has, without apol-
ogy, not been changed

In fact, the continued interest of readers in this book continues to sur-
prise and please me It has been translated into nineteen languages, and
each year it finds its way into the hands of many students at the behest of
professors in courses as widely divergent as apologetics, history, English
literature, introduction to religion, introduction to philosophy and even
one on the human dimensions of science Such a range of interests sug-
gests that one of the assumptions on which the book is based is indeed
true: the most fundamental issues we as human beings need to consider
have no departmental boundaries What is prime reality? Is it God or the
cosmos? What is a human being? What happens at death? How should
we then live? These questions are as relevant to literature as to psychol-
ogy, to religion as to science

On one issue I remain constant: I am convinced that for any of us to be
fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the
worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why, in
light of so many options, we think it is true I can only hope that this book
becomes a steppingstone for others toward their self-conscious develop-
ment and justification of their own worldview

In addition to the many acknowledgments contained in the footnotes,
I would especially like to thank C Stephen Board, who many years ago
invited me to present much of this material in lecture form at the Chris-
tian Study Project, sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and
held at Cedar Campus in Michigan He and Thomas Trevethan, also on
the staff of that program, have given excellent counsel in the develop-
ment of the material and in the continued critique of my worldview
thinking since the first publication of this book

Other friends who have read the manuscript and helped polish some
of the rough edges are C Stephen Evans (who contributed the section
on Marxism), Winfried Corduan (who contributed the chapter on Islam),
Os Guinness, Charles Hampton, Keith Yandell, Douglas Groothuis,
Richard H Bube, Rodney Clapp, Gary Deddo, Chawkat Moucarry and
Colin Chapman Dan Synnestvedt’s review of the fourth edition sparked

Preface to the Fifth Edition 13

my vision for a fifth and provided guidance, especially for the chapter on
deism Recognition, too, goes to David Naugle, without whom my defini-
tion of a worldview would have remained unchanged To them and to the
editor of this edition, James Hoover, goes my sincere appreciation I would
also like to acknowledge the feedback from the many students who have
weathered worldview criticism in my classes and lectures Finally, which
rightly should be firstly, I must thank my wife Marjorie, who not only
proofed draft after draft of edition after edition, but who suffered my at-
tention to the manuscript when I had best attended to her and our family
Love gives no better gift than suffering for others

Responsibility for the continued infelicities and the downright errors
in this book is, alas, my own

Chapter 1



But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life:

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know
W hence our lives come and where they go.

M a t t h e w A r n o l d , “ Th e B u r i e d L i f e ”

In the late nineteenth century Stephen Crane captured our plight as we
in the early twenty-first century face the universe

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist ”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation ”1

1From Stephen Crane, War Is Kind and Other Lines (1899), frequently anthologized The He-
brew poem that follows is Psalm 8

16 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

How different this is from the words of the ancient psalmist, who
looked around himself and up to God and wrote:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
above the heavens
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all f locks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps 8)

There is a world of difference between the worldviews of these two
poems Indeed, they propose alternative universes Yet both poems rever-
berate in the minds and souls of people today Many who stand with Ste-
phen Crane have more than a memory of the psalmist’s great and glori-
ous assurance of God’s hand in the cosmos and God’s love for his people
They long for what they no longer can truly accept The gap left by the
loss of a center to life is like the chasm in the heart of a child whose father
has died How those who no longer believe in God wish something could
fill this void!

A World of Difference 17

And many who yet stand with the psalmist and whose faith in the
Lord God Jehovah is vital and brimming still feel the tug of Crane’s poem
Yes, that is exactly how it is to lose God Yes, that is just what those who
do not have faith in the infinite-personal Lord of the Universe must feel—
alienation, loneliness, even despair

We recall the struggles of faith in our nineteenth-century forebears
and know that for many, faith was the loser As Alfred, Lord Tennyson
wrote in response to the death of his close friend,

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all
And every winter change to spring
So runs my dream; but what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light;
And with no language but a cry 2

For Tennyson, faith eventually won out, but the struggle was years in be-
ing resolved

The struggle to discover our own faith, our own worldview, our beliefs
about reality, is what this book is all about Formally stated, the purposes
of this book are (1) to outline the basic worldviews that underlie the way
we in the Western world think about ourselves, other people, the natural
world, and God or ultimate reality; (2) to trace historically how these
worldviews have developed from a breakdown in the theistic worldview,
moving in turn into deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern
mysticism, the new consciousness of the New Age and Islam, a recent
infusion from the Middle East; (3) to show how postmodernism puts a
twist on these worldviews; and (4) to encourage us all to think in terms of
worldviews, that is, with a consciousness of not only our own way of
thought but also that of other people, so that we can first understand and
then genuinely communicate with others in our pluralistic society

That is a large order In fact it sounds very much like the project of a
lifetime My hope is that it will be just that for many who read this book
and take seriously its implications What is written here is only an intro-
duction to what might well become a way of life

2From Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam (1850), poem 54

18 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

In writing this book I have found it especially difficult to know what
to include and what to leave out But because I see the whole book as an
introduction, I have tried rigorously to be brief—to get to the heart of
each worldview, suggest its strengths and weaknesses, and move to the
next I have, however, indulged my own interest by including textual
and bibliographical footnotes that will, I trust, lead readers into greater
depths than the chapters themselves Those who wish first to get at

what I take to be the heart of the matter can safely ignore them But
those who wish to go it on their own (may their name be legion!) may
find the footnotes helpful in suggesting further reading and further
questions for investigation


Despite the fact that such philosophical names as Plato, Kant, Sartre, Ca-
mus and Nietzsche will appear on these pages, this book is not a work of
professional philosophy And though I will refer time and again to con-
cepts made famous by the apostle Paul, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin,
this is not a work of theology Furthermore, though I will frequently point
out how various worldviews are expressed in various religions, this is not

A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of fundamental be-

liefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it.

This vision need not be fully articulated: it may be so internalized that

it goes largely unquestioned; it may not be explicitly developed into a

systematic conception of life; it may not be theoretically deepened into

a philosophy; it may not even be codified into creedal form; it may be

greatly refined through cultural-historical development. Nevertheless,

this vision is a channel for the ultimate beliefs which give direction and

meaning to life. It is the integrative and interpretative framework by

which order and disorder are judged; it is the standard by which reality

is managed and pursued; it is the set of hinges on which all our everyday

thinking and doing turns.

“On Worldviews,” in Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science

A World of Difference 19

a book on comparative religion 3 Each religion has its own rites and litur-
gies, its own peculiar practices and aesthetic character, its own doctrines
and turns of expression Rather, this is a book of worldviews—in some
ways more basic, more foundational than formal studies in philosophy,
theology or comparative religion 4 To put it yet another way, it is a book of
universes fashioned by words and concepts that work together to provide
a more or less coherent frame of reference for all thought and action 5

Few people have anything approaching an articulate philosophy—at
least as epitomized by the great philosophers Even fewer, I suspect, have
a carefully constructed theology But everyone has a worldview When-
ever any of us thinks about anything—from a casual thought (Where did
I leave my watch?) to a profound question (Who am I?)—we are operating
within such a framework In fact, it is only the assumption of a world-
view—however basic or simple—that allows us to think at all 6

What, then, is this thing called a worldview that is so important to all
of us? I’ve never even heard of one. How could I have one? That may well

3For a phenomenological and comparative religion approach, see Ninian Smart, Worldviews:
Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs, 3rd ed (Upper Saddle River, N J : Prentice-Hall,
2000); see also David Burnett’s Clash of Worlds (Grand Rapids: Monarch Books, 2002), which
focuses on religious worldviews

4A helpful collection of essays on the notion of worldviews is found in Paul A Marshall, Sander
Griffioen and Richard Mouw, eds , Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science (Lanham, Md :
University Press of America, 1989); the essay by James H Olthuis, “On Worldviews,” pp 26-40,
is especially insightful Worldview analysis in general has recently been criticized not only for
overemphasizing the intellectual and abstract nature of worldviews but for the implicit assump-
tion that there is such a thing as the Christian worldview Because any expression of a worldview,
Christian or not, is deeply imbedded in the flow of history and the varying characteristics of
language, this criticism is sound Each expression of any general worldview will bear the marks
of the culture out of which it comes Nonetheless, Christians, especially Christians, in every
time and place should be seeking for the clearest expression and the closest approximation of
what the Bible and Christian tradition have basically affirmed See Roger P Ebertz, “Beyond
Worldview Analysis: Insights from Hans-Georg Gadamer on Christian Scholarship,” Christian
Scholar’s Review 36 (Fall 2006): 13-28 Ebertz remarks: “The resulting worldview is not ab-
solute and ahistorical Nor is it a set of bare theological claims It is rather a richly fleshed-out
perspective that incorporates discoveries from the past and the present, as well as insights from
believers and non-believers” (p 27) The description of the Christian worldview that constitutes
the next chapter should be understood in that light

5In the third edition of The Universe Next Door I confessed that long ago I took T S Eliot to
heart He is credited with saying, “Mediocre poets imitate; good poets steal ” The title for
this book comes from the two last lines of an e e cummings poem, “pity this busy monster,
manunkind: listen: there’s a hell/of a good universe next door; let’s go ” See e e Cummings,
Poems: 1923-1954 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1954), p 397

6As Charles Taylor says, “[A]ll beliefs are held within a context or framework of the taken-for-
granted, which usually remains tacit, and may even be as yet unacknowledged by the agent,
because never before formulated” (A Secular Age [Cambridge, Mass : Belknap, 2007], p 13)

2 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

be the response of many people One is reminded of M Jourdain in Jean
Baptiste Molière’s The Bourgeois Gentleman, who suddenly discovered he
had been speaking prose for forty years without knowing it But to dis-
cover one’s own worldview is much more valuable In fact, it is a signifi-
cant step toward self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-understanding

So what is a worldview? Essentially this:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart,
that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (con-
sciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic
constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live
and move and have our being

This succinct definition needs to be unpacked Each phrase represents a
specific characteristic that deserves more elaborate comment 7

Worldview as a commitment. The essence of a worldview lies deep in
the inner recesses of the human self A worldview involves the mind, but
it is first of all a commitment, a matter of the soul It is a spiritual orienta-
tion more than it is a matter of mind alone

Worldviews are, indeed, a matter of the heart This notion would be
easier to grasp if the word heart bore in today’s world the weight it bears
in Scripture The biblical concept includes the notions of wisdom (Prov
2:10), emotion (Ex 4:14; Jn 14:1), desire and will (1 Chron 29:18), spiritual-
ity (Acts 8:21) and intellect (Rom 1:21) 8 In short, and in biblical terms,
the heart is “the central defining element of the human person ”9 A world-
view, therefore, is situated in the self—the central operating chamber of
every human being It is from this heart that all one’s thoughts and ac-
tions proceed

Expressed in a story or a set of presuppositions. A worldview is not
a story or a set of presuppositions, but it can be expressed in these ways
When I reflect on where I and the whole of the human race have come
from or where my life or humanity itself is headed, my worldview is being

7See my Naming of the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity
Press, 2004), especially chap 7, for an extended development and justification of this defini-

8See David Naugle’s extended description of the biblical concept of heart (Worldview: The His-
tory of a Concept [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], pp 267-74) The nrsv translates kardia as
“mind”; the niv translates it as “heart ”

9Ibid , p 266

A World of Difference 21

expressed as a story One story told by science begins with the big bang
and proceeds through the evolution of the cosmos, formation of the gal-
axies, stars and planets, the appearance of life on earth and on to its dis-
appearance as the universe runs down Christians tell the story of cre-
ation, Fall, redemption, glorification—a story in which Jesus’ birth, death
and resurrection are the centerpiece Christians see their lives and the
lives of others as tiny chapters in that master story The meaning of those
little stories cannot be divorced from the master story, and some of this
meaning is propositional When, for example, I ask myself what I am re-
ally assuming about God, humans and the universe, the result is a set of
presuppositions that I can express in propositional form

When they are expressed that way, they answer a series of basic ques-
tions about the nature of fundamental reality I will list and examine these
questions shortly But consider first the nature of those assumptions

Assumptions that may be true, conscious, consistent. The presup-
positions that express one’s commitments may be true, partially true or
entirely false There is, of course, a way things are, but we are often mis-
taken about the way things are In other words, reality is not endlessly
plastic A chair remains a chair whether we recognize it as a chair or not
Either there is an infinitely personal God or there is not But people dis-
agree on which is true Some assume one thing; others assume another

Second, sometimes we are aware of what our commitments are, some-
times not Most people, I suspect, do not go around consciously thinking
of people as organic machines, yet those who do not believe in any sort of
God actually assume, consciously or not, that that is what they are Or
they assume that they do have some sort of immaterial soul and treat
people that way, and are thus simply inconsistent in their worldview
Some people who do not believe in anything supernatural at all wonder
whether they will be reincarnated So, third, sometimes our worldviews—
both those characterizing small or large communities and those we hold
as individuals—are inconsistent

The foundation on which we live. It is important to note that our
own worldview may not be what we think it is It is rather what we show
it to be by our words and actions Our worldview generally lies so deeply
embedded in our subconscious that unless we have reflected long and
hard, we are unaware of what it is Even when think we know what it is
and lay it out clearly in neat propositions and clear stories, we may well be

2 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

wrong Our very actions may belie our self-knowledge
Because this book focuses on the main worldview systems held by very

large numbers of people, this private element of worldview analysis will
not receive much further commentary If we want clarity about our own
worldview, however, we must reflect and profoundly consider how we
actually behave


If a worldview can be expressed in propositions, what might they be? Es-
sentially, they are our basic, rock-bottom answers to the following seven

1 What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God,
or the gods, or the material cosmos Our answer here is the most fun-
damental 10 It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently
be given to the other six questions This will become clear as we move
from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow

2 What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or au-
tonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we
emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its ob-
jectivity apart from us

3 What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex
machine, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked

4 What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal
extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or
departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side ”

5 Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the
idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that con-
sciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of sur-
vival in a long process of evolution

6 How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are
made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and
wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or

10Sire, Naming the Elephant, chap 3

A World of Difference 2 3

the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or
physical survival

7 What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to
realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth,
to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God,
and so forth

Earlier editions of this book listed only seven questions, but these do
not adequately encompass the notion of a worldview as a commitment or
a matter of the heart. So I am adding the following question to flesh out
the personal implications of the rather intellectual and abstract character
of the first seven questions

8 What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with
this worldview? Within any given worldview, core commitments may
vary widely For example, a Christian might say, to fulfill the will of
God, or to seek first the kingdom of God, or to obey God and enjoy
him forever, or to be devoted to knowing God or loving God Each will
lead to a somewhat different specific grasp of the Christian worldview
A naturalist might say to realize their personal potential for experi-
encing life, or to do as much good as they can for others, or to live in a
world of inner peace in a world of social diversity and conflict The
question and its answers reveal the variety of ways the intellectual
commitments are worked out in individual lives They recognize the
importance of seeing one’s own worldview not only within the context
of vastly different worldviews but within the community of one’s own
worldview Each person, in other words, ends up having his or her own
take on reality And though it is extremely useful to identify the nature
of a few (say, five to ten) generic worldviews, it is necessary in identify-
ing and assessing one’s own worldview to pay attention to its unique
features, the most important of which is one’s own answer to this
eighth question 11

Within various basic worldviews other issues often arise For example:
Who is in charge of this world—God or humans or no one at all? Are we as

11For an approach to worldview analysis with an even more individual and personal focus,
see J H Bavinck, The Church Between Temple and Mosque (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n d
[reprinted 1981]) Bavinck examines alternate worldviews from five foci: (1) I and the cosmos,
(2) I and the norm, (3) I and the riddle of my existence, (4) I and salvation, and (5) I and the
Supreme power

2 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

human beings determined or free? Are we alone the maker of values? Is God
really good? Is God personal or impersonal? Or does he, she or it exist at all?

When stated in such a sequence, these questions boggle the mind Ei-
ther the answers are obvious to us and we wonder why anyone would
bother to ask such questions, or else we wonder how any of them can be
answered with any certainty If we feel the answers are too obvious to
consider, then we have a worldview, but we have no idea that many others
do not share it We should realize that we live in a pluralistic world What
is obvious to us may be “a lie from hell” to our neighbor next door If we
do not recognize that, we are certainly naive and provincial, and we have
much to learn about living in today’s world Alternatively, if we feel that
none of the questions can be answered without cheating or committing
intellectual suicide, we have already adopted a sort of worldview The lat-
ter is a form of skepticism which in its extreme form leads to nihilism

The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such ques-
tions We will adopt either one stance or another Refusing to adopt an
explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a phil-
osophic position In short, we are caught So long as we live, we will live
either the examined or the unexamined life It is the assumption of this
book that the examined life is better

So the following chapters—each of which examines a major world-
view—are designed to illuminate the possibilities We will examine the
answers each worldview gives to the eight basic questions This will give
us a consistent approach to each one, help us see their similarities and
differences, and suggest how each might be evaluated within its own
frame of reference as well as from the standpoint of other competing

The worldview I have adopted will be detected early in the course of
the argument But to waylay any guessing, I will declare now that it is the
subject of the next chapter Nonetheless, the book is not intended as a
revelation of my worldview but an exposition and critique of the options
If in the course of this examination readers find, modify or make more
explicit their own individual worldview, a major goal of this book will
have been reached

There are many verbal or conceptual universes Some have been
around a long time; others are just now forming Which is your universe?
Which are the universes next door?

Chapter 2



The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will f lame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. W hy do men then now not reck his rod?

G e r a r d M a n l e y H o p k i n s , “ G o d ’s G r a n d e u r ”

In the Western world up to the end of the seventeenth century, the the-
istic worldview was clearly dominant Intellectual squabbles—and there
were as many then as now—were mostly family squabbles Dominicans
might disagree with Jesuits, Jesuits with Anglicans, Anglicans with Pres-
byterians, ad infinitum, but all these parties subscribed to the same set of
basic presuppositions The triune personal God of the Bible existed; he
had revealed himself to us and could be known; the universe was his cre-
ation; human beings were his special creation If battles were fought, the
lines were drawn within the circle of theism

How, for example, do we know God? By reason, by revelation, by faith,
by contemplation, by proxy, by direct access? This battle was fought on
many fronts over a dozen centuries and is still an issue with those re-
maining on the theistic field Or take another issue: Is the basic stuff of
the universe matter only, form only or a combination? Theists have dif-

2 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

fered on this too What role does human freedom play in a universe where
God is sovereign? Again, a family squabble

During the period from the early Middle Ages to the end of the seven-
teenth century, very few challenged the existence of God or held that ul-
timate reality was impersonal or that death meant individual extinction
The reason is obvious Christianity had so penetrated the Western world
that whether or not people believed in Christ or acted as Christians
should, they all lived in a context of ideas influenced and informed by the
Christian faith Even those who rejected the faith often lived in fear of
hellfire or the pangs of purgatory Bad people may have rejected Chris-
tian goodness, but they knew themselves to be bad by basically Christian
standards—crudely understood, no doubt, but Christian in essence The
theistic presuppositions that lay behind their values came with their
mother’s milk

This, of course, is no longer true Being born in the Western world
now guarantees nothing Worldviews have proliferated Walk down a
street of any major city in Europe or North America and the next person
you meet could adhere to any one of a dozen distinctly different patterns
of understanding what life is all about Little seems bizarre to us, which
makes it more and more difficult for talk-show hosts to get good ratings
by shocking their television audiences

Consider the problem of growing up today Baby Jane, a twentieth- and
twenty-first-century child of the Western world, often gets reality de-
fined in two widely divergent forms—her mother’s and father’s Then if
the family breaks apart, the court may enter with a third definition of
human reality This poses a distinct problem for deciding what the shape
of the world actually is

Baby John, a child of the seventeenth century, was cradled in a cultural
consensus that gave a sense of place The world around was really there—
created to be there by God As God’s vice regent, young John sensed that
he and other human beings had been given dominion over the world He
was required to worship God, but God was eminently worthy of worship
He was required to obey God, but then obedience to God was true free-
dom since that was what people were made for Besides, God’s yoke was
easy and his burden light Furthermore, God’s rules were seen as primar-
ily moral, and people were free to be creative over the external universe,
free to learn its secrets, free to shape and fashion it as God’s stewards

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 2 7

cultivating God’s garden and offering up their work as true worship be-
fore a God who honors his creation with freedom and dignity

There was a basis for both meaning and morality and also for the
question of identity The apostles of absurdity were yet to arrive Even
Shakespeare’s King Lear (perhaps the English Renaissance’s most “trou-
bled” hero) does not end in total despair And Shakespeare’s later plays
suggest that he himself had passed well beyond the moment of despair
and found the world to be ultimately meaningful

It is fitting, therefore, that we begin a study of worldviews with theism
It is the foundational view, the one from which all others developing be-
tween 1700 and 1900 essentially derive It would be possible to go behind
theism to Greco-Roman classicism, but even this as it was reborn in the
Renaissance was seen almost solely within the framework of theism 1


As the core of each chapter I will try to express the essence of each world-
view in a minimum number of succinct propositions Each worldview con-
siders the following basic issues: the nature and character of God or ulti-
mate reality, the nature of the universe, the nature of humanity, the question
of what happens to a person at death, the basis of human knowing, the
basis of ethics and the meaning of history 2 In the case of theism, the prime
proposition concerns the nature of God Since this first proposition is so
important, we will spend more time with it than with any other

1One of the most fascinating studies of this is Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods
(New York: Harper & Row, 1961), which argues that the Greek gods became “Christianized”;
that, as Julian the Apostate said, “Thou hast conquered, O Pale Galilean ”

2Several books on the Christian worldview have been published since the earlier editions of the
present book Especially notable are Arthur F Holmes, Contours of a Christian World View
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983); Arthur F Holmes, ed , The Making of a Christian Mind
(Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1985); W Gary Phillips and William E Brown, Mak-
ing Sense of Your World from a Biblical Viewpoint (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991); Brian Walsh
and Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Down-
ers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1984); and Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh, Truth Is
Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1995) My own Disciple-
ship of the Mind (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1990) elaborates themes from the
present chapter Most recent are David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002); Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cul-
tural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 20040; J Mark Bertrand, (Re)thinking Worldview:
Learning to Think, Live and Speak in This World (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 2007); Charles H
Kraft, Worldview for Christian Witness (Pasadena, Calif : William Carey Library Publishers,
2008); and Paul G Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of
How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008)

2 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

1. Worldview Question 1: Prime reality is the infinite, personal God
revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and im-
manent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.3

Let’s break this proposition down into its parts
God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure,

as far as we are concerned No other being in the universe can challenge
him in his nature All else is secondary He has no twin but is alone the
be-all and end-all of existence He is, in fact, the only self-existent being,4
as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14)
He is in a way that none else is As Moses proclaimed, “Hear, O Israel:
The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4 kjv) So God is the one prime
existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length
later, the one source of all other reality

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or exis-
tent “substance ” God is personal Personality requires two basic charac-
teristics: self-reflection and self-determination In other words, God is
personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he pos-
sesses the characteristics of self-determination (he “thinks” and “acts”)

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us In a way,
this puts the cart before the horse Actually, we are like him, but it is help-
ful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment He is like
us That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our
highest aspirations, our most precious possession—personality But more
on this under proposition 3

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a
simple unity, an integer He has attributes, characteristics He is a unity,
yes, but a unity of complexity

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only
personal but triune. That is, “within the one essence of the Godhead we

3One classic Protestant definition of God is found in the Westminster Confession 2 1
4For a consideration of the theistic concept of God from the standpoint of academic philoso-
phy, see Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941); E L
Mascall, He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism (London: Libra, 1943); H P Owen, Con-
cepts of Deity (London: Macmillan, 1971), pp 1-48 Other metaphysical issues dealt with here
are discussed in William Hasker, Metaphysics (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1983);
C Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1985);Thomas
V Morris, Our Idea of God (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1991); J P Moreland and
William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,
Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003)

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 2 9

have to distinguish three ‘persons’ who are neither three gods on the one
side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and
coeternally God ”5 The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot
even begin to elucidate it now What is important here is to note that the

Trinity confirms the communal, “personal” nature of ultimate being
God is not only there—an actually existent being; he is personal and we
can relate to him in a personal way To know God, therefore, means
knowing more than that he exists It means knowing him as we know a
brother or, better, our own father

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world
He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a
man: God is not he; God is beyond him Yet God is not so beyond that he
bears no relation to us and our world It is likewise true that God is im-
manent, and this means that he is with us Look at a stone: God is pres-
ent Look at a person: God is present Is this, then, a contradiction? Is
theism nonsense at this point? I think not

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here She
and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about
God’s being everywhere So Carol asked, “Is God in the living room?”

“Yes,” her mother replied
“Is he in the kitchen?”

5Geoffrey W Bromiley, “The Trinity,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed Everett F Harrison
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), p 531

There is but one living and true God, who is infinite in being and per-

fection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts or passions,

immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty; most wise,

most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to

the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own

glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in good-

ness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; the rewarder

of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in

his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.


3 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

“Yes,” she said
“Am I stepping on God?”
My wife was speechless But look at the point that was raised Is God

here in the same way a stone or a chair or a kitchen is here? No, not quite
God is immanent, here, everywhere, in a sense completely in line with his
transcendence For God is not matter like you and me, but Spirit And yet
he is here In the New Testament book of Hebrews Jesus Christ is said to
be “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3) That is, God is
beyond all, yet in all and sustaining all

God is omniscient. This means that God is all-knowing He is the
alpha and the omega and knows the beginning from the end (Rev 22:13)
He is the ultimate source of all knowledge and all intelligence He is He
Who Knows. The author of Psalm 139 expresses beautifully his amaze-
ment at God’s being everywhere, preempting him—knowing him even as
he was being formed in his mother’s womb

God is sovereign. This is really a further ramification of God’s infi-
niteness, but it expresses more fully his concern to rule, to pay attention,
as it were, to all the actions of his universe It expresses the fact that noth-
ing is beyond God’s ultimate interest, control and authority

God is good. This is the prime statement about God’s character 6 From
it flow all others To be good means to be good God is goodness That is,
what he is is good There is no sense in which goodness surpasses God or
God surpasses goodness As being is the essence of his nature, goodness
is the essence of his character

God’s goodness is expressed in two ways, through holiness and through
love Holiness emphasizes his absolute righteousness, which brooks no
shadow of evil As the apostle John says, “God is light; in him there is no
darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5) God’s holiness is his separateness from all that
smacks of evil But God’s goodness is also expressed as love In fact, John
says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), and this leads God to self-sacrifice and the
full extension of his favor to his people, called in the Hebrew Scriptures
“the sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3)

6Many people puzzle over the issue of evil Given both the omniscience and the goodness
of God, what is evil and why does it exist? For an extended analysis of the issue, see Peter
Kreeft, Making Sense out of Suffering (Ann Arbor, Mich : Servant, 1986), and Henri Blocher,
Evil and the Cross (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1994) I have addressed this issue
in chapters 12 and 13 of Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, Ill :
InterVarsity Press, 1994)

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 31

God’s goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and per-
sonal standard of righteousness (it is found in God’s character) and, sec-
ond, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not
abandon his creation) These twin observations will become especially
significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview

2. Worldview Question 2: External reality is the cosmos God created ex
nihilo to operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in an open system.

God created the cosmos ex nihilo God is He Who Is, and thus he is the
source of all else Still, it is important to understand that God did not
make the universe out of himself Rather, God spoke it into existence It
came into being by his word: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was
light” (Gen 1:3) Theologians thus say God “created” (Gen 1:1) the cosmos
ex nihilo—out of nothing, not out of himself or from some preexistent
chaos (for if it were really “preexistent,” it would be as eternal as God)

Second, God created the cosmos as a uniformity of cause and effect in
an open system. This phrase is a useful piece of shorthand for two key
conceptions 7 First, it signifies that the cosmos was not created to be cha-
otic Isaiah states this magnificently:

For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty [a chaos],8

but formed it to be inhabited—
he says:
“I am the Lord,
and there is no other
I have not spoken in secret,
from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,

7This phrase comes from Francis A Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Wheaton, Ill :
Tyndale House, 1972), p 43 Chap 8 of C S Lewis, Miracles (London: Fontana, 1960), p 18,
also contains an excellent description of what an open universe involves Other issues involv-
ing a Christian understanding of science are discussed in Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits
(Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2000), and Nancy R Pearcey and Charles Thaxton,
The Soul of Science (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994)

8nrsv translation

3 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

‘Seek me in vain ’
I, the Lord, speak the truth,
I declare what is right ” (Is 45:18-19)

The universe is orderly, and God does not present us with confusion
but with clarity The nature of God’s universe and God’s character are
thus closely related This world is as it is at least in part because God is
who he is We will see later how the Fall qualifies this observation Here
it is sufficient to note that there is an orderliness, a regularity, to the uni-
verse We can expect the earth to turn so the sun will “rise” every day

But another important notion is buried in this shorthand phrase The
system is open, and that means it is not programmed God is constantly
involved in the unfolding pattern of the ongoing operation of the uni-
verse And so are we human beings! The course of the world’s operation
is open to reordering by either So we find it dramatically reordered in the
Fall Adam and Eve made a choice that had tremendous significance But
God made another choice in redeeming people through Christ

The world’s operation is also reordered by our continued activity after
the Fall Each action of each of us, each decision to pursue one course
rather than another, changes or rather “produces” the future By dumping
pollutants into fresh streams, we kill fish and alter the way we can feed
ourselves in years to come By “cleaning up” our streams, we again alter
our future If the universe were not orderly, our decisions would have no
effect If the course of events were determined, our decisions would have
no significance So theism declares that the universe is orderly but not
determined The implications of this become clearer as we consider hu-
manity’s place in the cosmos

3. Worldview Question 3: Human beings are created in the image of
God and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, mo-
rality, gregariousness and creativity.

The key phrase here is “the image of God,” a conception highlighted by the
fact that it occurs three times in the short space of two verses in Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let
them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the live-
stock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the
ground ”

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 3 3

So God created man in his own image
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them

(Gen 1:26-27; compare Gen 5:3; 9:6)

That people are made in the image of God means we are like God We
have already noted that God is like us But the Scriptures really say it the
other way “We are like God” puts the emphasis where it belongs—on the
primacy of God

We are personal because God is personal That is, we know ourselves
to be (we are self-conscious), and we make decisions uncoerced (we pos-

sess self-determination) We are capable of acting on our own We do not
merely react to our environment but can act according to our own char-
acter, our own nature

No two people are alike, we say And this is not just because no two
people have shared exactly the same heredity and environment but be-
cause each of us possesses a unique character out of which we think, de-
sire, weigh consequences, refuse to weigh consequences, indulge, refuse
to indulge—in short, choose to act

In this each person reflects (as an image) the transcendence of God
over his universe God is totally unconstrained by his environment God

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Ps 8:3-8 nrsv)

3 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

is limited (we might say) only by his character God, being good, cannot
lie, be deceived, act with evil intent and so forth But nothing external to
God can possibly constrain him If he chooses to restore a broken uni-
verse, it is because he “wants” to, because, for example, he loves it and
wants the best for it But he is free to do as he wills, and his character
(Who He Is) controls his will

So we participate in part in a transcendence over our environment
Except at the very extremities of existence—in sickness or physical depri-
vation (utter starvation, cooped up in darkness for days on end, for
example)—a person is not forced to any necessary reaction

Step on my toe Must I curse? I may Must I forgive you? I may Must I yell?
I may Must I smile? I may What I do will reflect my character, but it is “I”
who will act and not just react like a bell ringing when a button is pushed

In short, people have personality and are capable of transcending the
cosmos in which they are placed in the sense that they can know some-
thing of that cosmos and can act significantly to change the course of
both human and cosmic events This is another way of saying that the
cosmic system God made is open to reordering by human beings

Personality is the chief thing about human beings, as, I think it is fair
to say, it is the chief thing about God, who is infinite both in his personal-
ity and in his being Our personality is grounded in the personality of
God That is, we find our true home in God and in being in close relation-
ship with him “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every
man,” wrote Pascal 9 “Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee,” wrote
Augustine 10

How does God fulfill our ultimate longing? He does so in many ways:
by being the perfect fit for our very nature, by satisfying our longing for
interpersonal relationship, by being in his omniscience the end to our
search for knowledge, by being in his infinite being the refuge from all
fear, by being in his holiness the righteous ground of our quest for justice,
by being in his infinite love the cause of our hope for salvation, by being
in his infinite creativity both the source of our creative imagination and
the ultimate beauty we seek to reflect as we ourselves create

We can summarize this conception of humankind in God’s image by
saying that, like God, we have personality, self-transcendence, intelli-

9Pascal Pensées 10 148
10Augustine Confessions 1 1 1

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 3 5

gence (the capacity for reason and knowledge), morality (the capacity for
recognizing and understanding good and evil), gregariousness or social
capacity (our characteristic and fundamental desire and need for human
companionship—community—especially represented by the “male and
female” aspect) and creativity (the ability to imagine new things or to
endow old things with new significance)

We will consider the root of human intelligence below Here I want to
comment on human creativity—a characteristic often lost sight of in
popular theism Human creativity is borne as a reflection of the infinite
creativity of God himself Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) once wrote about
the poet who, “lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow,
in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature
bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature,
freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit ” To honor human cre-
ativity, Sidney argued, is to honor God, for God is the “heavenly Maker of
that maker ”11

Artists operating within the theistic worldview have a solid basis for
their work Nothing is more freeing than for them to realize that because
they are like God they can really invent Artistic inventiveness is a reflec-
tion of God’s unbounded capacity to create

In Christian theism human beings are indeed dignified In the psalm-
ist’s words, they are “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” for God
himself has made them that way and has crowned them “with glory and
honor” (Ps 8:5) Human dignity is in one way not our own; contrary to
Protagoras, humanity is not the measure Human dignity is derived from
God But though it is derived, people do possess it, even if as a gift Helmut
Thielicke says it well: “His [humankind’s] greatness rests solely on the
fact that God in his incomprehensible goodness has bestowed his love
upon him God does not love us because we are so valuable; we are valu-
able because God loves us ”12

So human dignity has two sides As human beings we are dignified,
but we are not to be proud of it, for our dignity is borne as a reflection of
the Ultimately Dignified Yet it is a reflection So people who are theists

11Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy. See also Dorothy L Sayers, The Mind of the Maker
(New York: Meridian, 1956), and J R R Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader
(New York: Ballantine, 1966), p 37

12Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism, trans John W Doberstein (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1962), p 110

3 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

see themselves as a sort of midpoint—above the rest of creation (for God
has given them dominion over it—Gen 1:28-30; Ps 8:6-8) and below God
(for people are not autonomous, not on their own)

This is then the ideal balanced human status It is in failing to remain
in that balance that our troubles arose, and the story of how that hap-
pened is very much a part of Christian theism But before we see what
tipped the balanced state of humanity, we need to understand a further
implication of being created in the image of God

4. Worldview Question 5: Human beings can know both the world
around them and God himself because God has built into them the ca-
pacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating
with them.

The foundation of human knowledge is the character of God as Creator
We are made in his image (Gen 1:27) As he is the all-knowing knower of
all things, so we can be the sometimes knowing knowers of some things
The Gospel of John puts the concept this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God He was with God in the beginning
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made
that has been made In him was life, and that life was the light of men
(Jn 1:1-4)

The Word (in Greek Logos, from which our word logic comes) is eter-
nal, an aspect of God himself 13 That is, logicality, intelligence, rational-
ity, meaning are all inherent in God It is out of this intelligence that the
world, the universe, came to be And therefore, because of this source the
universe has structure, order and meaning

Moreover, in the Word—this inherent intelligence—is the “light of
men,” light being in the book of John a symbol for both moral capacity
and intelligence Verse 9 adds that the Word, “the true light gives
light to every man ” God’s own intelligence is thus the basis of human
intelligence Knowledge is possible because there is something to be
known (God and his creation) and someone to know (the omniscient

13The word logos as used in John and elsewhere has a rich context of meaning See, for example,
J N Birdsall, “Logos,” in New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity
Press, 1996), pp 744-45

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 3 7

God and human beings made in his image) 14

Of course, God himself is forever so beyond us that we cannot have
anything approaching total comprehension of him In fact, if God de-
sired, he could remain forever hidden But God wants us to know him,
and he takes the initiative in this transfer of knowledge

In theological terms, this initiative is called revelation God reveals, or
discloses, himself to us in two basic ways: by general revelation and by spe-
cial revelation In general revelation God speaks through the created order
of the universe The apostle Paul wrote, “What may be known about God
is plain to them [all people], because God has made it plain to them For
since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power
and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what
has been made” (Rom 1:19-20) Centuries before that the psalmist wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge (Ps 19:1-2)

In other words, God’s existence and his nature as Creator and power-
ful sustainer of the universe are revealed in God’s prime “handiwork,” his
universe As we contemplate the magnitude of this—its orderliness and
its beauty—we can learn much about God When we turn from the uni-
verse at large to look at humanity, we see something more, for human
beings add the dimension of personality God, therefore, must be at least
as personal as we are

Thus far can general revelation go, but little further As Thomas Aqui-
nas said, we can know that God exists through general revelation, but we
could never know that God is triune except for special revelation

Special revelation is God’s disclosure of himself in extranatural ways
Not only did he reveal himself by appearing in spectacular forms such as
a bush that burns but is not consumed, but he also spoke to people in
their own language To Moses he defined himself as “I am who I am”
and identified himself as the same God who had acted before on behalf of
the Hebrew people He called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and

14For more extensive treatments of epistemology from a Christian perspective see Arthur
F Holmes, All Truth Is God’s Truth (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1977); W Jay
Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity
Press, 1998); and chaps 5-6 in my Discipleship of the Mind.

3 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Jacob (Ex 3:1-17) In fact, God carried on a dialogue with Moses in which
genuine two-way communication took place This is one way special rev-
elation occurred

Later God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and revealed a long
code of laws by which the Hebrews were to be ruled Later yet God re-
vealed himself to prophets from a number of walks of life His word came
to them, and they recorded it for posterity The New Testament writer of
the letter to the Hebrews summed it up this way: “In the past God spoke
to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various
ways” (Heb 1:1) In any case, the revelations to Moses, David and the var-
ious prophets were, by command of God, written down and kept to be
read over and over to the people (Deut 6:4-8; Ps 119) The cumulative
writings grew to become the Old Testament, which was affirmed by Jesus
himself as an accurate and authoritative revelation of God 15

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews did not end with the summary
of God’s past revelation He went on to say, “But in these last days he has
spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things The Son
is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”
(Heb 1:2-3) Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate special revelation Because Je-
sus Christ was very God of very God, he showed us what God is like more
fully than any other form of revelation can Because Jesus was also com-
pletely human, he spoke more clearly to us than any other form of revela-
tion can

Again the opening of the Gospel of John is relevant “The Word be-
came flesh and made his dwelling among us, full of grace and truth”
(Jn 1:14) That is, the Word is Jesus Christ “We have seen his glory,” John
continues, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father ”
Jesus has made God known to us in very fleshly terms

The main point for us is that theism declares that God can and has
clearly communicated with us Because of this we can know much
about who God is and what he desires for us That is true for people at
all times and all places, but it was especially true before the Fall, to
which we now turn

5. Worldview Question 3: Human beings were created good, but through
the Fall the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined as not to

15See John Wenham, Christ and the Bible, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984)

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 3 9

be capable of restoration; through the work of Christ, God redeemed hu-
manity and began the process of restoring people to goodness, though any
given person may choose to reject that redemption.

Human “history” can be subsumed under four words—creation, Fall, re-
demption, glorification. We have just seen the essential human charac-
teristics To these we must add that human beings and all the rest of
creation were created good As Genesis records, “God saw all that he had
made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31) Because God by his character sets
the standards of righteousness, human goodness consisted in being what
God wanted people to be—beings made in the image of God and acting
out that nature in their daily life The tragedy is that we did not stay as we
were created

As we have seen, human beings were created with a capacity for self-
determination God gave them the freedom to remain or not to remain in
the close relationship of image to original As Genesis 3 reports, the orig-
inal pair, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey their Creator at the only point
where the Creator put down limitations This is the essence of the story
of the Fall Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit God had forbidden them
to eat, and hence they violated the personal relationship they had with
their Creator

In this manner people of all eras have attempted to set themselves up
as autonomous beings, arbiters of their own way of life They have chosen
to act as if they had an existence independent from God But that is pre-
cisely what they do not have, for they owe everything—both their origin
and their continued existence—to God

The result of this act of rebellion was death for Adam and Eve And
their death has involved for subsequent generations long centuries of per-
sonal, social and natural turmoil In brief summary, we can say that the
image of God in humanity was defaced in all its aspects In personality,
we lost our capacity to know ourselves accurately and to determine our
own course of action freely in response to our intelligence

Our self-transcendence was impaired by alienation from God, for as
Adam and Eve turned from God, God let them go And as we, humankind,
slipped from close fellowship with the ultimately transcendent One, we lost
our ability to stand over against the external universe, understand it, judge
it accurately and thus make truly “free” decisions Rather, humanity be-
came more a servant to nature than to God And our status as God’s vice

4 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

regent over nature (an aspect of the image of God) was reversed
Human intelligence also became impaired Now we can no longer gain

a fully accurate knowledge of the world around us, nor are we able to
reason without constantly falling into error Morally, we became less able
to discern good and evil and less able to live by the standards we do per-
ceive Socially, we began to exploit other people Creatively, our imagina-
tion became separated from reality; imagination became illusion, and
artists who created gods in their own image led humanity further and
further from its origin The vacuum in each human soul created by this
string of consequences is ominous indeed (The fullest biblical expres-
sion of these ideas is Rom 1–2 )

Theologians have summed it up this way: we have become alienated
from God, from others, from nature and even from ourselves This is the
essence of fallen humanity 16

But humanity is redeemable and has been redeemed The story of cre-
ation and fall is told in three chapters of Genesis The story of redemption
takes up the rest of the Scriptures The Bible records God’s love for us in
searching us out, finding us in our lost, alienated condition, and redeem-
ing us by the sacrifice of his own Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of
the Trinity God, in unmerited favor and great grace, has granted us the
possibility of a new life, a life involving substantial healing of our alien-
ations and restoration to fellowship with God

We all, like sheep, have gone astray;
each of us has turned to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6)

That God has provided a way back for us does not mean we play no
role Adam and Eve were not forced to fall We are not forced to return
While it is not the purpose of this description of theism to take sides in
a famous family squabble within Christian theism (predestination ver-
sus free will), it is necessary to note that Christians disagree on pre-
cisely what role God takes and what role he leaves us Still, most would
agree that God is the primary agent in salvation Our role is to respond
by repentance for our wrong attitudes and acts, to accept God’s provi-

16See, for example, the discussion of the Fall and its effects in Francis A Schaeffer’s Genesis in
Space and Time (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1972), pp 69-101

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 41

sions and to follow Christ as Lord as well as Savior
Redeemed humanity is humanity on the way to restoration of the de-

faced image of God, in other words, substantial healing in every area—
personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality, social capacity and
creativity Glorified humanity is humanity totally healed and at peace
with God, and individuals at peace with others and themselves But this
happens only on the other side of death and the bodily resurrection, the
importance of which is stressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 Individual
people are so important that they retain uniqueness—a personal and in-
dividual existence—forever Glorified humanity is humanity transformed
into a purified personality in fellowship with God and God’s people In
short, in theism human beings are seen as significant because they are
essentially godlike and though fallen can be restored to original dignity

6. Worldview Question 4: For each person death is either the gate to life
with God and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the only
thing that will ultimately fulfill human aspirations.

The meaning of death is really part of proposition 5, but it is singled out
here because attitudes to death are so important in every worldview
What happens when a person dies? Let’s put it personally, for this aspect
of one’s worldview is indeed most personal Do I disappear—personal
extinction? Do I hibernate and return in a different form—reincarnation?
Do I continue in a transformed existence in heaven or hell?

Christian theism clearly teaches the last of these At death people are
transformed Either they enter an existence with God and his people—a
glorified existence—or they enter an existence forever separated from
God, holding their uniqueness in awful loneliness apart from precisely
that which would fulfill them

And that is the essence of hell G K Chesterton once remarked that
hell is a monument to human freedom—and, we might add, human dig-
nity Hell is God’s tribute to the freedom he gave each of us to choose
whom we would serve; it is a recognition that our decisions have a sig-
nificance that extends far down into the reaches of foreverness 17

Those who respond to God’s offer of salvation, however, people the
plains of eternity as glorious creatures of God—completed, fulfilled but

17To pursue the biblical teaching on this subject see John Wenham, The Enigma of Evil (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), pp 27-41

4 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

not sated, engaged in the ever-enjoyable communion of the saints The
Scriptures give little detail about this existence, but its glimpses of heaven
in Revelation 4–5 and 21, for example, create a longing Christians expect
to be fulfilled beyond their fondest desires

7. Worldview Question 6: Ethics is transcendent and is based on the
character of God as good (holy and loving).

This proposition has already been considered as an implication of propo-
sition 1 God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world
God is good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has
revealed in Scripture

Made in God’s image, we are essentially moral beings, and thus we can-
not refuse to bring moral categories to bear on our actions Of course, our
sense of morality has been flawed by the Fall, and now we only brokenly
reflect the truly good Yet even in our moral relativity, we cannot get rid of
the sense that some things are “right” or “natural” and others not

For years homosexual behavior was considered immoral by most of
society Now a large number of people challenge this But they do so not
on the basis that no moral categories exist but that this one area—homo-
sexuality—really ought to have been on the other side of the line dividing
the moral from the immoral Homosexuals do not usually condone in-
cest! So the fact that people differ in their moral judgments does nothing
to alter the fact that we continue to make, to live by and to violate moral
judgments Everyone lives in a moral universe, and virtually everyone—if
they reflect on it—recognizes this and would have it no other way

Theism, however, teaches that not only is there a moral universe but
there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured
God himself—his character of goodness (holiness and love)—is the stan-
dard Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his
standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible The
Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethi-
cal teaching—in these and many other ways God has expressed his char-
acter to us There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who
want to know it can know it

The fullest embodiment of the good, however, is Jesus Christ He is the
complete man, humanity as God would have it be Paul calls him the
second Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49) And in Jesus we see the good life incar-

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 4 3

nate Jesus’ good life was supremely revealed in his death—an act of infi-
nite love, for as Paul says, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous
man But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were
still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8) And the apostle John echoes,
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10)

So ethics, while very much a human domain, is ultimately the business
of God We are not the measure of morality God is

8. Worldview Question 7: History is linear, a meaning ful sequence of
events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity.

“History is linear” means that the actions of people—as confusing and
chaotic as they appear—are part of a meaningful sequence that has a
beginning, a middle and an end History is not reversible, not repeatable,
not cyclic; history is not meaningless Rather, history is teleological, go-
ing somewhere, directed toward a known end The God who knows the
end from the beginning is aware of and sovereign over the actions of hu-

Several basic turning points in the course of history are singled out for
special attention by biblical writers, and these form the background for the
theistic understanding of human beings in time These turning points in-
clude the creation, the fall into sin, the revelation of God to the Hebrews
(which includes the calling of Abraham from Ur to Canaan, the exodus
from Egypt, the giving of the law, the witness of the prophets), the incar-
nation, the life of Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection, Pentecost, the
spread of the good news via the church, the second coming of Christ and
the final judgment This is a slightly more detailed list of events paralleling
the pattern of human life: creation, fall, redemption, glorification

Looked at in this way, history itself is a form of revelation That is, not
only does God reveal himself in history (here, there, then), but the very
sequence of events is revelation One can say, therefore, that history (es-
pecially as localized in the Jewish people) is the record of the involvement
and concern of God in human events History is the divine purpose of
God in concrete form

This pattern is, of course, dependent on the Christian tradition It
does not at first appear to take into account people other than Jews and
Christians Yet the Old Testament has much to say about the nations sur-

4 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

rounding Israel and about God-fearers (non-Jewish people who adopted
Jewish beliefs and were considered a part of God’s promise) And the New
Testament stresses even more the international dimension of God’s pur-
poses and his reign

The revelation of God’s design took place primarily through one peo-
ple—the Jews And while we may say with William Ewer, “How odd / Of
God / To choose / The Jews,” we need not think that doing so indicates
favoritism on God’s part Peter once said, “God does not show favoritism
but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”
(Acts 10:34-35)

Theists look forward, then, to history’s being closed by judgment and
a new age inaugurated beyond time But prior to that new age, time is ir-
reversible and history is localized in space This conception needs to be
stressed, since it differs dramatically from the typically Eastern notion
To much of the East, time is an illusion; history is eternally cyclic Re-
incarnation brings a soul back into time again and again; progress in the
soul’s journey is long, arduous, perhaps eternal But in Christian theism,
“man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27)
An individual’s choices have meaning to that person, to others and to
God History is the result of those choices that, under the sovereignty of
God, bring about God’s purposes for this world

In short, the most important aspect of the theistic concept of history is
that history has meaning because God—the Logos, meaning itself—is be-
hind all events, not only “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb
1:3) but also “in all things [working] for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28) Behind the
apparent chaos of events stands the loving God sufficient for all


What then fuels the fire of consistent Christian theists? What provides
the driving motive for their lives?

9. Worldview Question 8: Christian theists live to seek first the kingdom
of God, that is, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The Christian worldview is unique in many ways, but not the least of
which is the way in which it serves as the focus for the ultimate meaning
of life, not just the meaning of human history or human existence in the

A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God 4 5

abstract, but the meaning of life for each Christian As God himself is the
really real, the ultimate ground of being and the creator of all being other
than himself, so devoted Christians live not for themselves but for God
“What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Shorter Cate-
chism 18 And the answer is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever ” To
glorify God is not just to do so in religious worship, singing praise and
enacting the traditional rites of the church To glorify God is to reveal his
character by being who we were created to be—the embodiment of the
image of God in human form When we are like him, we glorify him And
what is he like? He is not just the awesome I am, shaking the heavens and
the earth with his thunderous voice and transcendent being He is Jesus
He is Immanuel, “God with us ” To be like Jesus, then, is to be like God
who is himself all the glory there is

Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, embodying in his earthly
existence the presence of the Father’s kingdom (Mk 1:14) We are to imi-
tate him, to obey his command to “seek first his kingdom and his right-
eousness” (Mt 6:33) Lo and behold, when we do this we both avoid the
tragic consequences of selfishness and pride and receive what really ful-
fills our lives All the happiness and joy we seek when we substitute our
desires for God’s glory comes to us as a result of yielding our will to his
Human flourishing, then, while not being a primary goal, is a result of
turning one’s attention toward God and his glory 19 “All these things will
be given to you as well,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:33)
To glorify God then, as the catechism says, is to enjoy him forever

There are, of course, other ways to personalize this core commitment
Some Christians say it is to obey God; or to love God with all their heart,
mind, soul and strength and their neighbors as themselves; or to lose
their lives for the sake of the gospel Others may cast their answers in
rather unique ways, but if these answers truly reflect a grasp and com-
mitment to the Christian understanding of reality, they will emphasize
the centrality of God and his good pleasure in what they say They will
not point first of all to happiness; happiness or joy will be a consequence,
not a goal Life is all about God, they will say, not about themselves

18Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1
19Human flourishing is a term frequently used today to describe the proper end toward which

human life should be directed Each worldview, however, has a different conception of just
what human f lourishing involves and whether it is in any way tied to transcendence See
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass : Belknap, 2007), pp 16-20

4 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or


It should by now be obvious that Christian theism is primarily dependent
on its concept of God, for theism holds that everything stems from him
Nothing is prior to God or equal to him He is He Who Is. Thus theism
has a basis for metaphysics Since He Who Is also has a worthy character
and is thus The Worthy One, theism has a basis for ethics Since He Who
Is also is He Who Knows, theism has a basis for epistemology In other
words, theism is a complete worldview

So the greatness of God is the central tenet of Christian theism When
a person recognizes this and consciously accepts and acts on it, this cen-
tral conception is the rock, the transcendent reference point, that gives
life meaning and makes the joys and sorrows of daily existence on planet
earth significant moments in an unfolding drama in which one expects
to participate forever, not always with sorrows but someday with joy
alone Even now, though, the world is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once
wrote, “charged with the grandeur of God ”20 That there are “God adum-
brations in many daily forms” signals to us that God is not just in his
heaven but with us—sustaining us, loving us and caring for us 21 Fully
cognizant Christian theists, therefore, do not just believe and proclaim
this view as true Their first act is toward God—a response of love, obedi-
ence and praise to the Lord of the Universe, their maker, sustainer and,
through Jesus Christ, their redeemer and friend

20“God’s Grandeur,” in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th ed , ed W H Gardner and
N H MacKenzie (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p 66

21Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet (Greenwich, Conn : Fawcett, 1970), p 216

Chapter 3



Say first, of God above or man below,
W hat can we reason but from what we know?

Of man what see we but his station here
From which to reason, or to which refer?

Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,
’Tis ours to trace him only in our own.

A l e x a n d e r P o p e , E s s a y o n M a n

If theism lasted so long, what could possibly have happened to under-
mine it? If it satisfactorily answered all our basic questions, provided a
refuge for our fears and hope for our future, why did anything else come
along? Answers to these questions can be given on many levels The fact
is that many forces operated to shatter the basic intellectual unity of the
West 1

Deism developed, some say, as an attempt to bring unity out of a chaos
of theological and philosophical discussion which in the seventeenth
century became bogged down in interminable quarrels over what began
to seem even to the disputants like trivial questions Perhaps John Milton

1A brief but helpful sketch of the transition from Christian theism to deism can be found in
Jonathan Hill, Faith in the Age of Reason (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2004) See
Charles Taylor’s massive A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass : Belknap, 2007) for a detailed study
of the transition from Christian theism through deism to naturalism

4 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

had such questions in mind when he envisioned the fallen angels making
an epic game of philosophical theology:

Others apart sat on a Hill retir’d
In thoughts more elevate, and reason’d high
Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will and Fate,
Fixt Fate, Free will, Foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost 2

After decades of wearying discussion, Lutheran, Puritan and Anglican
divines might well have wished to look again at points of agreement De-
ism to some extent is a response to this, though the direction such agree-
ment took put deism rather beyond the limits of traditional Christianity

Another factor in the development of deism was a change in the loca-
tion of the authority for knowledge about the divine; it shifted from the
special revelation found in Scripture to the presence of Reason, “the can-
dle of God,” in the human mind or to intuition, “the inner light ”3 Why
should such a shift in authority take place?

One of the reasons is especially ironic It is linked with an implication
of theism which, when it was discovered, was very successfully devel-
oped Through the Middle Ages, due in part to the rather Platonic theory
of knowledge that was held, the attention of theistic scholars and intel-
lectuals was directed toward God The idea was that knowers in some
sense become what they know And since one should become in some
sense good and holy, one should study God Theology was thus consid-
ered the queen of the sciences (which at that time simply meant knowl-
edge), for theology was the science of God

If people studied animals or plants or minerals (zoology, biology,
chemistry and physics), they were lowering themselves This hierarchical
view of reality is really more Platonic than theistic or Christian, because
it picks up from Plato the notion that matter is somehow, if not evil, then
at least irrational and certainly not good Matter is something to be tran-
scended, not to be understood

But as more biblically oriented minds began to recognize, this is
God’s world—all of it And though it is a fallen world, it has been cre-
ated by God and has value It is indeed worth knowing and understand-

2John Milton Paradise Lost 2 557-61
3Avery Cardinal Dulles, in “The Deist Minimum” (First Things [January 2005], pp 25-30),
gives a remarkably lucid account of the rise and decline of deism

The Clockwork Universe 4 9

ing Furthermore, God is a rational God, and his universe is thus ra-
tional, orderly, knowable Operating on this basis, scientists began
investigating the form of the universe A picture of God’s world began
to emerge; it was seen to be like a huge, well-ordered mechanism, a gi-
ant clockwork, whose gears and levers meshed with perfect mechanical
precision Such a picture seemed both to arise from scientific inquiry
and to prompt more inquiry and stimulate more discovery about the
makeup of the universe In other words, science as we now know it was
born and was amazingly successful

At the same time, of course, there were those who distrusted the find-
ings of the scientists The case of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is famous
and, in a quite distorted form, is often cited today as proof of the antisci-
entific nature of Christian theism In fact, Galileo as well as other renais-
sance scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Francis Bacon
(1561-1626) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) held fully Christian world-
views 4 Moreover, in Bacon’s words, knowledge became power, power to
manipulate and bring creation more fully under human dominion This
view is echoed in modern parlance by J Bronowski: “I define science as
the organization of our knowledge in such a way that it commands more
of the hidden potential in nature ”5 If this way of obtaining knowledge
about the universe was so successful, why not apply the same method to
knowledge about God?

In Christian theism, of course, such a method was already given a role
to play, for God was said to reveal himself in nature The depth of con-
tent, however, that was conveyed in such general revelation was consid-
ered limited; much more was made known about God in special revela-
tion But deism denies that God can be known by revelation, by special
acts of God’s self-expression in, for example, Scripture or the incarnation
Having cast out Aristotle as an authority in matters of science, deism
began to cast out Scripture as an authority in theology and to allow only
the application of “human” reason As Peter Medawar says, “The 17th-
century doctrine of the necessity of reason was slowly giving way to a

4Nancy R Pearcey and Charles B Thaxton point out that “on the whole the Catholic church
had no argument with Galileo’s theories as science ” Rather, it was actually more opposed to
“Galileo’s attack on Aristotelian philosophy” than to any undermining of Christian belief See
The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway Books,
1994), pp 38-40

5J Bronowski, Science and Human Values (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p 7

5 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

belief in the sufficiency of reason ”6 Deism thus sees God only in “Na-
ture,” by which was meant the system of the universe And since the sys-
tem of the universe is seen as a giant clockwork, God is seen as the clock-

In some ways, we can say that limiting knowledge about God to gen-
eral revelation is like finding that eating eggs for breakfast makes the
morning go well, and then eating only eggs for breakfast (and maybe
lunch and dinner too) for the rest of one’s life (which now unwittingly
becomes rather shortened!) To be sure, theism assumes that we can know
something about God from nature But it also holds that there is much
more to know than can be known that way and that there are other ways
to come to know.


As Frederick Copleston explains, deism historically is not really a
“school” of thought In the late seventeenth and the eighteenth century
more than a few thinkers came to be called deists or called themselves

deists These men held a number of related views, but not all held every
doctrine in common John Locke (1632-1704), for example, did not re-

6Peter Medawar, “On ‘The Effecting of All Things Possible,’” The Listener, October 2, 1969,
p 438

Whatever God hath revealed is certainly true: no doubt can be made

of it. This is the proper object of faith: but whether it be a divine rev-

elation or no, reason must judge; which can never permit the mind to

reject a greater evidence to embrace what is less evident, nor allow it

to entertain probability in opposition to knowledge and certainty. There

can be no evidence that any traditional revelation is of divine original,

in the words we receive it, and in the sense we understand it, so clear

and so certain as that of the principles of reason: and therefore Noth-

ing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-evident

dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter of

faith, wherein reason hath nothing to do.

JOHN LOCKE, Essay Concerning Human Understanding 4.18

The Clockwork Universe 51

ject the idea of revelation, but he did insist that human reason was to be
used to judge it 7 Some cold deists, like Voltaire (1694-1778), were hos-
tile to Christianity; some warm deists, like Locke, were not 8 Some, like
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), believed in the immortality of the soul;
some did not Some believed God left his creation to function on its
own; some believed in providence Some believed in a mildly personal
God; others did not So deists were much less united on basic issues
than were theists 9 Moreover, as we will see below, some forms of popu-
lar deism, such as moralistic therapeutic deism, are thought of by some
people as fully Christian

Still, it is helpful to think of deism as a system and to state that system
in a relatively extreme form, for in that way we will be able to grasp the
implications the various “reductions” of theism were beginning to have in
the eighteenth century Naturalism, as we shall see, pushes these implica-
tions even further

1. Worldview Question 1: A transcendent God, as a First Cause, cre-
ated the universe but then left it to run on its own. God is thus not im-
manent, not triune, not fully personal, not sovereign over human affairs,
not providential.

As in theism, the most important proposition regards the existence and
character of God Warm deism, such as that of Franklin, who confessed,
“I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe That he governs it by his
Providence,” retains enough sense of God’s personality that Franklin
thought this God “ought to be worshipped ”10 But cold deism eliminates
most features of personality God is said to display He is only a transcen-
dent force or energy, a Prime Mover or First Cause, a beginning to the
otherwise infinite regress of past causes But he is really not a he, though
the personal pronoun remains in the language used about him He does
not care for his creation; he does not love it He has no “personal” rela-
tionship to it at all Certainly he did not become incarnate in Jesus He is
purely monotheistic As Thomas Paine said, “The only idea man can affix

7Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (London: Burns and Oates, 1961), 5:162-63
8I owe the terms cold and warm to philosopher Daniel Synnestvedt (private correspondence)
9Peter Gay’s Deism: An Anthology (Princeton, N J : D Van Nostrand, 1968) is a useful collec-

tion of writings from a wide variety of deist writers
10Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790

52 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

to the name of God is first cause, the cause of all things ”11

A modern deist of sorts, Buckminster Fuller, expressed his faith this
way: “I have faith in the integrity of the anticipatory intellectual wisdom
which we may call ‘God ’”12 But Fuller’s God is not a person to be wor-
shiped, merely an intellect or force to be recognized

To the deist, then, God is distant, foreign, alien The lonely state this
leaves humanity in was, however, not seemingly felt by early deists Al-
most two centuries passed before this implication was played out on the
field of human emotions

2. Worldview Question 2: The cosmos God created is determined, be-
cause it is created as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system;
no miracle is possible.

In cold deism the system of the universe is closed in two senses First, it
is closed to God’s reordering, for he is not “interested” in it He merely
brought it to be Therefore, no miracles or events that reveal any special
interests of God are possible Any tampering or apparent tampering with
the machinery of the universe would suggest that God had made a mis-
take in the original plan, and that would be beneath the dignity of an
all-competent deity

Second, the universe is closed to human reordering because it is locked
up in a clocklike fashion To be able to reorder the system, any human
being alone or with others would have to be able to transcend it, get out
of the chain of cause and effect But this we cannot do We should note,
however, that this second implication is not much recognized by deists
Most continue to assume, as we all do apart from reflection, that we can
act to change our environment

3. Worldview Question 3: Human beings, though personal, are a part of
the clockwork of the universe.

To be sure, deists do not deny that humans are personal Each of us has self-
consciousness and, at least on first glance, self-determination But these

11Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, part 1, chapter 10, first sentence

12Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities, quoted by Sara Sanborn (“Who Is Buckminster
Fuller?” Commentary, October 1973, p 60), who comments that “Fuller’s Benevolent Intel-
ligence seems compounded out of the Great Watchmaker of the Deists and Emerson’s Over-
Soul” (p 66)

The Clockwork Universe 53

have to be seen in the light of human dimensions only That is, as human
beings we have no essential relation to God—as image to original—and thus
we have no way to transcend the system in which we find ourselves

Bishop François Fénelon (1651-1715), criticizing the deists of his day,
wrote, “They credit themselves with acknowledging God as the creator
whose wisdom is evident in his works; but according to them, God would
be neither good nor wise if he had given man free will—that is, the power
to sin, to turn away from his final goal, to reverse the order and be forever
lost ”13 Fénelon put his finger on a major problem within deism: human
beings have lost their ability to act significantly If we cannot “reverse the
order,” then we cannot be significant We can only be puppets If an indi-
vidual has personality, it must then be a type that does not include the
element of self-determination

Deists, of course, recognize that human beings have intelligence (to be
sure, they emphasize human reason), a sense of morality (deists are very
interested in ethics), a capacity for community and for creativity But
none of these, while built into us as created beings, is grounded in God’s
character None has any special relationship to God; each is on its own

4. Worldview Question 4: Human beings may or may not have a life
beyond their physical existence.

Here there is a distinction between warm and cold deists Deism is the
historical result of the decay of robust Christian theism That is, specific
commitments and beliefs of traditional Christianity are gradually aban-
doned The first and most significant belief to be eroded was the full
personhood and trinitarian nature of God Reducing God to a force or
ultimate intelligence eventually had catastrophic results In fact, as we
shall see, not only naturalism but nihilism is the final result Were the
history of worldviews a matter of the immediate working out of rational
implications of a change in the idea of the really real, a belief in an after-
life would have immediately disappeared But it didn’t Nor did a belief in
morality; that took another century So warm deists, those closest to
Christian theists, persisted in the notion of an afterlife, and cold deists,
those further away, did not

13François Fénelon, Lettres sur divers sujets, metaphysique et de religion, letter 5 Quoted in
Émile Bréhier, The History of Philosophy, trans Wade Baskin (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1967), 5:14

5 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

5. Worldview Question 5: Through our innate and autonomous hu-
man reason and the methods of science, we can not only know the uni-
verse but we can infer at least something of what God is like. The cos-
mos, this world, is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen
or abnormal.

In deism human reason becomes autonomous That is, without relying
on any revelation from the outside—no Scripture, no messages from God
via living prophets or dreams and visions—human beings have the ability
to know themselves, the universe and even God As John Locke put it,

Nothing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-
evident dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter
of faith, wherein reason has nothing to do 14

Because the universe is essentially as God created it, and because people
have the intellectual capacity to understand the world around them, they
can learn about God from a study of his universe The Scriptures, as we saw
above, give a basis for it, for the psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the
glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1) Of course,
theists too maintain that God has revealed himself in nature But for a the-
ist God has also revealed himself in words—in propositional, verbalized
revelation to his prophets and the various biblical writers And, theists
maintain, God has also revealed himself in his Son, Jesus—“the Word be-
came flesh” (Jn 1:14) But for deists God does not communicate with people
No special revelation is necessary, and none has occurred

Émile Bréhier, a historian of philosophy, sums up well the difference
between deism and theism:

We see clearly that a new conception of man, wholly incompatible with
the Christian faith, had been introduced: God the architect who produced
and maintained a marvelous order in the universe had been discovered in
nature, and there was no longer a place for the God of the Christian drama,
the God who bestowed upon Adam “the power to sin and to reverse the
order.” God was in nature and no longer in history; he was in the wonders
analyzed by naturalists and biologists and no longer in the human con-
science, with feelings of sin, disgrace, or grace that accompanied his pres-
ence; he had left man in charge of his own destiny 15

14John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 4 18 10 (New York: Dover Publica-
tions, 1959), 2:425-26

15Bréhier, History of Philosophy 5:15

The Clockwork Universe 55

The God who was discovered by the deists was an architect, but not a
lover or a judge or personal in any way He was not one who acted in his-
tory He simply had left the world alone But humanity, while in one sense
the maker of its own destiny, was yet locked into the closed system Hu-
man freedom from God was not a freedom to anything; in fact, it was not
a freedom at all

One tension in deism is found at the opening of Alexander Pope’s Es-
say on Man (1732-1734) Pope writes,

Say first, of God above or man below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
Of man what see we but his station here
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,
’Tis ours to trace him only in our own 16

These six lines state that we can know God only through studying the
world around us We learn from data and proceed from the specific to the
general Nothing is revealed to us outside that which we experience Then
Pope continues,

He who through vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,
What varied being peoples ev’ry star,
May tell why heav’n has made us as we are
But of this frame the bearings and the ties,
The strong connections, nice dependencies,
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Looked through? or can a part contain the whole?17

Pope assumes here a knowledge of God and of nature that is not ca-
pable of being gained by experience He even admits this as he challenges
us as readers on whether we really have “looked through” the universe
and seen its clockwork But if we haven’t seen it, then presumably neither
has Pope How then does Pope know it is a vast, all-ordered clockwork?

One can’t have it both ways Either (1) all knowledge comes from expe-

16Alexander Pope, Essay on Man 1 17-22
17Ibid , lines 23-32; cf lines 233-58

5 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

rience and we, not being infinite, cannot know the system as a whole, or
(2) some knowledge comes from another source—for example, from in-
nate ideas built into us or from revelation from the outside But Pope, like
most deists, discounts revelation So we have a tension in Pope’s episte-
mology And it was just such tensions that made eighteenth-century de-
ism an unstable worldview

6. Worldview Question 6: Ethics is intuitive or limited to general reve-
lation; because the universe is normal, it reveals what is right.

Deism’s ethics in general is founded on the notion that built into human
nature is the capacity to sense the difference between good and evil Hu-
man reason is not “fallen” as in Christian theism; so when it is employed
by people of good will, it results in moral discernment Of course, human
beings are free not to do what they discern as good; evil then is a result of
human beings not conforming to their inherent nature 18

So much for human good and evil But what about natural evil? Natu-
ral events—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes—bring disaster, massive pain
and suffering to so many Deists do not consider either human reason or
the universe itself to be “fallen ” Rather it is in its normal state How, then,
can the normal universe in which we experience so much tragedy still be
good? Isn’t God, the omnipotent Creator, responsible for everything as it
is? Doesn’t this world reflect either what God wants or what he is like? Is
God, then, really good?

While it is probably unfair to charge deism itself with the confusion
illustrated by Alexander Pope, it is instructive to see what can happen
when the implications of deism are exposed Pope writes:

All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT 19

This position ends in destroying ethics If whatever is is right, then

18From the standpoint of Christian theism there is much to commend in this notion of natural
law. C S Lewis bases his opening argument in Mere Christianity on the universality of the
notion of good and evil

19Alexander Pope, Essay on Man 1 289-94

The Clockwork Universe 5 7

there is no evil Good becomes indistinguishable from evil As Charles
Baudelaire (1821-1867) said, “If God exists, he must be the devil ” Or,
worse luck, there must not be good at all For without the ability to distin-
guish, there can be neither one nor the other, neither good nor evil Ethics

It is surely necessary to point out that not all deists saw (or now see)
that their assumptions entail Pope’s conclusions Some felt, in fact, that
Jesus’ ethical teachings were really natural law expressed in words And,
of course, the Sermon on the Mount does not contain anything like the
proposition “Whatever is, is right ” A deeper study of the deists would, I
believe, lead to the conclusion that these early deists simply were incon-
sistent and did not recognize it

Alexander Pope himself is inconsistent, for while he held that what-
ever is is right, he also berated humanity for pride (which, if it is, must be

In pride, in reas’ning pride our error lies;
All quit their sphere and rush into the skies
Pride still aiming at blessed abodes;
Men would be angels, angels would be gods
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of order sins against th’ Eternal Cause 20

For a person to think of himself more highly than he ought was pride
Pride was wrong, even a sin. Yet note: a sin not against a personal God but
against the “Eternal Cause,” against a philosophic abstraction Even the
word sin takes on a new color in such a context More important, how-
ever, the whole notion of sin must disappear if one holds on other grounds
that whatever is, is right

7. Worldview Question 7: History is linear, for the course of the cosmos
was determined at creation. Still the meaning of the events of history re-
mains to be understood by the application of human reason to the data
unearthed and made available to historians.

If deists were to be consistent to the clockmaker/clockwork metaphor,
they would be little interested in history. As Bréhier has pointed out, they
sought knowledge of God primarily in nature as understood in the grow-

20Ibid , lines 123-26, 129-30

5 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ing content of natural science. The course of Jewish history as recorded
in the Bible was largely dismissed as legend, at least partially because it
insisted on God’s direct action on and among his chosen people. The ac-
counts of both Testaments are filled with miracles. The deists say mira-
cles can’t happen. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), for example, produced
The Life and Morals of Jesus, better known as The Jefferson Bible. His
popular version excluded narratives of all the miracles. By such a proce-
dure the Bible became largely discounted as giving insight into God or
human beings or, especially, the natural order. Jefferson became the
judge of what could be true or worthy of belief. At best the biblical narra-
tives were illustrations of divine law from which ethical principles could
be derived. Then too H. S. Reimarus (1694-1768) attempted “to recon-
struct the life and preaching of Jesus with the tools of critical history.”21
And John Toland (1670-1722) argued that Christianity was as old as cre-
ation; the gospel was a “republication” of the religion of nature. With
views like those, even the specific acts of history are not important for
true religion. The stress is on general rules. As Pope says, “The first Al-
mighty Cause / Acts not by partial but by gen’ral laws.”22 God is quite
uninterested in individual men and women or even whole peoples. Be-
sides, the universe is closed, not open to his reordering at all.

Nonetheless intellectuals, historians and philosophers with a basically
deistic bent were, as Synnestvedt says, “fascinated by history ” He cites
major works by seven major deistic scholars, including a History of Eng-
land by David Hume (1711-1776), The History of the Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) and Sketch for a His-
torical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind by Marie Jean Antoine
Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) 23 All of these “histo-
ries” are, of course, based totally on the autonomy of human reason; none
of them appeal to perspectives derived from revelation As a result they
display a wide variety of interpretations of the meaning and significance
of human events

21Dulles, “The Deist Minimum,” p 29
22Alexander Pope, Essay on Man 1 145-46
23Others mentioned by Synnestvedt in private correspondence include The New Science by

Giovanni Battista Vico (1688-1744), The Age of Louis XIV and Essay on Manners by Voltaire,
Letters on the Study and Use of History by Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke (1679-1751),
and Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View by Immanuel Kant

The Clockwork Universe 59

8. Worldview Question 8: Cold deists use their own autonomous reason
to determine their goal in life; warm deists may reflect on their commit-
ment to a somewhat personal God and determine their goal in accor-
dance with what they believe their God would be pleased with.

Because, unlike Christian theism, there is no orthodox deism, each deist
is free to use reason, intuition, tradition, or whatever squares with his or
her view of ultimate reality Deists’ core commitments will thus reflect
their personal passions or, in common parlance, what turns them on—
the flourishing of their individual personal life, their family life, public
life Early deists such as Franklin and Jefferson took public welfare as a
key commitment Others like Paine combined their commitment to pub-
lic life with a passion for their own personal freedom (and the freedom of
everyone in the commonwealth) from the dictates of religion But the
more a deist becomes divorced from allegiance to a personal God, the
less religious mores and traditional goals characterize their core commit-
ments As a result, societies themselves become more pluralistic and less
socially cohesive Thus the tie between deism as a worldview and free-
dom as a personal and social goal inspired the bloody violence of the
French Revolution and spurred on the development of democracy and
eventually the vast cultural diversification of American society Each year
the Western World, especially America, becomes more pluralistic than
the year before


As can be seen from the above description, deism has not been a stable
compound The reasons for this are not hard to see Deism is dependent
on Christian theism for its affirmations It is dependent on what it omits
for its particular character The first and most important loss was its re-
jection of the full personal character of God God, in the minds of many
in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, kept his omnipotence,
his character as creator and, for the most part, his omniscience, but he
lost his omnipresence (his intimate connection with and interest in his
creation) Eventually he lost even his will, becoming a mere abstract intel-
ligent force, providing a sufficient reason for the existence of the universe
whose origin otherwise could not be explained The spectrum from full
personality to sheer abstraction is represented by a variety of deistic
types We have already noticed the differences between warm and cold

6 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

deism as represented by early deists Now we will examine some modern
forms and introduce new labels for them: (1) sophisticated scientific de-
ism, (2) sophisticated philosophic deism and (3) popular deism of which
moralistic therapeutic deism is a particular illustration

Sophisticated scientific deism. A cold deism continues to thrive in
some scientists and a few humanists in academic centers across the world
Scientists like Albert Einstein, who “see” a higher power at work in or
behind the universe and want to maintain reason in a created world, can

be considered deists at heart, though no doubt many would not wish to
claim anything sounding quite so much like a philosophy of life 24

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking also leaves room for a deistic God
The fundamental laws of the universe “may have originally been decreed
by God,” he writes, “but it appears that he has since left the universe to
evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it ”25 His rejec-
tion of a theistic God is clear Actress and New Age leader Shirley Mac-
Laine once asked Hawking if there is a God who “created the universe
and guides his creation ” “No,” he replied simply in his computer-gener-
ated voice 26 After all, if the universe is “self-contained, having no bound-
ary or edge,” as Hawking suspects is true, then there is no need for a
Creator; God becomes superfluous 27 Hawking therefore uses “the term

24Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (New York: Bonanza, 1954) See also Robert Jastrow, God
and the Astronomers (New York: Warner, 1978)

25Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p 122
26Michael White and John Gribbin, Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science (New York: Plume,

1992), p 3
27Hawking, Brief History, p 141

It’s hard for me to believe that everything out there is just an accident.

. . . [Yet] I don’t have any religious belief. I don’t believe that there is

a God. I don’t believe in Christianity or Judaism or anything like that,

okay? I’m not an atheist. . . . I’m not an agnostic. . . . I’m just in a simple

state. I don’t know what there is or might be. . . . But on the other hand,

what I can say is that it seems likely to me that this particular universe

we have is a consequence of something which I would call intelligent.

ROBERT WRIGHT, Three Scientists and Their Gods

The Clockwork Universe 61

God as the embodiment of the laws of physics ”28 Hawking is not alone
among scientists and other intellectuals in holding such a view 29

Sophisticated philosophic deism. Recently Antony Flew, a long-time
vocal atheist and opponent of Christian theism, has declared himself a de-
ist His change of mind came from his growing sense that a variety of argu-
ments, from those of Aristotle to the fine-tuning of the universe, are really
compelling As he put it, “he simply had to go where the evidence led ”30
God, for Flew, has most of the “classical theological attributes ” Though he
rejects the notion of special revelation from this God, he is open to its pos-
sibility The authenticity of this move by such a formerly convinced atheist
has been questioned, but the evidence for it is rock solid 31

One of the clearest exponents of a more humanistic warm deism is
Václav Havel, the playwright, public intellectual and former president of
the Czech Republic The defining characteristic of Havel’s worldview is
his understanding of prime reality, his answer to the first worldview
question Havel uses several terms to label his answer: Being, mystery of
being, order of existence, the hidden sphere, absolute horizon or final
horizon. All of these terms suggest a cold deism But there is nothing cold
about his experience of this sheer Being Havel, for example, ponders why,
when he boards a streetcar late at night with no conductor to observe
him, he always feels guilty when he thinks of not paying the fare Then he
comments about the interior dialogue that ensues:

Who, then, is in fact conversing with me? Obviously someone I hold in

28Kitty Ferguson, Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of the Universe (New York: Franklin
Watts, 1991), p 84

29Another possibility is that scientists who see intelligence in the workings of the universe
are panentheists Panentheism is a sort of halfway house between theism and pantheism
In panentheism the universe is not God but in God Or God is the mind of the universe,
not equated with it but not separate from it This worldview tends to be held only by highly
intellectual people Physicist Paul Davies, for example, was awarded the Templeton Prize for
Progress in Religion See his “Physics and the Mind of God: The Templeton Prize Address,”
First Things (August/September, 1995), pp 31-35; and also God and the New Physics (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1983); and The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational
World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992)

30See Antony Flew with Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious
Atheist Changed His Mind (SanFrancisco: HarperOne, 2007); and Gary Habermas, “Antony
Flew’s Deism Revisited,” Philosophia Christi 9, no 202 (2007), also on the Web at

31See Flew’s response to Richard Dawkins’s suggestion in The God Delusion that Flew’s conver-
sion is the result of old age not rational consideration (“Documentation: A Reply to Richard
Dawkins,” First Things [December 2008], pp 21-22)

62 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

higher regard than the transport commission, than my best friends (this
would come out when the voice would take issue with their opinions), and
higher, in some regards than myself, that is, myself as subject of my
existence-in-the-world and the carrier of my “existential” interests (one of
which is the rather natural effort to save a crown) Someone who “knows
everything” (and is therefore omniscient), is everywhere (and therefore om-
nipresent) and remembers everything; someone who, though infinitely un-
derstanding, is entirely incorruptible; who is for me, the highest and utterly
unequivocal authority in all moral questions and who is thus Law itself;
someone eternal, who through himself makes me eternal as well, so that I
cannot imagine the arrival of a moment when everything will come to an
end, thus terminating my dependence on him as well; someone to whom I
relate entirely and for whom, ultimately, I would do everything At the same
time, this “someone” addresses me directly and personally (not merely as an
anonymous public passenger, as the transport commission does) 32

These reflections are close, if not identical, to a fully theistic concep-
tion of God Surely some Being that is omniscient, omnipresent and good,
and who addresses you directly and personally, must himself (itself just
doesn’t fit these criteria) be personal

Havel too sees this And yet he draws back from the conclusion:

But who is it? God? There are many subtle reasons why I’m reluctant to use
that word; one factor here is a certain sense of shame (I don’t know exactly
for what, why and before whom), but the main thing, I suppose, is a fear
that with this all too specific designation (or rather assertion) that “God
is,” I would be projecting an experience that is entirely personal and vague
(never mind how profound and urgent it may be), too single-mindedly
“outward,” onto that problem-fraught screen called “objective reality,” and
thus I would go too far beyond it 33

So, while Being manifests characteristics that seem to demand a commit-
ment to theism, Havel avoids this conclusion by shifting his attention from
Being (as an objective existent) to himself (as a reflector on his conscious
experience) What Havel does draw from this experience—to very good ad-
vantage, by the way—is that Being has a moral dimension Being, then, is the
“good” ontological foundation for human moral responsibility 34

32Václav Havel, Letters to Olga; June 1979-Sepotember 1982, trans Paul Wilson (New York:
Henry Holt, 1989), p 345-46

33Ibid , p 346
34Havel has a profound understanding of his whole worldview; this has been analyzed in my

The Clockwork Universe 6 3

Popular deism. Popular deism is popular in two senses It is both a
simple, easy-going belief in the existence of an omnipotent, impersonal,
transcendent being, a force or an intelligence, and it is a vague belief held
by millions of Americans and, I suspect, millions more in the rest of the
Western world

In its cold versions, God is simply the abstract force that brought the
world into existence and has largely left it to operate on its own My guess,
and it is only a guess, is that many well-educated people, especially aca-
demics and professionals, would acknowledge the probable existence of
such a being but would largely ignore his existence in their daily lives
Their moral sensitivity would be grounded in the public memory of com-
mon Christian virtues, the mores of society, the occasional use of their
own mind when dealing with specific issues, such as honesty in business,
attitudes to sexual orientation and practices They live secular lives with-
out much thought of what God might think Surely a good life will pre-
pare one for life after death, if, indeed, there is such a thing

In its warmest versions, God clearly is personal and even friendly Uni-
versity of North Carolina sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lund-
quist Denton recently conducted a massive study of the religious beliefs
of teenagers Their conclusion was that most of these teenagers adhered
to what they called moralistic therapeutic deism. They summed up this
world view as follows
1 A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over hu-

man life on earth

2 God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in
the Bible and by most religions

3 The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself

4 God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when
God is needed to resolve a problem

5 Good people go to heaven when they die 35

God, ultimate reality, in this view makes no demand on his creation to be
holy, righteous or even very good “As one 17-year-old conservative Protes-

Václav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics (Downers Grove, Ill : In-
terVarsity Press, 2001), now out of print but available from [email protected] net

35Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual
Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp 162-63

6 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

tant girl from Florida told us [the researchers], ‘God’s all around you, all the
time He believes in forgiving people and whatnot and he’s there to guide us,
for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems Of course, he
doesn’t talk back ”36 When asked what God is like, a Bryn Mawr College
student drew a big smiley face and wrote, “He’s one big smiley face Big
hands big hands ”37 This form of deism is certainly not limited to youth;
it is, I suspect, very much like that of their parents and adult neighbors


Enlightenment deism did not prove to be a stable worldview Historically
it held sway over the intellectual world of France and England from the
late seventeenth into the first half of the eighteenth century Then its
cultural significance declined But few, if any, major shifts in worldview
disappear completely Deism is indeed still alive and well

What made and continues to make deism so unstable? The primary
reasons, I think, are these:38

First, autonomous human reason replaced the Bible and tradition as
the authority for the way ultimate reality was understood Everyone could
decide for themselves what God was like Once the concept of God was
up for grabs, there was no stopping his being reduced from the complex
Christian theistic idea of God to a minimal, simple force or abstract intel-
ligence The gradual slide from a full-blooded Christian theism was thus
inevitable; what replaced the biblical God was a variety of gods, each with
fewer and fewer features of personality

Second, autonomous human reason replaced the Bible and tradition as
the authority for morality At first autonomous reason and traditional
morality tracked well together The human mind exposed to the sur-
rounding culture assumed that, for the most part, those cultural values
were in fact reasonable In the early years, deists placed confidence in the
universality of human nature; people who used their reason would agree

36Ibid , p 164
37From a survey conducted in 1992 by students before my campus lecture
38To these reasons Dulles adds these internal tensions: “[1] If there is an omnipotent God,

capable of designing the entire universe and launching it into existence, it seems strange to
hold that this God cannot intervene in the world [2] If God was infinite in being, was
it not unreasonable to reject the notion of mystery? [3] If God had never intervened in the
world, His existence could only be, from a human perspective, superf luous” (Dulles, “The
Deist Minimum,” p 28)

The Clockwork Universe 6 5

on what was right and wrong 39 This eventually turned out to be a false
hope However universal human nature may be, in practice people do not
agree on matters of good and evil or what constitutes “good” behavior as
much as the early deists thought

Third, deists rejected the biblical notion of the Fall and assumed that
the present universe is in its normal, created state As Pope said, “what-
ever is, is right ” One could derive one’s values from clues from the natu-
ral order One clue was the universality of human nature But if whatever
is, is right, then no place is left for a distinctive content to ethics

Fourth, since the universe is closed to reordering, human action is
determined What then happens to human significance? People become
cogs in the clockwork mechanism of the universe Human significance
and mechanical determinism are impossible bedfellows

Fifth, today we find even more aspects of deism to question Scientists
have largely abandoned thinking of the universe as a giant clock Electrons
(not to mention other even more baffling subatomic particles) do not be-
have like minute pieces of machinery If the universe is a mechanism, it is
far more complex than was then thought, and God must be quite different
from a mere “architect” or “clockmaker ” Furthermore, the human person-
ality is a “fact” of the universe If God made that, must he not be personal?

So historically, deism was a transitional worldview, and yet it is not
dead in either popular or sophisticated forms On a popular level, many
people today believe that God exists, but when asked what God is like,
they limit their description to words like Energy, The Force, First Cause,
something to get the universe running and often capitalized to give it the
aura of divinity As Étienne Gilson says, “For almost two centuries the
ghost of the Christian God has been attended by the ghost of Christian
religion: a vague feeling of religiosity, a sort of trusting familiarity with
some supreme good fellow to whom other good fellows can hopefully ap-
ply when they are in trouble ”40

In what was to follow even the ghost of the Christian God disappeared
It is to that worldview we now turn

39Dulles says, “Although deism portrayed itself as a pure product of unaided reason, it was not
what it claimed to be Its basic tenets concerning God, the virtuous life, and rewards beyond
the grave were in fact derived from Christianity, the faith in which the deists themselves had
been raised” (ibid , p 28)

40Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven, Conn : Yale University Press, 1941), pp

Chapter 4



Without warning, David was visited by an exact vision of death:
a long hole in the ground, no wider than your body,

down which you were drawn while the white faces recede.
You try to reach them but your arms are pinned.

Shovels pour dirt in your face.
There you will be forever, in an upright position,

blind and silent, and in time no one will remember you,
and you will never be called. As strata of rock shift, your fingers

elongate, and your teeth are distended sideways in a great
underground grimace indistinguishable from a strip of chalk.

And the earth tumbles on, and the sun expires,
an unaltering darkness reigns where once there were stars.

J o h n U p d i k e , “ P i g e o n F e a t h e r s ”

Deism is the isthmus between two great continents—theism and
naturalism To get from the first to the second, deism is the natural
route Perhaps without deism, naturalism would not have come about
so readily Deism in its warm eighteenth-century versions has become
almost an intellectual curiosity, handy for an explanation of the foun-
dation of American democracy, but not much held today Other than
Christian theists, there are few today who explain our situation as
an indication of God’s providence Deism’s sophisticated twentieth-

The Silence of Finite Space 6 7

century versions are mostly cold and limited to a few scientists and intel-
lectuals and to those who, while they say they believe in God, have only a
vague notion of what he, she or it might be Naturalism, on the other
hand, was and is serious business

In intellectual terms the route is this: In theism God is the infinite-
personal Creator and sustainer of the cosmos In deism God is reduced;
he begins to lose his personality, though he remains Creator and (by im-
plication) sustainer of the cosmos In naturalism God is further reduced;
he loses his very existence

Swing figures in this shift from theism to naturalism are legion, espe-
cially between 1600 and 1750 René Descartes (1596-1650), a Christian
theist by conscious confession, set the stage by conceiving of the universe
as a giant mechanism of “matter” which people comprehended by “mind ”
He thus split reality into two kinds of being; ever since then the Western
world has found it hard to see itself as an integrated whole The natural-
ists, taking one route to unification, made mind a subcategory of mecha-
nistic matter

John Locke, a Christian theist for the most part, believed in a personal
God who revealed himself to us; Locke thought, however, that our God-
given reason is the judge of what can be taken as true from the “revela-
tion” in the Bible The naturalists removed the “God-given” from this
conception and made “reason” the sole criterion for truth

One of the most interesting figures in this shift was Julien Offray de La
Mettrie (1709-1751) In his own day La Mettrie was generally considered
an atheist, but he himself says, “Not that I call in question the existence
of a supreme being; on the contrary it seems to me that the greatest de-
gree of probability is in favor of this belief ” Nonetheless, he continues, “it
is a theoretic truth with little practical value ”1 The reason he can con-
clude that God’s existence is of so little practical value is that the God
who exists is only the maker of the universe He is not personally inter-
ested in it nor in being worshiped by anyone in it So God’s existence can
be effectively discounted as being of no importance 2

1Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Man a Machine (1747), in Les Philosophes, ed Norman L Torrey
(New York: Capricorn, 1960), p 176

2Alfred North Whitehead, for example, says, “Of course we find in the eighteenth century
Paley’s famous argument that mechanism presupposes a God who is the author of nature
But even before Paley put the argument into its final form, Hume had written the retort, that
the God whom you will find will be the sort of God who makes that mechanism In other

6 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

It is precisely this feeling, this conclusion, which marks the transition
to naturalism La Mettrie was a theoretical deist but a practical natural-
ist It was easy for subsequent generations to make their theory consis-
tent with La Mettrie’s practice, so that naturalism was both believed and
acted on 3

Behavior does indeed fuel intellectual development In fact, if we take
seriously the last phrase of the definition of worldview in chapter one (“on
which we live and move and have our being”), we could label La Mettrie
a full-fledged naturalist


This brings us, then, to the first proposition defining naturalism

1. Worldview Question 1: Prime reality is matter. Matter exists eter-
nally and is all there is. God does not exist.

As in theism and deism, the prime proposition concerns the nature of
basic existence In the former two the nature of God is the key factor In
naturalism it is the nature of the cosmos that is primary, for now, with an
eternal Creator God out of the picture, the cosmos itself becomes eter-
nal—always there though not necessarily in its present form, in fact cer-
tainly not in its present form 4 Carl Sagan, astrophysicist and popularizer
of science, has said it as clearly as possible: “The Cosmos is all that is or
ever was or ever will be ”5

words, that mechanism can, at most, presuppose a mechanic, and not merely a mechanic but
its mechanic” (Whitehead, Science and the Modern World [1925; reprint, New York: Mentor,
1948], p 77)

3The brash, anti-Christian, anticlerical tone of La Mettrie’s essay is of a piece with its antithe-
istic content, exalting, as it does, human reason at the expense of revelation A sample of this
from the conclusion to Man a Machine is instructive: “I recognize only scientists as judges
of the conclusions which I draw, and I hereby challenge every prejudiced man who is not an
anatomist, or acquainted with the only philosophy which is to the purpose, that of the human
body Against such a strong and solid oak, what could the weak reeds of theology, metaphysics
and scholasticism, avail; childish weapons, like our foils, which may well afford the pleasure of
fencing, but can never wound an adversary Need I say that I refer to the hollow and trivial no-
tions, to the trite and pitiable arguments that will be urged, as long as the shadow of prejudice
or superstition remains on earth, for the supposed incompatibility of two substances which
meet and interact unceasingly [La Mettrie is here alluding to Descartes’s division of reality
into mind and matter]?” (p 177)

4Strictly speaking, there are naturalists who are not materialists—that is, who hold that there
may be elements of the universe that are not material—but they have had little impact on
Western culture My definition of naturalism will be limited to those who are materialists

5Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p 4 Sagan goes on to say, “Our feeblest

The Silence of Finite Space 69

Nothing comes from nothing Something is Therefore something al-
ways was But that something, say the naturalists, is not a transcendent
Creator but the matter of the cosmos itself In some form all the matter
of the universe has always been Or so naturalists have traditionally held
Some recent naturalist philosophers and astrophysicists, however, reject
the logic that holds that something has always had to be The universe
may rather have originated out of “a singularity at which space-time cur-
vature, along with temperature, pressure and density, becomes infinite ”6
Space and time (all we know of reality) come into being together More-
over, nothing spiritual or transcendent emerged from this cosmic event
It makes no sense to say there was a before before the singularity In short,
matter (or mater/energy in a complex interchange) is all there is Ours is
a natural cosmos

The word matter is to be understood in a rather general way, for since
the eighteenth century, science has refined its understanding In the eight-
eenth century scientists had yet to discover either the complexity of mat-
ter or its close relationship with energy They conceived of reality as made
up of irreducible “units” existing in mechanical, spatial relationship with
each other, a relationship being investigated and unveiled by chemistry
and physics and expressible in inexorable “laws ” Later scientists were to
discover that nature is not so neat, or at least so simple There seem to be
no irreducible “units” as such, and physical laws have only mathematical
expression Physicists like Stephen Hawking may search for nothing less
than a “complete description of the universe” and even hope to find it 7
But confidence about what nature is, or is likely to be discovered to be,
has almost vanished 8

contemplations of the cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a
faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height We know we are approaching
the greatest of mysteries ” For Sagan, in this book and the television series of the same name,
the cosmos assumes the position of God, creating the same kind of awe in Sagan, who tries
to trigger in his readers and television audience the same response So-called science thus
becomes religion, some say the religion of scientism See Jeffrey Marsh, “The Universe and Dr
Sagan,” Commentary, May 1981, pp 64-68

6See J P Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World-
view (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp 477

7Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p 13 Hawking’s con-
clusion is guardedly optimistic: “If we do discover a complete theory [of the universe] it
would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God”
(p 175)

8For a recent update written in lay language, see Dennis Overbye, “Dark, Perhaps Forever,” The
New York Times, June 3, 2008, sec D, pp 1 and 4

70 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Still, the proposition expressed above unites naturalists The cosmos
is not composed of two things—matter and mind, or matter and spirit
As La Mettrie says, “In the whole universe there is but a single substance
with various modifications ”9 The cosmos is ultimately one thing, with-
out any relation to a Being beyond; there is no “god,” no “creator ”

2. Worldview Question 2: The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause
and effect in a closed system.

This proposition is similar to proposition 2 in deism The difference is
that the universe may or may not be conceived of as a machine or clock-
work Modern scientists have found the relations between the various
elements of reality to be far more complex, if not more mysterious, than
the clockwork image can account for

Nonetheless, the universe is a closed system It is not open to reorder-
ing from the outside—either by a transcendent Being (for there is none)
or, as I shall discuss later at length, by self-transcendent or autonomous
human beings (for they are a part of the uniformity) Emil Bréhier, de-
scribing this view, says, “Order in nature is but one rigorously necessary
arrangement of its parts, founded on the essence of things; for example,
the beautiful regularity of the seasons is not the effect of a divine plan but
the result of gravitation ”10

The Humanist Manifesto II (1973), which expresses the views of those
who call themselves “secular humanists,” puts it this way: “We find insuf-
ficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural ”11 Without
God or the supernatural, of course, nothing can happen except within
the realm of things themselves Writing in The Columbia History of the
World, Rhodes W Fairbridge says flatly, “We reject the miraculous ”12

9La Mettrie, Man a Machine, p 177 On the other hand, to define a human being as “a field of
energies moving inside a larger f luctuating system of energies” is equally naturalistic In nei-
ther case is humankind seen as transcending the cosmos See Marilyn Ferguson, The Brain
Revolution: The Frontiers of Mind Research (New York: Taplinger, 1973), p 22

10Émile Bréhier, The History of Philosophy, trans Wade Baskin (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1967), 5:129

11Humanist Manifestos I and II (Buffalo, N Y : Prometheus, 1973), p 16 These two manifes-
tos, especially the second (which was drafted by Paul Kurtz), are convenient compilations
of naturalist assumptions Paul Kurtz is a professor of philosophy at the State University of
New York at Buffalo, editor of Free Inquiry (a quarterly journal devoted to the propagation of
“secular humanism”) and editor of Prometheus Books

12John A Garraty and Peter Gay, eds , The Columbia History of the World (New York: Harper
& Row, 1972), p 14

The Silence of Finite Space 71

Such a statement, coming as it does from a professor of geology at Co-
lumbia University, is to be expected

What is surprising is to find a seminary professor, David Jobling, say-
ing much the same thing: “We [that is, modern people] see the universe
as a continuity of space, time, and matter, held together, as it were, from
within God is not ‘outside’ time and space, nor does he stand apart
from matter, communicating with the ‘spiritual’ part of man We must
find some way of facing the fact that Jesus Christ is the product of the
same evolutionary process as the rest of us ”13

Jobling is attempting to understand Christianity within the naturalis-
tic worldview Certainly after God is put strictly inside the system—the
uniform, closed system of cause and effect—he has been denied sover-
eignty and much else that Christians have traditionally believed to be
true about him The point here, however, is that naturalism is a pervasive
worldview, to be found in the most unlikely places

What are the central features of this closed system? It might first ap-
pear that naturalists, affirming the “continuity of space, time, and matter,
held together from within,” would be determinists, asserting that the
closed system holds together by an inexorable, unbreakable linkage of
cause and effect Most naturalists are indeed determinists, though many
would argue that this does not remove our sense of free will or our re-
sponsibility for our actions Is such a freedom really consistent with the
conception of a closed system? To answer we must first look more closely
at the naturalist conception of human beings

3. Worldview Question 3: Human beings are complex “machines”; per-
sonality is an interrelation of chemical and physical properties we do not
yet fully understand.

While Descartes recognized that human beings were part machine, he

13David Jobling, “How Does Our Twentieth-Century Concept of the Universe Affect Our Un-
derstanding of the Bible?” Enquiry, September-November 1972, p 14 Ernest Nagel, in a helpful
essay defining naturalism in a midtwentieth-century form, states this position in more rigor-
ously philosophical terms: “The first [proposition central to naturalism] is the existential and
causal primacy of organized matter in the executive order of nature This is the assumption
that the occurrence of events, qualities and processes, and the characteristic behaviors of vari-
ous individuals, are contingent on the organization of spatiotemporally located bodies, whose
internal structures and external relations determine and limit the appearance and disappear-
ance of everything that happens” (Ernest Nagel, “Naturalism Reconsidered” [1954], in Essays in
Philosophy, ed Houston Peterson [New York: Pocket Library, 1959], p 486)

7 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

also thought they were part mind; and mind was a different substance A
great majority of naturalists, however, see mind as a function of machine
La Mettrie was one of the first to put it bluntly: “Let us conclude boldly
then that man is a machine, and that in the whole universe there is but a
single substance with various modifications ”14 Putting it more crudely,
Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757-1808) wrote that “the brain secretes
thought as the liver secretes bile ”15 William Barrett, in a fascinating in-
tellectual history of the gradual loss of the notion of the soul or the self in
Western thought from Descartes to the present, writes:

Thus we get in La Mettrie those quaint illustrations of the human body
as a system of imaginary gears, cogs, and ratchets Man, the microcosm, is
just another machine within the universal machine that is the cosmos We
smile at these illustrations as quaint and crude, but secretly we may still
nourish the notion that they are after all in the right direction, though a
little premature With the advent of the computer, however, this tempta-
tion toward mechanism becomes more irresistible, for here we no longer
have an obsolete machine of wheels and pulleys but one that seems able to
reproduce the processes of the human mind Can machines think? now
becomes a leading question for our time 16

In any case, the point is that as human beings we are simply a part of
the cosmos In the cosmos there is one substance: matter We are that
and only that The laws applying to matter apply to us We do not tran-
scend the universe in any way

Of course we are very complex machines, and our mechanism is not
yet fully understood Thus people continue to amaze us and upset our
expectations Still, any mystery that surrounds our understanding is a
result not of genuine mystery but of mechanical complexity 17

It might be concluded that humanity is not distinct from other objects

14La Mettrie, Man a Machine, p 177
15Fredrick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (London: Burns and Oates, 1961), 6:51 Among

proponents of the notion that human beings are machines is John Brierly, The Thinking Ma-
chine (London: Heinemann, 1973)

16William Barrett, The Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer (New York: Anchor,
1987), p 154 Sherry Turkle, who has studied the effect of computers on human self-under-
standing, says that “people who try to think of themselves as computers have trouble with
the notion of the self ” (Carl Mitcham reports on her work in “Computer Ethos, Computer
Ethics,” in Research in Philosophy and Technology [Greenwich, Conn : JAI Press], 8:271)

17Humanist Manifesto II states the situation generally with reference to the whole of nature:
“Nature may indeed be broader and deeper than we now know; any new discoveries, however,
will but enlarge our knowledge of the natural” (p 16)

The Silence of Finite Space 7 3

in the universe, that it is merely one kind of object among many But
naturalists insist this is not so Julian Huxley, for example, says we are
unique among animals because we alone are capable of conceptual
thought, employ speech, possess a cumulative tradition (culture) and
have had a unique method of evolution 18 To this most naturalists would
add our moral capacity, a topic I will take up separately All of these char-
acteristics are open and generally obvious None of them imply any tran-
scendent power or demand any extramaterial basis, say the naturalists

Ernest Nagel points out the necessity of not stressing the human “con-
tinuity” with the nonhuman elements of our makeup: “Without denying
that even the most distinctive human traits are dependent on things
which are nonhuman, a mature naturalism attempts to assess man’s na-
ture in the light of his actions and achievements, his aspirations and ca-
pacities, his limitations and tragic failures, and his splendid works of in-
genuity and imagination ”19 By stressing our humanness (our distinctness
from the rest of the cosmos), a naturalist finds a basis for value, for, it is
held, intelligence, cultural sophistication, a sense of right and wrong not
only are human distinctives but are what make us valuable This we will
see developed further under proposition 6 below

Finally, while some naturalists are strict determinists with regard to
all events in the universe, including human action, thus denying any
sense of free will, many naturalists hold that we are free to fashion our
own destiny, at least in part Some, for example, hold that while a closed
universe implies determinism, determinism is still compatible with hu-
man freedom, or at least a sense of freedom 20 We can do many things
that we want to do; we are not always constrained to act against our
wants I could, for example, stop preparing a new edition of this book if I
wanted to I don’t want to

This, so many naturalists hold, leaves open the possibility for significant
human action, and it provides a basis for morality For unless we are free to
do other than we do, we cannot be held responsible for what we do The co-

18Julian Huxley, “The Uniqueness of Man,” in Man in the Modern World (New York: Mentor,
1948), pp 7-28 George Gaylord Simpson lists humanity’s “interrelated factors of intelligence,
f lexibility, individualization and socialization” (The Meaning of Evolution, rev ed [New York:
Mentor, 1951], p 138)

19Nagel, “Naturalism Reconsidered,” p 490
20Physicist Edward Fredkin, for example, believes that even in a completely deterministic uni-

verse, human actions may not be predictable and there is left a place for “pseudo-free will”
(Robert Wright, Three Scientists and Their Gods [New York: Harper & Row, 1988], p 67)

74 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

herence of this view has been challenged, however, and is one of the soft spots
in the naturalist’s system of thought, as we will see in the following chapter

4. Worldview Question 4: Death is extinction of personality and indi-

This is, perhaps, the “hardest” proposition of naturalism for people to
accept, yet it is absolutely demanded by the naturalists’ conception of the
universe Men and women are made of matter and nothing else When
the matter that goes to make up an individual is disorganized at death,
then that person disappears

The Humanist Manifesto II states, “As far as we know, the total per-
sonality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social

and cultural context There is no credible evidence that life survives the
death of the body ”21 Bertrand Russell writes, “No fire, no heroism, no
intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond
the grave ”22 And A J Ayer says, “I take it to be fact that one’s existence

21Humanist Manifestos I and II, p 17
22Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon

& Schuster, 1957), p 107

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end

they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his

loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of

atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can

preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the

ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of

human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar

system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevita-

bly be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things,

if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy

which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of

these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the

soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

BERTRAND RUSSELL, “A Free Man’s Worship”

The Silence of Finite Space 75

ends at death ”23 In a more general sense humankind is likewise seen to
be transitory “Human destiny,” Nagel confesses, “[is] an episode between
two oblivions ”24

Such statements are clear and unambiguous The concept may trigger
immense psychological problems, but there is no disputing its precision
The only “immortality,” as the Humanist Manifesto II puts it, is to “con-
tinue to exist in our progeny and in the way that our lives have influenced
others in our culture ”25 In his short story “Pigeon Feathers” John Updike
gives this notion a beautifully human dimension as he portrays the young
boy David reflecting on his minister’s description of heaven as being “like
Abraham Lincoln’s goodness living after him ”26 Like the seminary pro-
fessor quoted above, David’s pastor is no longer a theist but is simply try-
ing to provide “spiritual” counsel within the framework of naturalism

5. Worldview Question 5: Through our innate and autonomous human
reason, including the methods of science, we can know the universe. The
cosmos, including this world, is understood to be in its normal state.

Notice the similarity between the deist and the naturalist notion of how
we come to know Both accept the internal faculty of reason and the
thoughts human beings come to have as givens From a cosmic stand-
point, reason developed under the contingencies of natural evolution
over a very long period of time 27 From a human standpoint, a child is
born with innate faculties which merely have to develop naturally These
faculties work on their own within the framework of the languages and
cultures to which they are exposed At no time is there any information
or interpretation or mental machinery added from outside the ordinary
material world As children grow, they learn which of their thoughts help
them understand and enable them to deal with the world around them
The methods of modern science are especially helpful in leading us to
more and more profound knowledge of our universe Human knowledge,
then, is the product of natural human reason grounded in its perceived

23A J Ayer, ed , The Humanist Outlook (London: Pemberton, 1968), p 9
24Nagel, “Naturalism Reconsidered,” p 496
25Humanist Manifestos I and II, p 17
26John Updike, “Pigeon Feathers,” in Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories (Greenwich, Conn :

Fawcett, 1959), p 96
27See pp 81-84 below

76 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ability to reach the truth about human beings and the world 28

We should notice that I have used the word truth to describe the end
result of human reason when it is successful In the eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries few would question its propriety As Aristotle said,
“All men desire to know,” meaning “All men desire to know the truth, that
is, the way reality really is ” Naturalists today, especially scientists and
ordinarily educated people, may continue to think this way When most
people say that water is hydrogen and oxygen, two parts to one, they
think they have accurately described its chemical makeup; that’s what
water is More philosophically minded modern naturalists are content to
say that we can learn to describe what we take to be reality in language
that allows us to live successfully in the world, but no one can know what
something is There is a rift between words and things that cannot be
bridged 29 We will see how this plays out in chapter nine on postmodern-
ism What is important to note here is that naturalists ground human
reason in human nature itself

6. Worldview Question 6: Ethics is related only to human beings.

Ethical considerations did not play a central role in the rise of naturalism
Naturalism rather came as a logical extension of certain metaphysical
notions—notions about the nature of the external world Most early nat-
uralists continued to hold ethical views similar to those in the surround-
ing culture, views that in general were indistinguishable from popular
Christianity There was a respect for individual dignity, an affirmation of
love, a commitment to truth and basic honesty Jesus was seen as a teacher
of high ethical values

Though it is becoming less and less so, it is still true to some measure
today With a few recent twists—for example, a permissive attitude to
premarital and extramarital sex, a positive response to euthanasia, abor-
tion and the individual’s right to suicide—the ethical norms of the Hu-
manist Manifesto II (1973) are similar to traditional morality Theists

28See the essays in Naturalizing Epistemology, 2nd ed , ed Hilary Kornblith (Cambridge, Mass :
MIT Press, 1997) for a presentation and critique of various naturalistic ways to justify our
claims to knowledge

29In Christian theism there is no necessary rift between words and things; this is because
everything that exists except God himself has been made by the Word (the personal intel-
ligence of God) See chapter 2, page 36 I have also discussed this aspect of theism in Disciple-
ship of the Mind (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1990), pp 87-94

The Silence of Finite Space 7 7

and naturalists can often live side by side in communal harmony on eth-
ical matters There have always been disagreements between them; these
disagreements will, I believe, increase as humanism shifts further and
further from its memory of Christian ethics 30 But whatever the disagree-
ments (or agreements) on ethical norms, the basis for these norms is
radically different

For a theist, God is the foundation of values For a naturalist, values
are constructed by human beings The naturalist’s notion follows logi-
cally from the previous propositions If there was no consciousness prior
to the existence of humans, then there was no prior sense of right and
wrong And if there were no ability to do other than what one does, any
sense of right and wrong would have no practical value So for ethics to
be possible, there must be both consciousness and self-determination In
short, there must be personality

Naturalists say both consciousness and self-determination came with
the appearance of human beings, and so ethics too came then No ethical
system can be derived solely from the nature of “things” outside human
consciousness In other words, no natural law is inscribed in the cosmos
Even La Mettrie, who fudged a bit when he wrote, “Nature created us all
[man and beast] solely to be happy,” betraying his deistic roots, was a
confirmed naturalist in ethics: “You see that natural law is nothing but an
intimate feeling which belongs to the imagination like all other feelings,
thought included ”31 La Mettrie, of course, conceived of the imagination
in a totally mechanistic fashion, so that ethics became for him simply
people’s following out a pattern embedded in them as creatures Certainly
there is nothing whatever transcendent about morality

The Humanist Manifesto II states the locus of naturalistic ethics in no
uncertain terms: “We affirm that moral values derive their source from
human experience Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no
theological or ideological sanction Ethics stems from human need and
interest To deny this distorts the whole basis of life Human life has
meaning because we create and develop our futures ”32 Most conscious

30This shift in the content of ethical norms can be studied by comparing Humanist Manifesto
I (1933) with Humanist Manifesto II (1973) Since 1973, of course, more shifts have occurred,
most notably in the ascendance of a plea that homosexuality be considered a normal human
condition with attendant moral rights

31La Mettrie, Man a Machine, p 176, emphasis mine
32Humanist Manifestos I and II, p 17

78 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

naturalists would probably agree with this statement But exactly how
value is created out of the human situation is just as much up for grabs as
is the way we ought to understand the origin of the universe

The major question is this: How does ought derive from is? Traditional
ethics, that is, the ethics of Christian theism, affirms the transcendent
origin of ethics and locates in the infinite-personal God the measure of

the good Good is what God is, and this has been revealed in many and
diverse ways, most fully in the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ

Naturalists, however, have no such appeal, nor do they wish to make
one Ethics is solely a human domain So the question: How does one get
from the fact of self-consciousness and self-determination, the realm of is
and can, to the realm of what ought to be or to be done?

One observation naturalists make is that all people have a sense of
moral values These derive, G G Simpson says, from intuition (“the feel-
ing of rightness, without objective inquiry into the reasons for this feeling
and without possible test as to the truth or falseness of the premises
involved”33), from authority and from convention No one grows up with-
out picking up values from the environment, and while a person may re-
ject these and pay the consequences of ostracism or martyrdom, seldom
does anyone succeed in inventing values totally divorced from culture

33Simpson, Meaning of Evolution, p 145

To discover the true principles of morality, men have no need of theol-

ogy, of revelation, or of gods; they need only common sense. They have

only to commune with themselves, to reflect upon their own nature, to

consult their visible interests, to consider the objects of society and the

individuals who compose it, and they will easily perceive that virtue is

advantageous, and vice disadvantageous, to such beings as themselves.

Let us persuade them to be just, beneficent, moderate, sociable, not

because such conduct is demanded by the gods, but because it is a

pleasure to men. Let us advise them to abstain from vice and crime, not

because they will be punished in the other world, but because they will

suffer for it in this.

BARON D’HOLBACH (1723-89), “Common Sense”

The Silence of Finite Space 79

Of course values differ from culture to culture, and none seems abso-
lutely universal So Simpson argues for an ethic based on objective in-
quiry and finds it in a harmonious adjustment of people to each other and
their environment 34 Whatever promotes such harmony is good; what
does not is bad John Platt, in an article that attempts to construct an
ethic for B F Skinner’s behaviorism, writes,

Happiness is having short-run reinforcers congruent with medium-run
and long-run ones, and wisdom is knowing how to achieve this And ethi-
cal behavior results when short-run personal reinforcers are congruent
with long-run group reinforcers This makes it easy to “be good,” or more
exactly to “behave well ”35

The upshot of this is a definition of good action as group-approved, sur-
vival-promoting action Both Simpson and Platt opt for the continuance
of human life as the value above all values Survival is thus basic, but it is
human survival that is affirmed as primary 36

Both Simpson and Platt are scientists with a consciousness of their
responsibility to be fully human and thus to integrate their scientific
knowledge and their moral values From the side of the humanities comes
Walter Lippmann In A Preface to Morals (1929) Lippmann assumes the
naturalists’ stance with regard to the origin and purposelessness of the
universe His tack is to construct an ethic on the basis of what he takes to
be the central agreement of the “great religious teachers ” For Lippmann,
the good turns out to be something that has been recognized so far only
by the elite, a “voluntary aristocracy of the spirit ”37 His argument is that
this elitist ethic is now becoming mandatory for all people if they are to
survive the twentieth-century crisis of values

The good itself consists of disinterestedness—a way of alleviating the
“disorders and frustrations” of the modern world, now that the “acids of
modernity” have eaten away the traditional basis for ethical behavior It is
difficult to summarize the content Lippmann pours into the word disin-

34Ibid , p 149
35John Platt in The Center Magazine, March-April 1972, p 48
36Two other naturalists who attempt to build an ethic on an evolutionary foundation are Dan-

iel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), and James Q
Wilson, The Moral Sense (New York: Free Press, 1993) Both explain how a moral sense may
have developed; neither succeeds in avoiding the naturalistic fallacy—the attempt to derive
ought from is.

37Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (New York: Time, 1964), p 190

8 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

terested. The final third of his book is addressed to doing that But it is
helpful to notice that his ethic turns out to be based on a personal com-
mitment of each individual who would be moral, and that it is totally di-
vorced from the world of facts—the nature of things in general:

A religion which rests upon particular conclusions in astronomy, biology
and history may be fatally injured by the discovery of new truths But the
religion of the spirit does not depend upon creeds and cosmologies; it has
no vested interest in any particular truth It is concerned not with the or-
ganization of matter, but with the quality of human desire 38

Lippmann’s language must be carefully understood By religion he
means morality or moral impulse By spirit he means the moral faculty in
human beings, that which exalts people above animals and above others
whose “religion” is merely “popular ” The language of theism is being em-
ployed, but its content is purely naturalistic

In any case, what remains of ethics is an affirmation of a high vision of
right in the face of a universe that is merely there and has no value in it-
self Ethics thus are personal and chosen Lippmann is not, to my knowl-
edge, generally associated with the existentialists, but, as we shall see in
chapter six, his version of naturalistic ethics is ultimately theirs

Naturalists have tried to construct ethical systems in a wide variety of
ways Even Christian theists must admit that many of the naturalists’
ethical insights are valid Indeed theists should not be surprised by the
fact that we can learn moral truths by observing human nature and be-
havior, for if women and men are made in the image of God and if that
image is not totally destroyed by the Fall, then they should yet reflect—
even if dimly—something of the goodness of God

7. Worldview Question 7: History is a linear stream of events linked by
cause and effect but without an overarching purpose.

First, the word history, as used in this proposition, includes both natural
history and human history, for naturalists see them as a continuity The

38Ibid , p 307 Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind could be described as a sus-
tained cry for the maintenance of some other basis for human values than commitment or
human decision. Without seriously contending with an infinite-personal God who acts as the
foundation for these values, it is difficult to see just how contemporary values will be able to
be grounded in any firm absolute See Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), esp pp 194-216 See also Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue,
2nd ed (Notre Dame, Ind : Notre Dame University Press, 1984)

The Silence of Finite Space 81

origin of the human family is in nature We arose out of it and most likely
will return to it (not just individually but as a species)

Natural history begins with the origin of the universe Something
happened an incredibly long time ago—a big bang or sudden emergence—
that ultimately resulted in the formation of the universe we now inhabit
and are conscious of But exactly how this came to be few are willing to
say Lodewijk Woltjer, astronomer at Columbia University, speaks for
many: “The origin of what is—man, the earth, the universe—is shrouded
in a mystery we are no closer to solving than was the chronicler of
Genesis ”39 A number of theories to explain the process have been ad-
vanced, but none have really won the day 40 Still, among naturalists the
premise always is that the process was self-activating; it was not set in
motion by a Prime Mover—God or otherwise

How human beings came to be is generally held to be more certain
than how the universe came to be The theory of evolution, long toyed
with by naturalists, was given a “mechanism” by Darwin and has won the
day There is hardly a public school text that does not proclaim the theory
as fact We should be careful, however, not to assume that all forms of
evolutionary theory are strictly naturalist Many theists are also evolu-
tionists Evolution has, in fact, become a far more vexed issue among
both Christians and naturalists than when this book was first written 41

39Garraty and Gay, Columbia History of the World, p 3
40One of the most intriguing treatments of the origin of the universe is that presented by

Hawking in A Brief History of Time.
41Most scientists who are naturalists accept some form of evolutionary theory Daniel C Den-

nett is probably correct when he writes that “though there are vigorous controversies swirling
around in evolutionary theory,” they are family squabbles The Darwinian idea “is about as
secure as any in science”; that “human beings are products of evolution” is an “undisputable
fact” (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, pp 19, 481) One scientist, a naturalist, who does not accept
Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, however, is Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis
(Bethesda, Md : Adler and Adler, 1985) Among Christians many scientists and theologians,
especially those associated with the American Scientific Affiliation, accept some form of
evolution as both scientifically possible and consistent with Christian theism (see the count-
less articles in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation and Perspectives on Science
and Christian Faith [the ASA’s retitled journal]) Further examples are Charles Hummel,
The Galileo Connection (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1985); Howard J Van Till,
The Fourth Day (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); Howard J Van Till, Davis A Young and
Clarence Menninga, Science Held Hostage (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1988)
Three recent books are especially helpful in sorting out the status of the current variety of
judgments Christian scholars are making in regard to evolution: Darrel R Falk, Coming
to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology (Downers Grove, Ill :
InterVarsity Press, 2004); Francis S Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evi-
dence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006); and Kenneth R Miller, Finding Darwin’s God:

8 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

A theist sees the infinite-personal God to be in charge of all natural
processes If the biological order has evolved, it has done so by conform-
ing to God’s design; it is teleological, directed toward an end personally
willed by God For a naturalist, the process is on its own George Gaylord
Simpson puts this so well he is worth quoting at some length:

Organic evolution is a process entirely materialistic in its origin and op-
eration Life is materialistic in nature, but it has properties unique to
itself which reside in its organization, not in its materials or mechanics

A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (San Francisco: Harper
Perennial, 2007)

While methodological naturalism is still the reigning presupposition among most scien-
tists—both secular and Christian—it has been seriously challenged by a number of scien-
tists, philosophers and cultural critics W Christopher Stewart explains the conf lict between
Christians in “Religion and Science,” in Reason for the Hope Within, ed Michael J Murray
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp 318-44 For those opposed to methodological natural-
ism and arguing instead for “design” or “theistic” science, see especially the following: biolo-
gist Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York:
Free Press, 1996); Charles B Thaxton, Walter L Bradley and Roger L Olsen, The Mystery of
Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984); mathematician and philosopher William
A Dembski, The Design Inference (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Intelligent
Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press,
1999); Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001); No
Free Lunch (Lanham, Md : Rowman and Littlefield, 2002); Design Revolution: Answering the
Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2004); law
professor and cultural critic Phillip E Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, Ill : Inter-
Varsity Press, 1993); Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and
Education (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1995); The Wedge of Truth (Downers Grove,
Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2000); and The Right Questions (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press,
2002); and chemist and historian of science Charles B Thaxton and writer Nancy Pearcey,
The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994)
Two histories of the birth, development and criticism of the “intelligent design” movement are
Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 2003): and Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design (Grand Rap-
ids: Baker, 2006) Critiques of Christian arguments about evolution is found in Del Ratzsch,
The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side Is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate (Down-
ers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1996); Science and Its Limits, 2nd ed (Downers Grove, Ill :
InterVarsity Press, 2000); Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001)

Six collections of essays by a wide variety of scholars also focus on this topic: J P More-
land, ed , The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1994); Jon Buell and Virginia Hearn, eds , Darwinism: Science
or Philosophy? (Richardson, Tex : Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1994); William A
Dembski, ed , Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Ill : In-
terVarsity Press, 1998); J P Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, Three Views on Creation and
Evolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999); Michael Behe with others, Science and Evidence
for Design in the Universe: Papers Presented at a Conference Sponsored by the Wethersfield
Institute, September 25, 1999 (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000); and Robert T Pennock, ed ,
Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (Cambridge, Mass : MIT Press, 2001)

The Silence of Finite Space 8 3

Man arose as a result of the operation of organic evolution and his being
and activities are also materialistic, but the human species has properties
unique to itself among all forms of life, superadded to the properties
unique to life among all forms of matter and of action Man’s intellectual,
social, and spiritual natures are exceptional among animals in degree, but
they arose by organic evolution 42

This passage is significant for its clear affirmation of both human con-
tinuity with the rest of the cosmos and special uniqueness Yet lest we
conclude that our uniqueness, our position as nature’s highest creation,
was designed by some teleological principle operative in the universe,
Simpson adds, “Man was certainly not the goal of evolution, which evi-
dently had no goal ”43

In some ways the theory of evolution raises as many questions as it
solves, for while it offers an explanation for what has happened over the
eons of time, it does not explain why. The notion of a Purposer is not al-
lowed by naturalists Rather, as Jacques Monod says, humanity’s “number
came up in the Monte Carlo game,” a game of pure chance 44 And Richard
Dawkins, one of the more vocal of recent neo-Darwinian evolutionists,
confirms this: “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it
does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view ”45
Any intentionality is ruled out as a possibility from the beginning 46

In any case, naturalists insist that with the dawn of humanity, evolu-
tion suddenly took on a new dimension, for human beings are self-con-
scious—probably the only self-conscious beings in the universe 47 Fur-
ther, as humans we are free consciously to consider, decide and act Thus
while evolution considered strictly on the biological level continues to be

42Simpson, Meaning of Evolution, p 143 Why Simpson should assign human beings a spiritual
nature is not clear We must not, however, take him to mean that they have a dimension that
takes them out of the closed universe

44Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, trans Austryn Wainhouse (New York: Alfred A

Knopf, 1971), p 146
45Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W W Norton, 1986), p 21
46See Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational

Faith, trans Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) for a Christian perspective
on purpose in evolution

47A few naturalists like Carl Sagan believe that given the size and age of the universe, other
intelligent beings must have evolved elsewhere in it But even Sagan admits that there is no
hard evidence for this view (Sagan, Cosmos, pp 292, 307-15) That was 1980; the same is true
in 2009

8 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

unconscious and accidental, human actions are not They are not just a
part of the “natural” environment They are human history

In other words, when human beings appear, meaningful history, hu-
man history—the events of self-conscious, self-determining men and
women—appears But like evolution, which has no inherent goal, history
has no inherent goal History is what we make it to be Human events
have only the meaning people give them when they choose them or when
they look back on them

History proceeds in a straight line, as in theism (not in a cycle as in
Eastern pantheism), but history has no predetermined goal Rather than
culminating in a second coming of the God-man, it is simply going to last
as long as conscious human beings last When we go, human history dis-
appears, and natural history goes on its way alone

8. Worldview Question 8: Naturalism itself implies no particular core
commitment on the part of any given naturalist. Rather core commit-
ments are adopted unwittingly or chosen by individuals.

Each individual is free to choose whatever goal or commitment he or she
wishes Most naturalists are an integral part of a particular cultural com-
munity and orient their personal lives within the norms of their commu-

nity But there is nothing in the naturalist worldview to require this, and
rebels to any society-given notion of the good life cannot reasonably be
criticized for their rebellion to social norms Still, while naturalism pro-

I would like to claim that the coming of modern secularity . . . has been

coterminous with the rise of a society in which for the first time in his-

tory a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely available op-

tion. I mean by this a humanism accepting no final goals beyond human

flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing.

Of no previous society was this true. . . . [A] secular age is one in which

the eclipse of all goals beyond human flourishing becomes conceivable;

or better, it falls within the range of an imaginable life for masses of


CHARLES TAYLOR, A Secular Society

The Silence of Finite Space 8 5

vides no rational justification to act selflessly, naturalists often choose to
serve their community or promote a purely secular human flourishing
Naturalists will not, of course, choose to live in order to please any God
or gods


Two forms of naturalism deserve special mention The first is secular
humanism, a term that has come to be both used and abused by adher-
ents and critics alike Some clarification of terms is in order here

First, secular humanism is one form of humanism in general, but not the
only form Humanism itself is the overall attitude that human beings are of
special value; their aspirations, their thoughts, their yearnings are signifi-
cant There is as well an emphasis on the value of the individual person

Ever since the Renaissance, thoughtful people of various convictions
have called themselves and been called humanists, among them many
Christians John Calvin (1509-1564), Desiderius Erasmus (1456?-1536),
Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599), William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and
John Milton (1608-1674), all of whom wrote from within a Christian
theistic worldview, were humanists, what are sometimes today called
Christian humanists The reason for this designation is that they em-
phasized human dignity, not as over against God but as deriving from
the image of God in each person Today there are many thoughtful
Christians who so want to preserve the word humanism from being
associated with purely secular forms that they signed a Christian hu-
manist manifesto (1982) declaring that Christians have always affirmed
the value of human beings 48

The tenets of secular humanism are well expressed in the Humanist
Manifesto II 49 Secular humanism is a form of humanism that is com-
pletely framed within a naturalistic worldview It is fair to say, I believe,
that most who would feel comfortable with the label “secular humanist”

48A Christian humanist manifesto was published in Eternity, January 1982, pp 16-18 The
signers were Donald Bloesch, George Brushaber, Richard Bube, Arthur Holmes, Bruce Lock-
erbie, J I Packer, Bernard Ramm and me Then, too, Norman Klassen and Jens Zimmerman
promote a form of Christian humanism they call “incarnational humanism” as a foundation
for Christian education, especially at the university level; see their The Passionate Intellect
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006)

49Humanist Manifestos I and II. Another, briefer compilation of secular humanist views, “The
Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles and Values,” appears on the back cover
of Free Inquiry, Summer 1987

8 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

would find their views reflected in propositions 1-6 above Secular hu-
manists, in other words, are simply naturalists, though not all naturalists
are secular humanists


Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, one of the most histori-
cally significant forms of naturalism has been Marxism 50 The fortunes
of Marxism have ebbed and flowed over the years; the collapse of com-
munism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has left only a
few “officially” Marxist countries Nevertheless, for the better part of the
twentieth century a huge section of the globe was dominated by ideas
that stemmed from the philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) At the cur-
rent time, though communism as an ideology seems down and out, many
ideas of Marx remain influential among social scientists and other intel-
lectuals in the West Even in Eastern Europe the former communists,
somewhat chastened and professing a commitment to democracy, seem
to be making a political comeback

It is difficult to define or analyze Marxism briefly, for there are many
different types of “Marxists ”51 Enormous differences exist between
Marxist theories of various kinds, ranging from thinkers who are hu-
manistic and committed to democracy in some form to hard-line “Stalin-
ists” who identify Marxism with totalitarianism There is another huge
difference between Marxist theories of all kinds and the reality of Marx-
ist practice in the Soviet Union and other places In theory, Marxism is
supposed to benefit working people and enable them to gain economic
control over their own lives In reality, the bureaucratic rigidities of life
under communism led to economic stagnation as well as loss of personal

Although Marxism has generally claimed to be a scientific theory (as

50This section on Marxism was written by C Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philoso-
phy and Humanities, Baylor University

51One of the best introductions to the many sides of Marxism is Richard Schmitt, Introduction
to Marx and Engels: Critical Reconstruction (Boulder, Colo : Westview, 1987 ) A good intro-
duction from a Christian point of view is David Lyon, Karl Marx: A Christian Assessment of
His Life and Thought (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1979) There is no substitute,
of course, for the actual writings of Marx to really understand him, as well as the writings
of Marx’s close friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels Many of the most important writ-
ings are in Richard Tucker, ed , The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed (New York: W W Norton,

The Silence of Finite Space 8 7

in the name “scientific socialism”), this claim has not been generally ac-
cepted It is in many ways more helpful to think of Marxism as a kind of
humanism, though of course most humanists are not Marxists While
Marxist humanism has characteristic themes of its own, Marxism and
secular humanism, as forms of naturalism, share many assumptions

All forms of Marxism can of course be traced back to the writings of
Karl Marx The question of who are Marx’s “true heirs” is bitterly con-
tested, but the more humanistic Marxists can certainly point to some
important themes in Marx’s writings In one of his earliest essays, he says
clearly that “man is the supreme being for man ”52 It is from this human-
ist theme that Marx deduces his revolutionary imperative to “overthrow
all those conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned,
contemptible being ”53

Marx arrived at his humanism through an encounter with two impor-
tant nineteenth-century philosophers: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
(1770-1830) and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) Hegel’s philosophy was a
form of idealism that taught that God or “absolute spirit” is not a being
distinct from the world but a reality that is progressively realizing itself in
the concrete world For Hegel this process is dialectical in nature; that is,
it proceeds through conflicts in which each realization of spirit calls forth
its own antagonist or “negation ” Out of this conflict a still higher realiza-
tion of spirit emerges, which in turn calls forth its negation, and so on
This philosophy is in essence a highly speculative philosophy of history
For Hegel the highest vehicle for the expression of spirit was human soci-
ety, particularly the modern societies that were coming to fruition in the
capitalistic states of nineteenth-century western Europe

Feuerbach was a materialist who was famous for asserting that human
beings “are what they eat” and that religion is a human invention As
Feuerbach saw it, God is a projection of human potentiality, an expres-
sion of our unrealized ideals Religion functions perniciously, since as
soon as we invent God we devote ourselves to pleasing our imaginary
construction instead of working to overcome the shortcomings that led
to the invention in the first place Feuerbach extended his critique of reli-
gion to Hegel’s philosophical idealism, seeing in Hegel’s concept of “spirit”

52Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction,” in
Tucker, Marx-Engels Reader, p 60


8 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

yet another human projection, a slightly secularized version of the Chris-
tian God

Marx accepted Feuerbach’s critique of religion wholeheartedly, and
atheism remains a part of most forms of Marxism to this day However,
he was struck by the fact that if Feuerbach’s criticism of Hegel was right,
then Hegel’s philosophy may still contain truth If Hegel’s concept of
spirit is simply a misleading projection of our human reality, then the
dialectical process Hegel described may be real, just as a film when pro-
jected may give an accurate picture of the reality that was filmed It is
only necessary to “turn Hegel right side up” by translating Hegel’s ideal-
istic talk of spirit into materialistic talk of concrete human beings Once
we realize that in Hegel we are seeing a projection or “film,” we can inter-
pret his view in a way that makes it true History has proceeded through
conflict in which the contending parties create their own antagonists,
and this series of historical conflicts is “going somewhere ” The goal of
history is a perfect or ideal human society, but it is misleading and con-
fusing to call such a society “spirit ”

Marx does call himself a “materialist,” and in some sense he certainly
is one Despite this, Marx hardly ever talks about matter His materialism
is historical and dialectical; it is primarily a doctrine about human his-
tory, and it sees that history as a series of dialectical struggles Economic
factors are the primary determinants of that history Since human beings
are material, their lives must be understood in terms of the need to work
to satisfy their material needs

Marx believed that human history began with relatively small human
communities organized in familylike tribes Private property is unknown;
a kind of primitive or natural communism holds in which individuals
identify with the community as a whole, though these communities are
poor and unable to allow their members to flourish As societies develop
technology, gradually a division of labor occurs Some people in a society
control the tools or resources the society depends on; this gives them the
power to exploit others Thus out of division of labor and consequent
control over the means of production social classes emerge

For Marx social classes are the dialectical antagonists of history rather
than Hegel’s spiritual realities History for Marx is the history of class
struggle Since the demise of primitive societies, societies have always
been dominated by the class that controls the means of production The

The Silence of Finite Space 8 9

process by which the material goods society requires are created is the
key to understanding society This process is termed by Marxists the
“base” of society A particular system for producing material goods, such
as feudal agriculture or industrial capitalism, produces a particular class
structure On that class structure depends in turn what Marx calls the
“superstructure” of society: art, religion, philosophy, morality and, most
important, political institutions

Social changes occur when one system of production “dialectically”
gives rise to a new system The new economic base comes into being
within the womb of the old superstructure The dominant social classes
of the old order of course try to maintain their power as long as possible,
relying on the state to maintain their position Eventually, however, the
new economic system and the emerging class become too powerful The
result is a revolution in which the old superstructure is swept away in
favor of a new political and social order that better reflects the underlying
economic order

The history of capitalism illustrates these truths clearly, according to
Marx Medieval feudal societies created modern industrial society, which
is its dialectical opposite For a long time the feudal aristocracy tried to
hold on to its power, but in the French Revolution Marx saw the triumph
of the new middle class, who controlled the means of production in capi-
talist society However, the same dialectical forces that led to capitalism
will also destroy it Capitalism requires a large body of propertyless work-
ers, the proletariat, to exploit As Marx saw it, the economic dynamics of
capitalism will necessarily lead to a society in which the proletariat are
more and more numerous and more and more exploited Capitalist soci-
eties become more and more productive, but wealth is more and more
narrowly distributed Eventually the concentration of wealth leads to a
society in which more is produced than can be purchased; overproduc-
tion leads to unemployment and more suffering At last the proletariat
will be forced to revolt

For Marx the revolt of the proletariat will be different from any previ-
ous revolution In the past, one social class overthrew a rival oppressing
class and became in its turn the oppressor The proletariat will, however,
be the majority, not a minority They have no vested interest in the old
order of things, so it will be in their own best interests to abolish the
whole system of class oppression The material abundance created by

9 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

modern technology makes this a real possibility for the first time in hu-
man history, since without such abundance, struggle, competition and
oppression would inevitably break out in new forms

The new classless society that will emerge will make possible what
Marxists call “the new socialist individual ” People will supposedly be less
individualistic and competitive, more apt to find fulfillment in working
for the good of others The “alienation” of all previous societies will be
overcome, and a new and higher form of human life will emerge This
vision in many ways parallels the Christian vision of the coming of the
kingdom of God, and it is therefore easy to see why some have character-
ized Marxism as a Christian heresy

One can also easily see why this vision of Marx was appealing to so
many for so long Marx had a deep understanding of the human need for
genuine community and for fulfillment in work He was sensitive not
merely to the problem of poverty but to the loss of dignity that occurs
when human beings are seen merely as cogs in a vast industrial machine
He looked for a society in which people would creatively express them-
selves in their work and see in their work an opportunity to help others as
well as themselves

It is by no means clear that at some point changing conditions will not
rekindle interest in Marx Some theorists, for example, worry that in the
United States there is an increasing gap between an economic elite and
the great mass of people who are stagnating economically, and that this
increasing inequality may make Marx’s theories relevant once more

However, there are also hard questions that Marx does not convinc-
ingly answer One crucial set of questions deals with the reality of life
under communism How could a theory that seems so committed to
humanistic liberation produce the dehumanization and oppression of
Stalinism? Part of the answer here surely lies in the changes that Vladi-
mir Lenin introduced into Marxism Marx had predicted that social-
ism would develop in the most economically advanced societies, such
as England and the United States; and he had little faith that true so-
cialism would be possible in a backward country such as Russia Lenin
believed that if society were rigidly controlled by a monolithic Com-
munist party, this would compensate for economic backwardness So
many Western Marxists committed to “democratic socialism” argue
that Leninist-style communism was a heretical form of Marxism and

The Silence of Finite Space 91

that Marx’s own ideas were never given a fair chance
Nevertheless, even if one ignores the reality of life under communism

and the horrors of the Gulag, there are many respects in which Marx’s
ideas appear vulnerable One crucial concern is his faith that human his-
tory is moving toward an ideal society Having abandoned any religious
belief in providence, as well as Hegel’s belief in absolute spirit as underly-
ing history, Marx has no real basis for this expectation He bases his own
hope on empirical study of history, particularly his analysis of economic
forces However, many of Marx’s predictions, such as his claim that work-
ers in advanced capitalist countries will become increasingly impover-
ished, have been far off the mark Can any social scientist—Marxist or
non-Marxist—accurately predict the future?

A second problem for Marx concerns our motivation for working to-
ward the future society, especially when we recognize that this society is
by no means inevitable Why should I work for a better society and try to
end social exploitation? Marx rejects any moral values as a basis for such
motivation As a naturalist, he views morality as simply a product of hu-
man culture There are no transcendent values that can be used as a basis
for critically evaluating culture Yet Marx himself often seems full of
moral indignation as he looks at the excesses of capitalism What is the
basis for Marx’s condemnation of capitalism if such moral notions as
“justice” and “fairness” are just ideological inventions?

Two final grave problems for Marx lie in his vision of human nature
and his analysis of the fundamental human problem For Marx human
beings are fundamentally self-creating; we create ourselves through our
work When our work or life activity is alienated, we are alienated, and
when our work has become truly human, we will be human as well
Greed, competition and envy all arise because of social divisions and
poverty; an ideal society will eliminate these evils

The question is whether Marx’s view of human nature and analysis of
the human problem go deep enough Is it really plausible to think that
selfishness and greed are solely a product of scarcity and class division? Is
it really possible to make human beings fundamentally good if we have
the right environment for them? Whether we look at capitalist or profess-
edly socialist societies, the lesson of history would seem to be that hu-
mans are very inventive in finding ways to manipulate any system for
their own selfish benefit Perhaps the problem with human nature lies

9 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

deeper than Marx thought And this problem may expose a problem with
his view of human beings: are we purely material beings?

Marx was certainly right to emphasize work and economic factors as
crucially important in shaping human society, but there is more to hu-
man life than economics Certainly many young people in the most eco-
nomically advanced countries struggle with finding meaning and pur-
pose for their lives Marxism, like all forms of naturalism, has a difficult
time providing such meaning and purpose for human beings


Naturalism has had great staying power Born in the eighteenth century,
it came of age in the nineteenth and grew to maturity in the twentieth
While signs of age are now appearing and postmodern trumpeters are
signaling the death of Enlightenment reason, naturalism is still very
much alive It dominates the universities, colleges and high schools It
provides the framework for most scientific study It poses the backdrop
against which the humanities continue to struggle for human value, as
writers, poets, painters and artists in general shudder under its implica-
tions 54 It is seen as the great villain of the postmodern avant-garde
Nonetheless, no rival worldview has yet been able to topple it Still, it is
fair to say that the twentieth century provided some powerful options:
Christian theism is experiencing a rebirth at all levels of society and Is-
lamic theism is posing a challenge just off stage

What makes naturalism so persistent? There are two basic answers
First, it gives the impression of being honest and objective One is asked
to accept only what appears to be based on facts and on the assured re-
sults of scientific investigation or scholarship Second, to a vast number
of people it appears to be coherent To them the implications of its prem-
ises are largely worked out and found acceptable Naturalism assumes no
god, no spirit, no life beyond the grave It sees human beings as the mak-
ers of value While it disallows that we are the center of the universe by
virtue of design, it allows us to place ourselves there and to make of our-
selves and for ourselves something of value As Simpson says, “Man is the
highest animal The fact that he alone is capable of making such a judg-
ment is in itself part of the evidence that this decision is correct ”55 It is up

54An important Christian critique of naturalism is found in Johnson’s Reason in the Balance.
55Simpson, Meaning of Evolution, p 139

The Silence of Finite Space 9 3

to us then to work out the implications of our special place in nature,
controlling and altering, as we find it possible, our own evolution 56

All of this is attractive If naturalism were really as described, it should,
perhaps, be called not only attractive or persistent but true We could
then proceed to tout its virtues and turn the argument of this book into
a tract for our times

But long before the twentieth century got under way, cracks began ap-
pearing in the edifice Theistic critics always found fault with it They
could never abandon their conviction that an infinite-personal God is
behind the universe Their criticism might be discounted as unenlight-
ened or merely conservative, as if they were afraid to launch out into the
uncharted waters of new truth But more was afoot than this As we shall
see in more detail in the following chapter and chapter nine on postmod-
ernism, within the camp of the naturalists themselves came rumblings of
discontent The facts on which naturalism was based—the nature of the
external universe, its closed continuity of cause and effect—were not at
issue The problem was coherence Did naturalism give an adequate rea-
son for us to consider ourselves valuable? Unique, maybe But gorillas are
unique So is every category of nature Value was the first troublesome
issue Could a being thrown up by chance be worthy?

Second, could a being whose origins were so “iffy” trust his or her own
capacity to know? Put it personally: If my mind is conterminous with my
brain, if “I” am only a thinking machine, how can I trust my thought? If
consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, perhaps the appearance of
human freedom which lays the basis for morality is an epiphenomenon of
either chance or inexorable law Perhaps chance or the nature of things
only built into me the “feeling” that I am free but actually I am not

These and similar questions do not arise from outside the naturalist
worldview They are inherent in it The fears that these questions raised
in some minds led directly to nihilism, which I am tempted to call a
worldview but which is actually a denial of all worldviews

56Ibid , pp 166-81 From the early days of Darwin and T H Huxley, naturalists have placed
much hope in human evolution Some modern optimists are Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of
the Future (New York: Bantam, 1964), pp 212-27; Peter Medawar, “On Effecting All Things
Possible,” The Listener, October 2, 1969, pp 437-42; Glenn Seaborg, “The Role of Science and
Technology,” Washington University Magazine, Spring 1972, pp 31-35; Julian Huxley, “Trans-
humanism,” in Knowledge, Morality and Destiny (New York: Mentor, 1960), pp 13-17

Chapter 5



If I should cast off this tattered coat,
And go free into the mighty sky;

If I should find nothing there
But a vast blue,

Echoless, ignorant—
W hat then?

S t e p h e n C r a n e , Th e B l ac k R i d e r s a n d O t h e r L i n e s

Nihilism is more a feeling than a philosophy, more a solitary stance
before the universe than a worldview Strictly speaking, nihilism is a de-
nial of any philosophy or worldview—a denial of the possibility of knowl-
edge, a denial that anything is valuable If it proceeds to the absolute de-
nial of everything, it even denies the reality of existence itself In other
words, nihilism is the negation of everything—knowledge, ethics, beauty,
reality In nihilism no statement has validity; nothing has meaning Ev-
erything is gratuitous, de trop, that is, just there

Those who have been untouched by the feelings of despair, anxiety
and ennui associated with nihilism may find it hard to imagine that ni-
hilism could be a seriously held orientation of the heart But it is, and it is
well for everyone who wants to understand the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries to experience, if only vicariously, something of nihilism as
a stance toward human existence

Zero Point 9 5

Modern art galleries are full of its products—if one can speak of some-
thing (art objects) coming from nothing (artists who, if they exist, deny
the ultimate value of their existence) As we shall see later, no art is ulti-
mately nihilistic, but some does attempt to embody many of nihilism’s
characteristics Marcel Duchamp’s ordinary urinal purchased on the
common market, signed with a fictional name, and labeled Fountain will
do for a start Samuel Beckett’s plays, notably End Game and Waiting for
Godot, are prime examples in drama But Beckett’s nihilistic art perhaps
reached its climax in Breath, a thirty-five-second play that has no human
actors The props consist of a pile of rubbish on the stage, lit by a light
that begins dim, brightens (but never fully) and then recedes to dimness
There are no words, only a “recorded” cry opening the play, an inhaled
breath, an exhaled breath and an identical “recorded” cry closing the play
For Beckett life is such a “breath ”

Douglas Adams in his cosmic science-fiction novels pictures the situ-
ation for those who seek in computer science an answer to human mean-
ing In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End
of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks
for All the Fish Adams tells the story of the universe from the point of
view of four time travelers who hitchhike back and forth across interga-
lactic time and space, from creation in the big bang to the final destruc-
tion of the universe 1 During the course of this history a race of hyper-
intelligent pan-dimensional beings (mice, actually) build a giant computer
(“the size of a small city”) to answer “The Ultimate Question of Life, the
Universe and Everything ” This computer, which they call Deep Thought,
spends seven and a half million years on the calculation 2

For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calcu-
lated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two—
and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the
actual question was
And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was
frequently mistaken for a planet—especially by the strange apelike beings
who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a
gigantic computer program

1Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (New York: Pocket, 1981); The Restau-
rant at the End of the Universe (New York: Pocket, 1982); Life, the Universe and Everything
(New York: Pocket, 1983); So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (London: Pan, 1984)

2Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide, p 173

9 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious
piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could pos-
sibly make the slightest bit of sense Sadly, however, just before the critical
moment of read-out, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the
Vogons to make way—so they claimed—for a new hyperspace bypass, and
so all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost for ever Or so it
would seem 3

By the end of the second novel, the time travelers discover that the
“question itself ” (the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Every-
thing) is “What is six times nine?”4 So, they discover, both the question
and the answer are inane Not only is 42 a meaningless answer to the
question on a human level (the level of purpose and meaning), it is bad
mathematics The most rational discipline in the university has been re-
duced to absurdity

By the end of the third novel, we have an explanation for why the ques-
tion and the answer do not seem to fit each other Prak, the character
who is supposed to know the ultimate, says this: “I’m afraid that the
Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive Knowledge of one logi-
cally precludes knowledge of the other It is impossible that both can ever
be known about the same Universe ”5 (Physics students will detect here a
play on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, where the position and mo-
mentum of an electron can both be known, but not with precision at the
same time )

So we can know the Answers—like 42—which don’t mean anything
without the Questions Or we can have the Questions (which give direc-
tion to our quest) But we can’t have both That is, we cannot satisfy our
longing for ultimate meaning

To read Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Eugene Ionesco, Joseph Heller,
Kurt Vonnegut Jr and, more recently, Douglas Adams is to begin to feel—
if one does not already in our depressing age—the pangs of human emp-
tiness, of life that is without value, without purpose, without meaning 6

3Adams, Restaurant, p 3
4Ibid , p 246
5Adams, Life, p 222 At the end of the fourth novel, which seems not nearly so poignant in its
effect, we learn God’s final message to us: “We apologize for the inconvenience” (So Long, p

6Adams may have the last laugh after all, for, as my mathematician friends tell me, 6 times 9 is
54 but can be written as 42 in base 13 Go figure!

Zero Point 9 7

But how does one get from naturalism to nihilism? Wasn’t naturalism
the enlightened readout of the assured results of science and open intel-
lectual inquiry? As a worldview, did it not account for human beings,
their uniqueness among the things of the cosmos? Did it not show human
dignity and value? As the highest of creation, the only self-conscious,
self-determined beings in the universe, men and women are rulers of all,
free to value what they will, free even to control the future of their own
evolution What more could one wish?

Most naturalists are satisfied to end their inquiry right here They do
in fact wish for no more For them there is no route to nihilism 7

But for a growing number of people the results of reason are not so
assured, the closed universe is confining, the notion of death as extinc-
tion is psychologically disturbing, our position as the highest in creation
is seen either as an alienation from the universe or as a union with it such
that we are no more valuable than a pebble on the beach In fact, pebbles
“live” longer! What bridges led from a naturalism that affirms the value
of human life to a naturalism that does not? Just how did nihilism come

Nihilism came about not because theists and deists picked away at
naturalism from the outside Nihilism is the natural child of naturalism


The first and most basic reason for nihilism is found in the direct, logi-
cal implications of naturalism’s primary propositions Notice what hap-
pens to the concept of human nature when one takes seriously the no-
tions that (1) matter is all there is and it is eternal, and (2) the cosmos
operates with a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system These
mean that a human being is a part of the system Though they may not
understand the implications for human freedom, naturalists agree, as
we saw in proposition 3 of chapter four: Human beings are complex
machines whose personality is a function of highly complex chemical
and physical properties not yet understood. Nietzsche, however, bites
the bullet and recognizes the loss to human dignity He is simply de-
luded about having free will

7My scientist friend Carl Peraino is one such person; he maintains a consistent naturalism but
insists that this does not lead him to nihilism See our dialogue in our Deepest Differences: A
Christian-Atheist Dialogue (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2009)

9 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Still many naturalists try to hold on to human freedom within the closed
system Their argument goes like this Every event in the universe is caused
by a previous state of affairs, including the genetic makeup, the environ-
mental situation of each person and even the person’s wants and desires
But each person is free to express those wants and desires If I want a sand-

wich and a deli is around the corner, I can choose to have a sandwich If I
want to steal the sandwich when the owner isn’t looking, I can do that
Nothing constrains my choice My actions are self-determined

Thus human beings who are obviously self-conscious and, it would
appear, self-determined can act significantly and be held responsible for
their actions I can be arrested for stealing the sandwich and reasonably
required to pay the penalty

But are things so simple? Many think not The issue of human free-
dom goes deeper than these naturalists see To be sure I can do any-
thing I want, but what I want is the result of past states of affairs over
which ultimately I had no control I did not freely select my particular
genetic makeup or my original family environment By the time I asked
whether I was free to act freely, I was so molded by nature and nurture
that the very fact that the question occurred to me was determined
That is, my self itself was determined by outside forces I can indeed ask
such questions, I can act according to my wants and desires, and I can
appear to myself to be free, but it is appearance only Nietzsche is right:
“the acting man’s delusion about himself, his assumption that free will

If one were omniscient, one would be able to calculate each individual

[human] action in advance, each step in the progress of knowledge,

each error, each act of malice. To be sure, the acting man is caught in

his illusion of volition; if the wheel of the world were to stand still for

a moment and an omniscient calculating mind were there to take ad-

vantage of this interruption, he would be able to tell into the farthest

future of each being and describe every rut that wheel will roll upon.

The acting man’s delusion about himself, his assumption that free will

exists, is also part of the calculating mechanism.


Zero Point 9 9

exists, is also part of the calculating mechanism ”
The problem is that if the universe is truly closed, then its activity can

be governed only from within Any force that acts to change the cosmos
on whatever level (microcosmic, human, macrocosmic) is a part of the
cosmos There would thus seem to be only one explanation for change:
the present state of affairs must govern the future state In other words,
the present must cause the future, which in turn must cause the next
future, and so on

The objection that in an Einsteinian universe of time-relativity simul-
taneity is impossible to define and causal links are impossible to prove is
beside the point We are not talking here about how the events are linked
together, only noting that they are linked Events occur because other
events have occurred All activity in the universe is connected this way
We cannot, perhaps, know what the links are, but the premise of a closed
universe forces us to conclude that they must exist

Moreover, there is evidence that such links exist, for patterns of events
are perceivable, and some events can be predicted from the standpoint of
earth time with almost absolute precision, for example, precisely when
and where the next eclipse will take place For every eclipse in the next
fifteen centuries the exact shadow can be predicted and tracked in space
and time across the earth Most events cannot be so predicted, but the
presumption is that that is because all the variables and their interrela-
tions are not known Some events are more predictable than others, but
none is uncertain. Each event must come to be

In a closed universe the possibility that some things need not be, that
others are possible, is not possible For the only way change can come is
by a force moving to make that change, and the only way that force can
come is if it is moved by another force, ad infinitum There is no break in
this chain, from eternity past to eternity future, forever and ever, amen

To the ordinary person determinism does not appear to be the case
We generally perceive ourselves as free agents But our perception is an
illusion We just do not know what “caused” us to decide Something did,
of course, but we feel it was our free choice Such perceived freedom—if
one does not think much about its implications—is quite sufficient, at
least according to some 8

8John Platt, for example, thinks this is the only freedom a person really needs (Center Maga-
zine, March-April 1972, p 47)

10 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

In a closed universe, in other words, freedom must be a determinacy
unrecognized, and for those who work out its implications, this is not
enough to allow for self-determinacy or moral responsibility For if I robbed
a bank, that would ultimately be due to inexorable (though unperceived)
forces triggering my decisions in such a way that I could no longer consider
these decisions mine If these decisions are not mine, I cannot be held re-
sponsible And such would be the case for every act of every person

A human being is thus a mere piece of machinery, a toy—complicated,
very complicated, but a toy of impersonal cosmic forces A person’s self-
consciousness is only an epiphenomenon; it is just part of the machinery
looking at itself But consciousness is only part of the machinery; there is
no “self ” apart from the machinery There is no “ego” that can stand over
against the system and manipulate it at its own will Its “will” is the will
of the cosmos In this picture, by the way, we have a rather good descrip-
tion of human beings as seen by behavioral psychologist B F Skinner To
change people, says Skinner, change their environment, the contingen-
cies under which they act, the forces acting on them A person must re-
spond in kind, for in Skinner’s view every person is only a reactor: “A
person does not act on the world, the world acts on him ”9

The nihilists follow this argument, which can now be stated briefly:
Human beings are conscious machines without the ability to affect their
own destiny or do anything significant; therefore, human beings as valu-
able beings are dead Their life is Beckett’s “breath,” not the life God
“breathed” into the first person in the Garden (Gen 2:7)

But perhaps the course of my argument has moved too fast Have I
missed something? Some naturalists would certainly say so They would
say that I went wrong when I said that the only explanation for change is
the continuity of cause and effect Jacques Monod, for example, attributes
all basic change—certainly the appearance of anything genuinely new—
to chance And naturalists admit that new things have come into being
by the uncountable trillions: every step on the evolutionary scale from
hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and so forth in free association to the
formation of complex amino acids and other basic building blocks of life
At every turn—and these are beyond count—chance introduced the new

9B F Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1971), p 211 Skin-
ner’s behaviorism, always highly criticized, is now (more than three decades later) generally
considered simplistic and inadequate as an explanation for human behavior

Zero Point 101

thing Then necessity, or what Monod calls “the machinery of invari-
ance,” took over and duplicated the chance-produced pattern Slowly over
eons of time through the cooperation of chance and necessity, cellular
life, multicellular life, the plant and animal kingdoms and human beings
emerged 10 So chance is offered as the trigger for humanity’s emergence

But what is chance? Either chance is the inexorable proclivity of reality
to happen as it does, appearing to be chance because we do not know the
reason for what happens (making chance another name for our ignorance
of the forces of determinism), or it is absolutely irrational 11 In the first case,
chance is just unknown determinism and not freedom at all In the second
case, chance is not an explanation but the absence of an explanation 12 An
event occurs No cause can be assigned It is a chance event Not only might
such an event have not happened, it could never have been expected to
happen So while chance produces the appearance of freedom, it actually
introduces absurdity Chance is causeless, purposeless, directionless 13 It is

10Jaques Monod, Chance and Necessity, trans Austryn Wainhouse (New York: Alfred A
Knopf, 1971), pp 98, 112

11Some scientists are wary of basing metaphysical conclusions on scientific concepts Richard
Bube, for example, argues that chance as a scientific concept is not the same as chance as a
worldview (that is, metaphysical) concept, noting that in science chance is the term given
to a scientific description that is “able only to predict the probability of the future state of
a system from the knowledge of its present state” (Richard Bube, Putting It All Together:
Seven Patterns for Relating Science and the Christian Faith [Lanham, Md : University Press
of America, 1995], p 23) Scientific chance, then, labels a limit to knowledge rather than
describes a characteristic of “reality” (i e , makes a metaphysical statement) Such scientific
chance then is compatible with the notion of a rational world, as understood by Christians
and naturalists alike But it is clear that chance often functions, even in the writings of scien-
tists (notably Monod), in a worldview (that is, metaphysical) sense

12See Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural
Philosophy (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994), pp 214-15; chap 9, “Quantum Mysteries: Making
Sense of the New Physics,” pp 187-219, is a lucid exposition of the issues involved

13The scientific concept of chance is vexed The Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy holds
that one cannot determine with accuracy both the location and the momentum of any given
electron One can have precise knowledge of either, but not both at the same time It is an
epistemological principle But many scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, drew ontologi-
cal implications from the epistemological principle that are clearly not warranted Heisen-
berg himself said, “Since all experiments are subjected to the laws of quantum mechanics,
the invalidity of the law of causality is definitely proved by quantum mechanics” (quoted by
Stanley Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” in Chance or Reality and Other Essays [Lanham, Md : Uni-
versity Press of America, 1986], pp 6-7) The implication is that not only is the universe not
understandable at a fundamental level, but the universe is itself irrational or, even, unreal

Heisenberg, along with at least some other scientists and popularizers of science, has
moved from ignorance of reality to knowledge about that reality I cannot measure X; there-
fore X does not exist It is just such a movement from the limits of knowledge to the declara-
tion that we have no justification for thinking we know anything that constitutes much of

10 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

sudden givenness—gratuity incarnated in time and space
But as Monod says, it introduced into time and space a push in a new

direction A chance event is causeless, but it itself is a cause and is now an
integral part of the closed universe Chance opens the universe not to
reason, meaning and purpose but to absurdity Suddenly we don’t know
where we are We are no longer a flower in the seamless fabric of the uni-
verse, but a chance wart on the smooth skin of the impersonal

Chance, then, does not supply a naturalist with what is necessary for a
person to be both self-conscious and free It only allows one to be self-
conscious and subject to caprice Capricious action is not a free expres-
sion of a person with character It is simply gratuitous, uncaused Capri-
cious action is by definition not a response to self-determination, and
thus we are still left without a basis for morality 14 Such action simply is

To summarize: The first reason naturalism turns into nihilism is that
naturalism does not supply a basis on which a person can act signifi-
cantly Rather, it denies the possibility of a self-determining being who
can choose on the basis of an innate self-conscious character We are
machines—determined or capricious We are not persons with self-
consciousness and self-determination

the postmodern pattern of thinking (see chapter nine of this book) Reality has to conform
to the human mind in a theoretically completely knowable way or it does not exist In fact,
solipsism “has for long been recognized as an inevitable implication of the drastic meaning
of Heisenberg’s principle” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” pp 12-13)

One way out of the dilemma was taken by Niels Bohr, who insisted that “all statements
about ontology or being must be avoided” (ibid , p 8) As Jaki says, W Pauli agreed “that ques-
tions about reality were as metaphysical and useless as was the concern of medieval philoso-
phers about the number of angels that could be put on a pinhead” (ibid , p 10)

Another way out, taken by Albert Einstein and other scientists, tried to get around the
principle itself by finding ways of conceiving how measurements could be complete and ac-
curate at the same time Their attempt failed All that could be said is, in Einstein’s words,
“God doesn’t play dice with the universe” (ibid , p 9) But this was more a pretheoretical com-
mitment, a presupposition, than a conclusion drawn from successful theorizing from either
laboratory or thought experiments This then left the ontological conclusion to be drawn as
many did: the universe is not fundamentally understandable (ibid , p 8)

A premodern humility about the human ability to know might have prevented this rash
and illogical move Think of the apostle Paul’s caution (“Now we see through a glass darkly”)
and then hope (“but then face to face”; 1 Cor 13:12 kjv)

The issue, Jaki concludes, boils down to a confusion of ontology and epistemology “The sci-
ence of quantum mechanics states only the impossibility of perfect accuracy in measurements
The philosophy of quantum mechanics states ultimately the impossibility of distinguishing
between material and non-material, and even between being and non-being At any rate, if
it is impossible to distinguish between being and non-being, then efforts to say anything about
freedom and determinism become utterly meaningless” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” p 14)

14Jaki notes that knowledge too loses its foundation (“Chance or Reality,” p 17)

Zero Point 10 3


The metaphysical presupposition that the cosmos is a closed system has
implications not only for metaphysics but also for epistemology The ar-
gument in brief is this: if any given person is the result of impersonal
forces—whether working haphazardly or by inexorable law—that person
has no way of knowing whether what he or she seems to know is illusion
or truth Let us see how that is so

Naturalism holds that perception and knowledge are either identical
with or a byproduct of the brain; they arise from the functioning of mat-
ter Without matter’s functioning there would be no thought But matter
functions by a nature of its own There is no reason to think that matter
has any interest in leading a conscious being to true perception or to
logical (that is, correct) conclusions based on accurate observation and
true presuppositions 15 The only beings in the universe who care about
such matters are humans But people are bound to their bodies Their
consciousness arises from a complex interrelation of highly “ordered”
matter Why should whatever that matter is conscious of be in any way
related to what actually is the case? Is there a test for distinguishing illu-
sion from reality? Naturalists point to the methods of scientific inquiry,
pragmatic tests and so forth But all these utilize the brain they are test-
ing Each test could well be a futile exercise in spinning out the consis-
tency of an illusion

For naturalism nothing exists outside the system itself There is no
God—deceiving or nondeceiving, perfect or imperfect, personal or im-
personal There is only the cosmos, and humans are the only conscious
beings But they are latecomers They “arose,” but how far? Can they trust
their mind, their reason?

Charles Darwin himself once said, “The horrid doubt always arises
whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the
mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy Would
anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convic-

15Alvin Plantinga uses an argument of this type to reject Darwin’s “dangerous idea” that the
human mind developed by means of natural selection—the survival of the fittest See “Den-
nett’s Dangerous Idea,” Plantinga’s review of Daniel C Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), in Books and Culture, May/June 1996, p 35 A full
version of his argument is found in his Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993), chap 12

10 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

tions in such a mind?”16 In other words, if my brain is no more than that
of a superior monkey, I cannot even be sure that my own theory of my
origin is to be trusted

Here is a curious case: If Darwin’s naturalism is true, there is no way
of even establishing its credibility, let alone proving it Confidence in
logic is ruled out Darwin’s own theory of human origins must therefore
be accepted by an act of faith One must hold that a brain, a device that
came to be through natural selection and chance-sponsored mutations,
can actually know a proposition or set of propositions to be true

C S Lewis puts the case this way:

If all that exists is Nature, the great mindless interlocking event, if our
own deepest convictions are merely the by-products of an irrational pro-
cess, then clearly there is not the slightest ground for supposing that our
sense of fitness and our consequent faith in uniformity tell us anything
about a reality external to ourselves Our convictions are simply a fact
about us—like the colour of our hair If Naturalism is true we have no
reason to trust our conviction that Nature is uniform 17

What we need for such certainty is the existence of some “Rational
Spirit” outside both ourselves and nature from which our own rationality
could derive Theism assumes such a ground; naturalism does not

Not only are we boxed in by the past—our origin in inanimate, uncon-
scious matter—we are also boxed in by our present situation as thinkers
Let us say that I have just completed an argument on the level of “All men
are mortal; Aristotle Onassis is a man; Aristotle Onassis is mortal ” That’s
a proven conclusion Right?

Well, how do we know it’s right? Simple I have obeyed the laws of logic
What laws? How do we know them to be true? They are self-evident Af-
ter all, would any thought or communication be possible without them?
No. So aren’t they true? Not necessarily.

16From a letter to W Graham (July 3, 1881), quoted in The Autobiography of Charles Dar-
win and Selected Letters (1892; reprint, New York: Dover, 1958) I am indebted to Francis A
Schaeffer for this observation, which he made in a lecture on Darwin C S Lewis in a parallel
argument quotes J B S Haldane as follows: “If my mental processes are determined wholly
by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true
and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms” (Miracles
[London: Fontana, 1960], p 18)

17Lewis, Miracles, p 109 In another context Lewis remarks, “It is only when you are asked
to believe in Reason coming from non-reason that you must cry Halt, for, if you don’t, all
thought is discredited” (p 32)

Zero Point 10 5

Any argument we construct implies such laws—the classical ones of
identity, noncontradiction and the excluded middle But that fact does
not guarantee the “truthfulness” of these laws in the sense that anything
we think or say that obeys them necessarily relates to what is so in the
objective, external universe Moreover, any argument to check the valid-
ity of an argument is itself an argument that might be mistaken When

we begin to think like this, we are not far from an infinite regress; our
argument chases its tail down the ever-receding corridors of the mind
Or, to change the image, we lose our bearings in a sea of infinity

But haven’t we gone astray in arguing against the possibility of knowl-
edge? We do seem to be able to test our knowledge in a way that generally
satisfies us Some things we think we know can be shown to be false or at
least highly unlikely—for example, that microbes are spontaneously gen-

Almost all our discoveries are due to our violences [sic], to the exacer-

bation of our instability. Even God insofar as He interests us—it is not

in our inmost selves that we discern God, but at the extreme limits of

our fever, at the very point where, our rage confronting His, a shock

results, an encounter as ruinous for Him as for us. Blasted by the curse

attached to acts, the man of violence forces his nature, rises above

himself only to relapse, an aggressor, followed by his enterprises, which

come to punish him for having instigated them. Every work turns against

its author: the poem will crush the poet, the system the philosopher,

the event the man of action. Destruction awaits anyone who, answer-

ing to his vocation and fulfilling it, exerts himself within history; only

the man who sacrifices every gift and talent escapes: released from his

humanity, he may lodge himself in Being. If I aspire to a metaphysical

career, I cannot, at any price, retain my identity: whatever residue I

retain must be liquidated; if, on he contrary, I assume a historical role it

is my responsibility to exasperate my faculties until I explode along with

them. One always perishes by the self one assumes: to bear a name is

to claim an exact mode of collapse.

E. M. CIORAN, The Temptation to Exist

10 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

erated from totally inorganic mud And all of us know how to boil water,
scratch our itches, recognize our friends and distinguish them from oth-
ers in a crowd

Virtually no one is a full-fledged epistemological nihilist Yet natural-
ism does not allow a person to have any solid reason for confidence in
human reason We thus end in an ironic paradox Naturalism, born in
the Age of Enlightenment, was launched on a firm acceptance of the hu-
man ability to know Now naturalists find that they can place no confi-
dence in their knowing

The whole point of this argument can be summarized briefly: Natu-
ralism places us as human beings in a box But for us to have any confi-
dence that our knowledge that we are in a box is true, we need to stand
outside the box or to have some other being outside the box provide us
with information (theologians call this “revelation”) But there is nothing
or no one outside the box to give us revelation, and we cannot ourselves
transcend the box Ergo: epistemological nihilism

A naturalist who fails to perceive this is like the man in Stephen
Crane’s poem:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never—”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on 18

In the naturalistic framework, people pursue a knowledge that forever
recedes before them We can never know.

One of the worst consequences of taking epistemological nihilism se-
riously is that it has led some to question the very facticity of the uni-
verse 19 To some, nothing is real, not even themselves People who reach
this state are in deep trouble, for they can no longer function as human
beings Or, as we often say, they can’t cope

We usually do not recognize this situation as metaphysical or episte-

18From Stephen Crane, The Black Riders and Other Lines, frequently anthologized
19Stanley Jaki comments on physicists who attempt to skirt this problem yet end as antirealists

after all (“Chance or Reality,” pp 8-16)

Zero Point 10 7

mological nihilism Rather, we call it schizophrenia, hallucination, fanta-
sizing, daydreaming or living in a dream world And we treat the person
as a “case,” the problem as a “disease ” I have no particular quarrel with
doing this, for I do believe in the reality of an external world, one I hold in
common with others in my space-time frame Those who cannot recog-
nize this are beyond coping But while we think of such situations primar-
ily in psychological terms and while we commit such people to institu-
tions where someone will keep them alive and others will help them return
from their inner trip and get back to waking reality, we should realize that
some of these far-out cases may be perfect examples of what happens
when a person no longer knows in the commonsense way of knowing It is
the “proper” state, the logical result, of epistemological nihilism If I can-
not know, then any perception or dream or image or fantasy becomes
equally real or unreal Life in the ordinary world is based on our ability to
make distinctions Ask the man who has just swallowed colorless liquid
which he thought was water but which was actually wood alcohol

Most of us never see the far-out “cases ” They are quickly committed
But they exist, and I have met some people whose stories are frightening
Most full epistemological nihilists, however, fall in the class described by
Robert Farrar Capon, who simply has no time for such nonsense:

The skeptic is never for real There he stands, cocktail in hand, left arm
draped languorously on one end of the mantelpiece, telling you that he
can’t be sure of anything, not even of his own existence I’ll give you my
secret method of demolishing universal skepticism in four words Whis-
per to him: “Your f ly is open ” If he thinks knowledge is so all-fired impos-
sible, why does he always look?20

As noted above, there is just too much evidence that knowledge is pos-
sible What we need is a way to explain why we have it This naturalism
does not do So the one who remains a consistent naturalist must be a
closet nihilist who does not know where he is


Many naturalists—most, so far as I know—are very moral people They
are not thieves, they do not tend to be libertines Many are faithful hus-
bands and wives Some are scandalized by the personal and public im-

20Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox (New York: Seabury, 1974), pp 17-18

10 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

morality of our day The problem is not that moral values are not recog-
nized but that they have no basis Summing up the position reached by
Nietzsche and Max Weber, Allan Bloom remarks, “Reason cannot estab-
lish values, and its belief that it can is the stupidest and most pernicious
illusion ”21

Remember that for a naturalist the world is merely there It does not
provide humanity with a sense of oughtness It only is. Ethics, however, is
about what ought to be, whether it is or not 22 Where, then, does one go
for a basis for morality? Where is oughtness found?

As I have noted, every person has moral values There is no tribe with-
out taboos But these are merely facts of a social nature, and the specific
values vary widely In fact, many of these values conflict with each other
Thus we are forced to ask, Which values are the true values, or the higher

Cultural anthropologists, recognizing that this situation prevails, an-
swer clearly: Moral values are relative to one’s culture What the tribe,
nation, social unit says is valuable is valuable But there is a serious flaw
here It is only another way of saying that is (the fact of a specific value)
equals ought (what should be so) Moreover, it does not account for the
situation of cultural rebels whose moral values are not those of their
neighbors The cultural rebel’s is is not considered ought. Why? The an-
swer of cultural relativism is that the rebel’s moral values cannot be al-
lowed if they upset social cohesiveness and jeopardize cultural survival
So we discover that is is not ought after all The cultural relativist has af-
firmed a value—the preservation of a culture in its current state—as
more valuable than its destruction or transformation by one or more reb-
els within it Once more, we are forced to ask why.

Cultural relativism, it turns out, is not forever relative It rests on a
primary value affirmed by cultural relativists themselves: that cultures
should be preserved So cultural relativism does not rely only on is but on
what its adherents think ought to be the case The trouble here is that

21Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p

22See Antony Flew, “From Is to Ought,” in The Sociobiology Debate, ed Arthur L Caplan (New
York: Harper & Row, 1978), pp 142-62, for a rigorous explanation of why the naturalistic at-
tempt to get ought from is is a fallacy One scientist who saw the paucity of physics to provide
an ethical norm was Einstein, who “told one of his biographers that he never derived a single
ethical value from physics” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” citing P Michelmore, Einstein: Profile
of the Man [New York: Dodd, 1962], p 251)

Zero Point 10 9

some anthropologists are not cultural relativists Some think certain val-
ues are so important that cultures that do not recognize them should
recognize them 23 So cultural relativists must, if they are to convince
their colleagues, show why their values are the true values 24 Again we
approach the infinite corridor down which we chase our arguments

But let’s look again We must be sure we see what is implied by the fact
that values do really vary widely Between neighboring tribes values con-
flict One tribe may conduct “religious wars” to spread its values Such
wars are. Ought they to be? Perhaps, but only if there is indeed a nonrela-
tive standard by which to measure the values in conflict But a naturalist
has no way of determining which values among the ones in existence are
the basic ones that give meaning to the specific tribal variations A natu-
ralist can point only to the fact of value, never to an absolute standard

This situation is not so critical as long as sufficient space separates
peoples of radically differing values But in the global community of the
twenty-first century this luxury is no longer ours We are forced to deal
with values in conflict, and naturalists have no standard, no way of know-
ing when peace is more important than preserving another value We
may give up our property to avoid doing violence to a robber But what
shall we say to white racists who own rental property in the city? Whose
values are to govern their actions when a black person attempts to rent
their property? Who shall say? How shall we decide?

The argument can again be summarized like that above: Naturalism
places us as human beings in an ethically relative box For us to know
what values within that box are true values, we need a measure imposed
on us from outside the box; we need a moral plumb line by which we can
evaluate the conflicting moral values we observe in ourselves and others
But there is nothing outside the box; there is no moral plumb line, no
ultimate, nonchanging standard of value Ergo: ethical nihilism 25

23In an outrageous section of his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Dennett, with no foundation at
all, universalizes his own subjective ethic: “Save the Elephants! Yes, of course, but not by all
means. Not by forcing the people of Africa to live nineteenth-century lives, for instance
Save the Baptists! Yes, of course, but not by all means. Not if it means tolerating the deliberate
misinforming of children about the natural world [that is, not if it means they get to teach
their children that the book of Genesis is literally true]” (pp 515-16)

24See Bloom’s discussion of values (Closing of the American Mind, pp 25-43, 194-215)
25Richard Dawkins represents a common stance among naturalists While he makes moral

judgments (he rejects the notion that the weak should be simply allowed to die), he admits
that he has no rational foundation for this judgment Here is a naturalist who refuses to ac-
cept for his own life the logical consequences of naturalism Nihilists with greater integrity

110 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

But nihilism is a feeling, not just a philosophy And on the level of hu-
man perception, Franz Kafka catches in a brief parable the feeling of life
in a universe without a moral plumb line

I ran past the first watchman Then I was horrified, ran back again and
said to the watchman: “I ran through here while you were looking the
other way ” The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing “I sup-
pose I really oughtn’t to have done it,” I said The watchman still said noth-
ing “Does your silence indicate permission to pass?”26

When people were conscious of a God whose character was moral law,
when their consciences were informed by a sense of rightness, their
watchmen would shout halt when they trespassed the law Now their

bite the bullet (see Nick Pollard’s interview with Dawkins in the Space/Time Gazette, Au-
tumn 1995, as reported in the Newsletter of the ASA and CSCA, July/August 1996, p 4)

26Franz Kaf ka, “The Watchman,” in Parables and Paradoxes (New York: Schocken, 1961), p

One knows my demand of philosophers that they place themselves be-

yond good and evil—and that they have the illusion of moral judgement

[sic] beneath them. This demand follows from an insight formulated by

me: that there are no moral facts whatever. Moral judgement has this

in common with religious judgement that it believes in realities which

do not exist. Morality is only an interpretation of certain phenomena,

more precisely a misinterpretation. Moral judgement belongs, as does

religious judgement, to a level of ignorance at which even the concept

of the real, the distinction between the real and the imaginary, is lack-

ing: so that at such a level “truth” denotes nothing but things which we

today call “imaginings.” To this extent moral judgement is never to be

taken literally: as such it never contains anything but nonsense. But as

semiotics it remains of incalculable value: it reveals, to the informed

man at least, the most precious realities of cultures and inner worlds

which did not know enough to “understand” themselves. Morality is

merely sign-language, merely symptomatology: one must already know

what it is about to derive profit form it.

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, “The ‘Improvers’ of Mankind”

Zero Point 111

watchmen are silent They serve no king and protect no kingdom The
wall is a fact without a meaning One scales it, crosses it, breaches it, and
no watchman ever complains One is left not with the fact but with the
feeling of guilt 27

In a haunting dream sequence in Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Straw-
berries, an old professor is arraigned before the bar of justice When he
asks the charge, the judge replies, “You are guilty of guilt ”

“Is that serious?” the professor asks
“Very serious,” says the judge
But that is all that is said on the subject of guilt In a universe where

God is dead, people are not guilty of violating a moral law; they are only
guilty of guilt, and that is very serious, for nothing can be done about it
If one had sinned, there might be atonement If one had broken a law, the
lawmaker might forgive the criminal But if one is only guilty of guilt,
there is no way to solve the very personal problem 28

And that states the case for a nihilist, for no one can avoid acting as if
moral values exist and as if there is some bar of justice that measures
guilt by objective standards But there is no bar of justice, and we are left
not in sin, but in guilt Very serious, indeed


The strands of epistemological, metaphysical and ethical nihilism weave
together to make a rope long enough and strong enough to hang a whole
culture The name of the rope is Loss of Meaning We end in a total de-
spair of ever seeing ourselves, the world and others as in any way signifi-
cant Nothing has meaning

Kurt Vonnegut Jr , in a parody of Genesis 1, captures this modern di-

In the beginning God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cos-
mic loneliness

27One of Nietzsche’s epigrams in The Gay Science echoes Kaf ka’s parable: “Guilt. Although
the most acute judges of the witches, and even the witches themselves, were convinced of
the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was nonexistent It is thus with all guilt” (The
Portable Nietzsche, trans Walter Kaufmann [New York: Viking, 1954], pp 96-97)

28One could reply that such guilt (that is, guilt feelings) can be removed by Freudian psycho-
analysis or other psychotherapy and thus there is something that can be done But this merely
emphasizes the amorality of human beings It solves a person’s problem of feeling guilty by
not allowing one any way at all to act morally

11 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

And God said, “Let Us make creatures out of mud, so mud can see what
We have done ” And God created every living creature that now moveth,
and one was man Mud as man alone could speak God leaned close as
mud as man sat up, looked around and spoke Man blinked “What is the
purpose of all this?” he asked politely
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God
“Certainly,” said man
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God And he
went away 29

This may first appear to be a satire on theism’s notion of the origin of
the universe and human beings, but it is quite the contrary It is a satire
on the naturalist’s view, for it shows our human dilemma We have been
thrown up by an impersonal universe The moment a self-conscious, self-
determining being appears on the scene, that person asks the big ques-
tion: What is the meaning of all this? What is the purpose of the cosmos?
But the person’s creator—the impersonal forces of bedrock matter—can-
not respond If the cosmos is to have meaning, we must manufacture it
for ourselves

As Stephen Crane put it in the poem quoted in the opening of the first
chapter, the existence of people has not created in the universe “a sense of
obligation ” Precisely: We exist Period Our maker has no sense of value,
no sense of obligation We alone make values Are our values valuable? By
what standard? Only our own Whose own? Each person’s own Each of
us is king and bishop of our own realm, but our realm is pointland For
the moment we meet another person, we meet another king and bishop
There is no way to arbitrate between two free value makers There is no
king to whom both give obeisance There are values, but no Value Soci-
ety is only a bunch of windowless monads, a collection of points, not an
organic body obeying a superior, all-encompassing form that arbitrates
the values of its separate arms, legs, warts and wrinkles Society is not a
body at all It is only a bunch

Thus does naturalism lead to nihilism If we take seriously the impli-
cations of the death of God, the disappearance of the transcendent, the
closedness of the universe, we end right there

Why, then, aren’t most naturalists nihilists? The obvious answer is the
best one: Most naturalists do not take their naturalism seriously They

29Kurt Vonnegut Jr , Cat’s Cradle (New York: Dell, 1970), p 177

Zero Point 11 3

are inconsistent They affirm a set of values They have friends who af-
firm a similar set They appear to know and don’t ask how they know they
know They seem to be able to choose and don’t ask themselves whether
their apparent freedom is really caprice or determinism Socrates said
that the unexamined life is not worth living, but for a naturalist he is
wrong For a naturalist it is the examined life that is not worth living


The trouble is that no one can live the examined life if examination leads
to nihilism, for nobody can live a life consistent with nihilism At every
step, at every moment, nihilists think, and think their thinking has sub-
stance, and thus they cheat on their philosophy There are, I believe, at
least five reasons that nihilism is unlivable

First, from meaninglessness nothing at all follows, or rather, anything
follows If the universe is meaningless and a person cannot know and
nothing is immoral, any course of action is open One can respond to
meaninglessness by any act whatsoever, for none is more or less appropri-
ate Suicide is one act, but it does not “follow” as any more appropriate
than going to a Walt Disney movie

Yet whenever we set ourselves on a course of action, putting one foot
in front of the other in other than a haphazard way, we are affirming a
goal We are affirming the value of a course of action, even if to no one
other than ourselves Thus we are not living by nihilism We are creating
value by choice From this type of argument comes Albert Camus’s at-
tempt to go beyond nihilism to existentialism, which we will consider in
the following chapter 30

Second, every time nihilists think and trust their thinking, they are
inconsistent, for they have denied that thinking is of value or that it can
lead to knowledge But at the heart of a nihilist’s one affirmation lies a
self-contradiction There is no meaning in the universe, nihilists scream
That means that their only affirmation is meaningless, for if it were to
mean anything it would be false 31 Nihilists are indeed boxed in They

30I am indebted to Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism, trans John W Doberstein (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1962), pp 148-66, esp 163-66, for this observation about nihilism

31Another way to put this argument is to point out that constructing sentences is such a fun-
damental act, such a paradigmatic affirmation of meaning, that to construct sentences to
deny meaning is self-contradictory Keith Yandell in “Religious Experience and Rational Ap-
praisal,” Religious Studies, June 1974, p 185, expresses the argument as follows: “If a con-

114 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

can get absolutely nowhere They merely are; they merely think; and none
of this has any significance whatsoever Except for those whose actions
place them in institutions, no one seems to act out their nihilism Those
who do we treat as patients

Third, while a limited sort of practical nihilism is possible for a while,
eventually a limit is reached The comedy of Catch-22 rests on just this
premise Captain Yossarian is having a knock-down theological argu-
ment with Lt Scheisskopf ’s wife, and God is coming in for a good deal of
hassling Yossarian is speaking:

[God] is not working at all He’s playing Or else He’s forgotten all about us
That’s the kind of God you people talk about—a country bumpkin, a
clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed
Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who
finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay
in His system of creation?32

After several unsuccessful attempts to handle Yossarian’s verbal at-
tack, Lt Scheisskopf ’s wife turns to violence

“Stop it! Stop it!” Lieutenant Scheisskopf ’s wife screamed suddenly, and be-
gan beating him ineffectually about the head with both fists “Stop it!”
“What the hell are you getting so upset about?” he asked her bewil-
deredly in a tone of contrite amusement “I thought you didn’t believe in
God ”
“I don’t,” she sobbed, bursting violently into tears “But the God I don’t
believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God He’s not the mean and
stupid God you make Him out to be ”33

Here is another paradox: In order to deny God one must have a God to
deny In order to be a practicing nihilist, there must be something against
which to do battle A practicing nihilist is a parasite on meaning She
runs out of energy when there is nothing left to deny The cynic is out of
business when she is the last one around

Fourth, nihilism means the death of art Here too we find a paradox,
for much modern art—literature, painting, drama, film—has nihilism for

ceptual system F is such that it can be shown that (a) F is true and (b) F is known to be true,
are incompatible, then this fact provides a good (though perhaps not conclusive) reason for
supposing that F is false.”

32Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (New York: Dell, 1962), p 184
33Ibid , p 185

Zero Point 11 5

its ideological core And much of this literature is excellent by the tradi-
tional canons of art Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,”
Samuel Beckett’s End Game, Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, Franz Kaf-
ka’s The Trial, Francis Bacon’s various heads of popes spring immediately
to mind The twist is this: to the extent that these artworks display the

human implication of a nihilistic worldview, they are not nihilistic; to the
extent that they themselves are meaningless, they are not artworks

Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the
artist But structure itself implies meaning So to the extent that an art-
work has structure, it has meaning and thus is not nihilistic Even Beck-
ett’s Breath has structure A junkyard, the garbage in a trash heap, a pile
of rocks just blasted from a quarry have no structure They are not art

Some contemporary art attempts to be anti-art by being random
Much of John Cage’s music is predicated on sheer chance, randomness
But it is both dull and grating, and very few people can listen to it It’s not
art Then there is Kafka’s “Hunger Artist,” a brilliant though painful story
about an artist who tries to make art out of public fasting, that is, out of
nothing But no one looks at him; everyone passes by his display at the
circus to see a young leopard pacing in his cage Even the “nature” of the
leopard is more interesting than the “art” of the nihilist Breath too, as

A younger and an older waiter are closing a “clean well-lighted” bar for

the night. When the young waiter leaves, the older lonely waiter thinks

to himself. What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was nothing that

he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was

only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.

Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada

y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy

kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada

our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us

not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of

nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a

shining steam pressure coffee machine.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

116 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

minimal as it is, is structured and means something Even if it means
only that human beings are meaningless, it participates in the paradox I
examined above In short, art implies meaning and is ultimately nonni-
hilistic, despite the ironic attempt of nihilists to display their wares by
means of it

Fifth, and finally, nihilism poses severe psychological problems for a
nihilist People cannot live with it because it denies what every fiber of
their waking being calls for—meaning, value, significance, dignity, worth
“Nietzsche,” Bloom writes, “replaces easygoing or self-satisfied atheism
with agonized atheism, suffering its human consequences Longing to
believe, along with intransigent refusal to satisfy that longing, is, accord-
ing to him, the profound response to our entire spiritual condition ”34

Nietzsche ended in an asylum Ernest Hemingway affirmed a “life-
style” and eventually committed suicide Beckett writes black comedy
Vonnegut and Adams revel in whimsy And Kafka—perhaps the greatest
artist of them all—lived an almost impossible life of tedium, writing nov-
els and stories that boil down to a sustained cry: “God is dead! God is
dead! Isn’t he? I mean, surely he is, isn’t he? God is dead Oh, I wish, I wish,
I wish he weren’t ”

It is thus that nihilism forms the hinge for modern people No one who
has not plumbed the despair of the nihilists, heard them out, felt as they
felt—if only vicariously through their art—can understand the past cen-
tury Nihilism is the foggy bottomland through which we modern people
must pass if we are to build a life in Western culture There are no easy
answers to our questions, and none of these answers is worth anything
unless it takes seriously the problems raised by the possibility that noth-
ing whatever of value exists

34Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, p 196

Chapter 6



Every existing thing is born without reason,
prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.

I leaned back and closed my eyes.
The images, forewarned, immediately leaped up

and filled my closed eyes with existences: existence is a fullness
which man can never abandon. . . . I knew it was the World,

the naked World suddenly revealing itself, and I choked
with rage at this gross absurd being.

R o q u e n t i n i n J e a n – Pau l S a r t r e , N a u s e a

In an essay published in 1950, Albert Camus wrote, “A literature of de-
spair is a contradiction in terms In the darkest depths of our nihilism
I have sought only for the means to transcend nihilism ”1 Here the es-
sence of existentialism’s most important goal is summed up in one phrase:
to transcend nihilism. In fact, every important worldview that has
emerged since the beginning of the twentieth century has had that as a
major goal For nihilism, coming as it does directly from a culturally per-
vasive worldview, is the problem of our age A worldview that ignores this
fact has little chance of proving relevant to modern thinking people

1Albert Camus, L’Été, quoted in John Cruickshank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p 3

118 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Existentialism, especially in its secular form, not only takes nihilism seri-
ously, it is an answer to it

From the outset it is important to recognize that existentialism takes
two basic forms, depending on its relation to previous worldviews, be-
cause existentialism is not a full-fledged worldview Atheistic existential-
ism is a parasite on naturalism; theistic existentialism is a parasite on
theism 2

Historically, we have an odd situation On the one hand, atheistic ex-
istentialism developed to solve the problem of a naturalism that led to
nihilism, but it did not appear in any fullness till well into the twentieth
century, unless we count a major theme in Nietzsche that quickly became
distorted 3 On the other hand, theistic existentialism was born in the
middle of the nineteenth century as Søren Kierkegaard responded to the
dead orthodoxy of Danish Lutheranism Yet it was not until after World
War I that either form of existentialism became culturally significant, for
it was only then that nihilism finally gripped the intellectual world and
began affecting the lives and attitudes of ordinary men and women 4

World War I had not made the world safe for democracy The genera-
tion of flappers and bathtub gin, the rampant violation of an absurd an-
tiliquor law, the quixotic stock market that promised so much—these
prefaced in the United States the Dust Bowl 1930s With the rise of Na-
tional Socialism in Germany and its incredible travesty of human dignity,
students and intellectuals the world over were ready to conclude that life
is absurd and human beings are meaningless In the soil of such frustra-
tion and cultural discontent, existentialism in its atheistic form sank its
cultural roots It was to flower into a significant worldview by the 1950s

To some extent all worldviews have subtle variations Existentialism is
no exception Camus and Sartre, both existentialists and once friends,
had a falling-out over important differences, and Martin Heidegger’s ex-
istentialism is quite different from Sartre’s But as with other worldviews,
we will focus on major features and general tendencies The language of
most of the propositions listed below derives from either Sartre or Ca-

2I am indebted to C Stephen Board for this observation
3The theme to which I refer is the “will to power” ending in the notion of the Übermensch (the
“Overman” or “Superman”), all that is left after the total loss of any transcendent standard for
either ethics or epistemology I will discuss this in the section on postmodernism (chapter

4Thus fulfilling Nietzsche’s “prophecy” in the parable of the madman See p 214 below

Beyond Nihilism 119

mus That is quite intentional, because that is the form in which it has
been most digested by today’s intelligentsia, and through their literary
works even more than their philosophic treatises, Sartre and Camus are
still wielding enormous influence To many modern people the proposi-
tions of existentialism appear so obvious that people “do not know what
they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever oc-
curred to them ”5


Atheistic existentialism begins by accepting naturalism’s answers to
worldview questions 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 In short: Matter exists eternally; God
does not exist. Death is extinction of personality and individuality.
Through our innate and autonomous human reason, including the meth-
ods of science, we can know the universe. The cosmos, including this
world, is understood to be in its normal state. Ethics is related only to
human beings. History is a linear stream of events linked by cause and
effect but without an overarching purpose.

In other words, atheistic existentialism affirms most of the propositions
of naturalism except those relating to human nature and our relationship
to the cosmos Indeed, existentialism’s major interest is in our humanity
and how we can be significant in an otherwise insignificant world

1. Worldview Question 2: The cosmos is composed solely of matter, but
to human beings reality appears in two forms—subjective and objective.

The world, it is assumed, existed long before human beings came on the
scene It is structured or chaotic, determined by inexorable law or subject
to chance Whichever it is makes no difference The world merely is

Then came a new thing, conscious beings—ones who distinguished he
and she from it, ones who seemed determined to determine their own
destiny, to ask questions, to ponder, to wonder, to seek meaning, to en-
dow the external world with special value, to create gods In short, then
came human beings Now we have—for no one knows what reason—two
kinds of being in the universe, the one seemingly having kicked the other
out of itself and into separate existence

The first sort of being is the objective world—the world of material, of

5A N Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925; reprint, New York: Mentor, 1948), p

1 2 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

inexorable law, of cause and effect, of chronological, clock-ticking time, of
flux, of mechanism The machinery of the universe, spinning electrons,
whirling galaxies, falling bodies and rising gases and flowing waters—each
is doing its thing, forever unconscious, forever just being where it is when
it is Here, say the existentialists, science and logic have their day People
know the external, objective world by virtue of careful observation, record-
ing, hypothesizing, checking hypotheses by experiment, ever refining the-
ories and proving guesses about the lay of the cosmos we live in

The second sort of being is the subjective world—the world of mind, of
consciousness, of awareness, of freedom, of stability Here the inner
awareness of the mind is a conscious present, a constant now Time has
no meaning, for the subject is always present to itself, never past, never
future Science and logic do not penetrate this realm; they have nothing
to say about subjectivity Subjectivity is the self ’s apprehension of the not-

self; subjectivity is making that not-self part of itself The subject takes in
knowledge not as a bottle takes in liquid but as an organism takes in food
Knowledge turns into the knower

Naturalism had emphasized the unity of the two worlds by seeing the
objective world as the real and the subjective as its shadow “The brain
secretes thought,” said Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, “as the liver secretes
bile ” The real is the objective Sartre says, “The effect of all materialism
is to treat all men, including the one philosophizing, as objects, that is, as
an ensemble of determined reactions in no way distinguished from the
ensemble of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table or a chair
or a stone ”6 By that route, as we saw, lies nihilism The existentialists take
another path

Existentialism emphasizes the disunity of the two worlds and opts

6Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism,” reprinted in A Casebook on Existentialism, ed William V
Spanos (New York: Thomas Y Crowell, 1966), p 289

Existence is not something which lets itself be thought of from a dis-

tance: it must invade you suddenly, master you, weigh heavily on your

heart like a great motionless beast—or else there is nothing more at all.


Beyond Nihilism 1 21

strongly in favor of the subjective world, what Sartre calls “an ensemble
of values distinct from the material realm ”7 For people are the subjective
beings Unless there are extraterrestrial beings, a possibility most exis-
tentialists do not even consider, we are the only beings in the universe
who are self-conscious and self-determinate The reason we have become
that way is past finding out But we perceive ourselves to be self-conscious
and self-determinate, and so we work from these givens

Science and logic do not penetrate our subjectivity, but that is all right
because value and meaning and significance are not tied to science and
logic We can mean; we can be valuable; or better, we can mean and be
valuable Our significance is not up to the facts of the objective world
over which we have no control, but up to the consciousness of the subjec-
tive world over which we have complete control

2. Worldview Question 3: Human beings are complex “machines”; per-
sonality is an interrelation of chemical and physical properties we do not
yet fully understand. For human beings alone existence precedes essence;
people make themselves who they are.

Atheistic existentialism is at one with naturalism’s basic view of human
nature; there is indeed no genuinely transcendent element in human be-
ings, but they do display one important unique feature To put it in Sar-
tre’s words, “If God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom
existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined
by any concept, and this being is man ” This sentence is the most fa-
mous definition of the core of existentialism Sartre continues, “First of
all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, de-
fines himself ”8

Note again the distinction between the objective and subjective worlds
The objective world is a world of essences Everything comes bearing
its nature Salt is salt; trees are tree; ants are ant Only human beings are
not human before they make themselves so Each of us makes himself or
herself human by what we do with our self-consciousness and our self-
determinacy Back to Sartre: “At first he [any human being] is nothing
Only afterwards will he be something, and he himself will have made

8Ibid , p 278

1 2 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

him what he will be ”9 The subjective world is completely at the beck and
call of every subjective being, that is, of every person

How does this work out in practice? Let us say that John, a soldier,
fears he is a coward Is he a coward? Only if he acts like a coward, and his
action will proceed not from a nature defined beforehand but from the
choices he makes when the bullets start to fly We can call John a coward
if and only if he does cowardly deeds, and these will be deeds he chooses
to do So if John fears he is a coward but does not want to be, let him do
brave deeds when they are called for 10

3. Worldview Question 3, continued: Each person is totally free as re-
gards his or her nature and destiny.

From proposition 2 it follows that each person is totally free Each of us is
uncoerced, radically capable of doing anything imaginable with our sub-
jectivity We can think, will, imagine, dream, project visions, consider,
ponder, invent Each of us is king of our own subjective world

We run into just such an understanding of human freedom in John
Platt’s existential defense of B F Skinner’s naturalistic behaviorism:

The objective world, the world of isolated and controlled experiments, is
the world of physics; the subjective world, the world of knowledge, values,
decisions, and acts—of purposes which these experiments are in fact de-
signed to serve—is the world of cybernetics, of our own goal-seeking be-
havior Determinism or indeterminism lies on that side of the boundary,
while the usual idea of “free will” lies on this side of the boundary They
belong to different universes, and no statement about one has any bearing
on the other 11

So we are free within And thus we can create our own value by af-
firming worth We are not bound by the objective world of ticking clocks
and falling water and spinning electrons Value is inner, and the inner is
each person’s own

4. Worldview Questions 2 , 3 and 4: The highly wrought and tightly
organized objective world stands over against human beings and appears

10This illustration derives from Sartre, “Existentialism,” pp 283-84
11John Platt in Center Magazine, March-April 1972, p 47

Beyond Nihilism 1 2 3

The objective world considered in and of itself is as the naturalist has
said: a world of order and law, perhaps triggered into new structures by
chance It is the world of thereness.

To us, however, the facticity, the hard, cold thereness of the world, ap-
pears alien As we make ourselves to be by fashioning our subjectivity, we
see the objective world as absurd It does not fit us Our dreams and vi-
sions, our desires, all our inner world of value runs smack up against a
universe that is impervious to our wishes Think all day that you can step
off a ten-story building and float safely to the ground Then try it

The objective world is orderly; bodies fall if not supported The subjec-
tive world knows no order What is present to it, what is here and now, is.

So we are all strangers in a foreign land And the sooner we learn to
accept that, the sooner we transcend our alienation and pass through the

The toughest fact to transcend is the ultimate absurdity—death We
are free so long as we remain subjects When we die, each of us is just an
object among other objects So, says Camus, we must ever live in the face
of the absurd We must not forget our bent toward nonexistence, but live
out the tension between the love of life and the certainty of death

5. Worldview Questions 5: In full recognition of and against the absur-
dity of the objective world, the authentic person must revolt and create

Here is how an existentialist goes beyond nihilism Nothing is of value in
the objective world in which we become conscious, but while we are con-
scious we create value The person who lives an authentic existence is the
one who keeps ever aware of the absurdity of the cosmos but who rebels
against that absurdity and creates meaning

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “underground man” is a paradigm of the rebel
without a seemingly reasonable cause In the story the underground man
is challenged:

Two and two do make four Nature doesn’t ask your advice She isn’t inter-
ested in your preferences or whether or not you approve of her laws You
must accept nature as she is with all the consequences that that implies
So a wall is a wall, etc , etc

The walls referred to here are the “laws of nature,” “the conclusions of

1 2 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

the natural sciences, of mathematics ” But the underground man is equal
to the challenge:

But, Good Lord, what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if
I have my reasons for disliking them, including the one about two and two
making four! Of course, I won’t be able to breach this wall with my head if
I’m not strong enough But I don’t have to accept a stone wall just because
it’s there and I don’t have the strength to breach it 12

It is thus insufficient to pit the objective world against the subjective
and point to its ultimate weapon, death The person who would be au-
thentic is not impressed Being a cog in the cosmic machinery is much
worse than death As the underground man says, “The meaning of a
man’s life consists in proving to himself every minute that he is a man
and not a piano key ”13

Ethics, that is, a system of understanding what is the good, is solved
simply for an existentialist The good action is the consciously chosen
action Sartre writes, “To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same
time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil We

always choose the good ”14 So the good is whatever a person chooses; the
good is part of subjectivity; it is not measured by a standard outside the
individual human dimension

The problem with this position is twofold First, subjectivity leads to
solipsism, the affirmation that each person alone is the determiner of val-
ues and that there are thus as many centers of value as there are persons

12Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground, trans Andrew R MacAndrew (New York:
New American Library, 1961), p 99

13Ibid , p 115
14Sartre, “Existentialism,” p 279

If I’ve discarded God the Father, there has to be someone to invent

values. You’ve got to take things as they are. Moreover, to say that we

invent values means nothing else than this: life has no meaning a priori.

Before you come alive, life is nothing; it’s up to you to give it meaning,

and value is nothing else but the meaning you choose. In that way, you

see, there is a possibility of creating human community.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, Existentialism and Human Emotions

Beyond Nihilism 1 2 5

in the cosmos at any one time Sartre recognizes this objection and coun-
ters by insisting that every person in meeting other persons encounters a
recognizable center of subjectivity 15 Thus we see that others like us must
be involved in making meaning for themselves We are all in this absurd
world together, and our actions affect each other in such a way that “noth-
ing can be good for us without being good for all ”16 Moreover, as I act and
think and effect my subjectivity, I am engaged in a social activity: “I am
creating a certain image of man of my own choosing In choosing myself,
I choose man ”17 According to Sartre, therefore, people living authentic
lives create value not only for themselves but for others too

The second objection Sartre does not address, and it seems more tell-
ing If, as Sartre says, we create value simply by choosing it and thus “can
never choose evil,” does good have any meaning? The first answer is yes,
for evil is “not-choosing ” In other words, evil is passivity, living at the
direction of others, being blown around by one’s society, not recognizing
the absurdity of the universe, that is, not keeping the absurd alive If the
good is in choosing, then choose Sartre once advised a young man who
sought his counsel, “You’re free, choose, that is, invent ”18

Does this definition satisfy our human moral sensitivity? Is the good
merely any action passionately chosen? Too many of us can think of
actions seemingly chosen with eyes open that were dead wrong In
what frame of mind have the Russian pogroms against the Jews been
ordered and executed? And the bombing of Vietnamese villages or the
Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the targets of the Unabomber?
What about the terrorist leveling of the World Trade Center on Sep-
tember 11, 2001? Sartre himself has sided with causes that appear quite
moral on grounds many traditional moralists accept But not every ex-
istentialist has acted like Sartre, and the system seems to leave open
the possibility for the Unabomber to claim ethical immunity for his
murders, or for the perpetrators of the events of 9/11 to glory in the
nobility of their cause

Placing the locus of morality in each individual’s subjectivity leads to
the inability to distinguish a moral from an immoral act on grounds that
satisfy our innate sense of right, a sense that says others have the same

15Ibid , p 289
16Ibid , p 279
17Ibid , p 280
18Ibid , p 285

1 2 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

rights as I do My choice may not be the desired choice of others though
in my choosing I choose for others, as Sartre says Some standard exter-
nal to the “subjects” involved is necessary to shape truly the proper ac-
tions and relationships between “subjects ”

6. Worldview Question 8: The core commitment of every full-blown
atheistic existentialist is to himself or herself.

Ordinary naturalists can choose to commit themselves to their families
or neighbors, their communities or country, the environment or the
world They need not display overarching egotism or selfishness But full-
blown atheistic existentialists have already committed themselves to
themselves If they are indeed committed to this Sartrean notion of hu-
man selves making themselves whom they will come to be, they are the
emperors and bishops of their own pointland Since they themselves
make themselves who they are, they are responsible only to themselves
They admit they are finite beings in an absurd world, subject to death
without exception The authenticity of their value comes solely by virtue
of their own conscious choices

Before we abandon existentialism to the charge of solipsism and a rel-
ativism that fails to provide a basis for ethics, we should give more than
passing recognition to Albert Camus’s noble attempt to show how a good
life can be defined and lived This, it seems to me, is the task Camus sets
for himself in The Plague.


In The Brothers Karamazov (1880) Dostoevsky has Ivan Karamazov
say that if God is dead everything is permitted In other words, if there
is no transcendent standard of the good, then there can ultimately be
no way to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, and there can
be no saints or sinners, no good or bad people If God is dead, ethics
is impossible

Albert Camus picks up that challenge in The Plague (1947), which tells
the story of Oran, a city in North Africa, in which a deadly strain of infec-
tious disease breaks out The city closes its gates to traffic and thus be-
comes a symbol of the closed universe, a universe without God The dis-
ease, on the other hand, comes to symbolize the absurdity of this universe
The plague is arbitrary; one cannot predict who will and who will not

Beyond Nihilism 1 2 7

contract it It is not “a thing made to man’s measure ”19 It is terrible in its
effects—painful physically and mentally Its origins are not known, and
yet it becomes as familiar as daily bread There is no way to avoid it Thus
the plague comes to stand for death itself, for like death it is unavoidable
and its effects are terminal The plague helps make everyone in Oran live
an authentic existence, because it makes everyone aware of the absurdity
of the world they inhabit It points up the fact that people are born with a
love of life but live in the framework of the certainty of death

The story begins as rats start to come out from their haunts and die in
the streets; it ends a year later as the plague lifts and life in the city re-
turns to normal During the intervening months, life in Oran becomes
life in the face of total absurdity Camus’s genius is to use that as a setting
against which to show the reactions of a cast of characters, each of whom
represents in some way a philosophic attitude

M Michel, for example, is a concierge in an apartment house He is
outraged at the way the rats are coming out of their holes and dying in his
apartment building At first he denies they exist in his building, but even-
tually he is forced to admit it Early in the novel he dies cursing the rats
M Michel represents the man who refuses to acknowledge the absurdity
of the universe When he is forced to admit it, he dies He cannot live in
the face of the absurd He represents those who are able to live only inau-
thentic lives

The old Spaniard has a very different reaction He had retired at age
fifty and gone immediately to bed Then he measured time, day in and
day out, by moving peas from one pan to another “‘Every fifteen peas,’ he
said, ‘it’s feeding time What could be simpler?’”20 The old Spaniard never
leaves his bed, but he takes a sadistic pleasure in the rats, the heat and the
plague, which he calls “life ”21 He is Camus’s nihilist Nothing in his life—
inside or out, objective world or subjective world—has value So he lives
it with a complete absence of meaning

M Cottard represents a third stance Before the plague grips the city,
he is nervous, for he is a criminal and is subject to arrest if detected But
as the plague becomes severe, all city employees are committed to allevi-
ating the distress, and Cottard is left free to do as he will And what he

19Albert Camus, The Plague, trans Stuart Gilbert (New York: Random House, 1948), p 35
20Ibid p 108
21Ibid , pp 9, 29, 277

1 2 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

wills to do is live off the plague The worse conditions get, the richer, hap-
pier and friendlier he becomes “Getting worse every day isn’t it? Well,
anyhow, everyone’s in the same boat,” he says 22 Jean Tarrou, one of the
chief characters in the novel, explains Cottard’s happiness this way: “He’s
in the same peril of death as everyone else, but that’s just the point; he’s
in it with the others.”23

When the plague begins to lift, Cottard loses his feeling of community
because he again becomes a wanted man He loses control of himself,
shoots up a street and is taken by force into custody Throughout the plague
his actions were criminal Instead of alleviating the suffering of others, he
feasted on it He is Camus’s sinner in a universe without God—proof, if you
will, in novelistic form that evil is possible in a closed cosmos

If evil is possible in a closed cosmos, then perhaps good is too In two
major characters, Jean Tarrou and Dr Rieux, Camus develops this theme
Jean Tarrou was baptized into the fellowship of nihilists when he visited
his father at work, heard him argue as a prosecuting attorney for the
death of a criminal, and then saw an execution This had a profound ef-
fect on him As he puts it, “I learned that I had had an indirect hand in the
deaths of thousands of people We all have the plague ”24 And thus he
lost his peace

From then on, Jean Tarrou has made his whole life a search for some
way to become “a saint without God ”25 Camus implies that Tarrou suc-
ceeds His method lies in comprehension and sympathy and ultimately
issues in action 26 He is the one who suggests a volunteer corps of workers
to fight the plague and comfort its victims Tarrou works ceaselessly in
this capacity Yet there remains a streak of despair in his lifestyle: “win-
ning the match” for him means living “only with what one knows and
what one remembers, cut off from what one hopes for!” So, writes Dr
Rieux, the narrator of the novel, Tarrou “realized the bleak sterility of a
life without illusions ”27

Dr Rieux himself is another case study of the good man in an absurd
world From the very beginning he sets himself with all his strength to

22Ibid , p 174
23Ibid , p 175
24Ibid , pp 227-28
25Ibid , p 230
26Ibid , pp 120, 230
27Ibid , pp 262-63

Beyond Nihilism 1 2 9

fight the plague—to revolt against the absurd At first his attitude is pas-
sionless, detached, aloof Later, as his life is deeply touched by the lives
and deaths of others, he softens and becomes compassionate Philosoph-
ically, he comes to understand what he is doing He is totally unable to
accept the idea that a good God could be in charge of things As Baude-
laire said, that would make God the devil Rather, Dr Rieux takes as his
task “fighting against creation as he found it ”28 He says, “Since the order
of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse
to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without
raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence ”29

Dr Rieux does exactly that: he struggles against death And the story
he tells is a record of “what had had to be done, and what assuredly would
have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its re-
lentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while
unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their
utmost to be healers ”30

I have dwelt at length on The Plague (though by no means exhausting
its riches either as art or as a lesson in life)31 because I know of no novel
or work of existential philosophy that makes so appealing a case for the
possibility of living a good life in a world where God is dead and values
are ungrounded in a moral framework outside the human frame The
Plague is to me almost convincing Almost, but not quite For the same
questions occur within the intellectual framework of The Plague as
within the system of Sartre’s “Existentialism ”

Why should the affirmation of life as Dr Rieux and Jean Tarrou see it
be good and Cottard’s living off the plague be bad? Why should the old
Spaniard’s nihilistic response be any less right than Dr Rieux’s positive
action? True, our human sensibility sides with Rieux and Tarrou But we
recognize that the old Spaniard is not alone in his judgment Who then is
right? Those who side with the old Spaniard will not be convinced by
Camus or by any reader who sides with Rieux, for without an external
moral referent there is no common ground for discussion There is but
one conviction versus another The Plague is attractive to those whose

28Ibid , p 116
29Ibid , pp 117-18
30Ibid , p 278
31The novel can and probably should also be read as a commentary on the Nazi regime, a

plague on all of Europe and North Africa, not just Oran

1 3 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

moral values are traditional, not because Camus offers a base for those
values but because he continues to affirm them even though they have no
base Unfortunately, affirmation is not enough It can be countered by an
opposite affirmation

It may be that in the last two years of his life Camus recognized his
failure to go beyond nihilism Howard Mumma, the summer pastor of
the American Church in Paris, recounts private talks with Camus during
these two years in which Camus gradually came to feel that the Christian
explanation was true He asked Mumma what it meant to be “born again”
and whether Mumma would baptize him The baptism did not take place,

first, because Mumma considered Camus’s childhood baptism valid and,
second, because Camus was not yet ready for a public display of his con-
version The issue was not resolved when Mumma left Paris at the end of
summer, expecting to see Camus again the following year Camus died in
an automobile accident the following February 32


Does atheistic existentialism transcend nihilism? It certainly tries to—
with passion and conviction Yet it fails to provide a referent for a moral-
ity that goes beyond each individual By grounding human significance in
subjectivity, it places it in a realm divorced from reality The objective
world keeps intruding: death, the ever present possibility and the ulti-
mate certainty, puts a halt to whatever meaning might otherwise be pos-
sible It forces an existentialist forever to affirm and affirm and affirm;
when affirmation ceases, so does authentic existence

Considering precisely this objection to the possibility of human value,

32Howard Mumma, Albert Camus and the Minister (Brewster, Mass : Paraclete, 2000)

“Since I have been coming to church, I have been thinking a great deal

about the idea of a transcendent, something that is other than this

world. . . . And since I have been reading the Bible, I sense that there is

something—I don’t know if it is personal or if it is a great idea or power-

ful influence—but there is something that can bring meaning to my life.

the Minister

Beyond Nihilism 1 31

H J Blackham agrees to the terms of the argument Death indeed does
end all But every human life is more than itself, for it stems from a past
humanity and it affects humanity’s future Moreover, “there is heaven
and there is hell in the economy of every human imagination ”33 That is,
says Blackham, “I am the author of my own experience ”34 After all the
objections have been raised, Blackham retreats to solipsism And that
seems to me the end of all attempts at ethics from the standpoint of athe-
istic existentialism

Atheistic existentialism goes beyond nihilism only to reach solipsism,
the lonely self that exists for fourscore and seven (if it doesn’t contract the
plague earlier), then ceases to exist Many would say that that is not to go
beyond nihilism at all; it is only to don a mask called value, a mask
stripped clean away by death


As was pointed out above, theistic existentialism arose from philosophic
and theological roots quite different from those of its atheistic counter-
part It was Søren Kierkegaard’s answer to the challenge of a theological
nihilism—the dead orthodoxy of a dead church As Kierkegaard’s themes
were picked up two generations after his death, they were the response to
a Christianity that had lost its theology completely and had settled for a
watered-down gospel of morality and good works God had been reduced
to Jesus, who had been reduced to a good man pure and simple The
death of God in liberal theology did not produce among liberals the de-
spair of Kafka but the optimism of one English bishop in 1905 who, when
asked what he thought would prevent humankind from achieving a per-
fect social union, could think of nothing

Late in the second decade of the twentieth century, however, Karl
Barth in Germany saw what ought to happen when theology became an-
thropology, and he responded by refurbishing Christianity along existen-
tial lines What he and subsequent theologians such as Emil Brunner and
Reinhold Niebuhr affirmed came to be called neo-orthodoxy, for while it
was significantly different from orthodoxy, it put God very much back in
the picture 35 It is not my goal to look specifically at any one form of neo-

33H J Blackham, “The Pointlessness of It All,” in Objections to Humanism, ed H J Blackham
(Harmondsworth, U K : Penguin, 1965), p 123

34Ibid , p 124
35Edward John Carnell gives an excellent introduction to neo-orthodoxy and how it arose in

1 3 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

orthodoxy Rather, I will seek to identify propositions that are common to
the theistic existential stance

Theistic existentialism begins by accepting theism’s answers to world-
view questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 In short: God is infinite and personal
(triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.
God created the cosmos ex nihilo to operate with a uniformity of cause and
effect in an open system. Human beings are created in the image of God
and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality,
gregariousness and creativity Human beings were created good, but
through the Fall the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined as
not to be capable of restoration; through the work of Christ, God redeemed
humanity and began the process of restoring people to goodness, though
any given person may choose to reject that redemption. For each person
death is either the gate to life with God and his people or the gate to eternal
separation from the only thing that will ultimately fulfill human aspira-
tions. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good
(holy and loving). As a core commitment Christian theists live to seek first
the kingdom of God, that is, to glorify God and enjoy him forever

This list of propositions, identical to that of theism, suggests that the-
istic existentialism is just Christian theism I am tempted to say that is in
fact what we have, but this would do an injustice to the special existential
variations and emphases The existential version of theism is much more
a particular set of emphases within theism than it is a separate world-
view Still, because of its impact on twentieth-century theology and its
confusing relation to atheistic existentialism, it deserves a special treat-
ment Moreover, some tendencies within the existential version of theism
place it at odds with traditional theism These tendencies will be high-
lighted as they arise in the discussion

As with atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism’s most charac-
teristic elements are concerned not with the nature of the cosmos or God,
but with human nature and our relation to the cosmos and God

1. Worldview Questions 3 and 5: Human beings are personal beings
who, when they come to full consciousness, find themselves in an alien
universe; whether or not God exists is a tough question to be solved not by
reason but by faith.

The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, rev ed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), pp 13-39

Beyond Nihilism 13 3

Theistic existentialism does not start with God This is its most impor-
tant variation from theism With theism God is assumed certainly to be
there and of a given character; then people are defined in relationship to
God Theistic existentialism arrives at the same conclusion, but it starts

Theistic existentialism emphasizes the place in which human beings
find themselves when they first come to self-awareness Self-reflect for a
moment Your certainty of your own existence, your own consciousness,
your own self-determinacy—these are your starting points When you
look around, check your desires against the reality you find, look for a
meaning to your existence, you are not blessed with certain answers You
find a universe that does not fit you, a social order that scratches where
you don’t itch and fails to scratch where you do And, worse luck, you do
not immediately perceive God

The human situation is ambivalent, for evidence of order in the uni-
verse is ambiguous Some things seem explicable by laws that seem to
govern events; other things do not The fact of human love and compas-
sion gives evidence for a benevolent deity; the fact of hatred and violence
and the fact of an impersonal universe point in the other direction

It is here that Father Paneloux in The Plague images for us an existen-
tial Christian stance Dr Rieux, you will recall, refused to accept the “cre-
ated order” because it was “a scheme of things in which children are put
to torture ”36 Father Paneloux, on the other hand, says, “But perhaps we
should love that which we cannot understand ”37 Father Paneloux has
“leaped” to faith in and love for the existence of a good God, even though
the immediate evidence is all in the other direction Rather than account-
ing for the absurdity of the universe on the basis of the Fall, as a Christian
theist would do, Father Paneloux assumes God is immediately responsi-
ble for this absurd universe; therefore he concludes that he must believe
in God in spite of the absurdity

Camus elsewhere calls such faith “intellectual suicide,” and I am in-
clined to agree with him But the point is that while reason may lead us
to atheism, we can always refuse to accept reason’s conclusions and take
a leap toward faith

To be sure, if the Judeo-Christian God exists, we had better acknowl-

36Camus, Plague, p 197
37Ibid , p 196

1 3 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

edge it because in that case our eternal destiny depends on it But, say the
existentialists, the data is not all in and never will be, and so every person
who would be a theist must step forth and choose to believe God will
never reveal himself unambiguously Consequently each person, in the
loneliness of his or her own subjectivity, surrounded by a great deal more
darkness than light, must choose And that choice must be a radical act
of faith When a person does choose to believe, a whole panorama opens
Most of the propositions of traditional theism flood in Yet the subjective,
choice-centered basis for the worldview colors the style of each Christian
existentialist’s stance within theism

2. Worldview Questions 3 and 6: The personal is the valuable.

As in atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism emphasizes the
disjunction between the objective and the subjective worlds Martin
Buber, a Jewish existentialist whose views have greatly inf luenced
Christians, uses the terms I-Thou and I-It to distinguish between the
two ways a person relates to reality In the I-It relationship a human be-
ing is an objectifier:

Now with the magnifying glass of peering observation he bends over par-
ticulars and objectifies them, or with the field-glass of remote inspection
he objectifies them and arranges them as scenery, he isolates them in ob-
servation without any feeling of their exclusiveness, or he knits them into
a scheme of observation without any feeling of universality 38

This is the realm of science and logic, of space and time, of measurability
As Buber says, “Without It man cannot live But he who lives by It alone
is not man ”39 The Thou is necessary

In the I-Thou relationship, a subject encounters a subject: “When
Thou is spoken [Buber means experienced], the speaker has nothing
for his object ”40 Rather, such speakers have a subject like themselves
with whom to share a mutual life In Buber’s words, “All real living is
meeting ”41

Buber’s statement about the primacy of I-Thou, person-to-person rela-

38Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Charles Scribner, 1958),
pp 29-30

39Ibid , p 34
40Ibid , p 4
41Ibid , p 11

Beyond Nihilism 13 5

tionships is now recognized as a classic No simple summary can do it
justice, and I encourage readers to treat themselves to the book itself
Here we must content ourselves with one more quotation about the per-
sonal relationship Buber sees possible between God and people:

Men do not find God if they stay in the world They do not find Him if they
leave the world He who goes out with his whole being to meet his Thou
and carries to it all being that is in the world, finds Him who cannot be
sought Of course God is the “wholly Other”; but He is also the wholly
Same, the Wholly Present Of course He is the Mysterium Tremendum
that appears and overthrows; but He is also the mystery of the self-evident,
nearer to me than my I.42

So theistic existentialists emphasize the personal as of primary value
The impersonal is there; it is important; but it is to be lifted up to God,
lifted up to the Thou of all Thous. To do so satisfies the I and serves to
eradicate the alienation so strongly felt by people when they concentrate
on I-It relations with nature and, sadly, with other people as well

This discussion may seem rather abstract to Christians whose faith in
God is a daily reality that they live out rather than reflect on Perhaps the
chart in figure 6 1 comparing two ways of looking at some basic elements
of Christianity will make the issues clearer It is adapted from a lecture
given by theologian Harold Englund at the University of Wisconsin in the
early 1960s Think of the column on the left as describing a dead ortho-
doxy contrasted with the column on the right describing a live theistic

Depersonalized Personalized

Sin Breaking a rule Betraying a relationship

Repentance Admitting guilt Sorrowing over personal

Forgiveness Canceling a penalty Renewing fellowship

Faith Believing a set of propositions Committing oneself to a person

Christian life Obeying rules Pleasing the Lord, a Person

Figure 6.1. Comparison of depersonalized and personalized views of Christian

42Ibid , p 7

1 3 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

When put this way, the existential version is obviously more attractive
Of course, traditional theists may well respond in two ways: first, the
second column demands or implies the existence of the first column and,
second, theism has always included the second column in its system
Both responses are well founded The problem has been that theism’s
total worldview has not always been well understood and churches have
tended to stick with column one It has taken existentialism to restore
many theists to a full recognition of the richness of their own system

3. Worldview Question 6: Knowledge is subjectivity; the whole truth is
often paradoxical.

An existentialist’s stress on personality and wholeness leads to an equal em-
phasis on the subjectivity of genuine human knowledge Knowledge about
objects involves I-It relationships; they are necessary but not sufficient Full
knowledge is intimate interrelatedness; it involves the I-Thou and is linked
firmly to the authentic life of the knower In 1835 when Kierkegaard was
faced with deciding what should be his life’s work, he wrote,

What I really need is to become clear in my own mind what I must do, not
what I must know—except in so far as a knowing must precede every ac-
tion The important thing is to understand what I am destined for, to per-
ceive what the Deity wants me to do; the point is to find the truth for me,
to find that idea for which I am ready to live and die What good would it
do me to discover a so-called objective truth, though I were to work my
way through the systems of the philosophers and were able, if need be, to
pass them in review?43

Some readers of Kierkegaard have understood him to abandon the
concept of objective truth altogether; certainly some existentialists have
done precisely that, disjoining the objective and subjective so completely
that the one has no relation to the other 44 This has been especially true

43Søren Kierkegaard, from a letter quoted by Walter Lowrie in A Short Life of Kierkegaard
(Princeton, N J : Princeton University Press, 1942), p 82

44Kierkegaard’s own stance regarding this is a matter of scholarly debate Those emphasizing
his rejection of the value of objective truth include Marjorie Grene, Introduction to Existen-
tialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp 21-22, 35-39, and Francis A Schaef-
fer, The God Who Is There (Downers Grove, III: InterVarsity Press, 1968), pp 51-54 On the
other side are C Stephen Evans, Subjectivity and Religious Beliefs (Grand Rapids: Christian
University Press, 1978), and John Macquarrie, Existentialism (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1972), pp 74-123

Beyond Nihilism 13 7

of atheistic existentialists like John Platt 45 It is not that the facts are un-
important but that they must be facts for someone, facts for me And that
changes their character and makes knowledge become the knower Truth
in its personal dimension is subjectivity; it is truth digested and lived out
on the nerve endings of a human life

When knowledge becomes so closely related to the knower, it has an
edge of passion, of sympathy, and it tends to be hard to divide logically
from the knower himself Buber describes the situation of a person stand-
ing before God: “Man’s religious situation, his being there in the Pres-
ence, is characterized by its essential and indissoluble antinomy ” What is
one’s relation to God as regards freedom or necessity? Kant, says Buber,
resolved the problem by assigning necessity to the realm of appearances
and freedom to the realm of being

But if I consider necessity and freedom not in worlds of thought but in the
reality of standing before God, if I know that “I am given over for disposal”
and know at the same time that “It depends on myself,” then I cannot try
to escape the paradox that has to be lived by assigning irreconcilable prop-
ositions to two separate realms of validity; nor can I be helped to an ideal
reconciliation by any theological device: but I am compelled to take both
to myself, to be lived together, and in being lived they are one 46

The full truth is in the paradox, not in an assertion of only one side of
the issue Presumably this paradox is resolved in the mind of God, but it
is not resolved in the human mind It is to be lived out: “God, I rely com-
pletely on you; do your will I am stepping out to act ”

The strength of stating our understanding of our stance before God in
such a paradox is at least in part a result of the inability most of us have
had in stating our stance nonparadoxically Most nonparadoxical state-
ments end by denying either God’s sovereignty or human significance
That is, they tend either to Pelagianism or to hyper-Calvinism

The weakness of resting in paradox is the difficulty of knowing where
to stop What sets of seemingly contradictory statements are to be lived
out as truth? Surely not every set “Love your neighbor; hate your neigh-
bor ” “Do good to those who persecute you Call your friends together and
do in your enemies ” “Don’t commit adultery Have every sexual liaison
you can pull off ”

45See pp 136-37 above
46Buber, I and Thou, p 96

1 3 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

So beyond the paradoxical it would seem that there must be some
noncontradictory proposition governing which paradoxes we will try to
live out In the Christian form of existentialism the Bible taken as God’s
special revelation has set the bounds It forbids many paradoxes, and it
seems to encourage others The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, may
be an unresolvable paradox, but it does justice to the biblical data 47

Among those who have no external objective authority to set the
bounds, paradox tends to run rampant Marjorie Grene comments about
Kierkegaard, “Much of Kierkegaard’s writing seems to be motivated not
so much by an insight into the philosophical or religious appropriateness
of paradox to a peculiar problem as by the sheer intellectual delight in the
absurd for its own sake ”48 Thus this aspect of theistic existentialism has
come in for a great deal of criticism from those holding a traditional the-
istic worldview The human mind is made in the image of God’s mind,
and thus though our mind is finite and incapable of encompassing the

47See Donald Bloesch, God the Almighty (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp

48Grene, Introduction, p 36

What logic does is to articulate and to make explicit those rules which

are in fact embodied in actual discourse and which, being so embodied,

enable men both to construct valid arguments and to avoid the penal-

ties of inconsistency. . . . A pupil of Duns Scotus demonstrated that

. . . from a contradiction any statement whatsoever can be derived. It

follows that to commit ourselves to asserting a contradiction is to com-

mit ourselves to asserting anything whatsoever, to asserting anything

whatsoever that it is possible to assert—and of course also to its denial.

The man who asserts a contradiction thus succeeds in saying nothing

and also in committing himself to everything; both are failures to assert

anything determinate, to say that this is the case and not this other. We

therefore depend upon our ability to utilize and to accord with the laws

of logic in order to speak at all, and a large part of formal logic clarifies

for us what we have been doing all along.

Alasdair MacIntyre, Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic

Beyond Nihilism 139

whole of knowledge, it is yet able to discern some truth As Francis
Schaeffer puts it, we can have substantial truth but not exhaustive truth,
and we can discern truth from foolishness by the use of the principle of
noncontradiction 49

4. Worldview Question 7: History as a record of events is uncertain and
unimportant, but history as a model or type or myth to be made present
and lived is of supreme importance.

Theistic existentialism took two steps away from traditional theism The
first step was to begin to distrust the accuracy of recorded history The
second step was to lose interest in its facticity and to emphasize its reli-
gious implication or meaning

The first step is associated with the higher criticism of the mid-nine-
teenth century Rather than taking the biblical accounts at face value,
accepting miracles and all, the higher critics, such as D F Strauss (1808-
1874) and Ernest Renan (1823-1892), started from the naturalistic as-
sumption that miracles cannot happen Accounts of them must therefore
be false, not necessarily fabricated by writers who wished to deceive but
propounded by credulous people of primitive mindset

This, of course, tended to undermine the authority of the biblical ac-
counts even where they were not riddled with the miraculous Other
higher critics, most notably Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), also turned
their attention to the inner unity of the Old Testament and discovered, so
they were sure, that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses at all In
fact, the texts showed that several hands over several centuries had been
at work This undermined what the Bible says about itself and thus called
into question the truth of its whole message 50

Rather than change their naturalistic presuppositions to match the

49Francis A Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Wheaton, Ill : Tyndale House, 1972),
pp 37-88, esp p 79

50For a consideration of the current state of scholarship on the subjects treated by higher criti-
cism, see Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1986
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and
Present (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1996); Donald Carson et al , An Introduction
to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992); Raymond B Dillard and Tremper
Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994); Craig
Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press,
1987); and N T Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, 3 vols (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press): The New Testament and the People of God (1992); Jesus and the Victory of God
(1996); and The Resurrection and the Son of God (2003)

14 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

data of the Bible, they concluded that the Bible was historically untrust-
worthy This could have led to an abandonment of Christian faith in its
entirety Instead it led to a second step—a radical shift in emphasis The
facts the Bible recorded were not important; what was important were its
examples of the good life and its timeless truths of morality

Matthew Arnold wrote in 1875 that Christianity “will live, because it
depends upon a true and inexhaustible fruitful idea, the idea of death and
resurrection as conceived and worked out by Jesus The importance of
the disciples’ belief in their Master’s resurrection lay in their believing
what was true, although they materialized it Jesus had died and risen
again, but in his own sense not theirs ”51 History—that is, space-time
events—was not important; belief was important And the doctrine of
death and resurrection came to stand not for the atonement of human-
kind by the God-man Jesus Christ but for a “new life” of human service
and sacrifice for others The great mystery of God’s entrance into time
and space was changed from fact to myth, a powerful myth, of course,
one that could transform ordinary people into moral giants

These steps took place long before the nihilism of Nietzsche or the
despair of Kafka They were responses to the “assured results of scholar-
ship” (which as those who pursue the matter will find are now not so as-
sured) If objective truth could not be found, no matter Real truth is po-
etically contained in the “story,” the narrative

It is interesting to note what soon happened to Matthew Arnold In
1875 he was saying that we should read the Bible as poetry; if we did it
would teach us the good life In 1880 he had taken the next step and was
advocating that we treat poetry in general in the same way we used to
treat the Bible: “More and more mankind will discover that we have to
turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us Most
of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced
by poetry ”52 For Arnold, poetry in general had become Scripture

In any case, when theistic existentialists (Reinhold Niebuhr, Rudolf
Bultmann and the like) began appearing on the theological scene, they
had a ready-made solution to the problem posed for orthodoxy by the
higher critics So the Bible’s history was suspect What matter? The ac-

51Matthew Arnold, God and the Bible, in English Prose of the Victorian Era, ed Charles Freder-
ick Harrold and William D Templeman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938), p 1211

52Matthew Arnold, “The Study of Poetry,” in English Prose of the Victorian Era, p 1248

Beyond Nihilism 141

counts are “religiously” (that is, poetically) true So while the doctrine of
the neo-orthodox theologians looks more like the orthodoxy of Calvin
than like the liberalism of Matthew Arnold, the historical basis for the
doctrines was discounted, and the doctrines themselves began to be
lifted out of history

The Fall was said not to have taken place back there and then in space
and time Rather, each person reenacts in their own life this story Each
enters the world like Adam, sinless; each one rebels against God The Fall
is existential—a here-and-now proposition Edward John Carnell sum-
marizes the existential view of the Fall as “a mythological description of
a universal experience of the race ”53

Likewise the resurrection of Jesus may or may not have occurred in
space and time Barth believes it did; Bultmann, on the other hand, says,
“An historical fact that involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly
inconceivable!”54 Again, no matter The reality behind the resurrection is
the new life in Christ experienced by the disciples The “spirit” of Jesus
was living in them; their lives were transformed They were indeed living
the “cruciform life style ”55

Other supernatural doctrines are similarly “demythologized,” among
them creation, redemption, the resurrection of the body, the second com-
ing, the antichrist Each is said to be a symbol of “religious” import Either
they are not to be taken literally or, if they are, their meaning is not in
their facticity but in what they indicate about human nature and our re-
lationship to God 56

53Carnell, Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, p 168
54Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), p 39
55Luke Timothy Johnson, after a blistering criticism of modern attempts to malign the histori-

cal reliability of the Gospels (on the one hand) and to place too much emphasis on the factic-
ity of the Gospel narratives (on the other hand), says, “The real Jesus for Christian faith is not
simply a figure of the past but very much and above all a figure of the present, a figure, indeed,
who defines believers present by his presence” (The Real Jesus [San Francisco: HarperCollins,
1996], p 142) This is existentialist Christianity in contemporary dress; it is not necessarily
in conf lict with orthodox Christian theism, but it puts the emphasis on the living relational
present at the expense of concern for historical fact

56The history of scholarly studies of Jesus parallels the intellectual history I have been tracing
in this book First there was the uncritical acceptance of the Gospels as reliable history Then
with the deists and naturalists (e g , Ernest Renan) came the denial of the historicity of any
supernatural events in Jesus’ life This was followed by the neo-orthodox emphasis on the re-
ligious and existential significance of the story of Jesus, which was itself thought to be largely
mythical (e g , Rudolf Bultmann), and then by the radical reshapers, using an imaginative
blend of naturalistic skepticism and speculative fantasy (e g , John Dominic Crossan) Reac-
tions to these naturalistic quests for the historical Jesus by both traditional theistic scholars

14 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

It is here—in the understanding of history and of doctrine—that theists
most find fault with their existential counterparts The charge is twofold
First, theists say that the existentialists start with two false, or certainly
highly suspect, presuppositions: (1) that miracles are impossible (Bultmann
here, but not Barth) and (2) that the Bible is historically untrustworthy On
the level of presuppositions Bultmann simply buys the naturalist notion of
the closed universe; Bultmann, although usually associated with the neo-
orthodox theologians, is thus not really a “theistic” existentialist at all
Much recent scholarship has gone a long way toward restoring confidence
in the Old Testament as an accurate record of events, but existential theo-
logians ignore this scholarship or discount the importance of its results
And that brings us to the second major theistic critique

Theists charge the existentialists with building theology on the shift-
ing sand of myth and symbol As a reviewer said about Lloyd Geering’s
Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope, an existential work, “How can a non-
event [a resurrection which did not occur] be regarded as a symbol of
hope or indeed of anything else? If something has happened we try to see
what it means If it has not happened the question cannot arise We are
driven back on the need for an Easter event ”57

There must be an event if there is to be meaning If Jesus arose from
the dead in the traditional way of understanding this, then we have an
event to mean something If he stayed in the tomb or if his body was
taken elsewhere, we have another event and it must mean something else
So a theist refuses to give up the historical basis for faith and challenges
the existentialist to take more seriously the implications of abandoning
historical facticity as religiously important Such abandonment should
lead to doubt and loss of faith Instead it has led to a leap of faith Mean-
ing is created in the subjective world, but it has no objective referent

In this area theistic existentialism comes very close to atheistic exis-
tentialism Perhaps when existentialists abandon facticity as a ground of
meaning, they should be encouraged to take the next step and abandon
meaning altogether This would place them back in the trackless wastes
of nihilism, and they would have to search for another way out

(e g , Ben Witherington and N T Wright) and modestly neo-orthodox scholars (e g , Luke
Timothy Johnson) are playing an important role in putting the historical study of Jesus on
more solid ground

57Review of Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope, by Lloyd Geering, Times Literary Supplement,
November 26, 1971, p 148

Beyond Nihilism 14 3


The two forms of existentialism are interesting to study, for they are a
pair of worldviews that bear a brotherly relationship but are children of
two different fathers Theistic existentialism arose with Kierkegaard as a
response to dead theism, dead orthodoxy, and with Karl Barth as a re-
sponse to the reduction of Christianity to sheer morality It took a subjec-
tivist turn, lifted religion from history and focused its attention on inner
meaning Atheistic existentialism came to the fore with Jean-Paul Sartre
and Albert Camus as a response to nihilism and the reduction of people
to meaningless cogs in the cosmic machinery It took a subjectivist turn,
lifted philosophy from objectivity and created meaning from human af-

Brothers in style though not in content, these two forms of existential-
ism are still commanding attention and vying for adherents So long as
those who would be believers in God yearn for a faith that does not de-
mand too much belief in the supernatural or the accuracy of the Bible,
theistic existentialism will be a live option So long as naturalists who
cannot (or refuse to) believe in God are searching for a way to find mean-
ing in their lives, atheistic existentialism will be of service I would pre-
dict that both forms—in probably ever-new and changing versions—will
be with us for a long time

Chapter 7



And all the voices, all the goals,
all the yearnings, all the sorrows,

all the pleasures, all the good and evil,
all of them together was the world. . . .
The great song with thousand voices

consisted of one word: OM—perfection.

H e r m a n n H e s s e , S i d d h a r t h a

In the course of Western thought eventually we reach an impasse Natu-
ralism leads to nihilism, and nihilism is hard to transcend on the terms
that the Western world, permeated by naturalism, wishes to accept Athe-
istic existentialism, as we have seen, is one attempt, but it has some rather
serious problems Theism is an option, but for a naturalist it is uninviting
How can one accept the existence of an infinite-personal, transcendent
God? For over a century that question has posed a serious barrier Many
people today would rather stick with their naturalism, for it still seems to
be a decided improvement on the fabulous religion it rejected Moreover,
modern Christendom, with its hypocritical churches and its lack of com-
passion, is a poor testimony to the viability of theism No, it is thought,
that way will not do

Perhaps we should look again at naturalism Where did we go wrong?
Well, for one thing we discover that by following reason our naturalism

Journey to the East 14 5

leads to nihilism But we need not necessarily abandon our naturalism;
we can simply say reason is not to be trusted Existentialism went part-
way down this route; perhaps we should now go all the way Second,
since we in the West tend to quarrel over “doctrines,” ideas and so forth,
let us call a moratorium not only on quarreling but on distinguishing
intellectually at all Perhaps any “useful” doctrine should be considered
true Third, if all our activism to produce change by manipulating the
system of the universe produces pollution and our efforts at social bet-
terment go unrewarded, why not abandon our activism? Let’s stop do-
ing and raise our quality of life by simply being Finally, if Western
quarrels turn into armed conf licts, why not retreat completely? Let go
and let happen: can that be any worse than what we have now? Has,
perhaps, the East a better way?

On a sociological level, we can trace the interest in the East to the re-
jection of middle-class values by the young generation of the 1960s First,
Western technology (that is, reason in its practical application) made
possible modern warfare The Vietnam War (young Americans had not
personally experienced earlier conflicts) is a result of reason So let us
abandon reason Second, Western economics has led to gross inequity
and economic oppression of masses of people So let us reject the presup-
positions from which such a system developed Third, Western religion
has seemed largely to support those in control of technology and the eco-
nomic system So let us not fall into that trap

The swing to Eastern thought since the 1960s is, therefore, primarily a
retreat from Western thought The West ends in a maze of contradic-
tions, acts of intellectual suicide and a specter of nihilism that haunts the
dark edges of all our thought Is there not another way?

Indeed, there is—a very different way With its antirationalism, its
syncretism, its quietism, till recently its lack of technology, its uncompli-
cated lifestyle, and most significantly, its exotic and radically different
religious framework, the East is extremely attractive Moreover, the East
has an even longer tradition than the West Sitting, as it were, next door
to us for centuries have been modes of conceiving and viewing the world
that are poles apart from ours Maybe the East, that quiet land of medi-
tating gurus and simple life, has the answer to our longing for meaning
and significance

For over a century Eastern thought has been flowing west The Hindu

14 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

and Buddhist scriptures have been translated and now circulate in inex-
pensive paperback editions As early as 1893 at the first Parliament of
World Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda began introducing the
teachings of his own Indian guru, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa D T
Suzuki from Japan poured Zen into Western publications And Alan
Watts from the West imbibed Zen and returned to teach his fellow West-

erners By the 1960s Eastern studies had filtered down to the undergrad-
uate level Indian gurus have been crossing and recrossing the United
States and Europe for several decades In the last couple decades the Ti-
betan Dalai Lama with his quiet, sensitive demeanor and his quest for a
peaceful solution to our international conflicts has made a mark as well
Knowledge of the East is now easy to obtain, and more and more its view
of reality is becoming a live option in the West 1

1The present account of the recent swing to Eastern thought is painfully superficial For more
detail see the following: R C Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (New York: Vintage, 1974)
A more expansive and scholarly examination is found in the essays collected in Irving I Za-
retsky and Mark P Leone, eds , Religious Movements in Contemporary America (Princeton,
N J : Princeton University Press, 1974) Stephen Neill in Christian Faith and Other Faiths
(Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1984) surveys and evaluates several religions, includ-
ing Hinduism and Buddhism A Christian critique of the Western trend toward the East is
found in Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994), pp 195-234 In

Tibetan Buddhism has attracted devotees in the West. Its teachers offer

insights into suffering and methods for cultivating mental equanimity

and compassion. It appeals to Westerners’ utilitarian pursuit of self-

betterment because it seems, at first anyway, to set aside the neces-

sity of faith and to ask the inquirer only to try its methods and see the

results. It says that one can become a Buddha, an “awakened” one,

by one’s own efforts. Its goal is enlightenment about a truth beyond

the limits of contingent reality. It is as dubious about objective reality

as certain currents of Western philosophy have become. It proclaims

impermanence and emptiness, and so fits our experience of upheaval.

It questions the reality of the “self.” Nowadays the West does too, and

often conceives the Gospel as a manual not for the personal develop-

ment of holiness, but for the impersonal engineering of social justice.

JOHN B. BUESCHER, “Everything Is on Fire: Tibetan Buddhism Inside Out”

Journey to the East 147


The East is, of course, as rich and as hard to label and categorize as the
West, as will be obvious to anyone who simply scans the table of contents
of a study such as Surendranath Dasgupta’s five-volume History of Indian
Philosophy.2 The following description is limited to the Eastern world-
view most popular in the West: pantheistic monism This is the root
worldview that underlies the Hindu Advaita Vedanta system of Shankara,
the Transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and much of
the Upanishads There are especially the views so beautifully captured by
the German writer Hermann Hesse in his Siddhartha, a novel that be-
came popular with college students in the 1970s and thus served as a
transmitter of a generic pantheistic monism Buddhism, which developed
from Hinduism, shares many of its features but differs with it at a key
point: the nature of ultimate reality

Pantheistic monism is distinguished from other related Eastern world-
views by its monism, the notion that only one impersonal element consti-
tutes reality Hare Krishna does not fit in this worldview, for while it
shares many of the characteristics of Eastern pantheistic monism, it de-
clares that reality is ultimately personal (and thus shares a similarity to
theism totally absent in Advaita Vedanta)

Hopefully these cryptic remarks will become clearer as we proceed
But before we do, we need to address two difficulties in doing worldview
analysis First, we must realize that the eight worldview questions imply
a set of categories that do not neatly fit the categories (or lack of them)

chap 11 of Miracles (London: Fontana, 1960), pp 85-98, C S Lewis argues that even in the
West pantheism is humankind’s natural religion, and his critique of this form of pantheism is
helpful See also Ernest Becker’s highly critical analysis of Zen Buddhism from the standpoint
of modern psychoanalysis and psychotherapy theory in Zen: A Rational Critique (New York:
W W Norton, 1961)

2Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, 5 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1922-1969) For texts of Eastern philosophy and religion see Sarvapalli Rad-
hakrishnan and Charles A Moore, eds , A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, N J :
Princeton University Press, 1957); Wing-tsit Chan, ed , A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy
(Princeton, N J : Princeton University Press, 1963); and Lucien Stryk, ed , World of the Buddha
(New York: Grove, 1968) For general studies of Eastern religions, philosopher Keith Yandell
recommends Stuart Hackett, Oriental Philosophy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1979); David L Johnson, A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany House,
1985); Julius Lipner, The Face of Truth (London: Macmillan, 1986); Eric Lott, God and the
Universe in the Vedantic Theology of Ramanuja (Madras: Ramanuja Research Society, 1976);
and Lott, Vedantic Approaches to God (London: Macmillan, 1980)

14 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

that characterize Eastern thought 3 The East does not readily accept the
distinctions we so readily assume between God and the cosmos (his cre-
ation); human beings and the rest of the cosmos; good and evil and illu-
sion and reality We may use these terms, but we must be aware of their
somewhat different meanings

Second, we must be aware of the vast differences among religious
and cultural embodiments of Eastern pantheism Worldview analysis is
neither a description nor an analysis of religions For that, readers

should consult books on comparative religion Win Corduan’s Neigh-
boring Faiths is a good place to start 4 He focuses on the diversity of
beliefs and practices among adherents to each religion (see sidebar)
When we try to grasp the worldview of any given writer or individual
person, we need to pay careful attention to his or her understanding of

3See chapter 9, pp 218-20 below
4Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1998)

Buddhism includes an enormous range of diversity in belief and prac-

tice. Learning that someone is a Buddhist does not tell you about that

person’s beliefs. Knowing his or her geographical origin may or may not

be helpful. For example, knowing that a Buddhist is from Sri Lanka,

Myanmar or Thailand can be helpful because these countries are domi-

nated by Theraveda Buddhism. On the other hand, knowing that a Bud-

dhist is from China or Japan leaves matters completely open. Asking

Buddhists from China or Japan what school of Buddhism they adhere

to may not be of much help either. Many people think of the Buddhism

they practice as Buddhism—plain and simple. They are not necessarily

attuned to the Western practice of differentiating one specific group

from all others and believing that it is right and all others are false. For

them they are Buddhists, and that’s all they are concerned with. And

what they actually practice may have very little to do with any “official”

school of Buddhism.

WINFRIED CORDUAN, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World

Journey to the East 14 9

their basic intellectual commitments We must not conclude that, be-
cause people identify themselves as a Buddhist or Hindu, they hold any
of the propositions identified here as Eastern pantheistic monism Still,
to introduce those of us with basically Western intellectual roots to the
various mindsets of our Eastern counterparts, understanding these
worldview notions will be helpful

1. Worldview Questions 1, 2 and 3: Atman is Brahman; that is, the soul
of each and every human being is the Soul of the cosmos (ultimate reality).

“Atman is Brahman,” a phrase from the Hindu Upanishads, is the pan-
theistic counterpart and contrast to the opening declaration of the bibli-
cal book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth” (Gen 1:1) Instead of drawing a bold line between God and his
creation, however, the Hindu text declares them to be one and the same
Atman (the essence, the soul, of any person) is Brahman (the essence, the
Soul of the whole cosmos) What is a human being? That is, what is at the
very core of each of us? Each person is the whole shooting match Each
person is (to put it boldly but accurately in Eastern terms) God

But we must define God in pantheistic terms God is the one, infinite-
impersonal, ultimate reality That is, God is the cosmos God is all that
exists; nothing exists that is not God 5 If anything that is not God appears
to exist, it is maya, illusion, and does not truly exist In other words, any-
thing that exists as a separate and distinct object—this chair, not that
one; this rock, not that tree; me, not you—is an illusion It is not our sep-
arateness that gives us reality, it is our oneness, the fact that we are Brah-
man and Brahman is One Yes, Brahman is the One

Ultimate reality is beyond distinction; it just is. In fact, as we shall see
in the discussion of epistemology, we cannot express in language the na-
ture of this oneness We can only “realize” it by becoming it, by seizing
our unity, our “godhead,” and resting there beyond any distinction what-

In the West we are not used to this kind of system To distinguish is to

5Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) once touched his disciple Naren (who later became Swami Vive-
kananda and traveled to Chicago for the first Parliament of World Religions, becoming as a
result a major figure in the introduction of Eastern thought to the West); he fell into a trance
and saw in a f lash “that everything actually is God, that nothing whatsoever exists but the
Divine, that the entire universe is His body, and all things are His forms” (Richard Schiffman,
Sri Ramakrishna: A Prophet for a New Age [New York: Paragon House, 1989], p 153)

1 5 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

think The laws of thought demand distinction: A is A; but A is not non-A.
To know reality is to distinguish one thing from another, label it, catalog it,
recognize its subtle relation to other objects in the cosmos In the East to
“know” reality is to pass beyond distinction, to “realize” the oneness of all
by being one with the all This sort of conception—insofar as it can be un-
derstood by the mind—is best expressed indirectly The Upanishads
abound in attempts to express the inexpressible indirectly in parables

“Bring me a fruit from this banyan tree ”
“Here it is, father ”
“Break it ”
“It is broken, Sir ”
“What do you see in it?”
“Very small seeds, Sir ”
“Break one of them, my son ”
“It is broken, Sir ”
“What do you see in it?”
“Nothing at all, Sir ”
Then his father spoke to him: “My son, from the very essence in the
seed which you cannot see comes in truth this vast banyan tree
“Believe me, my son, an invisible and subtle essence is the spirit of the
whole universe That is Reality That is Atman THOU ART THAT ”6

So the father, a guru, teaches his son, a novice, that even a novice is
ultimate reality Yet all of us, Eastern and Western alike, perceive distinc-
tions We do not “realize” our oneness And that leads us to the second

2. Worldview Questions 1, 2 and 3, continued: Some things are more
one than others.

Here we seem to be multiplying cryptic remarks and getting nowhere
But we ought not despair Eastern “thought” is like that

“Some things are more one than others” is another way of saying that
reality is a hierarchy of appearances Some “things,” some appearances or
illusions, are closer than others to being at one with the One The ordi-
nary Eastern hierarchy looks rather like one Westerners might construct
but for a different reason Matter pure and simple (that is, mineral) is the

6From the Chandogya Upanishad, in The Upanishads, trans Juan Mascaró (Harmondsworth,
U K : Penguin, 1965), p 117

Journey to the East 1 51

least real; then vegetable life, then animal and finally humanity But hu-
manity too is hierarchical; some people are closer to unity than others
The Perfect Master, the Enlightened One, the guru are the human beings
nearest to pure being

Partly, consciousness seems to be the principle of hierarchy here To
“realize” oneness would seem to imply consciousness But as we shall see,
when one is one with the One, consciousness completely disappears and
one merely is infinite-impersonal Being Consciousness, like techniques
of meditation, is just one more thing to be discarded when its usefulness
is past Still, pure matter is further from realization of its oneness than is
humanity, and that is what counts

At the furthest reaches of illusion, then, is matter While its essence is
Atman, it is not Yet it should so be. We must be careful here not to attach
any notion of morality to our understanding of the requirement that all
things be at one with the One Here it means simply that being itself re-
quires unity with the One The One is ultimate reality, and all that is not
the One is not really anything True, it is not anything of value either, but
more important, it has no being at all

So we are back to the original proposition: Some things are more one,
that is, more real, than others The next question is obvious: how does an
individual, separate being get to be one with the One?

3. Worldview Questions 1, 2 and 3: Many (if not all) roads lead to
the One.

Getting to oneness with the One is not a matter of finding the one true
path There are many paths from maya to reality I may take one, you
another, a friend a third, ad infinitum The goal is not to be with one an-
other on the same path but to be headed in the right direction on our own
path That is, we must be oriented correctly

Orientation is not so much a matter of doctrine as of technique On
this the East is adamant Ideas are not finally important As Sri Ra-
makrishna said, “Do not argue about doctrines and religions There is
only one All rivers flow to the Ocean Flow and let others flow too!”7

On a doctrinal level, you and I may only occasionally agree on what is
true about anything—ourselves, the external world, religion No matter

7Schiffman, Sri Ramakrishna, p 214, quoting from Rolland Romain, The Life of Ramakrishna
(Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1931), p 197

1 52 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Eventually religions lead to the same end Realizing oneness with the One
is not a matter of belief but of technique, and even techniques vary

Some gurus, such as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, stress chanting a
mantra, a seemingly meaningless Sanskrit word sometimes selected by a
spiritual master and given in secret to an initiate Others recommend
meditation on a mandala, a highly structured, often fascinatingly ornate
and beautiful circular image, symbol of the totality of reality Others re-
quire endless repetition of prayers or acts of obeisance

Almost all of these techniques, however, require quiet and solitude
They are methods of intellectually contentless meditation One attempts
to get on the vibe level with reality, to turn one’s soul to the harmony of
the cosmos and ultimately to the one solid, nonharmonic, nondual, Ulti-
mate vibration—Brahman, the One To achieve this is the Eastern monis-
tic way of achieving salvation

Of all the “paths,” one of the most common, especially with Western
practitioners, involves chanting the word Om or a phrase with that word
in it, for example, “Om Mane Padme Hum ” Both the word Om and the
phrase are essentially untranslatable because they are intellectually con-
tentless Some have suggested for Om the following: yes, perfection, ulti-
mate reality, all, the eternal word. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that Om
is the “sustainer of life,” “the beginning and end of all creation,” “that
hum, which is the first silent sound, first silent wave that starts from that
silent ocean of unmanifested life ”8

It is obvious that the word meaning is not used in this Eastern system
in the same way it is used in theism or naturalism We are not talking
here about rational content but metaphysical union We can truly “pro-
nounce” Om and “understand” its meaning only when we are at one with
the One, when “Atman is Brahman” is not an epistemological statement
but an ontological realization, that is, a “becoming real ”

The Mandukya Upanishad says it this way:

OM This eternal Word is all: what was, what is and what shall be, and
what beyond is in eternity All is OM
Brahman is all and Atman is Brahman Atman, the Self, has four con-
The first condition is the waking life of outward-moving conscious-
ness, enjoying the seven outer gross elements

8Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (New York: Bantam, 1968), p 18

Journey to the East 1 53

The second condition is the dreaming life of inner-moving conscious-
ness, enjoying the seven subtle inner elements in its own light and solitude
The third condition is the sleeping life of silent consciousness when a
person has no desires and beholds no dreams That condition of deep sleep
is one of oneness, a mass of silent consciousness made of peace and enjoy-
ing peace
This silent consciousness is all-powerful, all-knowing, the inner ruler,
the source of all, the beginning and end of all beings
The fourth condition is Atman in his own pure state: the awakened life
of supreme consciousness It is neither outer nor inner consciousness, nei-
ther semi-consciousness, nor sleeping-consciousness, neither conscious-
ness nor unconsciousness He is Atman, the Spirit himself, that cannot be
seen or touched, that is above all distinction, beyond thought and ineffa-
ble In the union with him is the supreme proof of his reality He is the end
of evolution and non-duality He is peace and love
This Atman is the eternal Word OM Its three sounds, A, U, and M, are
the first three states of consciousness, and these three states are the three
The first sound A is the first state of waking consciousness, common to
all men It is found in the words Apti, “attaining,” and Adimatvam, “being
first ” Who knows this attains in truth all his desires, and in all things
becomes first
The second sound U is the second state of dreaming consciousness It
is found in the words Utkarsha, “uprising,” and Ubhayatvam, “bothness ”
Who knows this raises the tradition of knowledge and attains equilib-
rium In his family is never born any one who knows not Brahman
The third sound M is the third state of sleeping consciousness It is
found in the words Miti, ”measure,” and in the root Mi, “to end,” that gives
Apti, “final end ” Who knows this measures all with his mind and attains
the final End
The word OM as one sound is the fourth state of supreme conscious-
ness It is beyond the senses and is the end of evolution It is non-duality
and love He goes with his self to the supreme Self who knows this, who
knows this 9

I have quoted this Upanishad at length because it contains several key
ideas in a relatively short passage At the moment I am most concerned with
the word Om and how it represents ultimate reality To say Om is not to
convey intellectual content Om means anything and everything and there-

9Mascaró, Upanishads, pp 83-84

1 5 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

fore, being beyond distinction, can just as well be said to mean nothing To
say Om is rather to become or attempt to become what Om symbolizes

4. Worldview Questions 1, 2 and 3: To realize one’s oneness with the
cosmos is to pass beyond personality.

Let us go back for a moment to the first proposition and see where it leads
us when we turn our attention to human beings in this world Atman is
Brahman Brahman is one and impersonal Therefore, Atman is imper-
sonal Note the conclusion again: Human beings in their essence—their
truest, fullest being—are impersonal

This notion in pantheistic monism is at diametrical odds with theism
In theism, personality is the chief thing about God and the chief thing
about people It means an individual has complexity at the core of his or
her being Personality demands self-consciousness and self-determinacy,
and these involve duality—a thinker and a thing thought Both God and
humanity in theism are complex

In pantheism the chief thing about God is Oneness, a sheer abstract,
undifferentiated, nondual unity This puts God beyond personality And
since Atman is Brahman, human beings are beyond personality too For
any of us to “realize” our being is for us to abandon our complex person-
hood and enter the undifferentiated One

Let us return for a moment to a section of the Mandukya Upanishad
quoted above Atman, it proclaims, has “four conditions”: waking life,
dreaming life, deep sleep and “the awakened life of pure consciousness ”
The progression is important; the higher state is the state most approach-
ing total oblivion, for one goes from the activity of ordinary life in the
external world to the activity of dreaming to the nonactivity, the noncon-
sciousness, of deep sleep and ends in a condition that in its designation
sounds like the reversal of the first three, “pure consciousness ”

Then we note that “pure consciousness” has nothing to do with any
kind of consciousness with which we are familiar “Pure consciousness”
is, rather, sheer union with the One and not “consciousness” at all, for
that demands duality—a subject to be conscious and an object for it to be
conscious of Even self-consciousness demands duality in the self But
this “pure consciousness” is not consciousness; it is pure being

This explanation may help us understand why Eastern thought often
leads to quietism and inaction To be is not to do Meditation is the main

Journey to the East 155

route to being, and meditation—whatever the style—is a case study in
quietude A symbol of this is the Hindu guru sitting cross-legged on a
lonely ledge of a Himalayan peak in rapt contemplation

5. Worldview Question 5: To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to
pass beyond knowledge. The principle of noncontradiction does not apply
where ultimate reality is concerned.

From the statement Atman is Brahman, it also follows that human beings
in their essence are beyond knowledge Knowledge, like personality, de-
mands duality—a knower and a known But the One is beyond duality; it
is sheer unity Again as the Mandukya Upanishad says, “He is Atman, the
Spirit himself, above all distinction, beyond thought and ineffable ” In
other words, to be is not to know

In Siddhartha, perhaps the most Eastern novel ever written by a West-
erner, Hesse has the illumined Siddhartha say:

Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom In every truth the
opposite is equally true For example, a truth can only be expressed and
enveloped in words if it is one-sided Everything that is thought and ex-
pressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth; it lacks totality, com-
pleteness, unity 10

The argument is simple Reality is one; language requires duality, sev-
eral dualities in fact (speaker and listener, subject and predicate); ergo,
language cannot convey the truth about reality Juan Mascaró explains
what this means for the doctrine of God:

When the sage of the Upanishads is pressed for a definition of God, he
remains silent, meaning God is silence When asked again to express God
in words, he says: “Neti, neti,” “Not this, not this”; but when pressed for a
positive explanation he utters the sublime words: “TAT TVAM ASI,”
“Thou art That ”11

Of course! We have already seen this under proposition 3 Now we see
more clearly why Eastern pantheistic monism is nondoctrinal No doc-
trine can be true Perhaps some can be more useful than others in getting
a subject to achieve unity with the cosmos, but that is different In fact, a
lie or a myth might even be more useful

10Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, trans Hilda Rosner (New York: New Directions, 1951), p 115
11Mascaró, Upanishads, p 12

1 5 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

But again we go astray We are back to thinking like a Westerner If
there can be no true statement, neither can there be a lie In other words,
truth disappears as a category, and the only relevant distinction is useful-
ness 12 In short, we are back to technique—the substance of much East-
ern concern

6. Worldview Questions 1, 2, 3 and 6: To realize one’s oneness with
the cosmos is to pass beyond good and evil; the cosmos is perfect at
every moment.

We come to a rather touchy subject here It is one of the softest spots in
Eastern pantheism, because people refuse to deny morality They con-
tinue to act as if some actions were right and others wrong Moreover, the
concept of karma is almost universal in Eastern thought

Karma is the notion that one’s present fate, one’s pleasure or pain, one’s
being a king or a slave or a gnat, is the result of past action, especially in
a former existence It is, then, tied to the notion of reincarnation, which
follows from the general principle that nothing that is real (that is, no
soul) ever passes out of existence It may take centuries upon centuries to
find its way back to the One, but no soul will ever not be All soul is eter-
nal, for all soul is essentially Soul and thus forever the One

On its way back to the One, however, it goes through whatever series of
illusory forms its past action requires Karma is the Eastern version of “you
reap what you sow ” But karma implies strict necessity If you have “sinned,”
there is no God to cancel the debt and to forgive Confession is of no avail
The sin must and will be worked out Of course a person can choose his
future acts; thus karma does not imply determinism or fatalism 13

This sounds very much like the description of a moral universe People
should do the good If they do not, they will reap the consequences, if not
in this life, in the next, perhaps even by coming back as a being lower in
the hierarchy As popularly conceived, a moral universe is what the East
in fact has

12Sri Ramakrishna, who yielded to the Hindu god Kali the categories of knowledge and igno-
rance, purity and impurity, good and evil, confesses to the difficulty of living beyond the
duality of truth and untruth But he does so for the love of Kali (implying a duality with hate),
and he tells his disciples, “I could not bring myself to give up truth” (which implies a duality
with falsehoods) (quoted by Schiffman, Sri Ramakrishna, p 135)

13In Siddhartha, for example, Siddhartha hurts many people as he goes on the path to unity
with the One But he never apologizes or confesses Neither has meaning in his system

Journey to the East 15 7

But two things should be noted about this system First, the basis for
doing good is not so that the good will be done or so that you benefit
another person Karma demands that every soul suffer for its past “sins,”
so there is no value in alleviating suffering The soul so helped will have
to suffer later So there is no agape love, giving love, nor would any such
love benefit the recipient One does good deeds in order to attain unity
with the One Doing good is first and foremost a self-helping way of life

Second, all actions are merely part of the whole world of illusion The
only “real” reality is ultimate reality, and that is beyond differentiation,
beyond good and evil Brahman is beyond good and evil

Like true and false, ultimately the distinction between good and evil
fades away Everything is good (which, of course, is identical to saying,
“Nothing is good” or “Everything is evil”) The thief is the saint is the
thief is the saint

What then shall we say about all of the evidence that people of the East
act as if their actions could be considered right or wrong? First, the East
has no fewer naive and inconsistent adherents than the West Second,
theists would say, human beings are human beings; they must act as if
they were moral beings, for they are moral beings Third, their moral-
looking actions may be done for purely selfish reasons: who wants to re-
turn as a gnat or a stone? Of course, in a nonmoral system selfishness
would not be considered immoral

Hesse tips his hand, however, in Siddhartha and has his hero seem-
ingly say with ordinary meaning that “love is the most important thing in
the world ”14 And Hesse introduces value distinction when he says that it

14Hesse, Siddhartha, p 119

The world, Govinda, is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long

path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin al-

ready carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men,

all sucklings have death within them, all dying people—eternal life. . . .

Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good—death as

well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly.

Siddhartha in Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

1 5 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

is better to be illumined or enlightened than to be an ordinary person 15
It would seem, therefore, that even many of the illumined have a ten-
dency to act morally rather than to live out the implications of their own
system Perhaps this is a way of saying that some people are “better” than
their conscious worldview would allow

7. Worldview Question 4: Death is the end of individual, personal exis-
tence, but it changes nothing essential in an individual’s nature.

I have already discussed death as it relates to karma and reincarnation
But it deserves, as in every worldview, a separate treatment Human death
signals the end of an individual embodiment of Atman; it signals as well
the end of a person But the soul, Atman, is indestructible

But note: no human being in the sense of individual or person survives
death Atman survives, but Atman is impersonal When Atman is rein-
carnated, it becomes another person So does Hinduism teach the im-
mortality of the soul? Yes, but not personal and individual immortality

Of course, through Eastern eyes the personal and individual are illu-
sory anyway Only Atman is valuable So death is no big deal Nothing of
value perishes; everything of value is eternal This may help explain the
remark Westerners often make about the cheapness of life in the East
Individual embodiments of life—this man, that woman, you, me—are of
no value But in essence they are all of infinite value; for in essence they
are infinite

The ramifications of this for Westerners who search the East for
meaning and significance should not be ignored For a Westerner who
places value on individuality and personality—the unique value of an
individual human life—Eastern pantheistic monism will prove a grave

8. Worldview Question 7: To realize one’s oneness with the One is to
pass beyond time. Time is unreal. History is cyclical.

One of the central images in Siddhartha is the river From the river Sid-
dhartha learns more than from all the teachings of the Buddha or from
all the contact with his spiritual father, Vasudeva At the climax of the
novel Siddhartha bends down and listens intently to the river:

15Ibid , p 106

Journey to the East 1 59

Siddhartha tried to listen better The picture of his father, his own picture,
and the picture of his son all f lowed into each other Kamala’s picture also
appeared and f lowed on, and the picture of Govinda and others emerged
and passed on They all became part of the river It was the goal of all of
them, yearning, desiring, suffering; and the river’s voice was full of long-
ing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire The river f lowed on to-
wards its goal Siddhartha saw the river hasten, made up of himself and his
relatives and all the people he had ever seen All the waves and water has-
tened, suffering, towards goals, many goals, to the waterfall, to the sea, to
the current, to the ocean and all goals were reached and each one was suc-
ceeded by another The water changed to vapor and rose, became rain and
came down again, became spring, brook and river, changed anew, f lowed
anew But the yearning voice had altered It still echoed sorrowfully,
searchingly, but other voices accompanied it, voices of pleasure and sor-
row, good and evil voices, laughing and lamenting voices, hundreds of
voices, thousands of voices 16

Finally all the voices, images and faces intertwine: “And all the voices,
all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the
good and evil, all of them together was the world The great song of a
thousand voices consisted of one word: Om—perfection ”17 It is at this
point that Siddhartha achieves an inner unity with the One, and “the se-
renity of knowledge” shines in his face

The river in this long passage, and throughout the book, becomes an
image for the cosmos When looked at from the standpoint of a place
along the bank, the river flows (time exists) But when looked at in its
entirety—from spring to brook to river to ocean to vapor to rain to
spring—the river does not flow (time does not exist) It is an illusion pro-
duced by one’s sitting on the bank rather than seeing the river from the
heavens Time likewise is cyclical; history is what is produced by the flow
of water past a point on the shore It is illusory History then has no mean-
ing where reality is concerned In fact, our task as people who would real-
ize their godhead is to transcend history

This should help explain why Western Christians, who place great em-
phasis on history, find their presentation of the historical basis of Christi-
anity almost completely ignored in the East To the Western mind, whether
or not Jesus existed, performed miracles, healed the sick, died and rose

16Ibid , p 110
17Ibid , pp 110-11

16 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

from the dead is important If it happened, there must be a vital meaning
to these strange, unnatural events Perhaps there is a God after all

To the Eastern mind, the whole argument is superfluous Yesterday’s
facts are not meaningful in themselves They do not bear on me today
unless they have a here-and-now meaning; and if they have a here-and-
now meaning, then their facticity as history is of no concern The Eastern
scriptures are filled with epigrams, parables, fables, stories, myths, songs,
haiku, hymns, epics, but almost no history in the sense of events recorded
because they took place in an unrepeatable space-time context

To be concerned with such stuff would be to invert the whole hierar-
chical order The unique is not the real; only the absolute and all-encom-
passing is real If history is valuable, it will be so as myth and myth only,
for myth takes us out of particularity and lifts us to essence

One of the images of human life and the quest for unity with the One
is closely tied to the images of the cycle, the wheel, the great mandala
Siddhartha says, “Whither will my path lead me? This path is stupid, it
goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will follow
it ”18 Mascaró echoes, “The path of Truth may not be a path of parallel
lines but a path that follows one circle: by going to the right and climbing
the circle, or by going to the left and climbing the circle we are bound to
meet at the top, although we started in apparently contradictory
directions ”19

This symbol is worked out in the novel Siddhartha; the paths of the
Buddha, Vasudeva, Siddhartha and Govinda meet and cross several times,
but all of them arrive at the same place To change the image, Hesse shows
this in the exact identity of the smiles on the face of the radiant Buddha,
Vasudeva and Siddhartha 20 All the Enlightened Ones are one in the All


From the outside Buddhism may seem much like Hinduism The world-
view behind both emphasizes, for example, the singularity of primal real-
ity But there is a key difference nonetheless To get a sense of what is in-
volved more generally, note the contrast between advaita vedanta
(nondualist Hinduism) and Buddhism

18Ibid , p 78
19Mascaró, Upanishads, p 23
20Hesse, Siddhartha, p 122

Journey to the East 161

Hindu monism holds that final reality is Brahman, the One The One
has or, better, is Being itself—the single undifferentiated final “whatever ”
It makes sense to name this Brahman or to speak of the One Like a light
bulb shining photons of light farther and farther into the darkness, dis-
persing its photons more and more from each other, from Brahman (the
One) emanates the cosmos (the many)

Buddhist monism holds that final reality is the Void 21 Final reality is
nothing that can be named or grasped To say it is nothing is incorrect,
but to say that it is something is equally incorrect That would degrade its
essence by reducing it to a thing among things The Hindu One is still a
thing among things, though it is the chief among things The Void is not
a thing at all It is instead the origin of every thing

This distinction leads to a different understanding of human beings
too For a Hindu, an individual person is a soul (Atman) and thus has
substantial (spiritual, not material) reality because it is an emanation of
Brahman (reality itself) In death an individual soul loses its bodily resi-
dence but is reincarnated in another individual—a sort of transmigration
of the soul

For a Buddhist, an individual person is a not-soul There is no namable
nature at the core of each person In fact, each person is an aggregate of
previous persons There is not so much the transmigration of the soul as
the disappearance of a person at death and the reconstitution of another
person from the five aggregates or “existence factors”: “body, feeling, per-
ception, mental formations, and consciousness ”22

Religious practice, techniques of meditation, differ too Hindus will
commonly repeat a mantra, like Om, and thus induce a trance or trance-
like state that is taken to be an ascent toward godhood Buddhists may
likewise repeat a mantra, but their goal is to reach a state of realizing their
root in nonbeing—the nonentity of their “face before they were born,” for
example 23 A Zen master may challenge a novice with koans, puzzling
questions like “What is the sound of one hand?”24 or “What is the dharma

21Robert Linssen, Zen: The Art of Life (New York: Pyramid, 1962), pp 142-43
22Sigmund Kvaloy, “Norwegian Ecophilosophy and Ecopolitics and Their Inf luence from Bud-

dhism,” in Buddhist Perspectives on the Ecocrisis, The Wheel Publication 346/348 (Kandy, Sri
Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1987), p 69

23Zen master Myocho (1281-1337), “The Original Face,” in A First Zen Reader (Rutland, Vt :
Charles E Tuttle, 1960), p 21

24This koan is often translated as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” but the word clap-
ping does not occur in the Japanese

162 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

body of the Buddha [i e , what is reality]?”25 Or the master may direct the
novice to do zazen (“just sit”) In any case, the attempt is made to empty
the mind of all analytical thought, for ultimate reality is not only nonbe-
ing, it is also “no-mind,” that is, a mind that does not analyze what it is

grasping but grasps what is only as what it is. The answer, therefore, to
“What is the sound of one hand?” is simply “the sound of one hand ”

Still, with these and other differences, the effect of both nondualist
Hinduism and Buddhism is to put a person in a state where all distinc-

25Isshu Miura and Ruth Fuller Sasaki, The Zen Koan (New York: Harcourt Brace and World,
1956), p 44; D T Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (New York: Grove, 1964), pp
59, 99-117

Kitta, the son of an elephant trainer, inquired of The Enlightened One

(the Buddah) whether any of the three modes of personality—the past

you, the present you and the future you—are real. The Enlightened One


Just, Kitta, as from a cow comes milk, and from the milk curds,

and from the curds butter, and from the butter ghee and from the

ghee junket; but when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter, or

ghee, or junket; and when it is curds it is not called by any of the

other names; and so on—Just so, Kitta, when any one of the three

modes of personality is going on, it is not called by the name of

the other. For these, Kitta, are merely names, expressions, turns

of speech, designations in common use in the world. And of these

a Tathâgata (one who has won the truth) makes use indeed, but is

not led astray by them.*


*A note follows this text: “The point is, of course, that just as there is no substratum in the
products of the cow, so there is no ego, no constant unity, no ‘soul’ (in the animistic sense
of the word, as used by savages). There are a number of qualities that, when united, make
up a personality—always changing. When the change has reached a certain point, it is
convenient to change the designation, the name, by which the personality is known—just
as in the case of the cow. But the abstract term is only a convenient form of expression.
There never was any personality, as a separate reality, all the time (from Potthapada
Sutta, [201], 51-53 ).

Journey to the East 16 3

tions disappear—here and there, now and then, illusion and reality, truth
and falsity, good and evil Despite the noble attempt of Buddhist masters
like D T Suzuki to insist that Buddhism is not nihilistic, it will usually
seem so to Western readers 26

9. Worldview Question 8: Core commitments among individual East-
ern pantheistic monists may vary widely, but one consistent commitment
is, by the elimination of desire, to achieve salvation, that is, to realize
one’s union with the One (Hinduism) or the Void, pure consciousness

Hinduism and Buddhism both locate the problem with human beings in
their separateness from the really real, the One or the Void 27 Human be-
ings live an illusory material existence in an illusory material world, de-
siring illusory goals The result is suffering To avoid suffering, one should
eliminate this desire There are, of course, as noted above, multiple tech-
niques for eliminating desire Hinduism focuses on a variety of medita-
tion practices Buddhism presents an eightfold path: right view, right in-
tention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
mindfulness and right consciousness

Of course, just like Christian theists who often get caught up in beliefs
and practices that do not bring glory to God or witness to the presence of
the kingdom of God, so Eastern pantheists often are diverted into seek-
ing the illusory goals of wealth, fame and endless hedonistic pleasures
For the Eastern pantheist, salvation sought is not necessarily salvation
gained Unlike a Christian who receives salvation as a gift of God’s grace,
the pantheist is on his or her own


Cyclical history, paths that cross, doctrines that disagree, evil that is
good, knowledge that is ignorance, time that is eternal, reality that is

26Suzuki, Introduction, p 39, writes, for example, “Zen wants to rise above logic, Zen wants
to find a higher affirmation where there are no antitheses Therefore, in Zen, God is neither
denied nor insisted upon; only there is in Zen no such God as has been conceived by Jewish
and Christian minds ” See also pp 48-57

27Charles Taylor notes the radical difference between what Buddhists and Christians count as
“human f lourishing ” The Buddhist notion requires individuals to “detach themselves from
their own f lourishing, to the extinction of self,” while Christians aim at “renunciation of hu-
man fulfillment to serve God” (A Secular Age [Cambridge, Mass : Belknap, 2007], p 17)

16 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

unreal: all these are the shifting, paradoxical, even contradictory masks
that veil the One What can Westerners say? If they point to its irration-
ality, the Easterner rejects reason as a category If they point to the dis-
appearance of morality, the Easterner scorns the duality that is required
for the distinction If they point to the inconsistency between the East-
erner’s moral action and amoral theory, the Easterner says, “Well, con-
sistency is no virtue except by reason, which I have already rejected,
and furthermore I’m not yet perfect When I am rid of this load of
karma, I’ll cease acting as if I were moral In fact, I’ll cease acting at all
and just meditate ” If the Westerner says, “But if you don’t eat, you’ll
die,” the Easterner responds, “So what? Atman is Brahman Brahman is
eternal A death to be wished!”

It is, I think, no wonder Western missionaries have made little
headway with committed Hindus and Buddhists They don’t speak
the same language, for they hold almost nothing in common It is
painfully difficult to grasp the Eastern worldview even when one has
some idea that it demands a mode of thought different from the West
It seems to many who would like Easterners to become Christians
(and thus to become theists) that Easterners have an even more diffi-
cult time understanding that Christianity is somehow unique, that
the space-time resurrection of Jesus the Christ is at the heart of the
good news of God

In both cases, it seems to me, an understanding that the East and the
West operate on two very different sets of assumptions is the place to
start To begin the dialogue, at least one party must know how different
their basic assumptions may turn out to be, but for true human commu-
nication, both parties must know this before the dialogue proceeds very
far Perhaps the difficulties in Eastern thought that seem so obvious to
Westerners will at least begin to be recognized by Easterners If an East-
erner can see what knowledge, morality and reality are like as seen from,
say, the point of view of Western theism, the attractiveness of the West-
ern way may be obvious

Generally, however, what the East sees of the West is more ugly than
Shiva, the great god of destruction himself Those who would communi-
cate the beauty of truth in Christ have a tough job, for the mists of ugly
Western imperialism, war, violence, greed and gluttony are thick indeed

Where, then, does all this leave the Westerner who has gone East to

Journey to the East 16 5

search for meaning and significance?28 Many, of course, drop out along
the way, try to take a shortcut to Nirvana through drugs, or drop out,
return to their former faith or come home and take over their family’s
corporation,w leaving the East behind with little more than a beard left to
show for it (That gets trimmed before the first board meeting and re-
moved before the second ) Others stay on the path for life Still others
perhaps find Nirvana and remain caught up in contemplation But many
simply die—by starvation, dysentery, skullduggery and who knows what
else Some shipwreck on the shores of Western communities and are
slowly made seaworthy by friends

For several decades, young and old have been flocking to various gu-
rus Bookstores are filled with books pointing East, their spines to the
West, of course Transcendental Meditation and other Eastern spiritual
techniques are common, as commuters meditate on the way to work and
classes are offered in business corporations

Going East now has lost some of its attraction, for the Eastern world
is becoming more and more Western in appearance and tone Cities
that once held an exotic attraction look more and more like downtown
San Francisco Western styles of dress and life are replacing those of the
traditional East Yet while the number of Westerners who are trekking
East has seemed to decline in recent years, for some the East still holds
promise And so long as it seems to offer peace, personal meaning and
significance, people are likely to respond What will they receive? Not
just an Eastern Band-Aid for a Western scratch but a whole new world-
view and lifestyle

28In “Everything Is on Fire: Tibetan Buddhism Inside Out” John B Buescher (who was raised a
Catholic, pursued Buddhism for most of his life, then returned to his Christian roots) reviews
ten recent books; his ref lections dramatically portray both the parallels and the eventual
vast differences between Tibetan Buddhism and the Christian worldview (Books and Culture
[January/February, 2008], pp 40-43)

Chapter 8



We are Creating energy, matter and life
at the interface between the void and all known creation.

We are facing into the known universe, creating it, filling it. . . .
I am “one of the boys in the engine room pumping Creation

from the void into the known universe;
from the unknown to the known I am pumping.”

J o h n L i l ly, Th e C e n t e r o f t h e C y c l o n e

Eastern mysticism poses one way out for Western people caught in nat-
uralism’s nihilistic bind But Eastern mysticism is foreign Even a watered-
down version like Transcendental Meditation requires an immediate and
radical reorientation from the West’s normal mode of grasping reality
Such reorientation leads to new states of consciousness and feelings of
meaning, as we saw, but the intellectual cost is high One must die to the
West to be born in the East

Is there a less painful, less costly way to achieve meaning and signifi-
cance? Why not conduct a search for a new consciousness along more
Western lines?

This has been done by a host of scholars, medical doctors, psycholo-
gists and religious explorers, and ordinary people looking to make sense
out of a confusing world There has been an avant-garde in a number of
academic disciplines from the humanities to the hard sciences, and the

A Separate Universe 16 7

spillover into culture at large is at flood stage To change the image, we
are experiencing a worldview in its late adolescence 1 Not yet completely
formed, the New Age worldview contains many rough edges and inner
tensions, and even flat-out contradictions Because of its inherently eclec-
tic character, it may now be as mature as it will ever get Still, it has taken
shape, and we can visualize it in a series of propositions as we have done
with other worldviews

When this book was first published, there were very few attempts to
bring all these New Age notions together in one place The schemata that
follows was at that time almost unique 2 Since then there have been many
attempts, most notably those of Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Con-
spiracy, Fritjof Capra in The Turning Point and Ken Wilber in A Brief
History of Everything. The first is the more enthusiastic and popular, the
latter two the more guarded and scholarly 3 All three writers have made
an impact on the New Age movement itself, giving it a sense of coherence
and focus it had formerly lacked Moreover, Douglas Groothuis in Un-
masking the New Age and Confronting the New Age has contributed to a
clearer and more comprehensive definition 4 James A Herrick has dug

1In 1976 and even in 1988 I said “infancy”; in 1997 I said “adolescence ”
2Perhaps Sam Keen came as close as any in his brief article “The Cosmic Versus the Rational,”
Psychology Today, July 1974, pp 56-59

3Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the
1980s (Los Angeles: Jeremy P Tarcher, 1980), and Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science,
Society and the Rising Culture (New York: Bantam, 1982) See also Capra’s The Tao of Physics
(New York: Bantam, 1977) Ken Wilber has written many books, beginning with Spectrum
of Consciousness (Wheaton, Ill : Quest, 1977; 2nd ed 1993); and, more recently, A Brief His-
tory of Everything (Boston: Shambhala, 1996); A Theory of Everything (Boston: Shambhala,
2000); the novel Boomeritis (Boston: Shambhala, 2002) These have been followed by a series
of “integrating” books, the most recent of which is Integral Life Practice: A 21st Ccentury
Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity and Spiritual Awakening
(Boston: Integral Books, 2008) For a summary and analysis of Wilber’s system, see Douglas
Groothuis, “Ken Wilber,” in Baker Dictionary of Cults (Grand Rapids: Baker, forthcoming),
and Tyler Johnston’s review of A Brief History of Everything in Denver Journal 5 (2002)

4See especially three books by Douglas R Groothuis: Unmasking the New Age (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1986); Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill : Inter-
Varsity Press, 1988) and Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene, Ore : Harvest House, 1996);
the latter deals with New Age concepts of Jesus Various specialist organizations have been
watching the development; among them are the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, P O Box 4308,
Berkeley, CA 94704; and Christian Research Institute, 6295 Blakeney Park Drive, Charlotte,
NC 28277 Both publish literature evaluating the New Age movement See too Ted Peters,
The Cosmic Self (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), and a book whose title seems a
bit premature: Vishal Mangalwadi, When the New Age Gets Old (Downers Grove, Ill : Inter-
Varsity Press, 1992)

16 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

even deeper into the roots of the New Age movement, arguing persua-
sively that these roots originate in ancient Gnosticism and can be seen in
subsequent stages of Western civilization, emerging into what he calls a
New Religious Synthesis His The Making of the New Spirituality is, at
least for now, the definitive history of New Age spirituality 5

By the mid-1970s articles and cover stories in Time magazine and
other major popular magazines touted the growing interest in the weird
and the wonderful 6 By the mid-1980s interest in psychic phenomena had
become so widespread as barely to raise an eyebrow Many magazines,
such as Body and Soul and Yoga Journal, propagate New Age ideas and
are readily available on newsstands 7 According to the Mayan Calendar a

5James A Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press,
2003) See also Carl A Raschke, The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the
Origins of the New Religious Consciousness (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980)

6See “Boom Times on the Psychic Frontier,” Time magazine’s cover story, March 4, 1974, which
charted the interest in psychic phenomena—ESP, psychokinesis (the mental ability to inf lu-
ence physical objects), Kirlian photography (which supposedly shows the “aura” of living
things), psychic healing, acupuncture, clairvoyance, “out-of-body” experiences, precognition
(foreknowledge of events) A year later Saturday Review, February 22, 1975, paralleled Time’s
coverage on a more sophisticated plane, suggesting that the popularity of the new conscious-
ness ran deeper then than mere cultural fads such as the God-is-dead theology News of New
Age celebrations at the time of the supposed Harmonic Convergence (August 1987) were
carried in many American newspapers and newsmagazines, some written with considerable
tongue-in-cheek The New Age generates public interest but not always public respect

7New Age Journal has gone through an interesting metamorphosis since its inception in 1974,
when it began as a magazine published by self-confessed idealistic New Agers Suffering the
threat of extinction in 1983, its longtime editor has written (September 1983, p 5), it got an
infusion of funds and began to take on not only a new look—more professional design, slick
paper and four-color interior printing—but also a new editorial direction, focusing less on
the more extreme exponents of New Age thought and more on the borders between the New
Age and mainstream American culture By June 1984 the change was signaled by new names
on its masthead at key editorial positions The magazine then ref lected much more the es-
tablished ground of the New Age than the cutting edge One might interpret this change as
signaling a coming of age of the New Age movement itself, an attempt to reach the average
newsstand magazine buyer with the more palatable New Age ideas, or a commercializing of
the New Age by middle-class management Still, as a new editor (Joan Duncan Oliver) took
the helm of the slick journal in August 1996, she reviewed the early issues and commented
that the “focus has remained constant”; in the words of an earlier editor, “We are really talking
about healing the spirit” (August 1996, p 6) In 2002 the journal changed its name to Body &
Soul, perhaps admitting that the New Age was no longer new, retaining the slick pop maga-
zine format and its by now health-oriented content Editor comments: “For 28 years, New
Age reported on the new elements of an emerging holistic movement—a movement that has
now become a lifestyle for thousands, if not millions of Americans Now as Body & Soul, we
promise to continue this tradition, bringing you the best in holistic ideas, trends and news”
(Body & Soul [March/April 2002], p 6); in 2008 the magazine had continued in this pop-
psych-spiritual vein The history of the magazine is a study in commercialization: spirit has
become dollars and f lesh

A Separate Universe 169

Harmonic Convergence was scheduled to take place in August 1987 The
date came with much attention in the media, but no evidence ever sur-
faced that the Age of Aquarius, a time of great peace, had arrived

At the end of 1987 Time magazine again focused on the New Age, with
a cover featuring Shirley MacLaine and a story surveying “faith healers,
channelers, space travelers and crystals galore ” 8 MacLaine had become
for the 1980s perhaps the most visible proponent of New Age thought
and practice After writing a host of autobiographies and instruction on
the new consciousness, she eventually dropped out as a major New Age
leader 9 And by the mid-1990s, New Age stories disappeared from the
media, not because it had vanished but because it had become no longer
odd, no longer newsworthy 10 Still, the popularity of New Age thinking
continues: some twenty popular New Age journals are, for example, car-
ried in my local Borders bookstore


Basing much of their hope on the evolutionary model—a leftover from

8Time, December 7, 1987, pp 62-72
9MacLaine’s attempt, after leading many weekend seminars, to build her own New Age center

in New Mexico had to be abandoned when “locals protested that the site was too environ-
mentally fragile to accommodate the star’s building plans” (Time, January 10, 1994) Much
later she recalls a Belgian hiker wanting to talk with her about “God and the universe and
the meaning of life” and to have her “bless him ” She declines because “she didn’t like being
seen as a New Age guru That was the reason I quit conducting my traveling seminars Too
many people gave away their power to me” (The Camino [New York: Pocket, 2000]), p 140)
Still, MacLaine has continued her autobiographies My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir
(New York: Bantam, 1995) focuses on her professional career; The Camino (2000) recounts
the fantastic and fantastical events of a Spanish pilgrimage and the spiritual teachings of
John the Scot, one of her spirit guides Then MacLaine along with her dog has written Out
on a Leash: Exploring the Nature of Reality and Love (New York: Atria Books, 2003) Finally
in Sage-ing and Age-ing (New York: Atria Books, 2007), she recaps her life, speaks of living in
ancient Atlantis, repeats her views on synchronicity, UFOs, and aliens, and predicts a mas-
sive transformation of human consciousness on December 21, 2012 (p 231)

10Bob Woodward’s revelation that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has sought the advice
of Jean Houston, a well-known New Age counselor, caused a news bubble for a few weeks in
the summer of 1996, but by December it had largely been forgotten See Bob Woodward, The
Choice (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp 55-57, 129-35, 271-72, 412-13 Advertisers
have made use of the connection: Jean Houston’s photo and an announcement of a Novem-
ber 1996 seminar appeared with the note “friend/advisor to Hillary Clinton” in The Chicago
Tribune, July 28, 1996, sec 14, p 11 Houston has taught philosophy, psychology and religion
at Columbia University, Hunter College, the New School for Social Research and Marymount
College, and is a past president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology Some of her
publications are listed in note 13 below

170 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Western naturalism—a number of avant-garde thinkers have been proph-
esying the coming of a New Man and a New Age In 1973 Jean Houston
of the Foundation for Mind Research in Pomona, New York, said that
what this world needs is a “psychenaut program to put the first man on
earth ” But if we don’t get a psychic counterpart to NASA, our psychenaut

is coming: “It’s almost as if the species [humanity] were taking a quantum
leap into a whole new way of being ”11 She concludes that if we learn “to
play upon the vast spectrum of consciousness, we would have access
to a humanity of such depth and richness as the world has not yet known,
so that our great-great grandchildren may look back upon us as Neander-
thals, so different will they be ”12

For thirty years Houston has spoken the same message: human beings
evolve toward higher consciousness; societies and cultures evolve toward
greater comprehensiveness In the 1990s, she said we may already be in
the first few years of a “Type I High-Level Civilization,” during which “our
great-great-great-great grandchildren” are going to be on other planets or

11Jerry Avorn interview with Robert Masters and Jean Houston, “The Varieties of Postpsyche-
delic Experience,” Intellectual Digest, March 1973, p 16

12Ibid , p 18

An authentically empowered person is one who is so strong, so empow-

ered, that the idea of using force against another is not a part of his or

her consciousness.

No understanding of evolution is adequate that does not have at its

core that we are on a journey toward authentic power, and that au-

thentic empowerment is the goal of our evolutionary process and the

purpose of our being. We are evolving from a species that pursues ex-

ternal power into a species that pursues authentic power. We are leav-

ing behind exploration of the physical world as our sole means of evolu-

tion. This means of evolution, and the consciousness that results from

an awareness that is limited to the five-sensory modality, are no longer

adequate to what we must become.

GARY ZUKAV, The Seat of the Soul

A Separate Universe 171

space colonies “creating paradise, creating a viable ecology and a world
which we mutually nourish and which nourishes us to the fullest of our
capacities ” After that will come “Type II-Level Civilizations in which we
become responsible on the sensory level for the orchestration of the re-
sources of the solar system We will mythically probably also be com-
ing close to in some way incarnating the archetypes We will become the
gods that we have invoked ” Later still, in Type III-Level Civilizations “we
will join the galactic milieu and become the creators of worlds, capable of
Genesis ” And as the third millennium was beginning, she offered coun-
sel on how to live in and promote “jump time,” those times of transition
to higher states of being 13

In 2003 Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen outlined an even more elabo-
rate scale of evolution (eight levels) from 100,000 years ago (the instinc-
tive/survival stage) to thirty years ago, when a few people first entered the
holistic stage More than half of the world’s population, though, is less
than halfway up this evolutionary ladder Yet when a person discovers
that “it’s up to me,” evolution proceeds As Wilber says, reflecting on the
transition, “Yes, it’s co-creation because right at that frothy, foaming, cha-
otic emerging edge of spirit’s unfolding is where lela, the creative play,
is ”14 The evolution of humanity (body and soul) is up to each and every
person But it’s coming “A thousand years from now,” says Wilber, people
will “look back on all this as ‘that kindergarten stuff ’ that we were push-
ing back then ”15

Though the theme of personal and cultural evolution has been present

13Jean Houston, “Toward Higher-Level Civilizations,” The Quest, Spring 1990, p 42 This gen-
eral move has been the central theme in her several books, including Life Force: The Psy-
cho-historical Recovery of the Self (New York: Dell, 1980); Godseed: The Journey of Christ
(Wheaton, Ill : Quest, 1992); The Search for the Beloved: Journeys in Sacred Psychology (Los
Angeles: Jeremy P Tarcher, 1987); A Mythic Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996);
Jump Time (New York: Jeremy P Tarcher, 2000); and Mystical Dogs (Makawao, Hawaii: Inner
Ocean, 2002) Popular sociologist George Leonard, editor of Look magazine before it folded,
predicted the same radical transformation and looked forward to “the emergence of a new
human nature ” His faith is unshakable: “This new species will evolve” (George Leonard,
“Notes on the Transformation,” Intellectual Digest, September 1972, pp 25, 32) Shirley Mac-
Laine echoes this: both ordinary technology and “inner technology” have advanced, attest-
ing to the “evolution of the human mind” and “a quantum leap in the progress of mankind”
(Shirley MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing [New York: Bantam, 1987], pp 334-35; and Sage-ing
While Age-ing, pp 191-92 and 254)

14“The Guru and the Paudit: Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in Dialogue,” What Is Enlighten-
ment? Spring/Summer 2003, p 86

15Ibid , p 93

17 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

from the 1970s into the 2000s, its ubiquitous emphasis by New Age teach-
ers seems more important to me now than ever before And well it might
be, for nothing has happened in the past twenty years to improve our hu-
man lot Apart from a radical transformation, humankind continues to
go from one bloody tragedy to another So New Age hopefuls read mod-
ern accounts of those who claim to have made a breakthrough to another
dimension They read (or, better, misread) the ancient religious teach-
ers—Jesus, the Buddha, Zoroaster—who still have some credibility, see in
them a hint of the progress that awaits all humankind, and conclude that
there is a New Age coming 16

One major strain of optimism about the New Age has, however, be-
come more muted than transformed In the early 1970s Andrew Weil,
M D , a drug researcher and theoretician, argued for a new, more relaxed
approach to psychedelic drug use and to alternate ways of achieving new
states of consciousness The drug revolution, he thought, was the harbin-
ger of a New Age, an age in which humankind—because it wisely utilizes
drugs and mystical techniques—will finally achieve full health Weil
wrote, “One day, when the change has occurred, we will no doubt look
back on our drug problem of the 1970s as something to laugh about and
shake our heads over: how could we not have seen what it was really all
about?”17 Today this optimism is linked with what Douglas Groothuis

16Reading ancient texts in the light of contemporary interests without noting that these texts
are being lifted from their intellectual and worldview contexts is a minor industry among
modern pundits In Godseed, for example, Houston reads Jesus in light of second-century
Gnostic texts rather than the first-century New Testament documents The apostle Paul
would never confuse his own identity with that of Christ, but Wilber has him doing so: he
turns “Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20) into “the ultimate I [of each person] is Christ” (Brief
History of Everything, p 132) I have discussed such misreadings, giving many illustrations
in Scripture Twisting (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1980), though not by draw-
ing primarily on New Age sources See also the discussion of Deepak Chopra, pp 205-7

17Andrew Weil, The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Conscious-
ness (Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1972), p 205; abridged in Psychology Today, October 1972
In 1983 (rev 1993) Weil addressed a book on mind-altering drugs to teenagers and their
parents See his From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-
Altering Drugs, coauthored with Winifred Rosen, rev ed (Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1993)
Here the authors distinguish between drug use (of which they approve) and drug abuse
(which they warn against); most chapters on individual types of drugs end with “suggestions
and precautions” for the use of such drugs The chapter on mind-altering drugs, for example,
details what one should and should not do to get the feeling of enhanced sensation that the
drugs often evoke Weil and Rosen note in the preface to the second edition that the first edi-
tion was banned from some libraries, though I found the book in our local suburban library

A Separate Universe 17 3

calls “technoshamanism ” Advanced by followers of the late Timothy
Leary, the great hope now is to lose one’s normal self and take on godlike
powers in the virtual reality of cyberspace 18

Weil himself has turned from emphasizing the safe use of mind-alter-
ing drugs to promoting “integrative medicine,” which Brad Lemley de-
scribes as “a medical model that pulls the best from therapeutic systems
ranging from allopathy (the drugs-and-surgery regimen of American
M D s) to homeopathy, acupuncture, herbalism, nutritional science, hyp-
notherapy and many others ”19


From what I’ve said so far it should be obvious that the New Age world-
view is not confined to one narrow band of humanity We have here more
than the current fad of New York intellectuals or West Coast gurus The
following list of disciplines and representatives within those disciplines
emphasizes this fact For the people listed here, New Age thought is as
natural as theism is to Christians

In psychology the first theorizer to recognize the validity of altered

18Douglas Groothuis remarks that Timothy Leary, the most well-known drug guru of the
1960s and 1970s, “modified his famous credo of the 1960s, ‘Tune in, turn on, and drop out,’
to ‘Turn on, boot up, and jack in,’ commenting that personal computing is ‘the LSD of the
1990s ’” Nonetheless Leary still, at least occasionally, took LSD till near the end of his life See
Douglas Groothuis, “Technoshamanism: Digital Deities,” in The Soul in Cyberspace (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1997), pp 105-20 Then too Eugene Taylor reported in 1996 that mind-altering
drug use had been making a comeback (“Psychedelics: The Second Coming,” Psychology To-
day, July/August 1996, pp 56-59, 84) It is not clear whether this resurgence in drug use was
connected with a New Age mindset or was primarily recreational

19Brad Lemley, “My Dinner with Andy,” New Age Journal, December 1995, p 66 Weil’s books
emphasizing health include Health and Healing: Understanding Conventional and Alter-
native Medicine (Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1983); Natural Health, Natural Medicine: A
Comprehensive Manual for Wellness and Self-Care (Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1990); and
Spontaneous Healing: How to Discover and Embrace Your Body’s Natural Ability to Maintain
and Heal Itself (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1995) Spontaneous Healing spent four months
on the New York Times bestseller list, with expected sales of 400,000 within a few months
(Lemley, “My Dinner with Andy,” p 66) Though he continues to give instructions for mild
forms of meditation (e g , Spontaneous Healing, pp 194-209), in his books on healing Weil
seems to claim far less for alternate states of consciousness than he has in earlier books
Other Weil books include Marriage of the Son and Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness
(Boston: Houghton Miff lin, 1998); Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (New York: Alfred A
Knopf, 1997); Healthy Kitchen: Recipes for a Better Body, Life and Spirit (New York: Alfred
A Knopf, 2002); and Healthy Ageing: A Lifelong Guide to Physical and Spiritual Wellbeing
(New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2005) For an analysis of Weil’s work, see Paul C Reisser, M D ,
Dale Mabe, D O , and Robert Velarde, Examining Alternative Medicine: An Inside Look at the
Benefits & Risks (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2001), pp 140-61

174 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

states of consciousness was William James Later he was to be followed
by Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow Now there were or are Aldous Hux-
ley, novelist and drug experimenter; Robert Masters and Jean Houston
of the Foundation for Mind Research; Stanislav Grof at the Maryland
Psychiatric Research Center, who gives dying patients LSD to help them
gain a feeling of cosmic unity and thus prepare them for death; and John
Lilly, whose early work was with dolphins but who progressed beyond
that to drug experimentation with himself as prime subject 20 Ken Wil-
ber’s “transpersonal synthesis of various schools of psychology and phi-
losophy makes his work intellectually appealing and places him on the
cutting edge of the New Age intelligentsia ” Finally, psychologist Jon
Klimo has issued an extensive study of channeling (a New Age term for
mediumship) 21

In sociology and cultural history are Theodore Roszak, especially in
Where the Wasteland Ends and Unfinished Animal, and William Irwin
Thompson, whose At the Edge of History and Passages About Earth trace
his own intellectual journey from Catholicism through naturalism and on
into an occult version of the New Age Thompson’s work is notable because
as a former history teacher at MIT and York University and as a recipient
of Woodrow Wilson and Old Dominion fellowships he was recognized and
approved by establishment intellectuals Passages About Earth shows how
completely he has moved out of establishment circles 22

20To investigate further the work of these psychologists and brain scientists without getting
bogged down in details, see Marilyn Ferguson, The Brain Revolution: The Frontiers of Mind
Research (New York: Taplinger, 1973), especially chaps 1, 3, 6-12, 17, 20-23 Her bibliography
provides a good start toward an in-depth study of the early New Age thinkers The work of
those listed in the noted paragraph can be examined in the following: William James, Variet-
ies of Religious Experience (1902; reprint New York: Mentor, 1958), lectures 16-17; C G Jung,
Modern Man in Search of a Soul (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1933), esp chap 10; Abraham
Maslow, Religious Values and Peak Experiences (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1962);
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (New York: Harper & Row, 1963);
Stanislav Grof, “Beyond the Bounds of Psychoanalysis,” Intellectual Digest, September 1972,
pp 86-88; for Andrew Weil see notes 17 and 19 above; John Lilly’s most interesting book is The
Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space (New York: Julian, 1972)

21Groothuis, Unmasking, p 80; see his chapter on New Age psychology, pp 71-91
22Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindus-

trial Society (Garden City, N Y : Anchor, 1973), and Unfinished Animal: An Adventure in
the Evolution of Consciousness (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); William Irwin Thompson,
At the Edge of History: Speculations on the Transformation of Culture (New York: Harper &
Row, 1971), and Passages About Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); see also Thompson’s
Darkness and Scattered Light (Garden City, N Y : Anchor, 1978), and The Time Falling Bodies
Take to Light (New York: St Martin’s, 1981)

A Separate Universe 175

In anthropology is Carlos Castaneda (1931-1998), whose books have
been bestsellers both on university campuses and in general bookstores
The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) set the pace and was quickly followed
by A Separate Reality (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan (1972) Other books
came later but found a less interested public Castaneda, who began by
studying the effect of psychedelic drugs in Indian culture, apprenticed
himself to Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer Having completed the ini-
tiation rites over several years, Castaneda became a sorcerer whose al-
leged experience with various kinds of new realities and separate uni-
verses makes fascinating, sometimes frightening, reading In the 1970s
and ’80s Castaneda’s works were one of the major doorways to the new
consciousness 23

Even in natural science elements of New Age thinking are to be found
People involved professionally in physics often take the lead, perhaps be-

23Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1968); A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1971); Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1972); Tales of Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974); The Eagle’s Gift (New
York: Pocket, 1982), The Fire from Within (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984); The Power of
Silence (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987); The Art of Dreaming (New York: Harper Peren-
nial, 1993); Silent Knowledge (Los Angeles: Cleargreen, 1996), The Active Side of Infinity (New
York: HarperCollins, 1998); Magical Passes: The Practical Wisdom of the Shamans of Ancient
Mexico (New York: HarperCollins, 1998); and The Wheel of Time: The Shamans of Mexico:
Their Thoughts About Life, Death and the Universe (Los Angeles: LA Eidolona, 1998) The
more recent of these books, while occasionally showing up on bestseller lists, did not have
nearly the public impact of the first three

Early on readers wondered if Castaneda had not created the Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don
Juan out of his own fertile imagination; see the various viewpoints expressed by the critics
such as Joyce Carol Oates anthologized in Seeing Castaneda, ed Daniel C Noel (New York:
Putnam’s Sons, 1976) Richard De Mille may be credited with convincingly unmasking the
fictional character of Castaneda’s books; see his Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the
Allegory (Santa Barbara, Calif : Capra, 1976) Nonetheless, in the foreword to The Power of
Silence Castaneda maintains, “My books are a true account of a teaching method that Juan
Matus, a Mexican Indian sorcerer, used in order to help me understand the sorcerers’ world”
(p 8) Castaneda, always elusive, broke silence for an interview with Keith Thompson in New
Age Journal, April 1994, pp 66-71, 152-56 Here he again defends his work as an anthro-
pologist-participant, but in the process he makes comments that raise more questions than
are answered Nonetheless, anthropologist Clifford Geertz probably speaks for many of his
colleagues when he says, “Castaneda’s books have no presence in anthropology” (quoted by
Anupama Bhattacharya, “The Reluctant Sorcerer” )

Confusion about Castaneda continued to characterize articles that appeared after news
of his death See, for example, Bhattacharya, “The Reluctant Sorcerer”; Keith Thompson, “To
Carlos Castaneda, Wherever You Are” ;
and Peter Applebome, “Carlos Castaneda, Mystical Writer, Dies 72,” New York Times, June
19, 1998

176 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

cause at its most theoretical it is the most speculative and least prone to
falsification by fact The case for a New Age interpretation of physics is
most popularly put by physicist Fritjof Capra and popular science writer
Gary Zukav 24 More muted in their espousal of New Age ideas are Lewis
Thomas and J E Lovelock Thomas is a biologist and medical doctor
whose Lives of a Cell has attained a solid status in the field of popular sci-
ence writing 25 And Lovelock is a specialist in gas chromatography whose
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth is a seminal work on seeing Earth (Gaia
is the ancient Greek earth goddess) as a single symbiotic system 26

In the health field the number of nonordinary therapies proposed in
what has come to be called “holistic” or “alternative” medicine is legion
Acupuncture, Rolfing, psychic healing, kinesiology, therapeutic touch—
these are just a few of the techniques used byNew Age health practitio-
ners 27 Both doctors and nurses have been affected Nursing education, in
fact, may be the discipline most affected by New Age ideas and tech-
niques Under the guise of “spiritual care,” a wide variety of New Age
therapeutic techniques are now being taught to students of nursing 28

24Capra, Tao of Physics, and chap 3 in The Turning Point; and Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li
Masters (New York: Bantam, 1980) See Stephen Weinberg, “Sokal’s Hoax,” New York Review
of Books, August 8, 1996, pp 11-15, and Victor J Stenger, “New Age Physics: Has Science
Found the Path to the Ultimate?” Free Inquiry, Summer 1996, pp 7-11, for critiques of any
attempt to draw metaphysical implications from physical theories such as quantum mechan-
ics; see also Richard H Bube, Putting It All Together: Seven Patterns for Relating Science and
the Christian Faith (Lanham, Md : University Press of America, 1995), pp 150-62; and Nancy
R Pearcey and Charles B Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philoso-
phy (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994), pp 189-219

25See, for example, Thomas’s speculation about what happens to human consciousness at
death in Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell (New York: Bantam, 1975), pp 60-61 His fre-
quent mention of the Gaia hypothesis—the idea that the earth is a single organism—is also
common among New Age thinkers

26J E Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (New York: Oxford University Press,

27An excellent discussion and critique of holistic medicine is found in Paul C Reisser, Teri
K Reisser and John Weldon, New Age Medicine (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press,
1987) This book contains an extensive bibliography for those wishing to pursue the matter
in depth

28See, for example, Jean Watson, Postmodern Nursing and Beyond (New York: Churchill Liv-
ingstone, 1999); Vidette Todaro-Franceschi, The Enigma of Energy: Where Science and Reli-
gion Converge (New York: Crossroad, 1999); Barbara Blattner, Holistic Nursing (Englewood
Cliffs, N J : Prentice-Hall, 1981); Margaret A Newman, Health as Expanded Consciousness
(St Louis: C V Mosby, 1986); Lynn Keegan, The Nurse as Healer (Albany, N Y : Delmar,
1994); Dolores Krieger, The Therapeutic Touch (Englewood Cliffs, N J : Prentice-Hall, 1979);
Kathleen Heinrich, “The Greek Goddesses Speak to Nurses,” Nurse Educator 15, no 5 (1990):
20-24 Two journals promote holistic nursing: The Journal of Holistic Nursing and Nursing

A Separate Universe 17 7

Weil, an advocate of “spontaneous healing,” says that about 30 of 134
medical schools offer some instruction in alternative medicine; he now
directs a program in integrative medicine linked to the University of Ar-
izona Medical School 29 Deepak Chopra, M D , has also emerged as a
popular teacher of New Age alternative healing 30

Science fiction as a genre has largely been dominated by naturalists
whose hope for humanity’s future lies in technology 31 But a few of its
writers have been prophetic Arthur C Clarke, for example, wrote two
scenarios for a radical human transformation along New Age lines
Childhood’s End (1953) is one of his most successful works of imagina-
tion His script for 2001 (1968), which in its movie version is as much
Stanley Kubrick’s as his, ends with the dawning of the New Age in a new
dimension with a new “man,” the Star-Child 32 And Robert A Heinlein’s
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), first an underground classic, became
in the 1970s a tract for the New Age Valentine Michael Smith, who groks
reality in its fullness, is a prototype for the new humanity 33 The final
three novels of Philip K Dick (Valis, The Divine Invasion and The Trans-
figuration of Timothy Archer) are fictional attempts to come to grips with

Science Quarterly. For a critique of New Age nursing therapies see Sharon Fish, “Therapeutic
Touch: Healing Science of Metaphysical Fraud,” and Sharon Fish, “A New Age for Nursing,”
Journal of Christian Nursing, Summer 1996, pp 3-11; other critical articles appear in Winter
1998, Fall 2001 and Summer 2002 issues

29Lemley, “My Dinner with Andy,” p 68; see as well the books written by Weil and listed in
note 19

30Though he has been involved for a number of years, Chopra is a recent newcomer to the
New Age health limelight; the story of his leaving the Maharishi Mahesh’s Transcendental
Meditation movement and his rough reception by conventional medicine is told by Gregory
Dennis, “What’s Deepak’s Secret?” New Age Journal, February 1994, pp 50-54, 78-79, 128
Among his fifty books, see especially Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind and
Body Medicine (New York: Bantam, 1989) and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind:The Quantum
Alternative to Growing Old (New York: Harmony Books, 1993) for introductions to his view
of health How to Know God (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000) examines the religious
dimension of life For an analysis of Chopra’s view of medicine, see “Deepak Chopra: The
Think System and the Revival of Ayurveda” in Reisser, Mabe and Velarde, Examining Alter-
native Medicine, pp 162-93; and Douglas Groothuis’s review of Deepak Chopra’s The Seven
Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams (San Rafael,
Calif : Amber-Allen/New World Library, 1995) in Christian Research Journal, Fall 1995, pp
51, 41 The Library of Congress credits Chopra with over twenty titles since 2000

31James A Herrick’s Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Reli-
gious Beliefs (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2008) analyzes the symbiotic relation-
ship between science fiction and the religious consciousness of the Western world

32Shirley MacLaine calls Kubrick a “master metaphysician” in Dancing in the Light (New York:
Bantam, 1985), p 262

33Robert A Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; reprint, New York: Berkeley, 1968)

178 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

his own encounter with “a beam of pink light ”34

In movies, one of the most effective communications media of the
modern world, we should note the work of Steven Spielberg, especially
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and George Lucas, especially the
Star Wars series The Force, the divine power that pervades the world of
these movies, is much like the Hindu Brahman, incorporating both good
and evil, and Yoda, the lovable guru of The Empire Strikes Back, spouts
pure New Age metaphysics Not least among films encapsulating New
Age thought is the brilliant, surprisingly interesting My Dinner with An-
dré, an autobiographical excursion into the mindset of André Gregory 35
The movies of the 1990s and the early 2000s that venture into future
scenarios have tended to be more postmodern than strictly New Age;
witness the series of Matrix movies

It can be easily replied that those whose books and ideas I have just
listed are on the fringe of Western society—the lunatic fringe Their ideas
do not represent the mainstream Of course, that is to a large extent true
Some of the most popular New Age authors come from the Wow! school
of journalism, and it is hard to take their ideas seriously Moreover, estab-
lishment scholars, reviewers and critics—by which is largely meant natu-
ralists whose naturalism is not yet pure nihilism—have been highly criti-
cal of New Age books of all kinds 36 But that is actually a tribute to the
power these ideas are beginning to have The people whose work I have
cited above have an enormous influence—by virtue of their position in
key universities, hospitals and research centers, their personal charisma,
or their celebrity status—sometimes by all three In short, a worldview of
immense cultural impact and penetration has been formulated and is be-

34Jay Kinney, “The Mysterious Revelations of Philip K Dick,” Gnosis Magazine, Fall/Winter
1985, pp 6-11

35The text of this latter movie reads well and has been published See Wallace Shawn and An-
dré Gregory, My Dinner with André (New York: Grove, 1981)

36Critical reviews came early in the movement See, for example, the review of Weil’s The Nat-
ural Mind in New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1972, pp 27-29 Critical reviews of
Castaneda’s work are legion See Time magazine’s cover story, March 5, 1973, pp 36-45 Sev-
eral more wide-ranging analyses of the whole movement toward a new consciousness deserve
special mention for their penetrating insight: Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Wheaton, Ill :
Crossway, 1994), chaps 6-8; R C Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (New York: Vintage,
1974); Samuel McCracken, “The Drugs of Habit and the Drugs of Belief,” Commentary, June
1971, pp 43-52; Marcia Cavell, “Visions of a New Religion,” Saturday Review, December 19,
1970; and Richard King, “The Eros Ethos: Cult in the Counterculture,” Psychology Today,
August 1972, pp 35-37, 66-70

A Separate Universe 179

ing promoted In fact, perhaps the most influential promoter of New Age
spirituality is Oprah Winfrey, not primarily through her own voice but
through her television guests—Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson
(A Course in Miracles), Gary Zukav and Iyanla Vanzant 37 Her recent
promotion of Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth has drawn millions of readers
to his fairly standard New Age worldview 38


The New Age worldview is highly syncretistic and eclectic It borrows
from every major worldview Though its weirder ramifications and
stranger dimensions come from Eastern pantheism and ancient animism,
its connection with naturalism gives it a better chance to win converts
than purer Eastern mysticism

Like naturalism the new consciousness denies the existence of a tran-
scendent God There is no Lord of the universe unless it be each of us
There is only the closed universe True, it is “peopled” by beings of in-
credible “personal” intelligence and power, and “human consciousness is
not contained by the skull ”39 But these beings and even the conscious-
ness of the cosmos are in no way transcendent in the sense required by
theism Moreover, some language about human beings retains the full
force of naturalism 40 Fritjof Capra, Gary Zukav and William Irwin
Thompson point to the seeming corollaries between psychic phenomena
and twentieth-century physics 41

Also borrowed from naturalism is the hope of evolutionary change for
humanity We are poised on the brink of a new being Evolution will bring
about the transformation

Like both theism and naturalism, and unlike Eastern pantheistic mo-
nism, the New Age places great value on the individual person Theism

37See Kate Maver, “Oprah Winfrey and Her Self-Help Saviors: Making the New Age Normal,”
Christian Research Journal 23, no 4 (2001) ; LaTonya Taylor, “The Church
of O,” Christianity Today (June 14, 2008) ; and Katelyn Beaty, “Another Brick in the Oprah Empire”

38Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (New Yorik: Dutton/Penguin
Group, 2005)

39Thompson, Passages About Earth, p 124
40John Lilly calls the brain a “biocomputer” and man a “beautiful mechanism,” upsetting fellow

new consciousness buff R D Laing (Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, pp 4, 17, 29)
41Capra, Tao of Physics, and chap 3 of The Turning Point; Zukav, Dancing Wu Li Masters; Ma-

cLaine, Dancing in the Light, pp 323-24, 329, 351-53

18 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

grounds this in each person’s being made in the image of God Natural-
ism, reflecting a memory of its theistic roots, continues to maintain the
value of individuals, grounding it in the notion that all human beings are
alike in their common humanity If one is valuable, all are

Like Eastern pantheistic monism, the new consciousness centers on a
mystical experience in which time, space and morality are transcended
One could define new consciousness as a Western version of Eastern
mysticism in which the metaphysical emphasis of the East (its assertion
that Atman is Brahman) is replaced by an emphasis on epistemology
(seeing, experiencing or perceiving the unity of reality is what life is all
about) Moreover, like the East, the new consciousness rejects reason
(what Weil calls “straight thinking”) as a guide to reality The world is
really irrational or superrational and demands new modes of apprehen-
sion (“stoned thinking,” for example) 42

But the new consciousness is also related to animism, a worldview I
have not yet discussed in this book Animism is the general outlook on
life that underlies primal or so-called pagan religions To say the world-
view is primal is not to say it is simple Pagan religions are highly com-
plex interplays of ideas, rituals, liturgies, symbol systems, cult objects
and so forth But pagan religions tend to hold certain notions in com-
mon Among them the following are ref lected by the New Age: (1) the
natural universe is inhabited by countless spiritual beings, often con-
ceived in a rough hierarchy, at the top of which is the Sky God (vaguely
like theism’s God but without his interest in human beings); (2) thus
the universe has a personal dimension but not an infinite-personal
Creator-God; (3) these spiritual beings range in temperament from vi-
cious and nasty to comic and beneficent; (4) for people to get by in life
the evil spirits must be placated and the good ones wooed by gifts and
offerings, ceremonies and incantations; (5) witch doctors, sorcerers
and shamans, through long, arduous training, have learned to control
the spirit world to some extent, and ordinary people are much be-
holden to their power to cast out spirits of illness, drought and so forth;
(6) ultimately there is a unity to all of life—that is, the cosmos is a con-
tinuum of spirit and matter; “animals may be ancestors of men, people

42Weil, Natural Mind, chaps 6-7, and Spontaneous Healing, pp 113, 203-7 Many, if not most,
of New Age proponents recognize the close affinity of their notions to those of the East, and
some believe this to be a strong indication that they are on the right track, taking the best of
both worlds The syncretist tendency of the East has already been noted in chapter seven

A Separate Universe 181

may change into animals, trees and stones may possess souls ”43

The new consciousness reflects every aspect of animism, though often
giving it a naturalistic twist, or demythologizing it by psychology That
Roszak should call for a return to the “Old Gnosis” and the visions of Wil-
liam Blake and that Castaneda should take the long apprenticeship that
ended in his becoming a sorcerer are indications that those in the New
Age are well aware of its animistic roots 44

Can the New Age, with roots in three separate worldviews, be a uni-
fied system? Not really Or not yet In fact, not likely at all Yet, though not
all of the propositions I list below fit neatly together, there are many in
virtually every area of culture who hold something like this way of look-
ing at reality


Realizing the tenuousness of this set of propositions as an accurate de-
scription of the new consciousness worldview, we may yet begin, as with
the other worldviews, with the notion of prime reality Other worldview
questions follow, but not in the stricter order found in previous chapters
Rather they are taken up as they naturally fall as one ponders this par-
ticular eclectic worldview, a mélange of elements derived from more or-
derly worldviews

1. Worldview Questions 1, 2 and 3: Whatever the nature of being (idea
or matter, energy or particle), the self is the kingpin, the prime reality. As
human beings grow in their awareness and grasp of this fact, the human
race is on the verge of a radical change in human nature; even now we see
harbingers of transformed humanity and prototypes of the New Age.

If the transcendent God is the prime reality in theism and the physical
universe the prime reality in naturalism, then in the New Age the self
(the soul, the integrated, central essence of each person) is the prime real-

A comparison (and contrast) with the central proposition of Eastern
pantheistic monism is helpful In essence the East says, “Atman is Brah-

43Eugene Nida and William A Smalley, Introducing Animism (New York: Friendship, 1959),
p 50 This brief pamphlet is a remarkable repository of information on modern pagan ani-

44Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends, p xv

18 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

man,” putting the emphasis on Brahman That is, in the East one loses
one’s self in the whole; the individuality of a drop of water (symbol of
the soul) is lost as it falls into a pail of water (symbol of the whole of
reality) In the New Age the same sentence reads in reverse: “Atman is
Brahman ” It is the single self that becomes important Thus we see the
inf luence of theism, in which the individual is important because made
in the image of God, and naturalism, especially naturalistic existential-
ism, in which individuals are important because they are all that is left
to be important 45

Just exactly what this self is is problematic Is it idea, or spirit, or a
“psychomagnetic field,” or the unity that binds the diversity of cosmic
energy? Proponents of the New Age do not agree, but they do insist that
the self—the consciousness-center of the human being—is indeed the
center of the universe Whatever else exists besides the self, if in fact any-
thing else does, exists for the self The external universe exists not to be
manipulated from the outside by a transcendent God but to be manipu-
lated from the inside by the self

John Lilly gives a long description of what it is like to realize that the
self is in fact in control of all of reality Here are his notes taken after
experiencing what he believes to be the highest possible state of con-

We [he and other personal selves] are creating energy, matter and life at
the interface between the void and all known creation We are facing into
the known universe, creating it, filling it I feel the power of the galaxy
pouring through me I am the creation process itself, incredibly strong,
incredibly powerful I am “one of the boys in the engine room pumping
creation from the void into the known universe; from the unknown to the
known I am pumping ”46

When Lilly finally reaches the inner space he calls “+3”—the fullest,
deepest penetration of reality—he becomes “God” himself He becomes,
so to speak, both the universe and the universe maker So, he says, “why
not enjoy bliss and ecstasy while still a passenger in the body, on this
spacecraft? Dictate thine own terms as passenger The transport com-

45Robert Bellah’s study of individualism in America illuminates one major force behind the
New Age emphasis on the self as the kingpin of reality See Robert N Bellah et al , Habits of
the Heart (New York: Harper & Row, 1985)

46Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 210

A Separate Universe 18 3

pany has a few rules, but it may be that we dream up the company and
its rules too There are no mountains, no molehills just a central
core of me and transcendent bliss ”47 For Lilly, imagination is the same
as reality: “All and every thing that one can imagine exists.” 48 For Lilly,
therefore, the self is triumphantly in charge Most people do not know
that—it takes a technique of some sort to realize it—but the self is in-
deed king

Shirley MacLaine speculates on whether in fact she has created her
own reality (something she mentions many times in her books) She

If I created my own reality, then—on some level and dimension I didn’t
understand—I had created everything I saw, heard, touched, smelled,
tasted; everything I loved, hated, revered, abhorred; everything I re-
sponded to or that responded to me Then, I created everything I knew I
was therefore responsible for all there was in my reality If that was true,
than [sic] I was everything, as the ancient texts had taught I was my own
universe Did that also mean I had created God and I had created life and
death? Was that why I was all there was?
To take responsibility for one’s power would be the ultimate expression
of what we called the God-force
Was this what was meant by the statement I AM THAT I AM? 49

She concludes that for all practical purposes that was the case Most

47Ibid , p 110
48Ibid , p 51, italics Lilly’s Laurence LeShan is more modest He writes, concerning the way

post-Einsteinian science views reality, that “within this view, man does not only discover
reality; within limits he invents it” (The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist [New York:
Viking, 1974], p 155)

49MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing, p 192 MacLaine continues to wonder at the vague bound-
aries between dream and reality throughout Camino, esp p 304 See also Houston, Search
for the Beloved, pp 25-26 The casual way MacLaine, Houston and others use the I am lan-
guage of God’s self-revelation in Exodus 3:14 is deeply offensive to traditional Jews and Chris-
tians, for whom the term indicates a radical difference between the human and the divine,
not the union of the human and the divine David Spangler, spiritual leader at Findhorn, goes
even further than MacLaine: “I am now the Life of a new heaven and a new earth Others
must draw upon Me and unite with Me to build its forms There is always only what I am,
but I have revealed Myself in new Life and new Light and new Truth It is My function
through this centre [Findhorn] to demonstrate what I am through the medium of group evo-
lution ” See David Spangler, Revelation: The Birth of a New Age (Findhorn, 1971), pp 110, 121,
quoted in Thompson, Passages About Earth, p 173 Such writing echoes the words of the god
Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (6 29-31) Thompson is hard put to know what to think of this
strange elitist language, but he appears to see Spangler as one of the first of the transformed
people of the New Age (Thompson, Passages About Earth, p 174)

18 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

readers will, I presume, find all this to contain more than a touch of

Deepak Chopra, who has become one of the more active and visible
New Age promoters, in his recent book The Third Jesus, says that the es-
sence of each of us is a “speck of God, the soul substance of everyone that
never became separated from its source ”50 In the state of God-conscious-
ness a person creates his or her own reality 51

We have already heard George Leonard, Jean Houston and Shirley
MacLaine prophesy the coming of a New Age And they are not alone
The hope—if not prophecy—is echoed by Marilyn Ferguson, Andrew
Weil, Oscar Ichazo and William Irwin Thompson Ferguson closes her
book The Brain Revolution (1973) with a triumph of optimism: “We are
just beginning to realize that we can truly open the doors of perception
and creep out of the cavern ”52 Her later book The Aquarian Conspiracy
(1980) charts the progress and contributes to it What a glorious New
Age is dawning: a new world peopled by healthy, well-adjusted, perfectly
happy, absolutely blissed-out beings—no disease, no war, no famine, no
pollution, just transcendent joy What more could one want?

Critics of this utopian euphoria want one thing: some reasonable, ob-
jective assurance that such a vision is more than an opium pipe dream
But during the moments the self is immersed in subjective certainty, no
reasons are necessary, no objectivity is required Wilber describes the
self-certitude of one’s equality with all there is this way:

When you step off the ladder altogether, you are in free fall in Emptiness
Inside and outside, subject and object, lose all ultimate meaning You are

50Chopra, Third Jesus, p 120; see also Chopra’s Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment (New York:
HarperOne, 2008)

51Ibid , p 25
52Marilyn Ferguson, Brain Revolution, p 344; “Life at the Leading Edge: A New Age Interview

with Marilyn Ferguson,” New Age, August 1982; Weil, Natural Mind, pp 204-5 Sam Keen
(“A Conversation ,” Psychology Today, July 1973, p 72) quotes Oscar Ichazo as saying,
“Humanity is the Messiah ” Weil, by the way, says, ”I am almost tempted to call the psychot-
ics the evolutionary vanguard of our species They possess the secret of changing reality by
changing the mind; if they can use that talent for positive ends, there are no limits to what
they can accomplish” (Natural Mind, p 182) LeShan would seem to agree (The Medium,
the Mystic and the Physicist, pp 211-12) Thompson in Passages About Earth is optimistic
throughout, but see esp p 149; twelve years later in “A Gaian Politics,” Whole Earth Review,
Winter 1986, p 4, he expressed some reservations, noting that the spirit of the age had re-
placed “‘Star Trek’ and ‘Kung Fu’ with ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Dallas,’ Joni Mitchell with Madonna,
and ‘Close Encounters’ with ‘Rambo ’”

A Separate Universe 18 5

no longer “in here” looking at the world “out there ” You are not looking at
the Kosmos, you are the Kosmos The universe of One Taste announces
itself, bright and obvious, radiant and clear, with nothing outside, nothing
inside, an unending gesture of great perfection, spontaneously accom-
plished The very Divine sparkles in every sight and sound, and you are
simply that The sun within your heart Time and space dance as shim-
mering images on the face of radiant Emptiness, and the entire universe
loses its weight You can swallow the Milky Way in a single gulp, and put
Gaia in the palm of your hand and bless it, and it is all the most ordinary
thing in the world, and so you think nothing of it 53

Because of its absolute subjectivity, the I-am-God or I-am-the-
Kosmos position remains beyond any criticism external to the subject 54
It is easy enough for an outsider to be convinced—and on solid evi-
dence—that MacLaine is not the infinite I am that I am and that Wil-
ber has not swallowed the universe But how does one break in on god-
consciousness itself?

I could legitimately say that I created the Statue of Liberty, chocolate

chip cookies, the Beatles, terrorism, and the Vietnam War. . . . And if

people reacted to world events, then I was creating them to react so I

would have someone to interact with, thereby enabling myself to know

me better.

Shirley MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing

Aldous Huxley suggests that such a breakthrough is possible Not long
before he died, he had second thoughts about the validity of the new con-
sciousness His wife, Laura, recorded on tape many of his final thoughts
Here is a transcript of his conversation two days before his death:

53Wilber, Brief History of Everything, p 156 Parallel to this are Margaret Newman’s remarks
that “consciousness is coextensive with the universe and resides in all matter” and “the per-
son does not possess consciousness—the person is consciousness” (Health as Expanded Con-
sciousness, pp 33, 36)

54According to Wilber (Brief History of Everything, pp 217-19), only one trained in a discipline
like Zen is capable of judging whether or not what one is experiencing is a transcendent real-
ity Knowledge is state-specific; in our ordinary waking consciousness we are unable to judge
the reality of experiences of oneness with God, the One or the universe Claims to the truth
cannot be evaluated by ordinary reason; only the enlightened can know whether a claim is

18 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

It [an inner discovery he had just made] shows the almost boundless
nature of the ego ambition I dreamed, it must have been two nights ago,
that in some way I was in a position to make an absolute cosmic gift
to the world Some vast act of benevolence was going to be done, in which
I should have the sort of star role In a way it was absolutely terrifying,
showing that when one thinks one’s got beyond one self one hasn’t.55

Still, Huxley did not abandon his quest He died while on a “trip ” For at
his request his wife administered LSD to him and, after the manner of the
Tibetan Book of the Dead, talked his spirit into rest on “the other side ”

The danger of self-deception—theists and naturalists alike would add
the certainty of self-deception—is the great weakness of the new conscious-
ness at this point No theist or naturalist, no one at all, can deny the “expe-
rience” of perceiving oneself to be a god, a spirit, a devil or a cockroach Too
many people give such reports But so long as self alone is king, so long as
imagination is presupposed to be reality, so long as seeing is being, the
imagining, seeing self remains securely locked in its private universe—the
only one there is So long as the self likes what it imagines and is truly in
control of what it imagines, others on the “outside” have nothing to offer

The trouble is that sometimes the self is not king but prisoner That’s
a problem we will take up under proposition 3 below

2. Worldview Question 2: The cosmos, while unified in the self, is man-
ifested in two more dimensions: the visible universe, accessible through
ordinary consciousness, and the invisible universe (or Mind at Large), ac-
cessible through altered states of consciousness.

In the basic picture of the cosmos, then, the self (in the center) is sur-
rounded first by the visible universe to which it has direct access through
the five senses and which obeys the “laws of nature” discovered by natu-
ral science, and second by the invisible universe to which it has access
through such “doors of perception” as drugs, meditation, trance, biofeed-
back, acupuncture, ritualized dance, certain kinds of music and so forth

Such a metaphysical schema leads Huxley to describe every human
group as “a society of island universes ”56 Each self is a universe floating
in a sea of universes, but because each island universe is somewhat like

55Aldous Huxley, quoted in Laura Archera Huxley, This Timeless Moment: A Personal View of
Aldous Huxley (1968; reprint, New York: Ballantine, 1971), pp 249-51

56Huxley, Doors of Perception, p 13

A Separate Universe 18 7

each other island universe, communication between them can take place
Moreover, because each universe is in its essence (that is, its self) the
center of all universes, genuine comprehension is more than a mere pos-
sibility Quoting C D Broad, who was himself relying on Henri Bergson,
Huxley writes, “The function of the brain and nervous system and sense
organs is in the main eliminative and not productive Each person is at
each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him
and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the
universe ”57 But because such perception would overwhelm us and ap-
pear chaotic, the brain acts as a “reducing valve” to filter out what at the
moment is not useful As Huxley says, “According to such a theory, each
one of us is potentially Mind at Large ”58 In other words, each self is po-
tentially the universe; each Atman is potentially Brahman What comes
through the reducing valve, says Huxley, is “a measly trickle of the kind of
consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this par-
ticular planet ”59

The New Age worldview is Western to a large degree and never more
so than in its insistence that the visible universe, the ordinary external
world, is really there It is no illusion Moreover, it is an orderly universe
It obeys the laws of reality, and these laws can be known, communicated
and used Most new consciousness proponents have a healthy respect for
science Ken Wilber, Aldous Huxley, Laurence LeShan and William Ir-
win Thompson are prime examples 60 In short, the visible universe is
subject to the uniformity of cause and effect But the system is open to
being reordered by the self (especially when it realizes its oneness with
the One) that ultimately controls it and by beings from Mind at Large
which the self may enlist as agents for change

Mind at Large is a sort of universe next door, alternately called “ex-

57Ibid , p 22
58Ibid , p 23
59Ibid Note the inner contradiction in what Huxley has said On the one hand, without a new

consciousness humanity will not be able to survive on this planet; on the other hand, the self,
if it just realized it, is the center of the cosmos Since the cosmos is eternal (a notion implicit
in Huxley’s system), the self is eternal So why worry about life on earth? This why-worry
attitude has been the position of the East for centuries; but it seems that when the West goes
East for wisdom it cannot slough off all the Western baggage, one piece of which is firmly
rooted in the Judeo-Christian notion that this present world (people on earth) counts for

60Ken Wilber insists that science is valid in its own domain of physical reality (A Sociable God,
pp 7-8)

18 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

panded consciousness” or “alternative consciousness” (MacLaine), “a
separate reality” (Castaneda), “clairvoyant reality” (LeShan), “other
spaces” (Lilly), “supermind” (Rosenfeld), “Emptiness/Original Face” (Wil-
ber), “Universal Mind” (Klimo) or “God-consciousness” (Chopra) 61 This
Mind at Large does not obey the laws of the visible universe The con-
scious self can travel hundreds of miles across the surface of the earth
and do so in the twinkling of an eye Time and space are elastic; the uni-
verse can turn inside out, and time can flow backwards 62 Extraordinary
power and energy can surge through a person and be transmitted to oth-
ers Physical healing can be effected, and if we are to include the black art
users of psychic abilities, enemies can be struck dead, sent mad or caused
physical, emotional or mental suffering

MacLaine describes Mind at Large this way: “I was learning to recog-
nize the invisible dimension where there are no measurements possible
In fact, it is the dimension of no-height, no-width, no-breadth, and no-
mass, and as matter of further fact, no-time It is the dimension of the
spirit ”63 Mind at Large, however, is not totally chaotic It only appears so
to the self that operates as if the laws of the invisible universe were the
same as those of the visible universe But Mind at Large has its own rules,
its own order, and it may take a person a long time to learn just what that
order is 64

To discover that the self itself, in Lilly’s language, has made up the rules
that govern the game of reality may take time 65 But when people discover
this, they can go on to generate whatever order of reality and whatever
universe they want The sky is not the limit: “In the province of the mind,
what is believed to be true is true or becomes true, within limits to be
found experientially and experimentally These limits are further beliefs to
be transcended In the province of the mind, there are no limits ”66 Lilly’s
Center of the Cyclone is his autobiography of inner space To read it is to

61MacLaine, Out on a Limb, p 74, and It’s All in the Playing, p 265; Castaneda, A Separate
Reality; LeShan, The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist, p 34; Lilly, Center of the Cyclone,
p 25; Albert Rosenfeld, “Mind and Supermind,” Saturday Review, February 22, 1975, p 10;
Wilber, Brief History of Everything, pp 156, 240; Klimo, Channeling, pp 174-76; Chopra,
Third Jesus, p 23

62MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing, p 188
63MacLaine, Dancing in the Light, p 309
64MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing, p 331
65Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 110
66Ibid , p 5

A Separate Universe 18 9

journey through the geography of Lilly’s mind as he opens various “doors
of perception” and moves from space to space, from universe to universe

Those who have never visited these spaces must rely on reports from
those who have Lilly records a number of them, and his book makes fas-
cinating reading Many others have visited such spaces as well, and their
reports are similar in type though rarely in specific detail I will take up
the “feelings” associated with perceiving Mind at Large under proposi-
tion 3 below Here the metaphysical aspect is the prime focus What
“things” appear in Mind at Large? And what characteristics do these
“things” have? Huxley’s report is a classic because his testimony has set
the pattern for many others The first characteristic of Mind at Large is
its color and luminosity:

Everything seen by those who visit the mind’s antipodes is brilliantly il-
luminated and seems to shine from within All colors are intensified to a
pitch far beyond anything seen in the normal state, and at the same time
the mind’s capacity for recognizing fine distinctions of tone and hue is
notably heightened 67

Whether the images in Mind at Large are otherwise ordinary objects
such as chairs or desks or men and women or special beings such as
ghosts or gods or spirits, luminosity is an almost universal characteristic
Lilly says, “I saw scintillating things in the air like champagne bubbles
The dirt on the floor looked like gold dust ”68 In eleven of sixteen separate
accounts quoted by Ferguson, special mention is made of colors: “golden
light,” “sparkling lights,” “intense white light,” “ultra unearthly colors ”69
Castaneda sees a man whose head is pure light and in the climactic event
in Journey to Ixtlan converses with a luminous coyote and sees the “lines
of the world ”70

These experiences of luminosity and color lend force to the feeling
that what one is perceiving is more real than anything perceived in the
visible universe As Huxley puts it,

I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation—the
miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence Istigkeit—wasn’t that
the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? “Is-ness” a transience that was

67Huxley, Doors of Perception, p 89
68Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 180; also see pp 10, 54
69Ferguson, Brain Revolution, pp 61-63
70Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, pp 297-98

19 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Be-
ing, a bundle of minute particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet
self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence 71

For Huxley, Mind at Large was not so much a separate reality as the
ordinary reality seen as it really is But this new perception is so different
that it appears as an entirely new thing; it appears as a thing apart 72

A second distinctive characteristic of Mind at Large is that special be-
ings seem to populate this realm In addition to seeing what she takes to
be herself and others in her past lives, MacLaine sees her Higher Self: a
person in “the form of a very tall, overpoweringly confident, almost an-
drogynous human being ”73 He becomes her guide and interpreter of her
experience Castaneda encounters “allies,” “helpers,” “guardians” and “en-
tities of the night ”74 Lilly frequently meets two “guardians,” who instruct
him on how to make the most of his life 75 Similarly, in account after ac-
count, personal beings, or forces with a personal dimension, keep turning
up—call them what you will: demons, devils, spirits or angels Further-
more, some new consciousness aficionados recount experiences of being
changed into a bird or an animal or of being made capable of flight or
rapid travel, even interplanetary travel

Indeed, Mind at Large is a very strange place Do its inhabitants really
exist? Are they figments of the self ’s imagination, projections of its un-
conscious fears and hopes? Does one really become a bird or fly? In the
new consciousness worldview those questions are not important Still, to
theists and naturalists alike they are the obvious ones I will, however,
deal with them later under proposition 5

3. Worldview Questions 5 and 6: The core experience of the New Age is
cosmic consciousness, in which ordinary categories of space, time and
morality tend to disappear.

71Huxley, Doors of Perception, pp 17-18
72Others do, however, emphasize the continuity, if not unity, of the self, the visible and the

invisible universe See Ferguson, Brain Revolution, p 21; Thompson, Passages About Earth,
pp 97-103, 166; Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 211; Wilber, Brief History of Everything, pp
156, 240

73Allusions to her past lives occur throughout MacLaine’s writings, but a sort of litany of them
appears in Dancing in the Light, pp 366-84

74Castaneda, Teachings of Don Juan, pp 32, 136-38; Separate Reality, pp 51, 140, 144, 158-59;
Journey to Ixtlan, pp 213-15; Tales of Power, pp 46, 87-89, 239, 257

75Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, pp 27, 39, 55-57, 90-91, 199

A Separate Universe 191

This proposition is the epistemological flip side of the metaphysical coin
discussed under proposition 2 In a sense proposition 3 does not much
advance our understanding of the New Age But it does add a needed

Underlying the unity that propositions 2 and 3 share is the presupposi-
tion discussed in proposition 1: that seeing (or perceiving) is being; any-
thing the self sees, perceives, conceives, imagines or believes, exists It
exists because the self is in charge of everything that is: “I believe, there-
fore it is” or “I experience, therefore it is ” Philosophically, the new con-
sciousness offers a radical and simple answer to the problem of distin-
guishing between appearance and reality It flatly claims there is no
distinction Appearance is reality There is no illusion 76

Of course, perception takes two forms, one for the visible universe,
another for the invisible universe The first is called ordinary conscious-
ness, waking consciousness or “straight thinking ” It is the way ordinary
people have ordinarily seen workaday reality Space is seen in three di-
mensions No two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time
Time is linear: yesterday is gone; here we are now; tomorrow is on the
way Two disparate events cannot happen to the same person at the
same time; while I can sit and think at the same time, I cannot sit and
stand at the same time In ordinary consciousness some actions appear
good, others less good, others bad, still others downright evil And, of
course, we assume they actually are as we perceive them With all this
we are all familiar

The second state of consciousness is not so familiar In fact, most of us
in the West have hardly dreamed of it To make it even more complicated,
this second state of consciousness is really composed of many different
states of consciousness; some say three, some six, some eight 77 But be-
fore we consider any of its various subdivisions, we should grasp its gen-
eral characteristics Some of these characteristics are suggested by the
various aliases for cosmic consciousness They are legion: “timeless bliss”
(R C Zaehner), “higher consciousness” (Weil), “peak experience”
(Maslow), “nirvana” (Buddhists), “satori” (Japanese Zen), “Kosmic con-
sciousness” (Wilber), “altered states of consciousness” or ASC (Masters

76MacLaine demonstrates this in It’s All in the Playing, pp 191-93
77See Lilly’s chart (Center of the Cyclone, pp 148-49) detailing and describing his, George I

Gurdjieff ’s and I K Taimni’s various levels of consciousness and their labels

19 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

and Houston), “cosmic vision” (Keen)
Two of these labels seem more apt than the others, one for theoretical,

the other for historical reasons Theoretically, altered states of conscious-
ness carries the most universally accepted understanding of the phenom-
enon The states of consciousness involved are, indeed, not ordinary The
other apt label, cosmic consciousness, is often used because it is one of the
oldest in modern writing on the subject It was introduced in 1901 by
Canadian psychiatrist R M Bucke and was given popularity by its inclu-
sion in William James’s classic study of mysticism:

The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is a consciousness of
the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe Along with the
consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment
which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence—
would make him a member of a new species With these come what
may be called a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a
conviction that he shall have this but the consciousness that he has it al-
ready 78

The label cosmic consciousness comes bearing a metaphysical expla-
nation of the experience, one widely accepted among proponents of the
new consciousness worldview The point is this: when the self perceives
itself to be at one with the cosmos, it is at one with it Self-realization,
then, is the realization that the self and the cosmos not only are of a piece
but are the same piece In other words, cosmic consciousness is experi-
encing Atman as Brahman

Central to cosmic consciousness is the unitary experience: first, the
experience of perceiving the wholeness of the cosmos; second, the experi-
ence of becoming one with the whole cosmos; and finally, the experience
of going beyond even that oneness with the cosmos to recognize that the
self is the generator of all reality and in that sense is both the cosmos and
the cosmos-maker 79 “Know that you are God; know that you are the uni-
verse,” says MacLaine 80

78Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind
(1901; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1991), p 3, as quoted in James, Varieties of Religious Ex-
perience, p 306 Bucke also mentions “a quickening of the moral sense,” but this is unusual,
as we shall see below

79Again, see Lilly’s various levels (Center of the Cyclone, pp 148-49)
80MacLaine, Dancing in the Light, p 350, italics hers Houston had such an experience at age

six: “It seemed to me as if I knew everything, as if I was everything” (Godseed, p xvii)

A Separate Universe 19 3

Still, other “things” appear under the states of cosmic consciousness
Even after reading countless records of these experiences, I can do no
better than to quote Ferguson’s exhaustive list of characteristics:

Loss of ego boundaries and the sudden identification with all of life (a
melting into the universe); lights; altered color perception; thrills; electri-
cal sensations; sense of expanding like a bubble or bounding upward; ban-
ishment of fear, particularly fear of death; roaring sound; wind; feeling of
being separated from physical self; bliss; sharp awareness of patterns; a
sense of liberation; a blending of the senses (synesthesia), as when colors
are heard and sights produce auditory sensations; an oceanic feeling; a
belief that one has awakened; that the experience is the only reality and
that ordinary consciousness is but its poor shadow; and a sense of tran-
scending time and space 81

Ferguson goes on to quote a number of interesting accounts of cos-
mic consciousness, each one illustrating many, if not all, of these char-

On one aspect of proposition 3, however, there is disagreement Not all
proponents of the new consciousness will agree that the category of mo-
rality disappears Theoretically, it must, for cosmic consciousness implies
the unity of all reality and that must be a unity beyond moral as well as
metaphysical distinctions, as shown in the analysis of Eastern pantheistic
monism in the preceding chapter 82 MacLaine, for example, argues vigor-
ously for the disappearance of the distinction between good and evil as
she finds herself in heated arguments with Vassy, one of her lovers, who
retains an emotional attachment to Russian Orthodoxy 83 Bucke, Thomp-
son and Wilber would take exception to this, but MacLaine, Lilly and
Huxley agree 84 Chopra adds: “When God-consciousness dawns, there

81Ferguson, Brain Revolution, p 60 See also the descriptions in Lilly, Center of the Cyclone,
chaps 11-18; James, Varieties of Religious Experience, pp 292-328; LeShan, The Medium,
the Mystic and the Physicist, pp 86-87, 250; Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism, pp 89-94;
Wilber, Brief History of Everything, pp 156, 240; virtually every discussion of altered states
of consciousness will mention many, if not all, of those characteristics For a more scientific
approach to the characteristics of altered states of consciousness, see Arnold M Ludwig,
“Altered States of Consciousness,” in Altered States of Consciousness: A Book of Readings, ed
Charles Tart (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969), pp 9-22

82See pp 144-65
83MacLaine, Dancing in the Light, pp 202-3, 242-43, 248-49, 269, 341-42, 345, 351, 363-64, 383;

and It’s All in the Playing, pp 173-75
84James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p 306; Thompson, Passages About Earth, pp 29,

82; Wilber, Brief History of Everything, pp 189, 233, 235; Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, pp 20,

19 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

is no longer a battle between good and evil ”85 Still, like Hesse’s Siddhartha
and all people who remain perceivably people, MacLaine, Huxley, Chopra
and Lilly speak as if it were better to be enlightened—that is, cosmically
conscious or God-conscious—than unenlightened, better to love than to
hate and better to help usher in the New Age than merely to watch the
old one collapse

Finally, we must note that not every altered state of consciousness is
euphoric Naive proponents of the new consciousness worldview often
lose sight of this grim fact, but accounts of bad trips are readily available
Huxley himself knew the terrors of a “bummer”:

Confronted by a chair which looked like the Last Judgment—or, to be
more accurate, like a Last Judgment which, after a long time and with
considerable difficulty, I recognized as a chair—I found myself all at once
on the brink of panic This, I suddenly felt, was going too far Too far, even
though the going was into more intense beauty, deeper significance The
fear, as I analyze it in retrospect, was of being overwhelmed, of disinte-
grating under a pressure of reality greater than a mind, accustomed to
living most of the time in a cosy world of symbols, could possibly bear 86

Huxley, though, was convinced that only those who have had “a recent
case of jaundice, or who suffer from periodical depressions or a chronic
anxiety” need fear the mescaline experience 87 Few today would agree

Lilly’s various bouts with the “demonic” along with Castaneda’s expe-
riences document the lows of “hell ”88 Even the ever-optimistic MacLaine
wrestled with visions she did not like, at least at first 89 To avoid the re-
gions of inner hell, Huxley, Lilly and Castaneda (as well as many others)
strongly urge the presence of a guide during early attempts to experience
cosmic consciousness 90 This is the New Age counterpart to one of the

171, 180; Huxley, Doors of Perception, p 39 Wilber, for example, says the more evolved is the
better: “The Base Moral Intuition is protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest
span” (Brief History of Everything, p 335) Evil is possible inasmuch as “we want to be whole
[have rights] without being a part of anything [have responsibility]” (ibid , p 333)

85Chopra, Third Jesus, p 209
86Huxley, Doors of Perception, p 55; see also pp 51, 54-58, 133-40
87Ibid , p 54
88Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, pp 24-25, 33, 88-90, 169; and Castaneda, throughout his first

four books
89MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing, pp 162-71
90Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 35; L Huxley, This Timeless Moment, pp 275-88; Weil, Natu-

ral Mind, pp 83, 95

A Separate Universe 19 5

major functions performed by a guru or a Perfect Master in more fully
Eastern forms of mysticism

There is, of course, a blatant contradiction here If seeing is being and
imagination is reality, then an experienced hell is simply reality Or to put
it another way, if the self is king, it is in control of creation and can create
as it wishes If one experiences hell, one can destroy it and create heaven
God should need a guide?

But like devotees of the East, New Age proponents may respond that
while it is true that the self is “god,” the self does not always realize it It
is a sleeping god and needs to awaken, or it is a “fallen” god and needs
to arise 91 Our task, then, as human beings is to reverse this “fall ” Such
a view fits well with the evolutionary motif of the New Age, but it does
not resolve the basic contradiction If the self is really god, how could it
not be manifest as god? Still, there is no more contradiction here than
in the Eastern version of pantheistic monism, and that has multitudes
of adherents

4. Worldview Question 4: Physical death is not the end of the self; under
the experience of cosmic consciousness, the fear of death is removed.

Again, I mention this characteristic separately because the notion of
death is so central a concern to all of us We are not just our physical
body, says the New Age Human beings are a unity beyond the body
States of cosmic consciousness confirm this over and over, so much so
that Stanislav Grof has experimented with LSD, giving it to patients be-
fore they die so that they can experience cosmic unity as they breathe
their last breath 92

Perhaps the most well-known student of death, however, is psychia-
trist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whose On Death and Dying (1969) has at-
tained a deserved acclaim In the 1970s Kübler-Ross studied near-death
out-of-body experiences and acquired her own spirit guides, who have
assured her that death is just a transition to another stage of life 93 Inter-

91Keen recounts Ichazo’s notion of the “fall” of man in “Conversation,” p 67
92Grof, “Beyond the Bounds of Psychoanalysis,” pp 86-88; Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, pp 17,

35; LeShan, The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist, pp 232-64; James, Varieties of Reli-
gious Experience, p 306; Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism, p 44

93Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1969) For an explana-
tion of her views and a critique from a Christian perspective see Phillip J Swihart, The Edge
of Death (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp 25-31; this book contains a useful

19 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

est in near-death experiences was fueled by the very popular Life After
Life, written by medical doctor Raymond J Moody Jr 94

Another witness to death as transition to another state is provided
by past-life recall, such as that MacLaine recounts at considerable
length in her books, especially Dancing in the Light. Through acupunc-
ture that triggers past-life recall and by consulting channelers such as
Kevin Ryerson—through whom speak the voices of Tom McPherson
(who says he was once a pickpocket in the Elizabethan age) and John of
Zebedee (who identifies himself as the author of Revelation and the
Gospel of John)—MacLaine says she has either learned about or “seen”
herself in former incarnations She claims, for example, to have lived
thousands of lives before, having been a harem dancer, “a Spanish in-
fant wearing diamond earrings, and in a church, a monk meditating
in a cave, a ballet dancer in Russia an Inca youth in Peru ” She was
also “involved with voodoo” and, as “princess of the elephants” in India,
once saved a village from destruction and taught her people a higher
level of morality 95 In It’s All in the Playing she has a vision of cremation
vases which her Higher Self tells her contain “both child and grandfa-
ther ” She had been both 96

The ultimate basis for the belief that death is just a transition to an-
other form of life is, however, the notion that “consciousness” is more
than one’s physical manifestation If one is the all or the maker of the
all, and if this is “known” intuitively, then a person surely has no need
to fear death Past-life recall and most near-death accounts, so the New
Age holds, justify this lack of fear There is, however, negative evidence
from out-of-body experiences that is not considered by New Age propo-
nents, and the idea of reincarnation has been weighed and found want-
ing as well 97

bibliography of books on near-death and other out-of-body experiences
94Raymond J Moody Jr , Life After Life (New York: Bantam, 1976) Some New Age bookstores

have a special section dealing solely with out-of-body experiences
95MacLaine, Dancing in the Light, pp 353-59, 366
96MacLaine, It’s All in the Playing, p 166
97See Christian critics Swihart, Edge of Death, pp 41-82, esp 67-69; and Mark Albrecht, Rein-

carnation (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1982); for a secular humanist perspective
see Melvin Harris, “Are ‘Past-Life’ Regressions Evidence of Reincarnation?” Free Inquiry, Fall
1986, pp 18-23; and Paul Edwards’s three-part article “The Case Against Reincarnation,”
Free Inquiry, Fall 1986, pp 24-34; Winter 1986-1987, pp 38-43, 46-48; Spring 1987, pp 38-43,

A Separate Universe 19 7

5. Worldview Questions 1 and 2: Three distinct attitudes are taken to the
metaphysical question of the nature of reality under the general framework
of the New Age: (1) the occult version, in which the beings and things per-
ceived in states of altered consciousness exist apart from the self that is
conscious, (2) the psychedelic version, in which these things and beings are
projections of the conscious self, and (3) the conceptual relativist version, in
which the cosmic consciousness is the conscious activity of a mind using
one of many nonordinary models for reality, none of which is any “truer”
than any other.

This proposition of the new consciousness worldview takes up the ques-
tion that has been screaming to be answered from the very beginning:
What do all these strange experiences mean? Are they real? I’ve never
had one, some say So am I missing something?

One thing must be clear: there is no use denying that people have the
experiences reported Experience is private None of us has each other’s
experience If a person reports a strange experience, he or she may be ly-
ing, misremembering, embellishing, but we will never be able to critique
the account Even if it appears to us to be intrinsically self-contradictory,
we can deny its existence only on an a priori basis—that such and such a
state of affairs is inherently impossible If a person holds to his or her re-
port, say, under cross-examination, then at least for that person the expe-
rience remains what it was or is remembered to have been Monitoring a
person’s brain with an electrical recording device is of no help whatso-
ever It can tell us that electrical activity is or is not going on; it cannot tell
us anything about the nature of the existence of the things the self is
conscious of

We can also agree, I believe, that states of altered consciousness have
many general details in common—light, timelessness, “magic” beings and
so forth So while each self has a private universe or a set of them when
her consciousness is altered, each private universe is at least analogous to
others Huxley’s description—“every human group is a society of island
universes”—is apt 98

The upshot is that we have a host of witnesses to what appears to be a
universe next door, a separate reality The maps of this reality are not well
drawn, but if we were to enter it ourselves, I think we would know where

98Huxley, Doors of Perception, p 13

19 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

we had been—at least when we returned, and assuming we remembered
So the question: where is this separate reality?

Three answers are given The first is the oldest, but ultimately not ac-
ceptable to many modern New Agers Ultimately deriving from animism,
this view is that cosmic consciousness lets you see, react to, receive power
from and perhaps begin to control spiritual beings that reside in a sort of
fifth dimension parallel to our normal four (three of space and one of
time) This dimension exists as truly and as “really” as the other four
Altered states of consciousness allow us to perceive that dimension

This first answer I call the occult version because it is the intellectual
framework for most, if not all, mediums, witches, warlocks, sorcerers,
shamans, witch doctors and so forth The assumption of the ever present
and increasingly popular occultists is that by certain means—trances,
crystal balls, tarot cards, Ouija boards and other objects with occult
powers—a person can consult “the other side” and enlist its aid But let
the beginner beware, say the occultists Without initiation into the rites
and system of the occult, those who toy with incantation and even Ouija
boards may bring down on themselves the wrath of the spirit world
When that happens, all hell may break loose

This occult version has modern-minded adherents Huxley’s under-
standing is clearly occult He talks about doors of perception opening on
Mind at Large and describes how he saw this Mind at Large in its multi-
colored, multidimensional nature Moreover, he closes Heaven and Hell
with these words:

My own guess is that modern spiritualism and ancient tradition are both
correct There is a posthumous state of the kind described in Sir Oliver
Lodge’s book Raymond but there is also a heaven of blissful visionary ex-
perience; there is also a hell of the same kind of appalling visionary experi-
ence suffered here by schizophrenics and some who take mescaline; and
there is also an experience, beyond time, of union with the divine
Ground 99

As noted earlier, Huxley and his wife Laura applied their knowledge of
the Tibetan Book of the Dead at his death, as she “talked” him into peace
on the other side MacLaine also seems to accept this occult dimension
in her theories of new consciousness

99Ibid , p 140 See also Huxley’s novel Island, where he gives many of these new consciousness
notions a fuller, imaginative treatment

A Separate Universe 19 9

Lilly is more attracted to the alternate explanations discussed below,
but he considers the occult version a serious option:

In my own far-out experiences in the isolation tank with LSD and in my
close brushes with death I have come upon the two guides They may
be entities in other spaces, other universes than our consensus reality
They may be representatives of an esoteric hidden school They
may be members of a civilization a hundred thousand years or so ahead
of ours They may be a tuning in on two networks of communication of
a civilization way beyond ours, which is radiating information through-
out the galaxy 100

So the occult version of the new consciousness is an important alter-
native If it is correct, however, it stands in contradiction to the notion
that the self is both universe and universe maker It means that there are
beings other than the self; there are other centers of consciousness that
make claim on one’s own self Viewed as less of a challenge, however, the
occult version may yet hold that the self is king to the extent that it can—
by whatever means—wrest control from the powerful beings that inhabit
the separate universe Occult bondage is nonetheless a frequent problem
Those who would control may themselves become controlled, locked in
the jaws of a demonic trap whose strength is as the strength of ten be-
cause its heart is evil

The second answer I call the psychedelic version because it is rela-
tively recent and points to the origin of reality in the psyche of the per-
son who experiences it The psychedelic version is much more consis-
tent with proposition 1 than is the occult version, for the psychedelic
version merely says that the reality perceived under altered states of
consciousness is spun out by the self This reality, in other words, is
self-generated One does not so much open doors of perception as cre-
ate a new reality to perceive

We have seen this view described in various ways above, but Lilly’s
description of his own bad trip is instructive Early in his work with drugs,
Lilly became so confident that he could handle his inner experience that
he took LSD without the careful controls of an external and trustworthy
guide As a result, he had a delayed reaction, collapsed in an elevator and
almost died He attributes this collapse to a failure to control his aggres-

100Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, p 39 The omitted sentences suggest several nonoccult alterna-
tives, including conceptual relativism

2 0 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

sive instincts On LSD, he turned against himself and, after the manner
of Freud’s death wish, almost wished himself out of existence Lilly’s
death would never have been ruled a suicide by doctors, but as far as Lilly
is concerned it was indeed his own internal programming that put him in
this fix For Lilly both heaven and hell are inner constructs Whether one
sees himself as the freaked-out edges of the universe (hell) or as “one of
the boys in the engine room pumping creation from the void” (heaven), it
is one’s self that is the creator of the vision

The third answer to the question of the nature of reality involves con-
ceptual relativism. Essentially this is the view that there is a radical dis-
junction between objective reality (reality as it really is) and perceived
reality (the way we understand that reality by virtue of our symbol sys-
tem) That is, reality is what it is; the symbols we use to describe it are
arbitrary In the following chapter we will see this as a major part of the
postmodern perspective But it must be treated here too

An example of conceptual relativism is in order In our Western soci-
ety we generally conceive of time as “a smooth flowing continuum in
which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a fu-
ture, through a present, into a past ”101 Hopi Indians have no such general
notion, for their language has “no reference to ‘time,’ either explicit or
implicit ”102 It is not that reality is really different but that our Western
language system with its overlay of cultural conceptions does not allow
us to see otherwise This has led Benjamin Whorf to the hypothesis that
in linguistics is now associated with his name: “The structure of the lan-
guage one habitually uses influences the manner in which one under-
stands his environment The picture of the universe shifts from tongue
to tongue ”103

How does conceptual relativism work out in a practical situation? Rob-
ert Masters gives an illustration: “There are peoples who live in close
surroundings, like a dense forest, and who therefore believe it’s impossi-
ble to see beyond a few thousand yards And if you take them out into the
open, they still can only see that far But if you persuade them that there’s
more to see, why then the scales fall away and great vistas are opened ” So
Masters concludes, “All perception is a kind of symbolic system There

101Benjamin Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality, ed John B Carroll (Cambridge, Mass :
MIT Press, 1951), p 57

102Ibid , p 58
103Stuart Chase, foreword to ibid , p vi

A Separate Universe 2 01

is no direct awareness of reality at all ”104

In modern philosophy Ernst Cassirer describes this skeptical view of
language and its implication as “the complete dissolution of any alleged
truth content of language, and the realization that this content is nothing
but a sort of phantasmagoria of the spirit ”105 In such a system concepts
are creations of thought and “instead of giving us the true forms of ob-
jects, show us rather the forms of thought itself ” As a result “knowledge,
as well as myth, language, and art, has been reduced to a kind of fiction—
to a fiction that recommends itself by its usefulness, but must not be
measured by any strict standard of truth, if it is not to melt away into
nothingness ”106 On the other hand, while objective truth may be unat-
tainable, this idea has a more positive counterpart: each symbol system
“produces and posits a world of its own ”107 To have a new world, one need
have only a new symbol system

At this point the relevance of our excursion into philosophy and lan-
guage analysis should be obvious The conceptual relativist version of the
new consciousness worldview simply claims that altered states of con-
sciousness allow people to substitute one symbol system for another
symbol system, that is, one vision of reality for another

The Western world’s symbol system has dominated our vision for cen-
turies It has claimed to be not only a symbol system but the symbol
system—the one leading to objective truth, the truth of correspondence
What a proposition asserts is or is not true, does or does not correspond
to reality Theism and naturalism have insisted that there is no other way
to think So cosmic consciousness—the seeing of the world in a different
symbol system—has had a hard time coming But with theism and natu-
ralism losing their grip, other conceptual orders are now possible

Many of the proponents of the conceptual relativist version of the new
consciousness are well aware of its philosophic roots and its counterpart
in modern theories of physics Laurence LeShan’s “general theory of the
paranormal” is a specific version of conceptual relativism When medi-
ums perform the mediumistic task, says LeShan, they assume the follow-

104Robert Masters, Intellectual Digest, March 1973, p 18 That his conclusion does not follow
from his illustration is beside the point here

105Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth, trans Susanne K Langer (New York: Dover, 1946), p

106Ibid , pp 7-8
107Ibid , p 8

2 0 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ing basic mystical worldview: “1 That there is a better way of gaining
information than through the senses 2 That there is a fundamental
unity to all things 3 That time is an illusion 4 That all evil is mere
appearance ”108 At other times when they are ordinary inhabitants of the
visible universe, they accept more commonsense notions of reality Le-
Shan quotes liberally from modern scientists, especially physicists who
call on the notion of complementarity to explain why an electron appears
to behave sometimes like a particle and at other times like a wave, de-
pending on the instrument they are using to “observe” it 109 All the time,
the assumption is, it remains the same as it was But what that is, no one
knows We know only that it appears in some of our equations as one
thing and in other formulations as another Wilber’s elaborate schemata
picturing the whole of reality in four quadrants, each with its own type of
language, is a recent variant 110

But Erwin Schrödinger raises an important consequence of assuming
that symbol systems can be so easily put on and cast off He points out
that that means no true model of reality exists: “We can think it, but
however we think it, it is wrong ”111 The only category left to help us dis-
tinguish between the value of two symbol systems is the purely practical
issue: does it get you what you want?

As there are no true models of reality in science, according to some
versions of the notion of complementarity, so there are no true models of
reality for humanity in general 112 And just as the value of a scientific

108LeShan, The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist, p 43 He is relying on Bertrand Rus-
sell for the list, but he documents from his own experience and that of clairvoyants he has

109I strongly suspect that there is nothing but a metaphoric relationship between the concept
of complementarity used by scientists and the version of conceptual relativism advocated by
LeShan and other new consciousness theorizers See Weinberg, “Sokal’s Hoax,” and Stenger,
“New Age Physics,” cited in note 24 above, for confirmation But it is always a good rhe-
torical ploy to appeal to the prestige of science—even while advocating a worldview that, if
practiced, would destroy scientific initiative

110The whole of Wilber’s Brief History of Everything is devoted to an elaboration of this sche-

111Erwin Schrödinger, quoted in Ferguson, Brain Revolution, p 19 Of course, if there is no
way of measuring the truth of a model of reality, there is no way of measuring its falsity So
the idea that all of our models of reality are wrong is a denial of all meaning and a case of
ciphered nihilism (see Thielicke, Nihilism, pp 63-65) To say there are no “true models” of
reality in science is not a devastating criticism for those who understand scientific descrip-
tion as providing valid insights into what reality is like but not what reality is (see Bube,
Putting It All Together, pp 15-20)

112For a different view of the notion of complementarity, see Donald MacKay, The Clockwork

A Separate Universe 2 0 3

model is measured by its practicality, so pragmatic value is the measure
of the worth of a particular altered state of consciousness or a particular
theory about it On this there is a chorus of agreement among new con-
sciousness theorists and practitioners alike 113 LeShan states the view
succinctly: “If the application of a theory produces results in the predicted
direction, its fruitfulness has been demonstrated ”114 So much for the
theories of cosmic consciousness Weil applies the pragmatic test to the
experience itself: “It would seem obvious that the only meaningful crite-
rion for the genuineness of any spiritual experience is the effect it has
on a person’s life ”115 Readers who detect in this elements of postmodern-
ism, especially of the sort represented by Richard Rorty, are not far off the
target, as we will see in the following chapter

The practical consequence of the conceptual relativist view of the new
consciousness is that it frees a person to believe anything that will bring
the desired results So where do you want to go? What do you want to do?
When Lilly accepted the naturalist’s notion of the universe, he took a
journey to hell When he accepted the notion that there were civilizations
beyond ours, he was “precipitated into such spaces ”116 Believing was be-
ing No vision of reality is more real than another Schizophrenia is one
way of seeing things; normality is another, says R D Laing “But who is
to say which is the madness, especially considering the results of normal-
ity have been so disastrous in the West ”117

Moreover, it may be that some of our normal distinctions and ways of
perceiving bring us personal as well as social and environmental prob-
lems: “Suppose someone gets a feeling, and then he makes some distinc-
tion about that feeling Say he calls it anxiety to distinguish it from other
feelings Then that first feeling is followed by a second which he distin-
guishes as shame ”118 In a spiraling cycle he feels both more anxious and

Image (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1974), pp 91-92; and Bube, Putting It All
Together, pp 167-87

113See Ferguson, Brain Revolution, p 83; Weil, Natural Mind, p 67; LeShan, The Medium, the
Mystic and the Physicist, pp 99, 124, 139, 150; James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 308;
Ichazo quoted by Keen, “Conversation ,” p 70; Lilly, Center of the Cyclone, throughout

114LeShan, Center of the Cyclone, p 125
115Weil, Natural Mind, p 67 This pragmatic criterion also governs the judgment of Charles

Tart and Jon Klimo (Klimo, Channeling, pp xiv, 23)
116Ibid , pp 48, 87
117R D Laing, quoted by Peter Mezan, “After Freud and Jung, Now Comes R D Laing: Pop-

shrink, Rebel, Yogi, Philosopher-King?” Esquire, January 1972, p 171

2 0 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

more depressed Laing concludes, “Now, in a sense it’s his distinctions
that are making him unhappy Sometimes I think a great deal of people’s
suffering wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have names for it ”119 The solution
is obvious: Get rid of distinctions or symbol systems which have them
Imagine a worldview in which you could not tell the difference between
pain and pleasure, for example The consequences of doing this might be
severe, but why not figure out a way of adopting such a worldview when
one is ill in one’s ordinary state of consciousness? Different worldviews
have different values at different times Why not employ them as needed?
Play the sexton—different chimes for different times

6. Worldview Question 5: Human beings can understand reality be-
cause in a state of God-consciousness they directly perceive it. Nonethe-
less, when New Age teachers present this view to others, they often cite the
authority of ancient Scriptures and other religious teachers.

As we have seen above, a person in the state of God-consciousness knows
reality directly That knowledge is not mediated by rational argument or
any external authority: “I experience (whatever), therefore it is ” No such
conscious argument lies behind the experience itself; rather, the con-
scious present experience is the source and authority for the knowledge
This authority is like that for recognizing your best friend when he or she
appears in your field of vision

Most people, however, do not have a direct knowledge of their own

divinity; they have to be convinced As we have seen, New Age propo-
nents suggest various methods of meditation to achieve this direct knowl-
edge But many of them also cite the external authority of other New Age


The teachings of the Bible, the Mahabharata, the Koran and all the other

spiritual books that I had tried to understand flooded back to me. The

Kingdom of heaven is within you. Know thyself and that will set you

free; to thine own self be true; to know self is to know all; know that

your are God; know that you are the universe.

SHIRLEY MACLAINE, Dancing in the Light

A Separate Universe 2 0 5

proponents and especially texts that Christians or other religious believ-
ers call scripture Among the most cited religious authorities are the Bud-
dha and Jesus Credence for New Age teachings is thereby enhanced For
Christians especially, if Jesus said it or if it’s in the Bible, then it must be
true Virtue by association, one might say

Deepak Chopra provides a clear example In a recent book, The Third
Jesus, Chopra turns from promoting alternative medicine to teaching his
religious views directly 120 There are three Jesuses, he says The first Jesus
is the man who lived in Palestine centuries ago About him we today
know almost nothing He was “swept away by history ”121 The second Je-
sus is the Jesus largely invented by the church to “fulfill their agenda”; this
is the theological Jesus, the Jesus of the creeds, the Jesus preached in ser-
mons 122 He is so far from the historical Jesus that he can be dismissed as
mostly fabrication The third Jesus is the “one who taught his followers to
reach God-consciousness ”123 He had reached this state and spent his life
teaching others how to do so He “asked his followers to see themselves as
souls rather than as fallible individuals whose desires conflicted with one
another ”124

How does Chopra know his Jesus is the real Jesus? Nowhere is it more
apparent that Chopra’s knowledge is based on the authority of his own
God-consciousness How does he know that the historical Jesus is not a
well-attested figure? How does he know which Scripture texts accurately
portray Jesus and which don’t? Not only does he cite no biblical scholar-
ship, he seems not to know that it exists 125 The historical Jesus is dis-
missed with a wave of the hand The Jesus of the church is rejected as a

120Carl Olson’s “Chopra’s Christ: The Mythical Creation of a New Age Panthevangelist” is
a long, detailed, critical, and logically and theologically astute review of The Third Jesus

121Chopra, Third Jesus, p 8
123Ibid , p 9
124Chopra, Third Jesus, p 10
125As Carl E Olson puts it, “no arguments are given, no scholars are quoted, no effort is made

to show how and why Chopra accepts one verse [of the Bible] as authentic while dismissing
others as somehow distorted or corrupted for ideological ends” (Olson, “Chopra’s Christ”)
There are no end of creditable books on the Jesus of history Chopra might have consulted
the work of N T Wright, some of whose massive scholarship is found in Christian Origins
and the Question of God, 3 vols , The New Testament and the People of God (1992), Jesus and
the Victory of God (1996) and The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003); all are published by
Minneapolis: Fortress Press Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove,
Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1985) is a more popular but still scholarly book

2 0 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

fabrication But who today is more likely to know about Jesus: those who
pay attention to the data of history—texts written a few years after his
death—or those who, with no other authority than their own intuition or
imagination, reduce a profoundly detailed figure to a mere ghostly ab-
sence? Only if Chopra really is the God of his own God-consciousness
can he have the authority to proclaim a Third Jesus

When Chopra does turn to ancient sources, he quotes Gnostic texts as
if they were more authoritative than biblical texts, claiming, for example,
that the Gospel of Thomas comes from the same period of time It doesn’t
The latest New Testament book is probably the Gospel of John (c a d
90); the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic texts date from the middle
of the second century

The biblical texts Chopra quotes are lifted from their original theistic
context and dropped into the context of an ancient Gnostic or modern
New Age worldview When Jesus says that “the kingdom of God is within
you” (Luke 17:21 kjv), Chopra says this means that the kingdom of God
is solely individual and immaterial, which he finds conflicts with the
book of Revelation 126 Later he cites John 5:39-40 (nrsv): “You search the
Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is
they that testify on my behalf Yet you refuse to come to me to have life ”
Here, Chopra says, “Jesus is reinforcing his message that the Kingdom of
God is within ”127 Not so Jesus is telling his critics that because they use
the Scripture as their authority, they should recognize him as one who
has come from the Father

Even John 3:16-17 (nrsv) gets twisted beyond recognition: “For God so
loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes
in him may not perish but may have eternal life Indeed, God did not send
the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world
might be saved through him ” Chopra comments: “Jesus bolsters his di-
vine identity in the strongest, most eloquent terms Higher consciousness
saves a person from the illusion of death, and this gift comes from a lov-
ing God ”128 No, higher consciousness does not save us; Jesus himself
does that

Or again, take John 14:6-7: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth

126Chopra, Third Jesus, p 39
127Ibid , p 73
128Ibid , p 125

A Separate Universe 2 0 7

and the life No one comes to the Father except through me If you really
knew me, you would know my Father as well From now on, you do know
him and have seen him ’” This declaration of the exclusivity of the Chris-
tian faith stands in direct contradiction to Chopra’s main teaching that
each of us is capable of God-consciousness and of creating our own real-
ity Still, he says, “If we sift out the element of Church doctrine, Jesus is
saying, ‘If you have been seeking, seek no further This is how the spirit
looks when it has been realized ’ In other words, he brings God-
consciousness down-to-earth by being its living exemplar ”129 No, in the
context of the Gospel of John, Jesus is not an exemplar of God-conscious-
ness He is the one and only eternal Son of God We ourselves are not
God To think we are God or that we can become God or a god is the
primal sin of pride

7. Worldview Question 7: History as a record of events that actually oc-
curred in the past is of little interest, but cosmic history which ends with
the deification of humanity, especially the individual human self, is seen
as a great vision and a great hope.

New Age proponents do not hesitate to consider accounts of experience
from throughout human history But they are more interested in the “ex-
perience” induced by these events than with the significance of these
events themselves How were these events perceived? That is the impor-
tant matter Experience is all

The overall pattern of human history—the impact of events on human
experience—is, however, of considerable interest 130 There is, first of all,
the general evolutionary history of cosmic formation—big bang, galactic
and planetary formation, the formation of the earth Then comes the
emergence of organic life, its evolution into humanity’s present state, its
teetering on the edge of a transition to cosmic consciousness Cosmic
history’s future is finally foreseen as the arrival of the New Man, the New
Woman and the universal New idyllic Age

8. Worldview Question 8: New Agers are committed to realizing their
own individual unity with the cosmos, creating and recreating it in their
own image.

129Ibid , pp 125-26
130See pp 169-73 above

2 0 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

As is the case with other worldviews, not all who name themselves New
Agers (or allow themselves to be named that by others) would claim to
have realized that their self is the kingpin of the cosmos By no means
would all of them imitate Shirley MacLaine as she runs up a California
beach shouting, “I am God I am God ” But behind the specific beliefs and
practices of fully New Age practitioners is the hope that they—each one
of them—are in the center of reality even though they have not yet
achieved a fully cosmic consciousness Their implicit, if not explicit,
commitment is to realize this goal

This is a very tall order and there are many reasons why New Age
optimism may overstep whatever cosmic and human reality is now or
comes to be


Is the New Age worldview a step beyond nihilism? Does it deliver what it
promises—a new life, a new person, a new age? One thing is clear: it hasn’t
yet, and the mañana argument is not reassuring We have had visionaries
before, and they and their followers have not done much to save either the
world or themselves Tomorrow is always on the way As Alexander Pope
said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast ”131

We have little assurance now that with cosmic consciousness will
come the new society Far greater is the case for pessimism, for the new
consciousness worldview is shot through with inner inconsistencies, and
it does not even begin to solve the dilemmas posed by naturalistic nihil-
ism or Eastern mysticism It simply ignores them

The first major difficulty with the New Age worldview is shared with
naturalism and pantheistic monism The notion of a closed universe—
the absence of a transcendent God—poses the problem William Irwin
Thompson says, “God is to the universe what grammar is to language ”132
God is just the structure of the universe We have already seen how such
a situation makes ethics impossible, for either there is no value at all in
the external universe (pure naturalism), or God is inseparable from all its
activities, and at the level of the cosmos distinctions between good and
evil disappear

New Age proponents have not solved this problem at all To be sure,

131Pope, Essay on Man 1 95
132Thompson, Passages About Earth, p 99

A Separate Universe 2 0 9

many assume that the survival of the human race is a prime value, and
they insist that unless humanity evolves, unless people become radically
transformed, humanity will disappear But few discuss ethical issues, and
some admit that in the New Age categories of good and evil disappear,
just as do categories of time and space, illusion and reality Even those
who opt for moral distinctions are careful not to be fastidious If human
survival means submission to the new elite, then the finer ethical distinc-
tions may be too costly To survive people may have to abandon tradi-
tional notions of freedom and dignity 133

The reason ethical questions receive little attention is clear from prop-
osition 1 If the self is king, why worry about ethics? The king can do no
wrong If the self is satisfied, that is sufficient Such a conception allows
for the grossest cruelty The New Age worldview falls prey to all the pit-
falls of solipsism and egoism Yet virtually no proponent of the system
pays any attention to that problem Why? Because, I presume, they buy
the consequences and are unconcerned Let go and let be Be here now
There is simply no place for ethical distinctions

Wilber, however, does argue for an ethical intuition—that is, those
who are more evolved toward higher consciousness are better He makes
ethical judgments that find some human beings of less value than some
animals It would be better to kill Al Capone, Wilber says, than a dozen
apes: “Nothing is sacrosanct about a human holon [unit] ”134

A second major difficulty in the new consciousness worldview comes
with what it borrows from animism: a host of demigods, demons and
guardians who inhabit the separate reality or the inner spaces of the
mind Call them projections of the psyche or spirits of another order of
reality: either way, they haunt the New Age and must be placated with
rituals or controlled by incantation The New Age has reopened a door
closed since Christianity drove out the demons from the woods, de-
sacralized the natural world and generally took a dim view of excessive
interest in the affairs of Satan’s kingdom of fallen angels Now they are
back, knocking on university dorm-room doors, sneaking around psy-
chology laboratories and chilling the spines of Ouija players Modern
folk have f led from Grandfather’s clockwork universe to Great-great-

133At this point there is little difference between B F Skinner and William Irwin Thompson;
see Beyond Freedom and Dignity, pp 180-82, and Passages About Earth, pp 117-18

134Wilber, Brief History of Everything, p 336 By “human holon” Wilber means the whole/part
complex that constitutes a human being

210 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

grandfather’s chamber of gothic horrors
Theism, like animism, affirms the existence of spirits, for the Old and

New Testaments alike attest to the reality of the spirit world There are
both angels under the command of God and demons (or fallen angels)
under their own command or at the beck and call of the master fallen
angel, Satan But biblical teaching about this spirit world is sketchy, and
what there is is often cast in the form of sidelong allusions to pagan reli-
gious practices and of warnings not to toy with the realm of spirits

It may seem strange that Christian theism does not have a well-devel-
oped angelology If there exist dynamic powerful beings whose nature is
beneficent, why should we not contact them, employ them as guides and
harness their power for our human ends? The major reason is simple:
God alone is to be our source of power, wisdom and knowledge How
easy it would be for us to worship the angels and forget God!

This is precisely what happened in the early years of the Christian
church The Gnostics, borrowing perhaps from Chaldean astrological
lore, taught that God is too exalted, too far away to be personally inter-
ested in mere human beings But other beings exist—“principalities” and
“powers”—who are higher than humans but lower than God We must, so
the argument goes, learn to placate the more unfriendly of these beings
and to call on the more friendly for help Vestiges of this idea remain in
the Roman Catholic Church’s notion of saints Beseech Mary, for she is
human and knows our need; she will in turn ask God to help us: Sancta
Maria, ora pro nobis. The challenge to this has been that it tends both to
overexalt the departed saints and to denigrate God

Saints and angels play quite a different role in the Bible The word
saint simply means church member or Christian, and angels are solely at
the command of God They are not given to human beings for their own
manipulation God’s infinite love is manifest in many finite ways, but he
alone is our helper Though he sometimes employs angels to do his bid-
ding, he needs no intermediaries He himself became human, and he
knows us inside out

So the Bible contains no model—no counterpart to the Lord’s Prayer—
for enlisting angels in our plans But it does contain warnings against
enlisting the aid of spirits or “other gods ” One of the earliest and clearest
is in Deuteronomy:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to

A Separate Universe 211

imitate the detestable ways of the nations there Let no one be found
among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices
divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts
spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead Anyone
who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these de-
testable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before
you You must be blameless before the Lord your God
The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or
divination But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do
so (Deut 18:9-14)

This instruction was given just before Israel entered the Promised
Land Canaan is full of false religion, full of occult practices So watch
out Have nothing to do with this Yahweh is God—the one God Israel
needs no other There is no other To think so—or to cover all bets by
seeking the services of diviners, soothsayers, sorcerers, wizards, charm-
ers, mediums or whatever—is blasphemy God is God, and Israel is his

The New Testament likewise forbids divination and recounts many in-
stances of demon possession 135 One of the most instructive is the account
of Jesus’ casting the demons from the Gerasene demoniac (Mk 5:1-20)
From this account it is clear that many demons had possessed the man;
they were not a projection of his psychosis, since when they left him they
entered a herd of swine; demons are personal beings who can use language
and communicate with people; and they have the very worst in mind for
humanity It is also clear—and this is most important—that Jesus had com-
plete control over them It is in this that Christians have hope

Many modern men and women who have become involved in the oc-
cult have found freedom in Christ The apostle Paul himself assures us:

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the
love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels
nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither
height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate
us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31, 35,
38-39; see also Col 2:15)

135See, for example, Mt 7:21-23; Lk 10:20; Acts 8:9-24; 13:8-11; 19:11-20; Gal 5:19-21; Jas 3:13-18;
Rev 21:8 See also J S Wright and K A Kitchen, “Magic and Sorcery,” in New Bible Diction-
ary, ed I Howard Marshall et al , 3rd ed (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1961), pp

21 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

No natural force, no spiritual being, absolutely nothing can overcome
God God is our refuge, not because we, like some superstar magician,
can command him to help us, but because he wants to “God is love,” says
the apostle John “In him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 4:8; 1:5) So the
demonic can be overcome and will be overcome

While spirit activity has been constant in areas where Christianity has
barely penetrated, it has been little reported in the West from the time of
Jesus Christ is said to have driven the spirits from field and stream, and
when Christianity permeates a society the spirit world seems to disap-
pear or go into hiding It is only in the last few decades that the spirits of
the woods and rivers, the air and the darkness have been invited back by
those who have rejected the claims of Christianity and the God of Abra-
ham, Isaac and Jacob Perhaps it will be a case of sowing to the wind and
reaping the whirlwind

A third major difficulty with the new consciousness is its understand-
ing of the nature of reality and the nature of truth Some of the most so-
phisticated new consciousness proponents, like Ken Wilber, are not oc-
cultists in the usual sense They do not cast I Ching or consult tarot
cards Rather they accept the languages of all systems of reality—the lan-
guages of sorcery and science, of witchcraft and philosophy, of drug ex-
perience and waking reality, of psychosis and normality—and they un-
derstand them all to be equally valid descriptions of reality 136 In this
version of New Age thought there is no truth of correspondence in the
Mind at Large or higher levels of consciousness, only a pattern of inner
coherence So there is no critique of anyone’s ideas or of anyone’s experi-
ence Each system is equally valid; it must only pass the test of experience,
and experience is private

Taken to its logical conclusion, this notion is a form of epistemological
nihilism 137 For we can never know what really is We can know only
what we experience The flip side is that the self is kingpin—god, if you
will—and reality is what any god takes it to be or makes it to be

We are caught in an impasse The issue is primary: either the self is
god and the New Age is a readout of the implications of that, or the self is
not god and thus is subject to the existence of things other than itself

136The word valid goes through some interesting permutations in LeShan, The Medium, the
Mystic and the Physicist, pp 99, 108, 150, 154, 210

137Perhaps Thielicke would call it ciphered nihilism; see Thielicke, Nihilism, pp 36, 63-65

A Separate Universe 21 3

To the self that opts for its own godhead, there is no argument The
naturalist’s charge that this is megalomania or the theist’s accusation that
it is blasphemy is beside the point Theoretically such a self accepts as real
only what it decides to accept It would be theoretically futile (but per-
haps not practically so) to try to shock out of their delusion those who
suppose themselves to be a god Pouring a pot of hot tea on their head
should produce no particular response Still, it might be worth a try!

Perhaps (but how can we know?) this is the situation of psychotics who
have totally withdrawn from conversation with others Are they making
their own universe? What is their subjective state? Only if they waken
may we find out, and then memory is often dim if present at all Their
reports may be quite useless If they waken, they waken into our universe
of discourse But perhaps this universe is our made-up universe, and we
ourselves are alone in a corner of a hospital ward unwittingly dreaming
we are reading this book, which actually we have made up by our uncon-
scious reality-projecting machinery

Most people do not go that route To do so is to recede down corridors
of infinite regress Nausea lies that way, and most of us prefer a less queasy
stomach So we opt for the existence of not only our own self but the
selves of others, and thus we require a system that will bring not only
unity to our world but knowledge as well We want to know who and
what else inhabits our world

But if we are not the unity-giver (god), who or what is? If we answer
that the cosmos is the unity-giver, we end in naturalistic nihilism If we
say it is God who is the one and all, we end in pantheistic nihilism So we
need, says Samuel McCracken in his brilliant essay on the mindset of the
drug world, “a certain simpleminded set of working assumptions: that
there is a reality out there, that we can perceive it, that no matter how
difficult the perception, the reality is finally an external fact ”138 We also
need a basis for thinking that these needs can be met Where do we go for
that? Not postmodernism, as we will see next

138Samuel McCracken, “The Drugs of Habit,” Commentary, June 1971, p 49

Chapter 9



“W hither is God,” he [the madman] cried.
“I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I.

All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this?
How were we able to drink up the sea?

W ho gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? . . .
Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?

Do we not feel the breath of empty space? . . .
Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition?
Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead.
And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers

of all murderers, comfort ourselves? . . .
I come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet.

This tremendous event is still on its way,
still wandering—it has not yet reached the ears of man.”

F r i e d r i c h N i e t z s c h e , “ Th e M a d m a n ”

In a brilliant parable written over a hundred years ago, Friedrich Nie-
tzsche saw it all 1 A culture cannot lose its philosophic center without the
most serious of consequences, not just to the philosophy on which it was
based but to the whole superstructure of culture and even each person’s
notion of who he or she is Everything changes When God dies, both the
substance and the value of everything else die too

1Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Madman,” Gay Science 125, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans Wal-
ter Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), pp 95-96

The Vanished Horizon 21 5

The acknowledgment of the death of God is the beginning of post-
modern wisdom It is also the end of postmodern wisdom For, in the fi-
nal analysis, postmodernism is not “post” anything; it is the last move of
the modern, the result of the modern taking its own commitments seri-
ously and seeing that they fail to stand the test of analysis 2

As I commented earlier, Socrates said that the unexamined life is not
worth living, but for a naturalist he is wrong 3 For a naturalist it is the
examined life that is not worth living Now, over a hundred years after
Nietzsche, the news of God’s death has finally reached “the ears of man ”
The horizon defining the limits of our world has been wiped away The
center holding us in place has vanished Our age, which more and more
is coming to be called postmodern, finds itself afloat in a pluralism of
perspectives, a plethora of philosophical possibilities, but with no domi-
nant notion of where to go or how to get there A near future of cultural
anarchy seems inevitable

Enough gloomy talk This book is supposed to be a catalog of world-
views Catalogs should be dispassionate Get a grip!


Getting a grip is hard How does one define the indefinite? Certainly the
term that now fits is postmodernism.4 But what does it mean? It is used
by so many people to focus on so many different facets of cultural and
intellectual life that its meaning is often fuzzy, not just around the edges
but at the center as well (as if a term defining a worldview without a cen-
ter could have a center)

Though literature professor Ihab Hassan was one of the first scholars
to write about postmodernism, he confesses, “I know less about postmo-
dernity today than I did thirty years ago [1971], when I began to write
about it [Still today] no consensus obtains on what postmodernism

2Anthony Giddens calls postmodernity the “radicalising of modernity” (The Consequences of
Modernity [Stanford, Calif : Stanford University Press, 1990], p 52)

3See chapter five, p 113
4In the writing of this chapter I have found the following presentations and critiques helpful;
the list should be considered to extend to all the other sources cited in the footnotes to this
chapter: Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, Postmodern Theory (New York: Guilford, 1991);
Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); Fredric B Burnham, Post-
modern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,
1989); Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1992); and Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York:
Free Press, 1990)

216 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

really means ” After being locked in a room for a week of discussion, he
says, the major scholars writing about it would reach no agreement, “but
a trickle of blood might appear beneath the sill ” Still he notes some com-
mon elements: “fragments, hybridity, relativism, play, parody, pastiche,
an ironic anti-ideological stance, an ethos bordering on kitsch and camp ”5
Mark Lilla makes a similar claim about “academic postmodernism,” de-
scribing it as “a loosely structured constellation of ephemeral disciplines
like cultural studies, gay and lesbian studies, science studies and post-
colonial theory ” It “borrows freely,” he says, “from a host of works (in
translation) by such scholars as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and
Jean-François Lyotard ” Then he adds, “Given the impossibility of impos-
ing logical order on ideas as dissimilar as these, postmodernism is long
on attitude and short on argument ”6

The term postmodernism is usually thought to have arisen first in ref-
erence to architecture, as architects moved away from unadorned, im-
personal boxes of concrete, glass and steel to complex shapes and forms,
drawing motifs from the past without regard to their original purpose or
function 7 But when French sociologist Jean-François Lyotard used the
term postmodern to signal a shift in cultural legitimation, the term be-
came a key word in cultural analysis

In short, Lyotard defined postmodern as “incredulity toward
metanarratives ”8 No longer is there a single story, a metanarrative (in our
terms a worldview), that holds Western culture together It is not just that
there have long been many stories, each of which gives its binding power
to the social group that takes it as its own The naturalists have their
story, the pantheists theirs, the Christians theirs, ad infinitum With

5Ihab Hassan, “Postmodernism to Postmodernity” His first major work on postmodernism was The Dismemberment of
Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971)

6Mark Lilla, “The Politics of Jacques Derrida,” New York Review of Books, June 25, 1998, p 36
Lilla is professor of social thought at the University of Chicago

7Modern architecture is the application of mechanical reason to the shaping of space This
results in form following function—giant boxes of concrete, glass and steel with ninety-
degree corners and not a curve in sight The centers of many American cities—Atlanta, Dal-
las, Minneapolis—major in these highly formal and impersonal stacks of blocks Postmodern
architects rebelled against the impersonal, bringing back motifs from every earlier era of
architecture from every culture—rose windows, classical columns, modernized gargoyles—
tacking them on to structural forms that have no obvious organizing principle

8Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans Geoff Ben-
nington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p 24

The Vanished Horizon 217

postmodernism no story can have any more credibility than any other
All stories are equally valid, being so validated by the community that
lives by them

I cannot catalog postmodernism as I have earlier worldviews Even
more than existentialism, postmodernism is both more than and less
than a worldview In major part this is due to the origin of the term within
the discipline of sociology rather than philosophy Sociologists are con-
cerned with how people behave as part of society They do not use cate-
gories of being (metaphysics) or knowing (epistemology) or ethics; that is,
they do not ask what is true about reality, but how notions of being and
knowing and ethics arise and function in society To understand post-
modernism, therefore, we will have to ask and answer not simply the
seven worldview questions posed in chapter one but a question about the
questions themselves

But first let us get one thing clear Postmodernism has influenced reli-
gious understanding, including that characteristic of Christian theism,
but it accepts the foundation at the heart of naturalism: Matter exists
eternally; God does not exist.


I have apologized before for approaching an explanation by first making
a summary statement that seems opaque I will do so again in hope that
the ensuing explanation will clarify the vision

1. A Worldview Question About Worldview Questions: The first
question postmodernism addresses is not what is there or how we know
what is there but how language functions to construct meaning. In other
words, there has been a shift in “first things” from being to knowing to
constructing meaning.

Two major shifts in perspective have occurred over the past centuries:
one is the move from the “premodern” (characteristic of the Western
world prior to the seventeenth century) to the “modern” (beginning with
Descartes); the second is the move from the “modern” to the “postmod-
ern” (whose first major exponent was Friedrich Nietzsche in the last
quarter of the nineteenth century) Take the following as an example of
these shifts, others of which we will see below There has been a move-
ment from (1) a “premodern” concern for a just society based on revela-

218 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

tion from a just God to (2) a “modern” attempt to use universal reason as
the guide to justice to (3) a “postmodern” despair of any universal stan-
dard for justice Society then moves from medieval hierarchy to Enlight-
enment, universal democracy to postmodern privileging of the self-
defining values of individuals and communities This is a formula for
anarchy It is hard to think of this as progress, but then progress is a
“modern” notion The “premodern” Christian had too clear a view of hu-
man depravity, and the “postmodern” mind has too dim a view of any
universal truth

One of the ways to understand these shifts is to reflect on our reflect-
ing 9 For us that means to identify the preconceptions on which this
book’s analysis so far has been based

Some readers of earlier editions of this book have challenged the way I
posed the worldview questions of chapter one Their concern is whether a
set of seven questions (now eight) commits this particular worldview anal-
ysis to the confines of one worldview 10 This is an astute observation

The heart of the issue is the order of the questions I placed question
1 (What is prime reality—the really real?) first for a good reason I take
metaphysics (or ontology) to be the foundation of all worldviews Being
is prior to knowing If nothing is there, then nothing can be known So,
in defining theism, I began with God, defined as infinite and personal
(triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good 11
All else in theism stems from this commitment to a specific notion of
what is fundamentally there Question 2 asked about the nature of the
external universe, and questions 3 and 4 about the nature of human be-
ings and their destiny It was not till question 5 that “how we know” was
dealt with Then came ethics—how we should behave—in question 6,
and finally an overall question about our human historical significance
in question 7 Now question 8 focuses on the end toward which we live
our lives

9Giddens writes, “What is characteristic of modernity is not an embracing of the new for its
own sake, but the presumption of wholesale ref lexivity—which of course includes ref lection
upon the nature of ref lection itself ” (Consequences of Modernity, p 39) I have, for example,
been ref lecting throughout this book on the worldviews that shape our understanding; now I
am looking at my looking, ref lecting on my ref lecting Another way to put this is to say I will
step back from my analysis to make a meta-analysis

10I have dealt with this issue in Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove,
Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2004)

11Above, chapter two, pp 28-31

The Vanished Horizon 219

The fact is that this order of questions is premodern in general and
theistic in particular Theism puts being before knowing Enlightenment
naturalism puts knowing before being 12 The shift came early in the sev-
enteenth century with Descartes Descartes is seen as the first modern
philosopher, not the least because he was more interested in how one
knows than in what one knows For his philosophic approach—and the
approach of almost every major philosopher from his time on—knowing
is prior to being 13 Descartes was not rejecting the theistic notion of God
Quite the contrary, he held a notion of God essentially the same as that of
Thomas Aquinas 14 But his interest in being certain about this notion had
major consequences

Descartes’s approach to knowing is legendary He wanted to be com-
pletely certain that what he thought he knew was actually true So he
took the method of doubt almost (but not quite) to the limit What can I
doubt? he asked himself in the quietness of his study He concluded that
he could doubt everything except that he was doubting (doubting is
thinking) So he concluded, “I think, therefore I am ” He then further
considered whether there was anything other than his own existence
that he could be sure of After a series of arguments he eventually wrote,

I do not now admit anything which is not necessarily true: to speak accu-
rately, I am not more than a thing which thinks, that is to say a mind or a
soul, or an understanding, or a reason, which are terms whose signifi-
cance was formerly unknown to me I am, however, a real thing and really
exist; what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks 15

Here is the essence of the modern: the autonomy of human reason
One individual, Descartes, declares on the foundation of his own judg-
ment that he knows with philosophic certainty that he is a thinking thing
From this foundation Descartes goes on to argue that God necessarily

12Recently some naturalist philosophers (such as Paul M Churchland and Patricia Smith
Churchland) have, however, moved back toward a new emphasis on the mechanisms inher-
ent in the material order See “Naturalistic Epistemology,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy, ed Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp 518-19

13I devote chap 3 of Naming the Elephant, pp 51-73 , to this issue
14Over thirty years ago I wrote a paper for a graduate course in seventeenth-century philoso-

phy in which I demonstrated to my own and my professor’s satisfaction that Descartes and
Aquinas held identical views of God What I didn’t see then is that Descartes’s interest in how
he knew such a God existed had had such consequences

15René Descartes, “Meditation II,” in Philosophical Works, trans Elizabeth S Haldane and
G R T Ross, 2 vols (New York: Dover, 1955), 1:152

2 2 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

exists and that reality is dual—matter and mind
The notion of the autonomy of human reason liberated the human

mind from the authority of the ancients Scientific and technical progress
came not from notions revealed in Scripture but from the assumption
that human reason could indeed find its way toward the truth Such
knowledge was power, instrumental power, power over nature, power to
get us what we want In science, the results were stellar In philosophy,
however, the move from being to knowing, from the primacy of God who
creates and reveals to the primacy of the self that knows on its own, was
fatal It both set the agenda for modern philosophy from Locke to Kant
and sparked as well the recoil of postmodern philosophy from Nietzsche
to Derrida as humanistic optimism flirted with despair


As knowing became the focus, knowing how one knew became a major
issue David Hume (1711-1776) cast into doubt the existence of cause and
effect as objective reality Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) tried to answer
Hume but ended by both exalting the knowing self to the position of
“creating” reality and removing from it the ability to know things in
themselves 16 Georg W F Hegel (1770-1831) and, for a brief period of op-
timism, the German Idealists exalted the human self to almost divine
dimensions Finally Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) delivered the coup
de grâce to the modern self-confidence that what we think we know we
really do know Apart from New Age enthusiasts, today there is little
hope that any optimism about the human condition can be sustained

The larger story of modern philosophy can be read in many places 17
We are concerned with a single but central theme: the shift from knowing
to meaning. It is in Nietzsche that this is first most evident Nietzsche
completed what Descartes started; he took doubt beyond Descartes, re-

16For Kant, of course, “creating reality” must not be understood in the manner of New Age
thought; the categories by which we understand reality—space, time, etc —are part of our
endowment as human beings; they form the structure of our knowledge

17I am painfully aware that my comments about Descartes, Hume and Kant are superficial
perhaps beyond forgiveness But though the strokes are broad, I think they take the right
shape For the story of modern philosophy I have found Copleston’s History of Philosophy
of special value (Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vols 4-9 [London: Burns and
Oates, 1958-1974]) In particular for the issues dealt with here, however, see Robert C Solo-
mon, Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1988)

The Vanished Horizon 2 21

jecting his argument for certitude about the existence of the self
Look again at Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am ” What if it is the

thinking that creates or causes the I rather than the I that creates or
causes the thinking? What if the activity of thinking does not require an
agent but produces only the illusion of an agent?18 What if there is only
thinking—a fluid flow of language without discernible origin, determi-
nate meaning or direction?

Regardless of whether Nietzsche’s specific critique is a fair analysis of
Descartes’s search for certitude, Nietzsche’s more radical doubt does rad-
ical damage to human certitude After Nietzsche, no thoughtful person
should have been able to secure easy confidence in the objectivity of hu-
man reason But as Nietzsche pointed out in the parable of the madman,
it takes a long time for ideas to sink in to culture The madman says he
came too soon The deed had been done, but in the 1880s the news was
still on the way By the 1950s and 1960s it was beginning to be heard in
the voices of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus By the 1990s everyone
in the Western world and much of the East came to see that confidence
in human reason is almost dead True, most philosophers have not ca-
pitulated, not perhaps because they have the most to lose but because
they have everything to lose 19 Many scientists and technologists con-
tinue in their confidence that science gives sure knowledge, but they seem
to be the last part of the intellectual world to do so


Knowing itself comes under fire, especially the notion that there are any
truths of correspondence Conceptual relativism, discussed in the previ-
ous chapter, now serves not just religious experience but all aspects of
reality 20

18“For, formerly, one believed in ‘the soul’ as one believed in grammar, and the grammatical
subject: one said, ‘I’ is the condition, ‘think’ is the predicate and conditioned—thinking is an
activity to which thought must supply a subject as cause Then one tried with admirable per-
severance and cunning to get out of this net—and asked whether the opposite might not be
the case: ‘think’ the condition, ‘I’ the conditioned; ‘I’ in that case [am] only a synthesis which
is made by thinking” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec 54, in The Basic Writ-
ings of Nietzsche, ed Walter Kaufmann [New York: Modern Library, 1969], p 257); see also a
much longer critique in secs 16-17, pp 213-14

19Richard Rorty, for example, moved from a philosophy post at Princeton University to become
professor of humanities at the University of Virginia

20See chapter eight, pp 200-204

2 2 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

2. Worldview Question 5: The truth about the reality itself is forever
hidden from us. All we can do is tell stories.

If we begin with the seemingly knowing self and follow the implications,
we are left first with a solitary self (solipsism) and then not even that
Literary theorist Edward Said put it this way:

No longer a coherent cogito [thinking thing], man now inhabits the inter-
stices, “the vacant interstellar spaces,” not as an object, still less as a sub-
ject; rather man is the structure, the generality of relationships among
those words and ideas that we call the humanistic, as opposed to the pure,
or natural sciences 21

Of course, we still tell personal stories about our lives, where we have
been and where we intend to go And we tell larger stories too Some of
us—say, Christians, optimistic naturalists, secular humanists, chemists,
for example—may cling to our metanarratives, but they are just wishful

thinking The language we use to tell our stories is, as Nietzsche put it, “a
mobile army of metaphors ”

We have a continued “urge for truth,” but now “to be truthful means us-
ing the customary metaphors—in moral terms: the obligation to lie ac-
cording to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all ”22

21Edward Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p 286, quoted
by Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), p 120

22Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in The Portable Nietzsche, p 47

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and

anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations, which have

been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetori-

cally, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to

a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this

is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous

power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as

metal, no longer as coins.

NIETZSCHE, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense”

The Vanished Horizon 2 2 3

Those who hang on to their metanarrative as if it really were the mas-
ter story, encompassing or explaining all other stories, are under an illu-
sion We can have meaning, for all these stories are more or less mean-
ingful, but we cannot have truth

According to postmodernism, nothing we think we know can be
checked against reality as such Now we must not think that postmod-
ernists believe that there is no reality outside our language We are not to
abandon our ordinary perception that a bus is coming down the street
and we’d better get out of the way Our language about there being a
“bus” that is “coming down” a “street” is useful It has survival value! But
apart from our linguistic systems we can know nothing All language is a
human construct We can’t determine the “truthfulness” of the language,
only the usefulness

This basic notion has many varied expressions, depending on the
postmodern theorist Richard Rorty will serve as an illustration

The world does not speak Only we do The world can, once we have pro-
grammed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs But it cannot
propose a language for us to speak Only other human beings can do that
Languages are made rather than found, and truth is a property of
linguistic entities, of sentences 23

Truth is whatever we can get our colleagues (our community) to agree
to If we can get them to use our language, then—like the “strong poets”
Moses, Jesus, Plato, Freud—our story is as true as any story will ever get

Of course if our story doesn’t “work,” if we fail to have a language that
allows us safely to “cross a street when a bus is coming,” few of us will be
around long in a modern city Some languages will pass out of existence
because the language framers did not survive long enough to have chil-
dren to whom they taught it But since many languages—from Hindi to
Mandarin to Swahili—keep us alive in the cities, they have all the truth
value needed to keep us from being hit by a bus

Philosopher Willard Quine compares the language of modern science
to Homer’s stories of the gods:

23Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1989), pp 6-7 Compare Rorty’s statement with this one by Michel Foucault: “‘Truth’ is to be
understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution,
circulation, and operations of statements” (“Truth and Power” [from Power/Knowledge], in
The Foucault Reader, ed Paul Rabinow [New York: Pantheon, 1984], p 74)

2 2 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

For the most part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not
in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise But
in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ
only in degree and not in kind Both sorts of entities enter our conception
only as cultural deposits The myth of physical objects is epistemologically
superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as
a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience 24

In short, the only kind of truth there is is pragmatic truth There is no
truth of correspondence

It is easy to see how this notion, when applied to religious claims, trig-
gers a radical relativism 25 No one’s story is truer than anyone else’s story
Does the story work? That is, does it satisfy the teller? Does it get you
what you want—say, a sense of belonging, a peace with yourself, a hope
for the future, a way to order your life? It’s all one can ask

There is as well a problem with the stories themselves How is the lan-
guage in which they are expressed to be interpreted? Within the decon-
structionist segment of postmodernism, the stories we tell ourselves and
others do not have a determinate meaning They are not only subject to
normal misreading through lack of intelligence or basic background, or
difference between the writer’s or speaker’s background or context and
that of the reader or listener There is an inherent indeterminacy to lan-
guage itself Stories all contain the seeds of self-contradiction 26 Texts
and statements mean only what readers take them to mean 27

So in postmodernism there is a movement from (1) the Christian “pre-
modern” notion of a revealed determinate metanarrative to (2) the “mod-
ern” notion of the autonomy of human reason with access to truth of
correspondence to (3) the “postmodern” notion that we create truth as we
construct languages that serve our purposes, though these very languages
deconstruct upon analysis

24Willard Van Orman Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” in From a Logical Point of View,
2nd ed (Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, 1980), p 44 Quine adds, “Epistemo-
logically these are myths on the same footing with physical objects and gods, neither better
nor worse except for differences in the degree to which they expedite our dealings with sense
experience” (ibid , p 45) I am indebted to C Stephen Evans for this observation

25I have discussed religious relativism in more detail in chaps 5-6 of Chris Chrisman Goes to
College (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp 45-68

26Lilla, “Politics of Jacques Derrida,” p 38
27A brief, helpful introduction to this notion is found in Harold K Bush Jr , “Poststructuralism

as Theory and Practice in the English Class Room,” ERIC Digest (1995), available at

The Vanished Horizon 2 2 5

3. Worldview Question 3: Stories give communities their cohesive char-

If, then, claims to truth are not seen as the way things really are, if all we
have are humanly constructed stories that we believe and tell, total anar-
chy is not necessarily the result This is true for two reasons First, people
believe these stories to be true, so they function in society as if they were
true Second, groups of people believe the same basic story, and the result
is more or less stable communities Communities begin to fall apart when
different people within them believe substantially different stories

Christians, for example, believe that God is triune The postmodernist
may say that this story cannot be known to accord with reality, but a
Christian thinks it does anyway A naturalist really believes that “the cos-
mos is all there is,” regardless of how the postmodernist may explain that
this belief cannot in principle or practice be substantiated One might
say, too, that a postmodernist really believes that this explanation is true,
though if it is, then it can’t be (but this anticipates the critique of post-
modernism that follows below) In any case, stories have great social
binding power; they make communities out of otherwise disparate
bunches of people 28 The result is that though in postmodernism there is
an “incredulity toward metanarratives” (Lyotard), in every culture there
is a sufficiently agreed upon story that acts as a metanarrative So much
is this so that these stories, acting as metanarratives, mask a play for
power by those in any society who control the details and the propaga-
tion of the story


The shift is now complete: from being to knowing to meaning But the
implications keep piling up

4. Worldview Questions 5 and 6: All narratives mask a play for power.
Any one narrative used as a metanarrative is oppressive.

28In a self-ref lective postmodern society, Lyotard points out, “most people have lost the nos-
talgia for the lost narrative It in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity What
saves them is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic
practice and communicated interaction” (Postmodern Condition, p 41) Lyotard seems not
to be aware that his “postmodern” story is itself a story acting as a metanarrative (something
that has lost credibility in a postmodern society, according to him) and therefore no more
credible than any other story, any other explanation

2 2 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

“Knowledge is power,” Francis Bacon said in a peculiarly prophetic mo-
ment He was right; “modern” scientific knowledge has demonstrated its
power for three centuries With postmodernism, however, the situation is
reversed There is no purely objective knowledge, no truth of correspon-
dence Instead there are only stories, stories that, when they are believed,
give the storyteller power over others

Several major postmodern theorists, notably Michel Foucault, empha-
size this relationship Any story but one’s own is oppressive Every mod-
ern society, for example, defines “madness” such that those who fall into
that category are put out of the way of the rest of society Since there is no
way to know what madness as such really is, all we have are our defini-
tions 29 To reject oppression is to reject all the stories society tells us This
is, of course, anarchy, and this, as we will see, Foucault accepts

Here then we can trace a movement from (1) a “premodern” accep-
tance of a metanarrative written by God and revealed in Scripture to (2)
a “modern” metanarrative of universal reason yielding truth about reality
to (3) a “postmodern” reduction of all metanarratives to power plays


The question of human identity is thousands of years old “What is man?”
the psalmist asked Created “a little lower than the heavenly beings and
crowned with glory and honor,” came the answer 30 But not in post-

5. Worldview Question 3: There is no substantial self. Human beings
make themselves who they are by the languages they construct about

If this sounds like existentialism, that’s because existentialism is a step in
the postmodern direction Sartre said, “Existence precedes essence ”31
We make ourselves by what we choose to do The I is an activity The
postmodern pundit says, “We are only what we describe ourselves to be ”
The I is not a substance, not even an activity, but a floating construct

29“Knowledge is violence The act of knowing, says Foucault, is an act of violence” (Grenz,
Primer on Postmodernism, p 133)

30Psalm 8:4-5; some translations say, “a little lower than God ”
31Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism,” in A Casebook on Existentialism, ed William V Spanos

(New York: Thomas Y Crowell, 1966), p 289 For Sartre, however, the authentic self is never
encompassed by its cultural context or any metanarrative; it is rather radically free

The Vanished Horizon 2 2 7

dependent on the language it uses If we are “strong poets,” we create new
ways of speaking or modify the language of our society Freud, for ex-
ample, was a strong poet He got a whole society to talk about human
reality in terms like “the Oedipus complex” or the “id, the ego and the
superego ”32 Jung created the “collective unconscious ” There is no way to
know whether any of these “things” exist But we use the language to
describe ourselves, and that becomes the truth

Foucault claims that we are now realizing that “humanity” is nothing
more than a fiction composed by the modern human sciences The self
is no longer viewed as the ultimate source and ground for language; to the
contrary, we are now coming to see that the self is constituted in and
through language 33

In postmodernism the self is indeed a slippery concept For Nietzsche
the only self worth living was the self of the Übermensch, the Overman
(sometimes misleadingly translated Superman), the one who has risen
above the conventional herd and has fashioned himself Thus Spake
Zarathustra is the voice of such a “man beyond man ” But few can do
this Most of us have our selves constructed by the conventional language
of our age and society

So again there is a shift from (1) the “premodern” theistic notion that
human beings are dignified by being created in the image of God to (2) the
“modern” notion that human beings are the product of their DNA tem-
plate, which itself is the result of unplanned evolution based on chance
mutations and the survival of the fittest, to (3) the “postmodern” notion of
an insubstantial self constructed by the language it uses to describe itself


Postmodernism follows the route taken by naturalism and existentialism,
but with a linguistic twist

32See Rorty’s discussion of Freud as a “strong poet” in Contingency, pp 20, 28, 30-34, and his
comments on the power of poetry (pp 151-52) and on truth as “whatever the outcome of
undistorted communication happens to be” (p 67; also pp 52, 68)

33Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p 130 Grenz also quotes Foucault as follows: “To all those
who still wish to think about man, about his reign, or his liberation, to all those who still ask
themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as
their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth to all these warped and twisted
forms of ref lection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh—which means, to a cer-
tain extent, a silent one” (from The Order of Things [New York: Random House-Pantheon,
1971], pp 342-43, quoted by Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p 131)

2 2 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

6. Worldview Question 6: Ethics, like knowledge, is a linguistic con-
struct. Social good is whatever society takes it to be.

There is little reason to elaborate on this notion On the one hand, it is a
postmodern version of a much older cultural relativism 34 On the other
hand, it is the ethical extension of the notion that truth is what we decide
it is Rorty’s comment will serve to show that this position is not neces-
sarily a happy one for people of what we normally call goodwill:

There is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there our-
selves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a
practice, no standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a criterion,
no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conven-
tions 35

This means, he admits, that if some future society decides that fas-
cism is what it wants, a liberal democrat or anyone else is without ap-
peal So there is no appeal to a higher good outside the human family
One is left with a radical ethical relativism The good is whatever those
who wield the power in society choose to make it If a person is happy
with how society draws its ethical lines, then individual freedom re-
mains But what if an individual refuses to speak the ethical language of
his or her community?

Take Foucault, in many ways the most radical anarchist of all the
major postmodern theorists For him the greatest good is an individu-
al’s freedom to maximize pleasure 36 Foucault is so fearful that “society
constitutes a conspiracy to stif le one’s own longings for self-expression”
that “he agonizes profoundly over the question of whether rape should
be regulated by penal justice ” For him, writes Ronald Beiner, “law =
repression; decriminalization = freedom ”37 Postmodernism can make
no normative judgment about such a view It can only observe and com-
ment: so much the worse for those who find themselves oppressed by
the majority

34See the brief discussion in chapter five, pp 108-9
35Richard Rorty, The Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press, 1982), p xlii Derrida runs into the same problem Mark Lilla writes, “Derrida places
enormous trust in the ideological goodwill or prejudices of his readers, for he cannot tell
them why he chooses justice over injustice or democracy over tyranny, only that he does”
(Lilla, “Politics of Jacques Derrida,” p 40)

36Ronald Beiner, “Foucault’s Hyper-liberalism,” Critical Review, Summer 1995, pp 349-70
37Ibid , pp 353-54

The Vanished Horizon 2 2 9

Even value in literature is seen as the creation of the reader It is now a
common belief, writes Kevin J H Dettmar, “that artistic value is not
transcendent but contingent: that value resides not strictly within a text,
but in a complex interaction between what a text says and does, and what
the reader wants and needs ”38

Again we see the shift from (1) the “premodern” theistic ethics based
on the character of a transcendent God who is good and has revealed that
goodness to us to (2) the “modern” ethics based on a notion of universal
human reason and experience and the human ability to discern objective
right from wrong to (3) the “postmodern” notion that morality is the mul-
tiplicity of languages used to distinguish right from wrong


7. Worldview Questions 7 and 8: Postmodernism is in flux, as is post-
modernism’s take on the significance of human history, including its own
history. This means that the core committments of many postmodernists
are in flux as well. Postmodernists, in short are committed to an endless
stream of shifting “whatevers.”

Given the six previous characteristics of postmodernism, it is easy to see
why it is always in flux As Lyotard says, “All that has been received, if
only yesterday must be suspected A work can become modern
only if it is first postmodern Postmodernism thus understood is not
modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant ”39
The story of postmodernism’s development is too long to be told here I
can only offer a few short episodes, told, as any postmodern would point
out, from one perspective—my own

In the Middle Ages, theology was the queen of the sciences In the
Enlightenment, philosophy, and especially science, became the leading
edge of intellectual cultural change In the postmodern age, literary the-
ory once led the way

To anyone who did graduate work in English in the early 1960s this
move seems both sudden and surprising But in the 1960s literary theory

38Dettmar notes that this view “has been articulated most inf luentially” by Barbara Herrnstein
Smith in Contingencies of Value (Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, 1988) See
Kevin J H Dettmar, “What’s So Great About Great Books,” Chronicle of Higher Education,
September 11, 1998, p B6

39Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, p 79

2 3 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

began to become both sophisticated and culturally relevant 40 While sci-
entists continued to do what they had done for over a hundred years, and
philosophers trained their focus on smaller and smaller matters of ana-
lytic philosophy, a new mode of thinking about thinking emerged and
quickly evolved A kind of Precambrian burst of new ideas fired the imag-
ination of backwater English departments, whose younger scholars did
not just move into the mainstream but became the mainstream

The babbling brooks of Marx and Freud fed into the sedate pools of
Southern gentlemanly New Criticism and historical criticism, stirring
the waters Then fresh springs from anthropology (Claude Lévi-Strauss),
sociology (Foucault, Lyotard), feminism (Kate Millet, Elaine Showalter)
and linguistics (Ferdinand de Saussure) came with such force that the
eddies of literary study became the mainstream of intellectual life Schol-
ars like Jacques Derrida (deconstruction) and Stanley Fish (reader re-
sponse) became hot on campus Literary critics became intellectual ce-
lebrities “The hunger for social status has always seemed to me more
pronounced in English professors than in other academics,” charges lit-
erature professor Mark Krupnick The postmodernist baby boomers have
won, he says “Now there are fewer clashes in the English departments
because nearly everyone is a theorist or cultural-studies specialist ”41

Nonetheless, some backlash has ensued The Association of Literary
Scholars (ALSC), what some would call a retrograde movement founded
and dominated by older scholars, began forming in 1991, led by John M
Ellis, whose own Against Deconstruction is a sharp critique of Derrida’s
work, among others 42 This organization is still active in its emphasis on

40What follows is a broad-stroke picture of recent literary theory Details can be found in Roger
Lundin, The Culture of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) Bonny Klomp Stevens
and Larry L Stewart’s survey designed to introduce graduate students to literary study is also
helpful; see their A Guide to Literary Criticism and Research, 3rd ed (New York: Harcourt
Brace College, 1996) I have also found helpful critiques and countercritiques of postmodern
literary theory in numerous articles in recent volumes of The Christian Scholar’s Review and
Christianity and Literature. See especially the survey of recent Christian approaches to lit-
erature and theory in Harold K Bush Jr , “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Literary Study:
Prospects for the Future and a Meditation on Hope,” Christianity and Literature, Autumn
2001, pp 79-103 The following books are especially helpful: Clarence Walhout and Leland
Ryken, Contemporary Literary Theory: A Christian Appraisal (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1991); and W J T Mitchell, Against Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)

41Mark Krupnick, “Why Are English Departments Still Fighting the Culture Wars?” Chronicle
of Higher Education, September 20, 2002, p B16

42John M Ellis, Against Deconstruction (Princeton, N J : Princeton University Press, 1989);
Caleb Crain, “Inside the MLA: or, Is Literature Enough?” Lingua Franca, March 1999, pp

The Vanished Horizon 2 31

the traditional study of literature as “literature,” not as linguistics, politics
or an instrument of social change Ilan Stavans even harks back to Mat-
thew Arnold, who defined literary criticism as “a disinterested endeavor
to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world ”43
Perhaps of even more interest is the automatic backlash that comes when
postmodern scholars themselves are subjected to postmodern critique
Gender, political and psychological causes are now being found or specu-
lated to account for their theories The snake appears to be swallowing its
own tail 44

Finally I note one rather bizarre twist Daniel Barash and Nanelle Ba-
rash suggest a literary approach that is at once postmodern in that it is
new (as far as I know) and retrograde—a return to scientific modernity
They suggest that the theory of biological evolution be the “organizing
principle” of literary criticism “Literature does not so much construct an
arbitrary array of disconnected imaginings as it reflects the interaction
(whether actual or imagined) of living organisms with the world in which
they evolved and to which they are adapted ”45 Four years later, D T Max
outlines the work of a small cadre of scholars devoted to literary Darwin-
ism Heartedly promoted by sociobiologist E O Wilson, they are devel-
oping a variety of mostly speculative hypotheses they hope may be con-
firmed by what they describe as a scientifically conducted analysis of
literary texts 46 Both traditional and postmodern scholars are highly du-
bious But proponents such as Jonathan Gottschall are euphoric with ex-

If we literary scholars can summon the courage and humility to do so, the
potential benefits will reverberate far beyond our field We can generate
more reliable and durable knowledge about art and culture We can re-
awaken a long-dormant spirit of intellectual adventure We can help spur
a process whereby not just literature, but the larger field of the humanities

43Ilan Stavans, “A Literary Critic’s Journey to the Culture at Large,” Chronicle of Higher Educa-

tion, August 9, 2003, p B7
44Morris Dickstein, “Literary Theory and Historical Understanding,” Chronicle of Higher Edu-

cation, May 23, 2003, pp B7-10
45David P Barash and Nanelle Barash, “Biology as a Lens: Evolution and Literary Criticism,”

Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2002, pp B7-9
46D T Max, “The Literary Darwinists,” The New York Times Magazine, November 6, 2006

; Britt Peterson, in “Darwin to the Rescue,” The
Chronicle Review, August 1, 2008, p B 7-9, surveys further work of literary Darwinists

2 3 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

recover some of the intellectual momentum and “market share” they have
lost to the sciences And we can rejoin the oldest, and still the premier,
quest of all the disciplines: to better understand human nature 47

In any case, as literary study has in general backed off from some of its
wilder irrational theorizing, there are hundreds of graduate students of
English literature who have been schooled in these once cutting-edge
theories and have brought them into the undergraduate classroom Even
if fifteen years ago there was a discernible backlash, these approaches will
have a long-term effect 48 Moreover, Jeffrey J Williams has recently de-
tected a return to interest in postmodern literary theory of thirty years
ago Today’s literary theory, he says, is in a “holding pattern”; it is an
“eclectic mix” that is “memorializing the past ”49

The cutting edge is of course always moving Postmodern core com-
mitments are ephemeral Today’s hot intellectual ploy is tomorrow’s for-
gotten foolishness And what’s next is up for grabs For one thing the
whole postmodern movement may be in trouble As we shall see, its in-
ternal contradictions are almost as rife as those in New Age thought But
then, if history proceeded from one good reason to the next better rea-
son, the story told in this book, let alone this chapter, would be different
We can, however, see why much of postmodernism may not be with us
for the long haul


The effects of postmodern perspectives can be seen almost everywhere
in Western culture I have already mentioned literary study We will look
briefly now at history, science and theology 50

In the discipline of history, for example, the pastness of the past disap-
pears in the mists of the present moment Historians are moving from a

47Jonathan Gottschall, “Measure for Measure,” The Boston Globe, May 11, 2008

48Karen J Winkler surveys the lash and backlash of postmodern literary theory in “Scholars
Mark the Beginning of the Age of ‘Post-theory,’” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 13,
1993, p A9 See also Frank Lentricchia, “Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic,”
Lingua Franca, September/October 1996, pp 59-67

49Jeffrey J Williams, “Why Today’s Publishing World Is Reprising the Past,” The Chronicle
Review in The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 13, 2008, pp B8-10

50In The Death of Truth (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996), Dennis McCallum has collected
a series of critical essays on postmodernism in healthcare, literature, education, history, psy-
chotherapy, law, science and religion, each written by an expert in the field

The Vanished Horizon 2 3 3

modern historicism (the notion that the meaning of events is to be found
in their historical context) to a postmodern “denial of the fixity of the
past, of the reality of the past apart from what the historian chooses to
make of it, and thus any objective truth about the past ”51 The postmod-
ern historian does not use imagination to re-create for readers a sense of
the past itself but creates “a past in the image of the present and in accord
with the judgment of the historian ”52 The move away from using foot-
notes in scholarly writing only exacerbates the situation 53 Who can check
the historian’s judgment?

With postmodern historian Keith Jenkins, history becomes a hall of
mirrors: “In the post-modern world, then, arguably the content and con-
text of history should be a generous series of methodologically reflexive

studies of the makings of the histories of post-modernity itself ”54 History
becomes reflection on histories of reflection

51Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Tradition and Creativity in the Writing of History,” First Things,
November 1992, p 28 Himmelfarb’s essay, which ranges over history, law, philosophy and
culture in general, deserves reading in its entirety (pp 28-36)

52Ibid , p 30
53Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Where Have All the Footnotes Gone?” in On Looking into the Abyss

(New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1994)
54Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (London: Routledge, 1991), p 70 (the last sentence in the

book) For a plea for pulling back from postmodern historiography, see Jeffrey N Wester-
strom, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been Postmodern?” Chronicle of Higher Education,
September 11, 1998, p B4

History is a shifting problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of

the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present-minded work-

ers (overwhelmingly in our culture salaried historians) who go about their

work in mutually recognizable ways that are epistemologically, method-

ologically, ideologically and practically positioned and whose products

once in circulation, are subject to a series of uses and abuses that are

logically infinite but which in actuality generally correspond to a range

of power bases that exist at any given moment and which structure and

distribute the meanings of histories along a dominant-marginal spectrum.

KEITH JENKINS, Re-thinking History

2 3 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Postmodernism has made little impact on science itself—either on
how it is conducted or on how it is understood by most scientists None-
theless, postmodernism has begun to rewrite our understanding of what
science is despite what scientists do or say Most scientists, whether natu-
ralists or Christian theists, are critical realists They believe that there is
a world external to themselves and that the findings of science describe
what the world is like more or less accurately Accuracy increases as sci-
entific study progresses or it discovers a better paradigm to organize and
interpret the data Postmodernists are antirealists; they deny that there is
any known or knowable connection between what we think and say with
what is actually there 55

Scientific truth is the language we use to get us what we want “There
is no other proof that the rules [of scientific practice] are good than the
consensus extended to them by the experts,” wrote Lyotard 56 Science is
what the scientists say it is 57 To which one scientist wag has replied, “Just
step outside that ten-story window and say that again ” But this is to mis-
understand the postmodern theorists They are not saying that no physi-
cal world exists; they are rather giving a “report” on the status and nature
of scientific claims to knowledge in light of the impossibility of directly
accessing reality with our epistemic equipment The world does not speak
to us Our minds do not access the essences that make reality determi-
nate, the essences that make wood wood and metal metal We speak to
the world We say “wood” or “metal” and put these words in sentences
that often get us what we want When they don’t, we say that these sen-
tences are false We should rather say that they don’t work

Much postmodern writing about science has been couched in highly
obscure language This has both frustrated practicing scientists and
bamboozled the editors of at least one postmodern journal Alan Sokal, a
physicist at New York University, submitted an article titled “Transgress-
ing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum

55For a survey of these issues in the philosophy of science, see Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Sci-
ence (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1986)

56Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, p 29
57In a statement guaranteed to enrage traditional scientists and philosophers, literary critic

Terry Eagleton wrote, “Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical
claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives” (quoted from
“Awakening Modernity,” Times Literary Supplement, February 20, 1987, by Alister McGrath,
A Passion for Truth [Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1996], p 187)

The Vanished Horizon 2 3 5

Gravity” to the journal Social Text.58 The editors, not noticing that the
article was riddled with inanities from the standpoints of both physics
and sociology, accepted it for publication Sokal then announced in Lin-
gua Franca that the article was a hoax, written to expose the absurdity of
much postmodern cultural analysis in general and science in particular
Claiming himself to be on the “left” socially, he said that he was only try-
ing to keep cultural studies from obscurantism and overweening ambi-
tion The joy the hoax incited among modern-minded scientists and the
furor it caused among the editors and their intellectual friends points up
the personal stake today’s social critics and their subjects have in post-
modern approaches to science The whole affair merited a further com-
ment in Sokal and Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intel-
lectual’s Abuse of Science and The Sokal Hoax, a collection of comments
by both American and foreign scholars and pundits, edited by the editors
of Lingua Franca.

The postmodern sociologists might, however, get at least an echoing
giggle Two French scientists without Ph D credentials slipped a pseudo-
scientific, jargon-laden paper past the professional referees of a scientific
journal Whether their discussion of the singularity at the heart of the big
bang was intended as a hoax or just bad, presumptuous science is not clear
But it did show that nonsense can get past the intellectual guards posted at
the gates of journals of both the natural and the human sciences 59

The reactions of theologians to postmodernism have run the gamut
Some accept its central claims and write not theologies but a/theologies

58The original article appeared in Social Text, Spring/Summer 1996, pp 217-52; Sokal’s revela-
tion of the hoax was “A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies,” Lingua Franca, May/
June 1996, pp 62-64; Sokal’s “afterword” giving “his own account of the political significance
of the debate,” which was sent to Social Text at the same time as his article in Linqua Franca
but rejected by the editors, was published as “Transgressing the Boundaries: An Afterword,”
Dissent, Fall 1996, pp 93-97 The story of this hoax was widely broadcast in journals in the
summer of 1996 See, for example, “Mystery Science Theater,” Lingua Franca, July/August
1996, pp 54-64; Bruce V Lewenstein, “Science and Society: The Continuing Value of Rea-
soned Debate,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 21, 1996, pp B1-2; Liz McMillan, “The
Science Wars,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 28, 1996, pp A8-9, 13; Steven Weinberg,
“Sokal’s Hoax,” New York Review of Books, August 8, 1996, pp 11-15; “Sokal’s Hoax: An Ex-
change,” New York Review of Books, October 3, 1996, pp 54-56; “Footnotes,” Chronicle of
Higher Education, November 22, 1996, p A8 See as well Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont,
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (New York: Picador, 1998),
and The Sokal Hoax: The Sham That Shocked the Academy, ed the editors of Lingua Franca
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000)

59Richard Monastersky, “The Emperor’s New Science: French TV Stars Rock the World of The-
oretical Physics,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 15, 2002, pp A16-18

2 3 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

(neither theologies nor nontheologies but theologies that stem from the
interstice between the two) Don’t try to understand that without reading
Mark C Taylor 60 Other theologians accept the postmodern critique of
modernism, see much contemporary Christian theology as being too
“modern” and attempt to recast theology Among these are postliberals
who revise the notion of what theology is and can do (George Lindbeck),
those who see in the postmodern emphasis on story a chance for the
Christian story to get a hearing (Diogenes Allen), and evangelicals who
revision evangelical theology (Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Merold West-
phal and James K A Smith) or who emphasize the narrative nature of
theology (Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh) 61 Still others reject the
entire postmodern program and call for a return to Scripture and the
early church (Thomas Oden) or to a Reformation program that continues
to value human reason (Carl F H Henry, David F Wells and Gene Ed-
ward Veith Jr ) 62

In evangelical circles postmodernism continues to prove controver-

60Mark C Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1984) Here’s a taste of Taylor: “Ideas are never fixed but are always in transition; thus they
are irrepressibly transitory The words of a/theology fall in between; they are always in
the middle [between the beginning and the end] The a/theological text is a tissue woven
of threads that are produced by endless spinning” (p 13) Taylor has since branched out
from theology to cybernetics; see his profile in “From Kant to Las Vegas to Cyberspace: A
Philosopher on the Edge of Postmodernism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 29, 1998,
pp A16-17

61A collection of essays on this topic by some of the theologians mentioned here plus oth-
ers is Timothy R Phillips and Dennis L Okholm, eds , The Nature of Confession (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1996) See also George A Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984); Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief in a Postmodern
World (Louisville, Ky : Westminster John Knox, 1989); Stanley Grenz, Revisioning Evangeli-
cal Theology (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1993), and Renewing the Center, 2nd
ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006); Stanley Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism:
Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, Ky : Westminster John Knox Press,
2001); Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith
(New York: Fordam University Press, 2001); James K A Smith: Who’s Afraid of Postmod-
ernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006); and
J Richard Middleton and Brian J Walsh, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1995)

62Thomas C Oden, After Modernity . . . What? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990); Carl F H
Henry, “Truth: Dead on Arrival,” World, May 20-27, 1995, p 25; David F Wells, God in the
Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); and Gene Edward Veith Jr , Postmodern Times
(Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1994) Oden uses the term postmodern to describe his own ap-
proach, but he does so because he takes what I have been calling postmodern not to be “post”
modern but ultramodern What he recommends for the church today actually does, he be-
lieves, go beyond the modern and so can legitimately be called postmodern.

The Vanished Horizon 2 3 7

sial 63 Some younger scholars such as Robert Greer have surveyed the
Christian options and call for a recognition of the true insights of post-
modernism and a fresh approach he calls “post-postmodernism ”64 Older
scholars such as Merold Westphal and Douglas Groothuis disagree over
what postmoderns like Lyotard are saying, sometimes, so it seems, talk-
ing past one another in their dialogue While both affirm the central
teachings of the Christian faith, they take remarkably different views on
how much the mind is able to accurately know what is true about God,
humans and the universe 65 It is clear that the last word on postmodern-
ism and theology has yet to be written


I will start my critique by pointing out some aspects of the postmodern
perspective that seem true, not just useful, and continue with more criti-
cal remarks

First, postmodernism’s critique of optimistic naturalism is often on
target Too much confidence has been placed in human reason and the
scientific method Descartes’s attempt to find complete intellectual certi-
tude was fatal As a Christian he might well have been satisfied with a
confidence based on the existence of a good God who made us in his im-
age and wants us to know He should not have expected to be certain
apart from the givenness of God Subsequent intellectual history should
be a lesson to all who wish to replace the God who declares “I am that I
am” with individual self-certitude There is a mystery to both being and
knowing that the human mind cannot penetrate

Second, the postmodern recognition that language is closely associ-
ated with power is also apt We do tell “stories,” believe “doctrines,” hold
“philosophies” because they give us or our community power over others
The public application of our definitions of madness does put people in
mental health wards Indeed, we should suspect our own motives for be-

63See Charlotte Allen’s somewhat sensational “Is Deconstruction the Last Best Hope of Evan-
gelical Christians?” Lingua Franca, January 2000, pp 47-59

64Robert Greer, Mapping Postmodernism: A Survey of Christian Options (Downers Grove, Ill :
InterVarsity Press, 2003)

65See Merold Westphal, “Blind Spots: Christianity and Postmodern Philosophy,” Christian
Century, June 14, 2003, pp 32-35; Douglas Groothuis, “Modern Fallacies: Response to Mer-
old Westphal,” and Merold Westphal, “Merold Westphal Replies,” Christian Century, July 26,
2003, pp 41-42 See also Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the
Challenges of Postmodernity (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2000)

2 3 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

lieving what we do, using the language that we do, telling the stories that
inform our lives We may just as well suspect the motives of others

If, however, we adopt the radical form this suspicion takes in Foucault,
we will end up in a contradiction or, at least, an anomaly If we hold that
all linguistic utterances are power plays, then that utterance itself is a
power play and no more likely to be proper than any other It prejudices
all discourse If all discourse is equally prejudiced, there is no reason to
use one rather than another This makes for moral and intellectual anar-
chy Moreover, Foucault’s prime value—personal freedom to intensify
pleasure—is belied by his reduction of all values to power itself The truth

question cannot be avoided Is it true, for example, that all discourse is a
masked power play? If we say no, then we can examine with care where

Truth isn’t outside power . . . it’s produced by virtue of multiple forms

of constraint. . . . Each society has . . . its “general politics” of truth:

that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as

true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish

true and false statements, the means by which it is sanctioned; the

techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth;

the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.

. . . By truth I do not mean “the ensemble of truths which are to be

discovered and accepted” but rather “the ensemble of rules according

to which the true and the false are separated and specific effects of

power attached to the true,” it being understood also that it is not a

matter . . . “on behalf” of the truth, but of a battle about the status of

truth and the economic and political role it plays.

“Truth” is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for

the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operations of

statements. “Truth” is indeed linked . . . with systems of power which

produce and sustain it. . . . A “regime” of truth.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Power/Knowledge*

* The passage is abridged and quoted in Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (London: Rout-
ledge, 1991), pp. 31-32.

The Vanished Horizon 2 3 9

power is an undue factor If we say yes, then there is one sentence that
makes sense only if it is seen not as a power play A radical postmodern-
ism that says yes is self-refuting 66

Third, attention to the social conditions under which we understand
the world can alert us to our limited perspective as finite human beings
Society does mold us in many ways But if we are only the product of the
blind forces of nature and society, then so is our view that we are only the
product of the blind forces of nature and society A radical sociology of
knowledge is also self-refuting

Nonetheless, though often flawed in its approach, postmodernism
does make several positive contributions to our understanding of reality
I turn now to more critical comments

First, the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative The
idea that there are no metanarratives is taken as a first principle, and
there is no way to get around this except to ignore the self-contradiction
and get on with the show, which is what postmodernism does

Second, the idea that we have no access to reality (that there are no facts,
no truths-of-the-matter) and that we can only tell stories about it is self-
referentially incoherent Put crudely, this idea cannot account for itself, for
it tells us something that, on its own account, we can’t know Charles Tay-
lor puts the matter more carefully in his analysis of Richard Rorty:

Rorty offers a great leap into non-realism: where there have hitherto been
thought to be facts or truths-of-the-matter, there turn out to be only rival
languages between which we end up plumping, if we do, because in some
way one works better for us than the others
But to believe something is to hold it true; and, indeed, one cannot con-
sciously manipulate one’s beliefs for motives other than their seeming to
be true to us 67

Likewise, when Nietzsche says “truth is a mobile army of metaphors”
or conventional “lies,” he is making a charge that implicitly claims to be
true but on its own account cannot be 68

66McGrath comments, “Postmodernism thus denies in fact what it affirms in theory Even the
casual question ‘Is postmodernism true?’ innocently raises fundamental criteriological ques-
tions which postmodernism finds embarrassingly difficult to handle” (Passion for Truth, p

67Charles Taylor, “Rorty in the Epistemological Tradition,” in Reading Rorty, ed Alan R Mala-
chowski (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), p 258

68Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie,” pp 46-47 Bernard Williams’s comment about Rorty could

2 4 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Third, as Lilla points out, deconstructive postmodernism’s view of the
indeterminancy of language (a text can be read in a variety of ways, some
contradictory) raises a question: “How then are we to understand the
deconstructionist’s own propositions? As more than one critic has
pointed out, there is an unresolvable paradox in using language to claim
that language cannot make unambiguous claims ”69

Fourth, postmodernism’s critique of the autonomy and sufficiency of
human reason rests on the autonomy and sufficiency of human reason
What is it that leads Nietzsche to doubt the validity of Descartes’s “I
think, therefore I am”? That is, what leads him to doubt that the I is an
agent that causes thought? Answer: Nietzsche’s thought What if Nie-
tzsche’s thinking is not produced by Nietzsche, if it is merely the activity
of thought? Then Nietzsche’s I is being constructed by language There
isn’t any Nietzsche accessible to Nietzsche or us In fact, there is no sub-
stantial us There is only the flow of linguistic constructs that construct
us But if there are only linguistic constructs, then there is no reason we
should be constructed one way rather than another and no reason to
think that the current flow of language that constructs us has any rela-
tionship to what is so The upshot is that we are boxed into subjective
awareness consisting of an ongoing set of language games


It is true, as we have seen, that some people seem to get along well with
the notion that there is no God Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan and Kai
Nielsen are cases in point 70 Others have more difficulty Nietzsche re-
places God with himself Václav Havel attributes to Being a character

serve as well for Nietzsche: “Sometimes he [Rorty and, I would add, Nietzsche] seems quite
knowing about the status of his own thoughts At other times, he seems to forget al-
together about one requirement of self-consciousness, and like the old philosophies he is
attempting to escape, naively treats his own discourse as standing quite outside the general
philosophical situation he is describing He thus neglects the question whether one could ac-
cept his account of various intellectual activities, and still continue to practice them” (“Auto-
da-Fé: Consequences of Pragmatism,” in Reading Rorty, ed Alan R Malachowski [Oxford:
Blackwell, 1990], p 29) For an extensive, sophisticated critique of postmodern epistemology,
see Alvin I Goldman, Knowledge in a Social World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999),
pp 3-100

69Lilla, “Politics of Jacques Derrida,” p 38
70See Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” ; Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p 8, n 9;
Kai Nielsen, Ethics Without God, rev ed (Buffalo, N Y : Prometheus, 1900)

The Vanished Horizon 2 41

that presents itself in theistic terms but is not really a personal God 71
Postmodern scholar Ihab Hassan briefly encourages a vague spirituality
“This I know,” he pleads, “without spirit the sense of cosmic wonder, of
being and morality at the widest edge, which we all share, existence
quickly reduces to mere survival ”72 Science writer John Horgan surveys
the possible connection between science and spirituality, concluding
rather vaguely that mystical experience bestows on us a great gift:

To see—really see—all that is right with the world Just as believers in a
beneficent deity should be haunted by the problem of natural evil, so
Gnostics, atheists, pessimists, and nihilists should be haunted by the
problem of friendship, love, beauty, truth, humor, compassion, fun 73

How atheists and nihilists are to be so haunted, he does not say
Still, the predominant stance of recent naturalists is humanistic to the

core Somehow after the death of God we will muddle through At the
end of his massive book The Modern Mind, Peter Watson looks to a chas-
tened postmodernism, a chastened science and a chastened Western hu-
manism to provide a way from cultural anarchy to societies in which all
can find meaning and significance 74 He cites both philosopher Bryan
Magee and sociobiologist E O Wilson For Magee no justification by
God or reason is required for a moral stance or belief in human decency
We can just act as we intuitively know we should 75 For Wilson, future
science pursuing its current course will blend with humanistic studies
and the arts in a “consilience” that will support human values and aspira-
tions Wilson believes that discovering the material causes for our sense
of morality will provide a sufficient justification for acting as we should
Actually, despite his disclaimer, he has committed the naturalistic fallacy
of deriving ought from is Few have found his materialistic reductionism
convincing 76

71Václav Havel, Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982, trans Paul Wilson (New York:
Henry Holt, 1989), pp 331, 346, 358-59; see also James W Sire, Václav Havel: Intellectual
Conscience of International Politics (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2001), pp

72Hassan, “Postmodernism to Postmodernity,” final paragraph
73John Horgan, “Between Science and Spirituality,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November

29, 2002, p B9
74Peter Watson, The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (New

York: Perennial, 2001), pp 767-72
75Bryan Magee, Confessions of a Philosopher (London: Phoenix, 1977), pp 590-92
76E O Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1998), esp

2 4 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Finally, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont consider three possible out-
comes to the challenge to postmodernism First is “a backlash leading to
some form of dogmatism, mysticism (e g New Age), or religious funda-
mentalism ” Second is “that intellectuals will become reluctant (at least
for a decade or two) to attempt any thoroughgoing critique of the existing
societal order ” Third is “the emergence of a culture that would be ratio-
nalistic but not dogmatic, open-minded but not frivolous, and politically
progressive but not sectarian ” But Sokal and Bricmont are realistic They
add that “this is only a hope, and perhaps only a dream ”77 And a dream it
most probably is Where in scientific rationalism is there a foundation for
such hope?

In any case, the challenge of the death of God, the death of reason, the
death of truth and the death of the self—all dominant in current post-
modernism—is likely to be with us for a very long time Thinking people
of every age refuse to stop wondering about what is really real and how
we can know If we are only material beings, a product of unintentional,
uncaring sources, why do we think we can know anything at all? And
why do we think we should be good?

If postmodernism has not taken us beyond naturalism but rather has
enmeshed us in a web of utter uncertainty, why should we think it de-
scribes us as we really are? Is there a way beyond postmodernism?


Postmodernism is, of course, not a full-blown worldview But it is such a
pervasive perspective that it has modified several worldviews, most nota-
bly naturalism In fact, the best way to think about most of postmodern-
ism is to see it as the most recent phase of the “modern,” the most recent
form of naturalism In postmodernism the essence of modernism has not
been left behind Both rest on two key notions: (1) that the cosmos is all
there is—no God of any kind exists—and (2) the autonomy of human
reason Of course 2 follows from 1 If there is no God, then human be-
ings, whatever else they are, are the only “persons” in the cosmos; they
have the only rational minds for which there is any evidence We are
therefore on our own The first moderns were optimistic; the most recent

pp 238-65 See, for example, the responses of postmodernist Richard Rorty and biologist
Paul R Gross in “Is Everything Relative?” Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1998, pp 14-49

77Sokal and Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense, p 211

The Vanished Horizon 2 4 3

ones are not The distinctions between the early and late moderns are
certainly important enough not just to note but to signal the latter with a
term like postmodern.

Postmodernism pulls the smiling mask of arrogance from the face of
naturalism The face behind the mask displays an ever-shifting counte-
nance: there is the anguish of Nietzsche railing against the herd mental-
ity of the mass of humanity, the ecstatic joy of Nietzsche willing into be-
ing the Overman, the leering visage of Foucault seeking the intensification
of sexual experience, the comic grin of Derrida as he deconstructs all
discourse including his own, and the play of irony around the lips of Rorty
as he plumps for a foundationless solidarity But no face displays a confi-
dence in truth, a trust in reality or a credible hope for the future

If our culture is to move toward a hopeful future, it will first have to
move back to a more realistic past, pick up from where we began to go
wrong, take into account the valuable insights derived from what has
happened since and forge a more adequate worldview 78

One worldview has been on center stage in the Middle East, North
Africa and Southeast Asia for centuries But its presence as an intellec-
tual and social challenge to the modern Western world has been mini-
mal—until recently But the event called 9/11, the date in 2001 when ter-
rorists flew commercial airline planes into the World Trade Center in
New York, has changed all that Islam has now come to front and center
stage in the West as well Its worldview can no longer be ignored

78I end this chapter on a cryptic note It is not my intention now or later to contribute much
to what I have brief ly envisioned Others (see those mentioned in footnotes 61-62 above) are
working on this, and I will leave the task to them and their colleagues

Chapter 10

by Winfried Corduan, Ph D


There is no God but Allah
and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.

M u s l i m d e c l a r a t i o n o f fa i t h

Events of the past thirty years have brought on stage in North America
and Europe a worldview that to that point had been very much alive and
well from North Africa across the globe east to Indonesia, but had been
treated as only a quaint aberration in contrast to the “real” struggle be-
tween Communism and capitalism Though the Western world had
never been able to ignore it in foreign policy, the general populace even in
Europe could largely discount its contribution to modern thought In the
Middle Ages, of course, its scholars had contributed to Western thought
by preserving, commenting on and advancing the philosophical thought
of the ancient Greeks But this intellectual influence on Europe and sub-
sequently on the New World largely disappeared by the seventeenth cen-
tury Politically, of course, the Middle East posed a continued challenge
to the West, but it did not seriously threaten the Western worldviews of
Christianity, deism, naturalism and existentialism However, in 1979
radical Muslims in Iran took over the American embassy, followed shortly

A View from the Middle East 2 4 5

by skirmishes with other Muslims in Lebanon and Libya Then as the
twenty-first century was just dawning, two commercial planes flown by
Middle-Eastern terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center in New
York The worldview of Islam could no longer be ignored

There has indeed been renewed interest in Islam, both in general and
in particular with regard to specific groups, such as the Taliban and Al-
Qaeda Unfortunately, popular descriptions of Islam are frequently driven
by polemics, and one may find many conflicting descriptions of the reli-
gion and the worldview it entails Thus, it is important to provide a care-
ful discussion of Islamic theism

To do so, however, brings up an obvious question: Since theism has
already been treated in this book, does it really make sense to retread the
same material again? The answer to that question would be a clear “no” if
all forms of theism were alike and if we would simply be repeating the
identical information But there are no generic worldviews, and there is
no such thing as generic theism in real life Nobody holds to “just theism,”
or, for that matter, to any other worldview without bringing in matters of
heritage and environment Worldviews always occur in a specific context
and are susceptible to various forms of expression depending on the cul-
ture of origin and the culture in which they are practiced Consequently,
it should be no surprise that there are important differences between
Christian theism and Islamic theism

A Christian writer undertaking this description can easily err by going
in one of two directions One is to point to the differences between Chris-
tian theism and Islamic theism with the implicit agenda of demonstrat-
ing that in all such cases simply being different from Christianity is a flaw
in Islam Such an inference is unwarranted, even for a committed Chris-
tian, since not all points of difference are issues of truth and falsehood
The other direction into which one can stray is to make Islam look more
like Christianity than it actually is, maybe by overemphasizing superfi-
cial commonalities or perhaps by letting a minority group stand for the
broader consensus Ultimately, that attitude reveals the same prejudice,
namely that the worth of Islam as a religion is dependent on its similarity
to Christianity On the other hand, if Islamic theism turns out to entail a
difficulty that would be resolved by Christian theism, it appears to me to
be legitimate to point out the Christian version as a potential resolution

I will attempt to let Islam speak for itself as much as possible by hold-

2 4 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ing myself to the teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith Where there are
differences among various Islamic groups, I will make my best attempt to
represent what I take to be the more widely held interpretation and, if
that’s not realistic, give some priority to the more literal reading of the
Qur’an If doing so seems to be a limitation, let me point out why it is
actually an asset Since the Islamic groups that have dominated the news,
and about whom we are curious, are also among the more conservative
ones, by using this approach we may actually receive a clearer picture of
their worldview than if we gave all factions equal coverage 1


1. Worldview Question 1: The fundamental reality of Islam is God (Al-
lah), described as monotheistic, infinite, personal, transcendent, imma-
nent, omniscient, sovereign and good. Of these attributes Islam empha-
sizes his oneness, transcendence and sovereignty. There has been debate
as to what extent the Qur’an should be included in the category of funda-
mental reality.

The word Allah is simply the Arabic word for “God” or, to be com-
pletely literal, a contraction of al-ilāh, the God 2 It is technically not a
proper name, but it is used generically, just as “God” is in English Nor-
mally, when Christians or others refer to the God of the Bible in Arabic,
the best option is to use the word Allah Consequently, by itself, to say
that the fundamental reality in the Islamic version of theism is Allah is
not to say anything distinctive about its theism We need to look closer
at the descriptions of Allah to see if there is any difference between

1More technically, there are four schools of Islamic law (shari’a), of which the most conservative
is the Hanbalite school, named after its founder Ibn-Hanbal, who lived around a d 800 About
a hundred years after his death, his approach was pushed to the forefront by Abu al-Hasan al-
Ash’ari, whose followers are known as Ash’arites This conservative strain was revived in Saudi
Arabia in the eighteenth century by the very strict reformer Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab
Wahhabite Islam became the only acceptable school of Islam in Saudi Arabia and eventually
gave birth to the Taliban in Afghanistan To some extent, it also stands in the background of Al-
Qaeda because its leader, Osama bin Laden has personal roots in Wahhabism Since I am taking
an intentionally conservative approach in my account, it will mirror the Hanbalite and Ash’arite
beliefs most closely But it is precisely this conservative form of Islam that has been held by the
groups creating the most interest of late, so we can hardly go wrong if our description of the
teachings of the Qur’an sheds light on their understanding of the religion

2Frederick Mathewson Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 2nd ed (New York: Macmillan,
1994), p 387

A View from the Middle East 2 47

Christian theism and Islamic theism in this regard 3

Now, to approach the study of Allah and Islam on a comparative basis
is not to do it an injustice A great amount of the content of the Qur’an
consists of demonstrating that Islam is better than any other religion,
and that God, as portrayed in Islam, is greater than any other deity that
human beings may have imagined Islam arose in the context of rivalry
Muhammad was proclaiming monotheism as he understood it against
the polytheism that dominated Mecca in his day, the monotheism of Ju-
daism, which he considered to be hypocritical, and the trinitarian mono-
theism of Christianity, which he censured as both idolatrous and absurd
Islam did not so much define itself internally as externally against the
other existing options

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God
aught but the truth Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an
apostle of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit
proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His apostles Say not “Trinity”:
desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God: Glory be to Him: (far
exalted is He) above having a son To Him belong all things in the heavens
and on earth And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs (4:171)4

The comparative impulse in Islam comes out in one of the most well-
known phrases associated with Islam: Allahu akbar It is a part of the call
to prayer repeated five times a day, and faithful believers may use it as an

3I shall use God and Allah interchangeably, partly for the sake of variety in style (if I were to
write extensively on the biblical God I would use such synonyms as the Lord or Yahweh) and
partly to keep us alert to the fact that there are both similarities and differences between
Christian theism and Islamic theism

4All quotations from the Qur’an come from the translation by Yusuf Ali, which is now available
in many editions as well as in multiple locations on the Internet Islam holds that the Qur’an is
only the Qur’an in its original Arabic form because any translation must interpret, and to in-
terpret is potentially to distort There is much debate as to which translation/interpretation is
more accurate than others Yusuf Ali’s version has come in for some criticism, but it continues
to be the one that is handed out by mosques and Islamic centers to visitors, and thus it is a fair
inference that it must be accurate enough to represent their faith Furthermore, Yusuf Ali was
a devout Muslim, whose study notes ref lect a commonly accepted conservative approach, and
it can thus be trusted to represent a sound Islamic view in its phrasing and teachings

However, one must be aware of Yusuf Ali’s manner of translation When moving from one
language to another, sometimes a single word needs to be translated by several words, or a
short phrase by a longer one Usually translators just make these adjustments automatically
and expect readers to be aware of such things Yusuf Ali puts such words or phrases in paren-
theses, even though they are clearly an integral part of the meaning conveyed Furthermore,
his use of capitalization is somewhat unusual

2 4 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

exclamation in response to anything out of the ordinary, whether good or
ill It is usually translated simply as “God is great ” What is notable about
this expression is that akbar does not actually mean “great” in the
straightforward sense “Great” by itself would simply be kabir In order to
get closer to its meaning, one has to translate it as either “greater” (the
comparative degree) or “the greatest” (the superlative degree)

But even those two options do not do complete justice to the way that
akbar is used in this context After all, something can be greater without
being greatest, and language allows that there could be two or more be-
ings that share a superlative, such as two greatest beings To use a simple
English illustration, George may run faster than Fred (comparative), but
that doesn’t mean that he is the fastest runner (superlative), and if both
Michael and Stephen share the record, they are both the fastest runners,
and therefore they both partake of the superlative In Arabic there is an-
other grammatical form, called the elative, which, as used in this con-
text5, that is, as applied to Allah, raises the degree of an adjective above
all other applications Thus, Allahu akbar actually implies “God is greater
than all others,” or “God is the one and only supreme being ” We see,
then, that at the very foundation of Islam is the conviction that Allah’s
greatness is understood by way of contrast to all other inferior beings

This mindset makes itself felt wherever Islam presents itself In the
Qur’an there are very few places where the praise of Allah is not immedi-
ately connected to statements simultaneously condemning either false
views of God or the people who hold them Certainly insofar as the scrip-
tures of other religions show awareness of other faiths, they, too, are likely
to make contrasts, but they do not do so as constantly as the Qur’an does

The unequaled greatness of Allah becomes the linchpin of all further
considerations of his nature Anything that could conceivably be con-
strued as detracting from his greatness must be considered to be false, or
even offensive The worst sin in Islam is shirk, which is commonly trans-
lated as “idolatry,” but literally means “association” and thus implies far
more than the common understanding of idolatry, such as worshiping
statues of deities Shirk means to conjoin Allah with any of his creatures,
to ascribe a partner to him, or to understand him to possess limitations

5Please note that, strictly grammatically, in other settings the elative may carry no more force
than the comparative or superlative degrees, but that, on this point at least, it includes the
exclusivist meaning

A View from the Middle East 2 4 9

that are characteristic of his creatures but not of him
Not only does this prohibition rule out notions such as an incarnation

or any direct revelation of God himself in any humanly apprehensible
form, but it also means that whatever attributes God has revealed about
himself cannot be measured by human standards For example, Allah is
just, but if we come up with a definition of justice and then think that,
therefore, we can understand what it means for Allah to be just, we are
overstepping the bounds of what is allowable Similarly, Allah is merciful,
gracious and forgiving, but knowing these truths about Allah does not
give us any warrant for drawing implications concerning how he should
be expected to act toward any specific person Allah is not unknowable,
but it would be presumptuous for us to infer from his attributes specifi-
cally how he would manifest them in any particular cases

An integral part of any theism is that God is both transcendent (beyond
the world) and immanent (present and active within the world) In the case
of Islamic theism, God’s transcendence far outweighs his immanence Any
notion of a possible relationship with Allah must respect this boundary
God and a human person can never meet on the same plane In the (per-
haps slightly overstated) words of Isam’il Ragi al Faruqi,

Islam is transcendentalist It repudiates all forms of immanentism It holds
that reality is of two generic kinds—transcendent and spatiotemporal,
creator and creature, value and fact—which are metaphysically, ontologi-
cally unlike as different from each other These two realms of being con-
stitute different objects of two modes of human knowledge, namely, the a
priori and the empirical Consciousness of this duality of being is as old as
man; but it has never been absolutely free of confusion, absolutely clear of
itself, as in Islam Islam takes its distinguishing mark among the world
religions precisely by insisting on an absolute metaphysical separation of
transcendent from the spatiotemporal 6

We saw earlier in this book that in Christian theism there is no direct
contradiction between God’s transcendence and our finitude In fact,
Christians maintain that an important aspect of what it means to be hu-
man is to have the capacity for an intimate relationship with God, namely
to know him as we would know our brother or father Even though the
Qur’an allows us to know of Allah’s presence and to recognize his guid-

6Isam’il Ragi al Faruqi, “Islam,” in The Great Asian Religions, ed by Wing-tsit Chan, Isam’il
Ragi al Faruqi, Joseph M Kitagawa and P T Raju (Indianapolis: Macmillan, 1969), p 309

2 5 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ance, his availability and his kindness, it keeps a much wider gap between
a person’s relationship with Allah compared to Christian theism In
Christian theism one could say that, because of God’s indwelling of us
through his Spirit (Jn 14:17, 19; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 6:16), we have an even
more intimate relationship with God than with other people; such a state-
ment would be impossible in the Qur’an Even though Allah is immanent
insofar as he acts in the world, the Christian notions of God’s incarnation
in a human being (Christ) or his direct indwelling of all who believe in
him would bring him too far down to the level of creatures for Islamic

Of course, we need to be clear on the fact that the Qur’an does state
that God is close to us, but we also need to recognize what this means

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I
listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them
also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk
in the right way (2:186)

Hammudah Abdalati asserts on the basis of this verse

God is High and Supreme, but He is very near to the pious thoughtful
people; He answers their prayers and helps them He loves the people
who love Him and forgives their sins Because He is so Good and Lov-
ing, He recommends and accepts only the good and right things The
door of His mercy is always open to any who sincerely seek His support
and protection 7

This verse is considered to be of great comfort to Muslims in the
struggles of everyday life, and, thus, must be considered to contribute to
the total Islamic worldview Nevertheless, we may also take cognizance
of its context and its overall intent The verse occurs in the midst of vari-
ous rules concerning the observance of Ramadan Its immediate prede-
cessor enjoins fasting during Ramadan and allows for those who are sick
or on a journey to make up their obligation later It is followed by the in-
structions not to have sexual relations during fasting hours and not to
overindulge oneself during the times when eating is permitted In short,
even though the verse carries reassurance of God’s presence, in its setting
its primary purpose seems to be to provide conditions under which be-
lievers’ prayers will be heard during Ramadan Thus, it is a word of com-

7Hammudah Abdalati, Islam in Focus (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975), p 5

A View from the Middle East 2 51

fort, but it is also bound up with an exhortation to obedience
To provide an even more drastic example, Muslim apologists to West-

ern Christians sometimes attempt to counter the perception of distance
between God and people by quoting a part of a verse from the Qur’an (50:
16): “We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein,” where “We” is Allah
speaking using the “royal we ” This statement certainly seems to imply an
intimate personal relationship However, a look at the immediate context
shows that what might by itself look like an assurance of God’s comfort-
ing presence is actually a threat Let us quote the entire verse and the two
that follow it,

It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul
makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein Behold,
two (guardian angels) appointed to learn (his doings) learn (and noted
them), one sitting on the right and one on the left Not a word does he ut-
ter but there is a sentinel by him, ready (to note it) (50:16-18)

Not only does this verse not teach anything like an intimate personal re-
lationship, God’s presence as depicted in this passage is also not immedi-
ate, but mediated by two angels

A possible exception to this apparent lack of an intimate relationship
with Allah is provided by Sufism, the mystical side of Islam Sufi teach-
ings have had a profound influence on Islam as a whole by going far be-
yond the Qur’an in emphasizing a loving relationship between God and
his believers It even teaches that a person can attain a direct vision of
Allah But this is not something that is simply given to every Muslim It
is an outcome that requires a lot of labor and is not an experience that
one can attain simply by deciding to do so It takes many years of follow-
ing the strict Sufi rule to get to this point 8 One must not only follow all
of the normal rules for Islam, but one must also reach and maintain a
state of absolute purity Then it may be possible to attain a moment of
being directly in the presence of God But even so, Sufism does not supply
an exception to the emphasis on God’s transcendence because its goal is
not for God to move downward in order to be closer to the human being,
but for the Sufi monk to rise up in his spiritual state until he finally at-
tains the height sufficient to experience God

8Menahem Milson, trans and ed , A Sufi Rule for Novices (Cambridge, Mass : Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1975)

2 52 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

But of course despite al-Faruqi’s statement above, Islam does not do
away completely with the immanence of God As we shall see below, even
from afar he regulates the events of the universe, and he has consistently
revealed himself throughout human history The most important revela-
tion from Allah is the Qur’an, but Islam even allows for a certain amount
of general revelation

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of
the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the
profit of mankind; in the rain which God Sends down from the skies, and
the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of
all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds,
and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the
earth;—(Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise (2:164)

Note that the perception of these divine clues is already limited to
those “people that are wise,” which is just another way of saying “people
who believe in Allah already ” In fact, what follows this verse immediately
is a condemnation of anyone else who may see the signs, but winds up
worshiping them rather than Allah

Still, the fact of revelation shuts the door on the idea that because of
God’s transcendence we must be agnostic concerning God’s attributes
We can know some things about Allah However, at all times we must
acknowledge that this knowledge is only general We can know that God
is merciful, but we should in no way pretend that we comprehend what
this means sufficiently to draw implications from it

Having seen all of the above concerning the exclusive nature of Allah,
you may be surprised to learn that we need to add one other item to our
exploration of what constitutes fundamental reality in Islam, at least as
an issue that is debated among Muslims Our answer so far consists of
the fact that God is the ultimate reality, that God in himself is quite re-
mote from us, and that God has revealed himself to us through the
Qur’an It is the nature of the Qur’an that has raised another puzzle It is
generally accepted that the Qur’an is eternal In its true form it exists in
heaven as the Mother of the Book (Umm-al-kitab) When Gabriel first
commissioned Muhammad, the angel presented him with excerpts out of
the Umm-al-kitab and commanded him to read and subsequently recite
these portions (sura 96) This order seriously perplexed Muhammad at
first because he was illiterate The angel reassured him that the same

A View from the Middle East 2 53

God who creates people out of a mere clot of blood (i e , the fertilized
ovum), would also give him the ability to read the book and to repeat its
content with complete precision This is one of the reasons why Muslims
refer to the Qur’an as a miracle (the other one being its perceived perfec-
tion in form and content) At the same time, the nature of the book-
behind-the-book, the true Qur’an in heaven, has caused a lot of discus-
sion among Muslims

The major contenders in this debate historically were known as the
Mu’tazilites and the Ash’arites 9 We cannot possibly do justice to the en-
tire debate in this chapter and must content ourselves with assessment by
John L Esposito that “in time the [the Ash’arites] came to be regarded as
the dominant school of Sunni theology,”10 and thus focus on their point
of view The conundrum of the Umm-al-Kitab, as already alluded to,
concerns its eternality If it really is an eternal book, then we could actu-
ally have two foundational realities, namely both Allah and the Qur’an,
and the latter would then detract from Allah’s greatness The easiest way
of dealing with this unwanted outcome would be to say that the Qur’an
is created and, therefore, temporal, which was the position of the
Mu’tazilites But the notion of the Umm-al-Kitab as eternal had become
so engrained in Islamic thought that to deny it reduced the authority of
the book in Muslim eyes The most commonly accepted solution, which
is the Ash’arite position, is to say that the Qur’an is indeed eternal, though
not as an independent reality Rather, the words of the Qur’an are the
thoughts of Allah himself, and so it has existed as long as there has been
God, which makes the Qur’an eternal, but does not stipulate the book as
a second reality

9The Mu’tazilites arose in the early eighth century A D among philosophically literate converts
to Islam, who attempted to make a rational case (kalām) for Islam They took uncommon
stances on two issues: the eternity of the Qur’an and the freedom of individual persons (to
which we will come later in this chapter) Concerning the Qur’an, the Mu’tazilites asserted
that the Qur’an was created They were opposed by the Ash’arites (see note 1 above), who
advocated the understanding that the Qur’an was eternal, but only as the thoughts of God,
not as a separately existing reality Although the Ash’arites managed to have the Mu’tazilites
eventually declared to be heretics, Mu’tazilite ideas have been revived to a certain extent by
contemporary Muslims Nevertheless, it does not make much sense to consider either the
Mu’tazilites or Ash’arites to have “solved” the problem for Islam, though the Ash’arite view
has been the more enduring one The debate is still ongoing David S Noss, A History of the
World’s Religions (Upper Saddle River, N J : Prentice Hall, 2008), pp 569-72

10John L Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, 3rd ed (New York: Oxford University Press,
1998), p 73

2 5 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Given this point of view, the Qur’an not only contains God’s thoughts,
but it also mediates God’s thoughts to us Consequently, one has to think
of the Qur’an on two levels, distinguishing between it as the content of

the mind of God (which is never accessible to us) and as divine revelation
(which is the only way to have accurate knowledge about God)

It is not necessary for us to take sides in this debate among Muslim
scholars, but it is important for us, when we try to identify what consti-
tutes fundamental reality in Islam, that we may need to include the
Qur’an as expressive of the mind of God for some schools of Islam

2. Worldview Question 2: God (Allah) created the universe ex nihilo,
and all creatures are responsible to him. However, the world is a closed
system insofar as nothing happens in the world outside of his divine

The magnificence of Allah’s greatness is brought out clearly in the mira-
cle of his creation of the universe

Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down
on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of ) creation in the heavens
and the earth, (With the thought): “Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou
created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the
Fire ” (3:191)

His creation is not just limited to material things In the very first sura,

The place of the Qur’an in the life of the Muslims is only in limited ways

like that of the Bible in the lives of Jews and Christians. Scholars have

observed that in relation to Christianity, the Qur’an may be usefully

compared with Christ, in that it is believed to be God’s Word that has

miraculously come down into the world in history and humankind. If in

Christianity the “Word became flesh,” in Islam it became a book. And

the book is properly appropriated and applied only where it is recited

live in a context of belief and obedience.


A View from the Middle East 2 55

God is praised as “the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds” (1:2), and
Richard C Martin points out that “the plural, worlds, does not refer to
other planets and stars as we think of them, but rather to other sacred
realms of angels and unseen spiritual beings ” 11 Prior to the creation of
humans, God already had brought angels and jinn into existence The
latter are malicious spirits of relatively limited power, but sufficiently
strong to ruin someone’s life if left unchecked

Allah’s method of creation is simply to speak a thing into existence
This understanding is illustrated in two verses in the Qur’an Thus, we
read concerning the creation of Adam,

He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be ’ And he was (3:59)12

Similarly, when the angel announced to Mary that she would bear
Jesus even though she was a virgin, Mary was understandably puzzled
The angel reproved her skepticism by saying,

Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He
but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is! (3:47)

Since Allah has created the universe, he has absolute discretion over it
Think of a child who has built a sandcastle at the beach She may deco-
rate it with sea shells, protect it from the water, add to it, or she may
trample it, let the water wash it away or preserve half of it but let the other
half stand The decision is entirely hers, and she owes nothing to the
sandcastle, but the structure owes everything to her Insofar as she does
take care of it, it is purely a matter of her good nature, which she is not
obligated to maintain Such is the relationship between God and his

God is the creator and owner of the universe, and nothing happens
within it that would be outside of his plan This doctrine is called Qadr,
which literally means “power ” In this case it refers to God’s power to
know and govern the universe There are no surprises for Allah This
much is given, but there are multiple ways of understanding this concept,

11Richard C Martin, Islam: A Cultural Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, N J : Prentice-Hall,
1982), p 92

12Please note that here and in several other places, the Qur’an goes along with the biblical
notion that Adam was created from dust or clay The statement in sura 96 that God created
man from a clot of blood does not refer to the creation of Adam, but to the miracle of each
human being from the fertilized ovum, which initially appears to be nothing more than a
clot of blood

2 5 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

and Muslim scholars have debated its implications right from its first
century of existence up to the present moment Again, historically, the
two main contenders were the Mu’tazilites and Ash’arites, and again,
without wanting to minimize the significance of the Mu’tazilite position,
we need to note that the Ash’arite view became dominant and is, there-
fore, more representative of the whole And, once again, for our purposes,
we need not take sides in this discussion about who is right Furthermore,
it would take an entire book just to describe all of the variations in its

Allah’s providence begins with his exhaustive knowledge of every last
detail about the universe All of this knowledge is maintained in a perma-
nent data bank

Not a leaf doth fall but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the
darkness (or depths) of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry (green or with-
ered), but is (inscribed) in a record clear (to those who can read) (6:59b)

But knowledge for God is never just his taking cognizance of certain
states of affairs or holding all correct propositions to be true With him,
to know a thing or an event is to control it

No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a
decree before We bring it into existence: That is truly easy for Allah In
order that ye may not despair over matters that pass you by, nor exult over
favours bestowed upon you For Allah loveth not any vainglorious boast-
ers (57:22-23)

Mahmoud Murad defends a fairly strict interpretation of Qadr and
insists that the acceptance of this doctrine entails:

That the knowledge of Allah encompasses all things, and that nothing
escapes His knowledge, be it in the heavens or on the earth Allah has
known His creatures before he brought them into existence He reassigns
their provisions, term of life, utterances, deeds, actions, movements, their
internal and external affairs, and who of them is assigned for Jannah [par-
adise], and which of them is doomed to Hell
That Allah has pre-decreed what [is] to come into existence This in
turn requires believing in the Pen which records all the divine decrees,
and in the Preserved Tablet on which the decrees are recorded
That the will of Allah is effective and His capacity is inexhaustible and
inclusive Doubtlessly, whatever Allah wills does take place, and whatever

A View from the Middle East 2 5 7

He does not will does not take place due not to incapacity rather to His
infinite wisdom There is nothing that frustrates the capacity of Allah 13

Other interpretations are scaled back from this description, but we must
keep in mind that the further away we get from this interpretation, the
further we are distancing ourselves from what appears to be the most
widely held conservative Sunni position

Thus, a picture emerges that may seem paradoxical but is actually
quite rational On the one hand, we cannot go too far in stressing Allah’s
transcendence He is not to be associated with any finite being in the
world On the other hand it is also clear that God not only sees every
detail of the world, he also does not permit anything to happen outside of
his specific plan The latter statement leads many Muslims to believe that
God directly manages all events

Here then, is an important distinction to Christian theism We stated
earlier in the book that Christian theism is an open worldview God has
created a universe that incorporates uniform laws, and he has endowed
human beings with the opportunity to exercise genuine creativity
within the world that he created Islamic theism, on the other hand,
adds another restriction beyond the limits intrinsic to the universe
Whatever creativity creatures may possess, they can exercise it only
insofar as Allah permits it according to his inscrutable will Thus, Is-
lamic theism on the whole leaves us ultimately in a closed universe in
which God’s will sets the boundary for what any creature can do as a
causal agent

We shall need to come back to the doctrine of Qadr in the context of
the fifth worldview question, which concerns human knowledge

3. Worldview Question 3: Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s cre-
ation. They have been given abilities of which other creatures, such as
angels and jinn, are not capable. However, their high standing also brings
with it the responsibility to live up to God’s standards.

The fact that we have emphasized the absolute greatness of Allah in Is-
lam should not mislead us into thinking that therefore Islam has a low
view of human beings The following account follows the events as nar-

13Mahmoud Murad, This Message Is for You,

2 5 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

rated in sura 2 and repeated in other places According to the Qur’an,
when God set out to create Adam, he called a general meeting of all of the
spiritual beings he had created heretofore and announced what he was
about to do When the angels learned of his intention, they were offended
and actually questioned Allah’s wisdom After all, they claimed, they had
been praising God faithfully all along Why would he now put another
creature above them, particularly one who would be prone to mischief?

Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create
A viceregent on earth ” They said:
“Wilt Thou place therein one who will make
Mischief therein and shed blood?—
Whilst we do celebrate Thy praises
And glorify Thy holy (name)?”
He said: “I know what ye know not ” (2:30)

Allah’s mysterious reply that he knew something of which the angels
were ignorant would soon take on concrete meaning God personally
educated Adam in how to identify the many creatures on earth (presum-
ably plants, animals and objects in nature) He then called another meet-
ing in which he challenged the angels to give the proper labels to various
items in creation, but they failed miserably at this task Then God brought
out Adam, and to their amazement, he was able to do the very thing that
they could not bring off They took back their criticism and acknowl-
edged that Allah had not made a mistake in creating such a wonderful
being In order to drive home this point, Allah commanded all of the
angels to bow down before Adam

And behold, We said to the angels:
“Bow down to Adam:” and they bowed down:
Not so Iblîs: he refused and was haughty:
He was of those who reject Faith (2:34)

Iblîs14 thus became Satan or Shaytan Note, then, that in Islam, just as
in Judaism and Christianity, the devil is a fallen spiritual being (though in
this case a jinn, one of the lower order), who would not obey God It is
significant for our understanding of the position of human beings in Is-
lam that the specific occasion for his rebellion actually occurred not in

14If you look at the “bl ” combination of letters in Iblîs, it may make sense to you that this name
shares the same linguistic root as our word diabolical

A View from the Middle East 2 59

rebelling against God’s superiority per se, but in refusing to demonstrate
the superiority of human beings over him

Let us pursue this story just a little further, and then we will be able to
draw some important conclusions God now placed Adam and his wife
(her name is not mentioned in this sura) into a garden and gave the famil-
iar command not to eat of a certain tree In a manner that is not specified,
Satan was able to persuade them into disobedience, and they were ex-
pelled from the garden and deprived of their happiness

But this version of the story has a relatively quick happy ending

Then learnt Adam from his Lord
Words of inspiration, and his Lord
Turned towards him; for He
Is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful (2:37)

Even while Adam was out of favor with God, he received instructions
from Allah, and upon proper penitence, God restored him to fellowship
Thus, there was no permanent curse, Adam did not remain a fallen crea-
ture, and humankind was not beset with heritable “original sin ”

We have, then, the following preliminary picture of what Islam teaches
concerning who we are as humans We are God’s representatives on
earth, higher than any other living creatures and (in contrast to Christian
belief) with a nature that is not corrupted by Adam’s fall Consequently,
we are born in a state of purity and innocence, a fact that implies that any
newborn comes into the world as a Muslim

However, it now becomes our obligation to live up to our standing To
be born pure does not guarantee that we shall remain pure The Qur’an

O ye people!
Adore your Guardian-Lord,
Who created you
And those who came before you,
That ye may have the chance
To learn righteousness

Privilege implies responsibility, and the stakes are immeasurably high
In the simplest of terms, Islam sees each human being spending a lifetime
on probation It is one thing to acknowledge God as the greatest with
mere words, even if they are meant sincerely, it is quite another to live

2 6 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

one’s entire life in submission to him, and the latter requirement is the
test for whether a person will qualify for salvation To quote John L Es-

Faith places the Muslim on the straight path; acts demonstrate commit-
ment and faithfulness In Islam, the purpose of life is not simply to affirm
but to actualize; not simply to profess a belief in God but to realize God’s
will—to spread the message and law of Islam Faith without works is
empty, without merit; indeed, it is the Book of Deeds that will be the basis
for divine judgment 15

Thus, we need to add one important amendment to the above sum-
mary of what it means to be human We have been given the rank as the
second-highest being in the universe, we have been born in the state of
purity, we may even have the advantage of living in a culture where Islam
is taught and practiced Nevertheless, none of that means anything un-
less we devote our lives to the service of Allah and the teachings of Mu-
hammad If we do not pass the test, then our destination will be hell

4. Worldview Question 4: Death is a time of transition between this life
and our eternal state, which will consist of either paradise or hell.

Thus we can make an easy segue to the next topic, which is about what
happens to a person at death If we take this question completely literally,
there are two answers, one concerning a person’s physical remains and
one concerning the soul However, the two are interrelated Proper ob-
servance of burial customs contributes to the fate of the soul after death
Some time in the future, the deceased will face an interrogation by the
two angels Munkar and Nakir,16 and anything that the survivors can do
in order to help the deceased give the proper answers will increase their
chances of entering paradise Therefore it is a good thing to encourage a
person right before he dies to say the confession one last time: “There is
no God but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God ” If this is no
longer possible, those who are gathered at the funeral will repeat it on
behalf of the deceased The corpse must be washed and transformed into
a state of ritual purity Finally, he or she must be buried lying on the right
side, facing in the direction of Mecca

15Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, pp 68-69
16Denny, Introduction, p 289

A View from the Middle East 2 61

These outward physical measures have their purpose in guiding the
soul into being fully prepared for the upcoming judgment at the end of
time Everyone agrees that eventually there will be the last day on which
all the dead will be raised in order to face judgment In the meantime,
what happens in the interval immediately after death and before the res-
urrection and the judgment is a matter of debate Some Muslims hold
that the soul will simply sleep peacefully until that time; others believe
that between death and resurrection there will be a period of spiritual
purgation in which postmortem suffering will purify the soul so as to
become fit for heaven 17

Regardless of these speculations, there is no question of what will hap-
pen when the resurrection takes place All human beings will be called to
stand before the divine tribunal, and all of their beliefs and attitudes as
well as the record of every last little action that they have performed dur-
ing their lifetime will become the basis for judgment Every human being
will have accumulated a book of their deeds, both good and evil, during
their mortal lives No one can be fully sure that they have enough good
to outweigh any bad, and so be assured of going to paradise The three
notable exceptions to this are martyrs, children before puberty and those
who are mentally impaired, the latter two because they are not fully ac-
countable for their actions For anyone else, one may think that one has a
good chance, but, to repeat our earlier observation, to claim assurance for
salvation implies that one can dictate to Allah what he must do, and this
attitude is considered to be inappropriate Suzanne Haneef asserts that

no Muslim, even the best among them, imagines that he is guaranteed
Paradise; on the contrary the more conscientious and God-fearing one is,
the more he is aware of his own shortcomings and weaknesses Therefore
the Muslim, knowing that God alone controls life and death, and that
death may come to him at any time, tries to send on ahead for his future
existence such deeds as will merit the pleasure of his Lord, so that he can
look forward to it with hope for His mercy and grace 18

Still, once the last day arrives, there will no longer be any ambivalence As

18Suzanne Haneef, What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims (Chicago: Kazi

Publications, 1979), p 37 As we shall point out further below, the word “grace” here is far
removed from what Christians mean by the term because in the Islamic context what Haneef
calls “grace” is based on our works

2 62 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

soon as Allah has established his verdict, one of the angels will come up
to the person and hand him the book of his deeds Without having to be
told anything, the human being will recognize his fate by the hand in
which the angel places the book If he puts it into his right hand, he knows
that he has experienced Allah’s mercy and will be allowed to enter Para-
dise In the unfortunate event that the angel places the book into a per-
son’s left hand, the time will have come for him to reconcile himself to
living in hell from now on (69:13-37)

Keeping in mind the origin of these beliefs in the desert culture of
Arabia, the tortures of hell are described as something that a desert no-
mad would think of as being immeasurably horrible What would be a
worse torture than being in a desert without water? The answer is to be
in the desert and come across a well and think that you will be refreshed,
but then realizing that the water is so polluted that it is impossible for a
human being even to take a little sip of it In the Qur’anic description, hell
is first of all a place of hot, odiferous, poisonous water in which the unbe-
liever will have to endure numerous tortures

Heaven, on the other hand, is depicted as a desert nomad’s ideal place
of delight Picture a beautiful oasis with fresh water, luscious green plants,
handsome boys serving all the best to eat and drink, and the beautiful
huri, the enticing, dark-eyed virgins, whose services are perennially avail-
able Now, there is no question that the description of heaven given in the
Qur’an is one that is utterly geared to men Nonetheless, one should not
infer that women will not be eligible for heaven The Qur’an says of the
faithful believers that they are headed for

gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous
among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring: and angels shall
enter unto them from every gate (with the salutation): “Peace unto you for
that ye persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!”
(13:23, emphasis mine)

Thus, even though the descriptions in the Qur’an are very definitely ori-
ented toward male desires, there is no intent of excluding women Pre-
sumably women will receive whatever would be the counterpart of bliss
for their sex

5. Worldview Question 5: Allah has endowed human beings with the
capability of knowledge by means of reason and the senses. Thereby, they

A View from the Middle East 2 6 3

can also know God’s revelation. However, God’s sovereign decrees limit
human knowledge.

We saw earlier in connection with the creation of Adam that humans
have greater intelligence than angels and jinn God has created human
beings in such a way that their senses will be reliable sources of informa-
tion and their reasoning skills are trustworthy Al-Faruqi goes so far as to
begin his entire description of Islam with the statement that “first, Islam
is rationalistic ”19 He bases this conclusion on the verse in the Qur’an that
forbids conversion by force:

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error:
whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustwor-
thy hand-hold, that never breaks And God heareth and knoweth all
things (2:256, emphasis mine)

Human reason is sufficient to discern truth from falsehood We are
capable of a rational approach to the world around us, and we need not
abdicate our rationality when it comes to matters of religion This is a
very good thing because, as we saw, we need to utilize all of our potential
to prove our devotion to Allah by living up to his standards, and the
stakes are extremely high: eternal bliss or eternal torment

Of course, our reasoning ability, no matter how sharp, would be useless
if we did not have the necessary information to apply it, but this is where
divine revelation helps us out Around the globe, every group of people
has had one or more messengers from God who taught them the same
precepts as Muhammad did There is no definitive list of all of the proph-
ets prior to Muhammad, but the various listings include numerous Old
Testament figures, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, David and Jonah,
as well as both Isaac and Ishmael, to mention just a few The prophet with
the highest standing other than Muhammad himself is Abraham, fol-
lowed very closely in importance by Jesus Although the Qur’an denies
both his crucifixion and his divine nature, it vigorously affirms his virgin
birth as well as his teaching, healings and miracles Furthermore, in sura
11, the Qur’an also mentions prophets outside of the Bible, whom God
sent to their people in their day: Hud to the A’ad, Salih to the Thamud, and
Shu’yeb to the Midianites Thus, whatever should be known could be
known easily by simply listening to the prophets

19Al-Faruqi, “Islam,” p 308

2 6 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

However, human beings are prone to give in to temptations and to fall
into unbelief Sadly, each of the previous prophets encountered that same
obstacle Even though it turned out to be to their own detriment, the
people mocked them and rejected them Every day that Noah spent build-
ing the ark, his contemporaries, who should have repented of their sin,
mocked him instead What could be a clearer warning sign than that,
along with his words, Noah was publicly building a huge ship, which
would be the only escape from the flood? Nevertheless, the people re-
sisted him Thus the prophets were a clear source of knowledge, and the
fact that the people nevertheless did not submit to Allah is due to their
evil, not to a lack of sufficient information

Furthermore, among the prophets were a few who were even more
distinguished These were the “messengers,” who also left books of
their teachings for posterity: Moses brought the Law, David brought
the Psalms, and Jesus brought the Gospel But the same unbelieving
people who did not listen to them in person corrupted their writings in
order to suit their idolatrous preferences As a result, the clear mes-
sages from God, which might have survived in writing even if their
original bearers had been rejected, became distorted in their written
forms as well 20

All of that should have changed with the coming of Muhammad He
was considered to be the “seal of the prophets,” and what distinguishes
him in Islamic eyes is the belief that his message, as recorded in the
Qur’an, was preserved free from error or human interference There is
thus no need for any further prophets, and however much the message
may have been obscured previously, it should now be clear and accessible
to everyone Therefore Jews and Christians receive special encourage-

O People of the Book! Now hath come unto you, making (things) clear
unto you, Our Apostle, after the break in (the series of ) our apostles, lest
ye should say: “There came unto us no bringer of glad tidings and no war-
ner (from evil) ” (5:19)

20Contemporary Muslims have received much aid in this contention by the practice of textual
criticism of the Bible, in which even Christians expose the many variants in the biblical
manuscripts However, the claim that the text of the Bible had been altered goes back to the
time of Muhammad himself, long before this scholarly discipline emerged For a Christian
response on this issue see Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction
to World Religions (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press), pp 81-82, 108

A View from the Middle East 2 6 5

The particular evidence for the authority of the Qur’an is the Qur’an
itself People who already believe in Islam consider the Qur’an to be self-

Say: “What thing is most weighty in evidence?” Say: “God is witness be-
tween me and you; This Qur’an hath been revealed to me by inspiration,
that I may warn you and all whom it reaches ” (6:19a)

On the other hand, those who reject the prophet Muhammad and
claim that the Qur’an is nothing but a forgery are challenged by the na-
ture of the Qur’an itself

They say He hath invented it Say: Then bring ten surahs, the like thereof,
invented, and call on everyone ye can beside Allah, if ye are truthful!

The message has been delivered, and there should be no excuse not to
accept it

Nevertheless, clear revelation does not imply automatic acceptance of
the revelation In order to make the following point as clear as possible, I
shall provide some quotations from the Qur’an, but leave out some
phrases that are a part of those verses Then I will restore the missing
pieces, and you will see my point These verses teach that those who are
committed to unbelief will not change their minds, no matter how strong
the evidence may be

Of them there are some who (pretend to) listen to thee; [elision 1] So
they understand it not, and deafness in their ears; if they saw every one of
the signs, not they will believe in them; in so much that when they come
to thee, they (but) dispute with thee; the Unbelievers say: “These are noth-
ing but tales of the ancients ” (6:25)

Supernatural indicators would do no good for those confirmed in their

If their spurning is hard on thy mind, yet if thou wert able to seek a tunnel
in the ground or a ladder to the skies and bring them a sign,- (what good?)
[elision 2] (6:35)


Those who reject our signs are deaf and dumb,- in the midst of darkness
profound [elision 3] (6:39)

2 6 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

In short, those who do not believe are attached to their unbelief and
would not believe if they could They have only themselves to blame for
the consequences of their unbelief These conclusions are correct, and
their truth is not altered by restoring the elisions Nevertheless, putting
back the missing parts certainly complicates the picture

These are the parts that I left out of the above quotes:
Elision 1: but We have thrown veils on their hearts;
Elision 2: If it were God’s will, He could gather them together unto

true guidance;
Elision 3: whom God willeth, He leaveth to wander: whom He willeth,

He placeth on the way that is straight
So, now we see that those who do not recognize the truth will also be

kept from doing so by God Here is another verse from the same sura that
makes the point that belief and unbelief ultimately depend on God’s

Those whom God (in His plan) willeth to guide,- He openeth their breast
to Islam; those whom He willeth to leave straying,- He maketh their breast
close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies: thus doth
God (heap) the penalty on those who refuse to believe (6:125)

We can know the truth—dependent on our will and God’s If our will
is disinclined to believe God’s revelation, we can expect little help from
God Allah may be merciful at his preference (as he was to Adam), but as
a general rule,

Even if We did send unto them angels, and the dead did speak unto them,
and We gathered together all things before their very eyes, they are not the
ones to believe, unless it is in God’s plan But most of them ignore (the
truth) (6:111)

Now we can see more directly how Qadr, God’s predestination, affects
human beings Although human beings have a choice whether to obey
Allah or not, the choice is not open-ended It appears that God classifies
each person into one of two groups: those who are believers and those
who are his enemies Once people have fallen into the second category,
God will not only refuse to aid them, he will use his power to make sure
that they remain deluded in their unbelief

It is helpful at this point to elaborate on this aspect of Islam by making
a distinction to Christianity In Romans 5:10 the apostle Paul exults:

A View from the Middle East 2 6 7

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the
death of His Son, [then how] much more, having been reconciled, will we
be saved by His life! (Holman Christian Standard Version)

Even though we already were enemies of God due to our fallen nature,
God loved us and made peace with us because of Christ’s death on the
cross On the other hand, in the Qur’an we read,

Lo! God is an enemy to those who reject Faith (2:98b)

Regardless of how much agency we ascribe to God’s creatures, all of
their actions are bracketed by his will As a matter of fact, the Qur’an
promises occasions in which God will intentionally provide opportuni-
ties for believers to demonstrate that they accept his plans as final

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in
goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who
patiently persevere, Who say, when aff licted with calamity: “To God We
belong, and to Him is our return”: They are those on whom (Descend)
blessings from God, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guid-
ance (2:155-57)

6. Worldview Question 6: Right and wrong are based on the teachings
of the Qur’an, as amplified by the Hadith and interpreted by the schools
of law, the shari’a.

Thus, there is nothing left for us to do than to try our best to follow all
of God’s commandments There is no point in speculating on God’s
will Rather than search for God’s purposes, we should accept whatever
he sends our way bilā kayf, which means “without asking why ”21 Any
statement of intentions on our part should be accompanied by the
phrase “inshallah”—“if God wills” (18:24), a phrase that can express
genuine reliance on God (and is also taught for Christians in James
4:15), but in popular usage can also become either a formula of resigna-
tion or a mantra to ward off evil Our obligation is not to out-think Al-
lah but to do his will

The source of knowledge about what is right or wrong, as already indi-
cated, is the Qur’an In case there should be some ambiguity concerning
how a particular commandment should be interpreted, one can consult

21Martin, Islam, p 100

2 6 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

the hadiths, which are several collections of sayings and actions by Mu-
hammad, as allegedly22 remembered by those who knew him well For
example, quite a few of these recollections are attributed to Aïsha, his very
young wife who turned into a spunky young widow and was not above
disputing with the caliphs themselves Even though it is accepted practice
to use the expression Hadith in the singular, there is no single authorita-
tive collection, and the various components are of uneven authority Con-
sequently, there developed among Sunni Muslims four schools of Islamic
Law (shari’a) that advocated different degrees of strictness in applying the
rules of the Qur’an and their relationship to the Hadith Of the four, the
one that adheres most strictly to the most literal applications of the Qur’an
is the Hanbalite school Among its heritage is the Wahhabite reform
movement, which, in turn, gave rise to the Taliban in Afghanistan, one of
the so-called fundamentalist movements of Islam 23

22There are several collections of hadiths, and they are considered of uneven reliability, even
among Muslims A representative collection is provided by Maulana Muhammad Ali, A
Manual of Hadith (Lahore, Pakistan: The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam, 1944), easily
accessible at

23The first appearance of a “radical” Islamic group came about in the struggle for the succes-
sor (caliph) to Muhammad as leader of the new Islamic community, which pitted Muham-
mad’s own family (his son-in-law Ali ben Talib and his grandsons, al-Hassan and al-Hussein)
against the Umayyad clan, who believed they were entitled to the position A group called
the Kharijites (which means “dissenters”) emerged with the message that the person who
is most qualified to be caliph should be whoever was the most devoted to Allah and most
exemplary in obeying the Qur’an Anyone who thought otherwise had lapsed from true Islam
and deserved to receive the same treatment as unbelievers who fight against Islam In fact,
the Qur’an considers lapsed Muslims and hypocrites to be worse than unbelievers: “They
swear by Allah that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did
it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this
revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger
had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil
ways), Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They
shall have none on earth to protect or help them” (9:74) Furthermore, “The Hypocrites will
be in the lowest depths of the Fire: no helper will you find for them” (4:145)

There is a remarkable phenomenon occurring in contemporary scholarship in the social
sciences with regard to explaining the nature of “fundamentalism” in its various manifesta-
tions, which are usually considered to be Christian fundamentalism, radical Islam and Ha-
sidic Judaism The underlying question is what these “fundamentalists” have in common and
what similar inf luences they might have in their respective settings Needless to say, there
are many conf licting opinions See, for example, Bruce Lawrence, Defenders of God: The
Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (New York: Harper & Row, 1989) I would
like to suggest that the problem is that these groups have little in common other than that
they represent conservatism in their individual contexts Observers have taken a term that
is only appropriate to Christianity, applied it arbitrarily to other religions, and are now try-
ing to explain a phenomenon that they themselves created by their own unref lective use of
terminology In the case of Islam, for example, if groups like the Taliban need to receive a

A View from the Middle East 2 69

The obligations for a Muslim begin with the five pillars: to recite the
confession (there is no God but Allah), to pray five times a day, to fast
during the month of Ramadan, to give the annual contribution for the
poor, and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime But
this is only the beginning Muslim life is strictly regulated There are
three fundamental categories of actions: those that are directly com-
manded ( fard), those that are permitted (halal), and those that are pro-
hibited (haram). Of course, any violation of halal is haram, and not to
carry out the obligations that are fard is also haram I am mentioning
this logical truism because a negative mindset is the most common result
among human beings who believe that their eternal destiny is based on
keeping rules When everything is riding on one’s actions, and when
there is no assurance of God’s indulgence, let alone any grace, avoiding
the potentially negative consequences of any sin is bound to become the
primary incentive for one’s actions rather than the positive motivation of
keeping the rules out of gratitude

7. Worldview Question 7: Human history has significance in demon-
strating the absolute sovereignty of God but, even more so, as the oppor-
tunity for people to demonstrate their submission to him.

Human history is the world’s longest final exam, and the test starts right
along with the lectures On a less ultimate level, the goal of history is to
subsume the entire world under the umma, the Islamic community,
which is as much a political entity as a congregation of believers The
significance of this statement can be clarified by drawing another point
of contrast Many religions anticipate a time in which their beliefs and
practices will be observed universally around the globe 24 The question
is, what are you expected to do in the meantime? For example, in Chris-
tianity believers are exhorted to submit to rulers, even if they are pagan,
and even though many Christians look forward to Christ’s actual govern-

general label beyond Wahhabite and Hanbalite, the best term would not be “fundamentalist”
but “neo-Kharijite ” Their preferred self-designation is Salafi, which means “those who follow
the prophet ”

24Judaism looks forward to the Messianic age, Christians wait for the second coming of Christ
(frequently along with the expectation of a millennium), and Zoroastrians are counting on
Saoshyant to set the world right Even among the religions where history is a never-ending
cycle, Hindus expect Kalki, Buddhists Maitreya, and Jains another whole set of twenty-four
Tirthankaras See Winfried Corduan, A Tapestry of Faiths: Common Threads Among the
World’s Religions (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp 171-94

2 70 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ment on earth during the “millennium,” only God himself will bring
about this end 25 Until then, we should do what we can to promote justice
and peace while we wait for God to bring things to a conclusion by his
own power Islam, on the other hand, comes with the mandate to set up
Islamic governments, and it is never fully implemented unless there is an
Islamic state

Thus have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced,
That ye might be witnesses
Over the nations (2:143)

Yusuf Ali explains in his commentary on this and the preceding verse
that the umma is a new nation, “an independent people with laws and
rituals of their own ” In this state there will be no idolatry permitted, but
the “people of the book,” Jews and Christians, will be tolerated, as long as
“they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”
(9:27) The jizya is a compensation required of Christians and Jews for
enjoying the benefits of living in a Muslim community without contrib-
uting to it

Many Muslims believe that shortly prior to the last judgment, the
Mahdi will appear There are several conflicting traditions concerning
this figure In Shi’ite Islam he is the twelfth Imam, who, as a five-year-old
child in a d 878, went into seclusion in a remote cave, where he has been
living ever since, until the time will come for him to disclose himself
again In other divisions his identity is less specific Many Muslims also
believe in the second coming of Christ; specifically that he will descend
on the Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus, Syria Some believe that
Christ is the Mahdi, while others believe that Jesus and the Mahdi are
two distinct persons 26 Still others do not have much use for the idea of a

25Just as I have been doing with Islam all along, I am here referring to Christianity in what I
consider its more representative form and relying more literally on the Bible The fact that
there have been Christians who have attempted to establish God’s kingdom on earth by their
own power, sometimes even by physical force, does not mean that this perspective is of equal
standing with the more biblical view that I am addressing in the text

26An interesting sidelight is provided by the Pakistani group (now actually two groups), called
the Ahmadiyya sect This sect was started in the nineteenth century by Ghulam Ahmad of
Qadiyan, who claimed to be the Mahdi, the second coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of
Hindu hopes for the return of Krishna (though not, as frequently misrepresented, Krishna
himself ) Ahmadiyya Islam is consistently pacifistic, and it has now divided into two sub-
groups, named after the towns of their headquarters The Qadiyan branch says that Ghulam
was only a reformer, whereas the Lahore branch takes the unorthodox view that he was a

A View from the Middle East 2 71

Mahdi at all since Muhammad is the final prophet I am mentioning this
debate because it illustrates the fact that Muslim expectations for the end
times are not at all unanimous How history ends is not all that crucial
considering that the all-important last judgment follows immediately

8. Worldview Question 8: A devout Muslim is grateful to Allah for pro-
viding the opportunity to serve him and will strive to follow the divine
instructions in even the smallest part of life.

Obviously, we find among Muslim people the same distribution of de-
grees of commitment as in all other religions So, let us focus on the per-
son who is serious in devotion to Allah Such a man or woman will fre-
quently express gratitude that Allah has provided the chance to enter
Paradise Muslims refer to the teachings of the Qur’an as “good news ”
Christians may be surprised at this use of the term, which is, of course,
synonymous with “gospel,” because among Christians the idea of the gos-
pel is tied to our fallen state and our utter inability to improve our stand-
ing with God in our own power, and God’s grace that saves us apart from
our good works Islam has neither the doctrine of original sin by which
all human beings are condemned from birth on, nor is there a doctrine of
salvation by grace according to which our works are not instrumental in
contributing to our salvation In fact, Muslims tend to find the idea of
free salvation irresponsible, and even without a notion of original sin,
they are sufficiently convinced of human sinfulness that they consider
any chance at salvation at all to be a true act of mercy on God’s part All
but one of the suras (number 9) of the Qur’an begins with the expression
“in the name of Allah, the most gracious and most merciful ” They see
the fact that they must live up to divine standards in order to receive
salvation not as a burden but as an opportunity

Still, Islam demands of the person nothing less than everything The
standards for a truly acceptable life are high and become extremely de-
tailed the more one seeks to implement them according to the Hadith To
mention just a few obvious ones, there are restrictions on food, of course,
such as avoiding pork, blood or strangled meat Not only women but also
men must follow principles of clothing and personal decoration on cloth-
ing To be more specific, men must have their limbs covered at least as far

prophet as well Consequently, the latter form of Ahmadiyya Islam is not officially recog-
nized as true Islam in Pakistan

2 7 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

as their elbows and knees and may not wear gold or garments made en-
tirely of silk There are rules for every aspect of a normal day, including
how to perform common actions and what prayers or formulas to speak
alongside them 27 The earnest Muslim will not chafe at these require-
ments, but follow them with gratitude to Allah for giving him this chance
to demonstrate his allegiance

Nevertheless, gratitude and hope are not the same things as joy and
grace The weight of the obligations and their consequences are too pro-
found to induce automatic rejoicing (though there are, of course, happy
Muslims) On an extreme end, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the
founder of the Wahhabite movement in Saudi Arabia, prohibited music,
a rule that was eventually relaxed in its country of origin but was revived
by its offspring, the Taliban But what really makes the picture so poi-
gnant is that, all the compliance by a human being notwithstanding, the
will of Allah can always override all the good works a person may have
accumulated It is easy to believe that God has it in his power to forgive a
person’s sins without the need for any atonement But, as Colin Chapman

This understanding of forgiveness, however, leaves us open to a frighten-
ing uncertainty, since we can never have any assurance about God’s ver-
dict for each individual on the day of judgment 28

Chapman follows this statement with a reference to the feelings of ter-
ror expressed by the first two caliphs (who are considered to be exem-
plary in their lives, as expressed by the term “rightly guided”) on their
deathbeds, since even they did not know whether they would be accepted
by God

The true Muslim must assert that God is all-caring, all-forgiving and
all-merciful, but he may not draw the implication that therefore God will
definitely grant him access to paradise He has been taught to dismiss the

27To underscore this point, allow me to extend it a little further, not because it may look exag-
gerated to non-Muslims, but because it illustrates the reality that I am addressing The Ha-
dith even includes the proper means of sanitation and which prayers to utter before and after
one performs biological acts of necessity Furthermore, it does so clearly and openly without
violating any sensitivities, which are more likely to be the product of Western “Christian”
scruples than Islamic attitudes Maulana Muhammad Ali, A Manual of Hadith, chapter 4,
section 1: “Natural Evacuations”

28Colin Chapman, The Cross and the Crescent: Responding to the Challenge of Islam (Downers
Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp 259-60

A View from the Middle East 2 7 3

Christian belief in the atonement, but he may not understand that it is
precisely because the atonement is the work of God, and not of a human
being, that the Christian is able to express assurance of salvation So, our

Muslim neighbor is glad to do all he can in order to measure up on the
last day, and he knows that Allah is good, but he cannot erase the ques-
tion mark that always hangs over him when it comes to his eternal des-
tiny I have heard more than one Muslim tell me that he is sure to go to
heaven—as long as he remains conscious of God and his commandments
every second of his life The qualification takes all the certainty out of the
stated assurance

Nevertheless, for millions of people Islam has provided stability They
are convinced that, any uncertainty notwithstanding, they are on the
right side “Allahu akbar” is a victory shout over any competing religions
But our look at Islamic theism has revealed a worldview that seems un-
even: it is ultimately a closed system that puts humans in a bind between
personal accountability and divine determinism Allah appears to oscil-
late between mercy and nothing short of hatred toward unbelievers

But perhaps, to come to a better understanding of the positive role that
Islam plays in the lives of its believers, we should not limit our compari-
son to the two theisms of Christianity and Islam Let us keep in mind
that Islam arose in what Muslims call “the times of darkness ” Muham-
mad’s primary message was directed against idolatry and superstition in
a society in which justice and power were synonymous, many people

Mecca Death Toll Is Confirmed; King Calls It Fate

The Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, said today that 1,426 Muslim

pilgrims died in a stampede in a pedestrian tunnel linking this city with

a tent camp for pilgrims. Prince Nayef said the stampede was caused

when seven pilgrims fell from an overhead bridge near the tunnel.

Other officials said a power failure caused the air-conditioning in the

1,500-foot-long, 60-foot-wide tunnel to switch off in 112-degree heat

on Monday, setting off the stampede. “It was God’s will, which is above

everything,” King Fahd said of the disaster. “It was fate.”

AP News Report, published by the New York Times, July 4, 1990

2 74 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

were treated worse than animals, and infanticide was a common prac-
tice We need to acknowledge the advances that Islam made at its incep-
tion over its contemporary culture, which in some important ways (e g ,
women’s rights) also put it ahead of European culture at that time His-
torically, the origins of Islamic theism are tied to a certain amount of
influence from Judaism and Christianity, but this new theism established
a culture that brought some improvements to society that did not exist at
that time in the cultures established under the insignia of the two older
forms of theism Although the debate on whether early Islam was spread
by the sword is still continuing, it is a fact that many localities opened
their doors happily to Islam and were glad to be relieved of the rampant
corruption of the Byzantine empire Islam had found some truths and
made a great contribution by spreading them

However, Islam simultaneously walled itself off from the two older
forms of theism and declared itself to be the final truth, superior over
its two fountainheads from its outset Whereas Judaism has a millen-
nia-long history of development, and Christianity did not begin to
settle crucial questions in its councils until hundreds of years after
Christ, Islam for the most part closed its door to any further refine-
ments of its theism, in particular foreclosing the possibility that it
could learn any further from Judaism and Christianity To be sure, the
schools of shari’a developed, but these were predominantly schools of
jurisprudence, not of theological investigation Potential innovations
in theology, such as those proposed by the Mu’tazilites, even if they
received a hearing or public endorsement for a while, were most likely
greeted with suspicion and, even if they were not eventually declared
to be heretical, they would sooner or later be swallowed up by tradi-
tional formulations

Now, none of the remarks above should be considered to be a criticism
per se I, too, as an evangelical Christian, am leery of innovations in the-
ology But my point is that, from my perspective, Islam closed the lines of
communication, both external and internal, far too soon Consequently
it incorporated the ambiguities and uncertainties that we mentioned
above, that could have been resolved if Islamic theism had allowed itself
to keep learning and growing in insights over its first few centuries Is-
lamic theism certainly is an authentic theism, but it is one that unfortu-
nately became truncated before it could reach full maturity

A View from the Middle East 2 75


For virtually any religion, in addition to its various schools, denomina-
tions and sects, it is possible to encounter a wide gulf between the “stan-
dard” version of the religion, which is the way it is being taught in the
books and by its leaders, and the “folk” version of the religion, which is
the way that the religion is actually lived out on a day-to-day basis by the
common people For example, it is fairly easy to discern a “folk” Christi-
anity in the U S state of Indiana, where I live 29 Many authors point out
that because Islam stresses the transcendence of God so much, it stands
out as a religion in which the gulf between the “standard” form and the
“folk” version has become particularly wide Colin Chapman, for exam-
ple, makes the point that Sufism developed as a way of addressing “the
hunger of the heart” for those who “longed for a faith that has reality for
the individual,”30 and that “folk” Islam can be seen as one further step
(albeit perhaps a very large one) in speaking to the same felt needs 31 (Even
though the division can be arbitrary at times, I will now continue on
without enclosing the two terms in quotation marks )

Many accounts of folk Islam tend to depict it as genuine Islam, but
lived out with a different attitude than one would expect within the stan-
dard version The people carry out the basic duties of the five pillars and
observe other Islamic obligations, but their goal is not the worship of Al-
lah for its own sake but to tap into the sources of power and blessing that
Islam provides For example, a common phenomenon is that people who
have manifested a great amount of devotion during their lives may be
venerated as saints, and those who admire them visit their tombs in order
to receive special blessings Drawing on my experience in India, it is not
at all unlikely that one may walk down the streets of, say, Hyderabad and
suddenly encounter a little gap between houses and businesses In that
little open area there may be the tomb of a saint, set up as a concrete
prism about the size of an oversize coffin and surrounded by a concrete
wall, perhaps about three feet tall The entire little structure is painted
and covered by Islamic symbols and perhaps some other decorations spe-
cifically associated with the person buried there People who need par-
ticular spiritual help may visit such a site and say prayers there

29Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, pp 37-38
30Chapman, Cross and Crescent, p 122
31Ibid , p 129

2 76 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Life is too large and complicated for individual humans to manage by
themselves, and people always look for solutions that will provide imme-
diate aid when the crops fail, relationships are out of kilter, a family mem-
ber is ill or other problems invade their lives So-called folk Islam at-
tempts to give such aid Additionally, practices in Islamic folk religion are
frequently geared for spiritual protection from the malicious spirits (the
jinn), curses or the “evil eye ” In fact, in some areas, this second aspect is
so overwhelming that one could conclude that folk Islam really has no
place in a chapter on Islamic theism because it seems to be more of a
form of animism than theism

In many areas of the world, folk Islam goes beyond the description of
Islam as addressing felt needs with superstitious practices If we accept
the supposition underlying folk Islam that standard Islam does not meet
certain needs, and if the Muslim population happens to live in an area
where another religion is thriving, and if it appears that this other reli-
gion meets that particular need, the result is often a syncretism in which
elements of the other religion are incorporated into Islamic practices

I have seen folk Islam in many different situations in South Asia and
Southeast Asia For example, about an hour’s boat ride outside of Singa-
pore is a little island called Kusu Island, or “Turtle Island,” which houses
a shrine built in honor of a Muslim saint, his wife and his daughter, simi-
lar to the tombs mentioned above In this case, however, the legend holds
that they did not die but that in the late nineteenth century they were
raptured directly to heaven Kusu Island is fairly flat, but the devotees
built an artificial hill about 100 feet tall on one end of the island They
planted trees on it and erected a wooden shrine, covered with yellow
paint, at its summit There are two different paths, one leading up to the
shrine and one leading down, thus enabling an efficient procession of
worshipers during the month of October when many Malaysian Muslims
observe special days there But the shrine is always open, and people visit
it throughout the year, particularly if they encounter financial problems
or are having to deal with wayward children

As one enters the premises, there is no doubt that it is an Islamic struc-
ture, with the crescent moon and star on the signs, the walls and the
“tombs ” Furthermore, there is a tapestry depicting the ka’aba in Mecca,
and there are wall hangings with verses from the Qur’an But that is not
all that we find in the Islamic shrine on Kusu Island At the foot of one of

A View from the Middle East 2 7 7

the tombs is a shelf holding the yin-and-yang-shaped blocks used for
Chinese fortune telling, and in one corner of the building there is a big
oven of the type that is used to burn paper as an offering to the spirits of
Chinese religion And there is more that does not seem to fit in with stan-
dard Islam After having said prayers and undertaken other rituals, a
worshiper may take a small plastic shopping bag, fill it with rocks and
hang it on one of the trees along the downward path, thereby having cre-
ated a “sacred object,” which would be a highly questionable action in
standard Islam Then, some time later, when his prayers hopefully have
been answered, he will visit the shrine again, express his gratitude and
remove the stone-filled bag

Thus we see that folk Islam is not a somewhat revised version of Islam
but, in many places, adapts itself to surrounding non-Muslim cultures
and frequently becomes downright syncretistic

For anyone attempting to learn about the Islamic world and how to
encounter Muslims in a real-life setting, it is essential that they learn as
much as they possibly can about folk Islam Still, in many cases, folk Is-
lam is so far removed from standard Islam that, if the goal is to under-
stand Islamic theism and the nature of Islam as it has affected the world
in recent years, folk Islam occupies a very different category Wahhabite
Islam, the version of Islam practiced by the Taliban, for example, was
founded precisely in order to eliminate the practices of folk Islam Fur-
thermore, to the best of my knowledge, Muslims in the United States
(now close to 7 million strong) are not particularly inclined toward folk
Islam Therefore, it is good to know about it, but it is a different world-
view than the one I have attempted to describe in this chapter

Chapter 11



Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam./Flesh fade, and mortal trash

Fall to the residuary worm;/world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a f lash, at a trumpet crash,

I am all at once what Christ is,/since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd,/patch,

matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

G e r a r d M a n l e y H o p k i n s ,
“ Th a t N a t u r e I s a H e r a c l i t e a n F i r e ,

a n d o f t h e C o m f o r t o f t h e R e s u r r e c t i o n ”

We have now examined eight basic worldviews, seven if we don’t count
nihilism, or nine if we count both forms of existentialism separately

Or eleven, if we add the briefly mentioned animism and the postmodern
perspective But who is counting? We could multiply worldviews to fit the
number of conscious inhabitants of the universe at any one time—or at all
times if we take an Eastern twist or if we see the universe from the aspect
of eternity On the contrary, we could say that there is one basic worldview
composed of one proposition: Everyone has a worldview!

Still, we may ask, are these the only choices? Where is the Playboy

The Examined Life 2 79

philosophy? And what about the artist who “creates” to bring order out of
the chaos of life? These options certainly have adherents Yet when we
examine each option, we find that each is a subdivision or specific version
of one or more of those already discussed Hedonistic Playboy philosophy
is an unsophisticated version of naturalism People are sex machines; oil
them, grease them, set them in motion, feel the thrill Wow! Pure natu-
ralism in which the good is what makes you feel good and, with any luck,
doesn’t hurt anyone else

Aestheticism—the worldview of a person who makes art out of life in
order to give form to chaos and meaning to absurdity—is considerably
more sophisticated and attractive Its adherents (people like Walter Pater
in the late nineteenth century and Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse,
James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, Somerset Maugham, Pablo Picasso, Leon-
ard Bernstein in the twentieth) are often personally attractive, even char-
ismatic But aestheticism is a form of existentialism in which the artist
makes value, endowing the universe with a certain formality and order
The code hero of Hemingway is a case in point His ethical norms are not
traditional, but they are consistent He lives by his own rules, if not the
rules of others The roles Humphrey Bogart played in Key Largo, Casa-
blanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre have given this worldview
a more than professional dimension and have taken aestheticism (life as
a certain style) into the marketplace Nonetheless, aestheticism is just a
specific type of atheistic existentialism in which people choose their own
values and make their own character by their choices and actions We
have seen in chapter six where that leads

The fact is that while worldviews at first appear to proliferate, they are
made up of answers to questions that have only a limited number of an-
swers For example, to the question of prime reality, only two basic an-
swers can be given: either it is the universe that is self-existent and has
always existed, or it is a transcendent God who is self-existent and has
always existed Christian and Islamic theism and deism as well claim the
latter; naturalism, Eastern pantheistic monism, New Age thought and
postmodernism claim the former As one theologian put it, either the
present universe of our experience has had a personal origin or it is the
product of the impersonal, plus time, plus chance 1

1Francis A Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1968),
p 88

2 8 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Or to take a different example, to the question whether one can know
something truly or not there are only two possible answers: one can ei-
ther know or not know something about the nature of reality If a person
can know something, then language in which that knowledge is expressed
in some way corresponds unequivocally to reality and the principle of
noncontradiction operates Postmodernism’s rejection of this notion is
self-referentially incoherent

To say that we can know something true does not mean we must know
exhaustively what is true Knowledge is subject to refinement, but if it is
true knowledge, there must have been at least a grain of truth in one’s
unrefined conception Some aspect of that conception has to remain as it
was in the beginning, or it was not knowledge For example, ancient peo-
ple observed the sun move in the sky We know that the sun stands still
and the earth turns But our knowledge includes the truth of the ancients’
observation; the sun appears to rise as much to us as it did to them In any
case, if we can know something about reality, this rules out the infinite
number of possible explanations suggested by conceptual relativism In
that system we cannot know what is actually the case We are bound
within the borders of our language system This is essentially nihilism

There are likewise a limited number of choices regarding the notion of
time Time is either cyclical or linear; it either goes someplace (that is, is
nonrepeatable) or eternally returns (and thus does not exist as a mean-
ingful category) And there are a limited number of choices regarding
basic ethics and metaphysics and questions about personal survival at
death And so on

Worldviews, in other words, are not infinite in number In a pluralistic
society they seem to exist in profusion, but the basic issues and options are
actually rather small The field, as I have narrowed it, contains eleven op-
tions (or ten, or eight—our counting problem!) Our own personal choice
lies somewhere on this field, but if the argument of this book is valid, two
conclusions follow First, our choice need not be blind There are ways to
bring light to the paths from which we choose Second, whatever choice we
make, if we are not going to be hypocritical, we are committed to live by it
As indicated in the very definition of worldview, we “live and move and
have our being” in accordance with the worldview we really hold, not the
one we merely confess A fearless honesty should characterize both our
self-analysis—where we are now—and our pursuit of truth

The Examined Life 2 81


How, then, should we choose to live? How can we decide among the finite
alternatives? What can help us choose between a worldview that assumes
the existence of a transcendent, personal God and one that does not?
Something of my own view of this matter should certainly have become
obvious in the descriptions and critiques of the various options Now is
the time to make this view explicit 2

Unless each of us begins by assuming that we are in our present state
the sole maker and meaning-giver of the universe—a position held by few
even within the New Age worldview—it would be well to accept an atti-
tude of humility as a working frame of reference Whatever worldview we
adopt will be limited Our finitude as human beings, whatever our hu-
manity turns out to be, will keep us both from total accuracy in the way
we grasp and express our worldview and from completeness or exhaus-
tiveness Some truths of reality will slip through our finest intellectual
nets, and our nets will have some holes we have not even noticed So the
place to start is humility We do tend to adopt positions that yield power
to us, whether true or not

But humility is not skepticism If we expect to know anything, we must
assume we can know something And with that assumption other ele-
ments are entailed, primarily the so-called laws of thought: the laws of
identity, noncontradiction and the excluded middle By following such
laws we are able to think clearly and be assured that our reasoning is
valid Such assumptions, then, lead to the first characteristic that our
adopted worldview should possess—inner intellectual coherence Keith
Yandell of the University of Wisconsin states this succinctly: “If a concep-
tual system contains as an essential element a (one or more membered)
set of propositions which is logically inconsistent, it is false ”3

It is on this basis that the worldviews of deism, naturalism, pantheistic
monism and so forth were examined in the preceding chapters Each was
found inconsistent at some major points Naturalists, for example, de-
clare the universe to be closed on the one hand, and yet most naturalists
affirm that human beings can reorder it on the other hand If my argu-

2I have written at length about why one should choose one worldview over another in Why
Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1994)

3Keith Yandell, “Religious Experience and Rational Appraisal,” Religious Studies, June 1974,
p 185

2 8 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

ment is correct, we have seen that for us to be able to shape or reorder our
environment, we must be able to transcend our immediate environment
But since naturalism declares we cannot do this, naturalism is inconsis-
tent and cannot be true, at least as it is normally formulated 4

A second characteristic of an adequate worldview is that it must be
able to comprehend the data of reality—data of all types: that which each
of us gleans through our conscious experience of daily life, that which are
supplied by critical analysis and scientific investigation, that which are
reported to us from the experience of others All these data must, of
course, be carefully evaluated on the lowest level first (is it veridical? is it
illusory?) But if the data stand the test, we must be able to incorporate
them into our worldview If a ghost refuses to disappear under investiga-
tion, our worldview must provide a place for it If a man is resurrected
from the dead, our system must explain why that could happen To the
extent that our worldview denies or fails to comprehend the data, it is
falsified or at least inadequate

It is just such a challenge to naturalism that has caused some to accept
theism as an alternative The historical evidence for the resurrection of
Christ, and for various other “miracles,” has been found by many to be so
heavy that they have abandoned one conceptual system for another Con-
versions to Christianity, especially among intellectuals in our time, are
almost always accompanied by changes in worldview, for sin, as seen by
the Bible, has an intellectual as well as a moral dimension 5

Third, an adequate worldview should explain what it claims to ex-
plain Some naturalists, for example, explain morality by reference to
the need to survive But as we saw, this is explaining the moral quality
(ought) solely by reference to the metaphysical quality (is). Perhaps the
human species must develop a concept of morality in order to survive,
but why should it survive? And it is no good responding with B F Skin-
ner, “So much the worse” for us if we do not survive, for that just begs
the question

The crucial questions, then, to ask of a worldview are, How does it
explain the fact that human beings think but think haltingly, love but
hate too, are creative but also destructive, wise but often foolish, and so

4Each formulation of each worldview must be considered on its own merits, of course But for
each of the worldviews I have weighed and found wanting I know no formulation that does
not contain problems of inconsistency

5See, for example, Romans 1:28

The Examined Life 2 8 3

forth? What explains our longings for truth and personal fulfillment?
Why is pleasure as we know it now rarely enough to satisfy completely?
Why do we usually want more—more money, more love, more ecstasy?
How do we explain our human refusal to operate in an amoral fashion?

These are, of course, huge questions But that is what a worldview is
for—to answer such questions, or at least provide the framework within
which such questions can be answered

Finally, a worldview should be subjectively satisfactory It must meet
our sense of personal need as a bowl of hot oatmeal breaks the fast of a
long night’s sleep I mention satisfaction last because it is the most ephem-
eral quality If it were first, it would suggest that subjectivity is the most
important factor, and it would also beg the question To say an adequate
worldview must satisfy is to talk in circles; the question is, how can a
worldview satisfy? And the answer, I believe, is clear: a worldview satisfies
by being true For if we think or even remotely suspect that something in
our grasp of reality is illusory, we have a crack that may widen into a fis-
sure of doubt and split the peace of our world into an intellectual civil
war Truth is ultimately the only thing that will satisfy But to determine
the truth of a worldview, we are cast back on the first three characteris-
tics above: internal consistency, adequate handling of data, and ability to
explain what is claimed to be explained

Still, subjective satisfaction is important, and it may be lack of it that
causes us to investigate our worldview in the first place The vague, un-
easy feeling we have that something doesn’t fit causes us to seek satisfac-
tion Our worldview is not quite livable We bury our doubt, but it rises to
the surface We mask our insecurity, but our mask falls off We find, in
fact, that it is only when we pursue our doubts and search for the truth
that we begin to get real satisfaction 6

Where, then, are we today? In terms of possible worldviews, our op-
tions are numerous but, as we have seen, limited Of those we have inves-
tigated, all but theism were found to have serious flaws If my argument
has been correct, none of them—deism, naturalism, existentialism, East-
ern pantheistic monism or New Age philosophy, nor the postmodern
perspective—can adequately account for the possibility of genuine knowl-
edge, the facticity of the external universe or the existence of ethical dis-

6For a full treatment of the nature of doubt and its contribution to the formulation of an ad-
equate worldview, see Os Guinness, God in the Dark (Wheaton, Ill : Crossway, 1996)

2 8 4 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

tinctions Each in its own way ends in some form of nihilism
Islam poses both an alternative and a separate challenge Because it is

based on a theistic notion of God as creator, sustainer and revealer of the
truths of reality, the most foundational worldview notion (the nature of
ultimate reality) is similar to that of Christianity Searchers for truth will
need to look more intently at specific details of each worldview—possible
internal inconsistencies and, especially, the differing conceptions of the
nature and character of Allah and the biblical God, the historical evi-
dence for the nature and character of Jesus, and the reasons for the au-
thority accorded to their two foundational scriptures—the Bible and the
Qur’an This is a task that here must be left to you as readers 7


There is one worldview that offers both a firm intellectual foundation
and a route out of such nihilism For those who follow the decline of reli-
gious certitude through its trek from the seventeenth to the twenty-first
century, the way forward is not to go beyond nihilism It is rather to re-
turn to an early fork in the intellectual road

It may seem strange to suggest that we throw off modern and post-
modern thought and return to the seventeenth century But we should be
reminded that Christian theism as I have defined it was culturally aban-
doned not because of its inner inconsistency or its failure to explain the
facts, but because it was inadequately understood, forgotten completely
or not applied to the issues at hand Moreover, not everyone abandoned
theism three centuries ago There remain at every level in society and in
every academic discipline—in science and the humanities, in technology
and the business world—those who take their Christian theism with
complete intellectual seriousness and honesty 8

Questions and rough edges—indeed theism has those And there are

7See, for example, Colin Chapman, The Cross and the Crescent: Responding to the Challenge
of Islam (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2003); and Chawkat Moucarry, The Prophet
and the Messiah: An Arab Christian’s Perspective on Islam and Christianity (Downers Grove,
Ill : InterVarsity Press, 2001)

8See, for example, two collections of personal essays by philosophers who are openly Chris-
tian: Kelly James Clark, ed , Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading
Thinkers (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1993); Thomas V Morris, ed , God and the
Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason (New York: Oxford University Press,
1994); and Paul M Anderson, Professors Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Christian
Faculty (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1998)

The Examined Life 2 8 5

problems Finite humanity, it would seem, must be humble enough to
recognize that any worldview will always have those But theism explains
why we have such questions and problems Its ground is neither the self
nor the cosmos, but the God who transcends all—the infinite-personal
God in whom all reason, all goodness, all hope, all love, all reality, all
distinctions find their origin It provides the frame of reference in which
we can find meaning and significance It stands the fourfold test for an
adequate worldview

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a nineteenth-century Jesuit poet whose own
intellectual journey provides a fascinating study of how a searching mind
and heart can find a resting place, has left us a rich vein of poems that
embody the Christian worldview None, I think, better captures the tone
of Christian theism than “God’s Grandeur,” and it will put a fitting per-
sonal close to our rather intellectual consideration of worldviews:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God
It will f lame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings 9

Of course, there is much more to be said about the personal and theo-
logical dimensions of this way of looking at life 10 To accept Christian
theism only as an intellectual construct is not to accept it fully There is a
deeply personal dimension involved with grasping and living within this
worldview, for it involves acknowledging our own individual dependence

9Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th ed ,
ed W H Gardner and N H MacKenzie (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p 66

10The New Testament is the primary text for Christian theism, but I also recommend John R
W Stott, Basic Christianity, rev ed (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1973), and J I
Packer, Knowing God, rev ed (Downers Grove, Ill : InterVarsity Press, 1993)

2 8 6 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

on God as his creatures, our own individual rebellion against God and
our own individual reliance on God for restoration to fellowship with
him And it means accepting Christ as both our Liberator from bondage
and the Lord of our future

To be a Christian theist is not just to have an intellectual worldview; it
is to be personally committed to the infinite-personal Lord of the uni-
verse And it leads to an examined life that is well worth living

Abdalati, Hammudah,

Adams, Douglas, 95-96
aestheticism, 279
Ahmadiyya, 268, 270-71
Albrecht, Mark, 196
Ali ben Talib, 268
Ali, (Maulana) Muham-

mad, 268, 272
Allen, Charlotte, 237
Allen, Diogenes, 236
Anderson, Paul M , 284
animism, 180-81, 210
Applebome, Peter, 175
Arnold, Matthew, 15,

140-41, 231
al-Ash’ari, Abu al-Hasan,

Ash’arite, 246, 253, 256
Audi, Robert, 219
Augustine of Hippo, 18,

Avorn, Jerry, 170
Ayer, A J , 75
Bacon, Francis (artist),

Bacon, Francis (philoso-

pher), 49
Barash, David P , 230
Barash, Nanelle, 230
Barnett, Paul, 205
Barrett, William, 72
Barth, Karl, 131, 141-43
Baudelaire, Charles, 57
Bavinck, J H , 23
Becker, Ernest, 147
Beckett, Samuel, 95, 100,

Behe, Michael, 82
Beiner, Ronald, 208
Bellah, Robert, 182
Bellow, Saul, 46
Bergman, Ingmar, 111
Bergson, Henri, 187
Bernstein, Leonard, 279
Bertrand, J Mark, 27
Best, Steven, 215
Beaty, Katelyn, 179
Bhattacharya, Anupama,

bin Laden, Osama, 246
Birdsall, J N , 36
Blackham, H J , 131
Blake, William, 181
Blattner, Barbara, 176
Blocher, Henri, 30
Bloesch, Donald, 85, 138
Blomberg, Craig, 139
Bloom, Allan, 80, 108-9,

Board, C Stephen, 12,

Bogart, Humphrey, 279
Bohr, Niels, 102
Borgmann, Albert, 215
Bradley, Walter L , 82
Bray, Gerald, 139
Bréhier, Émile, 53-54, 57,

Bricmont, Jean, 235, 242
Brierly, John, 72
Broad, C D , 187
Bromiley, Geoffrey, 29
Bronowski, J , 49

Brown, William E , 27
Brunner, Emil, 131
Brushaber, George, 85
Bube, Richard H , 12, 85,

101, 176, 202-3
Buber, Martin, 134-35,

Bucke, Richard Maurice,

Buddha, 146-47, 158, 160,

162, 172, 205
Buddhism, 146-48,

160-63, 165, 191, 269
Buell, Jon, 82
Bultmann, Rudolf,

Burnett, David, 19
Burnham, Fredric, 215
Buescher, John B , 146,

Bush, Harold K , Jr , 224,

Cabanis, Pierre Jean

Georges, 72, 120
Cage, John, 115
Calvin, John, 18, 85, 137,

Camus, Albert, 18, 113,

117-19, 123-30, 133, 143,

Caplan, Arthur L , 108
Capon, Robert Farrar,

Capra, Fritjof, 167, 176,

Carnell, Edward John,

135, 141


Bold type indicates major discussions.

2 8 8 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

Carson, Donald, 139
Cassirer, Ernst, 201
Castaneda, Carlos, 175,

178, 181, 188-90, 194
Chan, Wing-tsit, 147, 249
Chapman, Colin, 12, 272,

275, 284
Chase, Stuart, 200
Chesterton, G K , 41
Chopra, Deepak, 172,

177, 179, 184, 188,
193-94, 205-7

Christian humanism,

Christian Research
Institute, 166

Christian theism, 25-46,
and passim (through-

Churchland, Patricia
Smith, 219

Churchland, Paul M , 219
Cioran, E M , 105
Clapp, Rodney, 12
Clark, Kelly James, 284
Clarke, Arthur C , 93, 177
Clinton, Hillary Rodham,

Cohen, Andrew, 171
Collins, Francis, 81
Condorcet, Marquis de,

Connor, Steven, 215
Copernicus, Nicolaus, 49
Copleston, Frederick, 50,

72, 220
Corduan, Winfried,

11-12, 148, 264, 269, 275
Cavell, Marcia, 178
Craig, William Lane, 28
Crane, Stephen, 15-16,

94, 106, 112
Crossan, John Dominic,

Cruickshank, John, 117
cummings, e e , 19
Dalai Lama, 146
Darwin, Charles, 79,

81-83, 93, 103-4, 109,

Dasgupta, Surendranath,

Davies, Paul, 61
Dawkins, Richard, 61, 82,

Deddo, Gary, 12
deism, 47-65, 244

cold, 51, 53, 59, 67
moralistic therapeutic,

51, 60, 63
popular, 60, 63-64
sophisticated philo-

sophic, 60-62
sophisticated scientific,

warm, 51, 53, 59, 63, 66

De Mille, Richard, 175
Dembski, William, 82
Dennett, Daniel, 79, 81,

Dennis, Gregory, 177
Denny, Frederick

Mathewson, 246, 254,

Denton, Melinda
Lundquist, 63

Denton, Michael, 81
Derrida, Jacques, 216,

228, 230, 240, 243
Descartes, René, 67-68,

71, 219-21, 237
Dettmar, Kevin J H , 229
D’Holbach, Baron, 78
Dick, Philip K , 177
Dickstein, Morris, 231
Dillard, Raymond B , 139

Disney, Walt, 113
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor,

Duchamp, Marcel, 95
Dulles, Avery, Cardinal,

48, 64-65
Eagleton, Terry, 234
Eckhart, Meister, 189
Edwards, Paul, 196
Einstein, Albert, 60, 99,

Eliot, T S , 19
Ellis, John M , 230
Emerson, Ralph Waldo,

Engels, Friedrich, 86
Englund, Harold, 135
Esposito, John L , 253,

Erasmus, Desiderius, 85
Evans, C Stephen, 12, 28,

86, 136, 224
evolution, 21, 71, 73, 75,

78-79, 81-84, 92-93, 97,
100, 153, 169-72, 174,
179, 183-84, 192, 195

Ewer, William, 44
existentialism, 17, 113,

117-45, 182, 217,
226-27, 244, 278-79, 283

Fahd, king of Saudi
Arabia, 273

Fairbridge, Rhodes W , 70
Falk, Darrel R , 81
al Faruqi, Isam’il Ragi,

249, 252, 263
Fénelon, François, 52
Ferguson, Kitty, 61
Ferguson, Marilyn, 70,

166, 174, 184, 189-90,
192, 202-3

Feurbach, Ludwig, 87-88
Fish, Sharon, 176

Index 2 8 9

Fish, Stanley, 230
Flew, Antony, 61, 108
Foucault, Michel, 216,

223, 226-28, 230, 236,
238, 243

Franke, John, 236
Franklin, Benjamin, 51,

Fredkin, Edward, 73
Freud, Sigmund, 223, 227,

Fuller, Buckminster, 52
Gadamer, Hans-Georg,

Galilei, Galileo, 49
Garraty, John A , 70, 81
Gay, Peter, 51, 70, 81
Geering, Lloyd, 142
Geertz, Clifford, 175
Ghulam Ahmad of

Qadiyan, 270
Gibbon, Edward, 58
Giddens, Anthony, 215,

Gilson, Étienne, 28, 65
Goldman, Alvin I , 240
Gottschall, Jonathan,

Graham, W , 104
Greer, Robert, 237
Gregory, André, 178
Grene, Marjorie, 136, 138
Grenz, Stanley, 222,

226-27, 236
Gribbin, John, 60
Griffioen, Sander, 19
Grof, Stanislav, 174, 195
Groothuis, Douglas, 12,

19, 166, 173-74, 177, 237
Gross, Paul R , 242
Guinness, Os, 12, 146,

178, 283
Gurdjieff, George I , 191

Hackett, Stuart, 147
Hadith, 246, 267-68,

Haldane, J B S , 104
Hampton, Charles, 12
Hanbalite school, 246,

Haneef, Suzanne, 261
Hari Krishna, 147
Harris, Melvin, 196
Harrison, Everett F , 29
Harrold, Charles

Frederick, 140
Hasker, William, 28
al-Hassan, 268
Hassan, Ihab, 215-16, 241
Havel, Václav, 61-63,

Hawking, Stephen, 60-61,

69, 81
Hearn, Virginia, 82
hedonism, 279
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm

Friedrich, 87, 220
Heidegger, Martin, 118
Heinlein, Robert, 176-77
Heinrich, Kathleen, 176
Heisenberg, Werner,

Heller, Joseph, 96, 114
Hemingway, Ernest,

115-16, 279
Henry, Carl F H , 236
Herrick, James A ,

166-68, 177
Hesse, Hermann, 144,

147, 155-60, 194, 279
Hiebert, Paul G , 27
Hill, Jonathan, 47
Himmelfarb, Gertrude,

Hinduism, 145-47, 149,

151, 155-56, 158,

160-64, 178, 269-70
Holmes, Arthur F , 10, 27,

37, 85
Homer, 222
Hoover, James, 13
Hopkins, Gerard Manley,

25, 46, 278, 285
Horgan, John, 241
Houston, Jean, 169-71,

183-84, 192
humanism, 71, 77, 84-85,

87, 93, 131, 141
Humanist Manifestos,

70, 72, 74-75, 77, 85
Hume, David, 58, 220
Hummel, Charles, 81
al-Hussein, 268
Huxley, Aldous, 174,

185-87, 189-90, 193-94,

Huxley, Julian, 73, 93
Huxley, Laura Archera,

185-86, 198
Huxley, T H , 93
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab,

Muhammad, 246, 272
Ibn-Hanbal, 246
Ichazo, Oscar, 184, 195,

Islam (Islamic theism),

11-12, 17, 28, 92, 243,
244-77, 279, 284

Ionesco, Eugene, 96
Jaki, Stanley, 101-2, 106,

James, William, 174, 192,

195, 203
Jastrow, Robert, 60
Jefferson, Thomas, 58-59
Jenkins, Keith, 233, 238
Jesus, 21, 30, 38, 40,

42-43, 45-56, 51, 54,
57-58, 71, 76, 78, 131,

2 9 0 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

139-42, 159, 164, 167,
172, 184, 188, 194,
205-7, 211-12, 223, 247,
255, 263-64, 270, 284

Jobling, David, 71
Johnson, David L , 147
Johnson, Luke Timothy,

Johnson, Phillip E , 82, 92
Johnston, Tyler, 166
Joyce, James, 279
Jung, C G , 174, 203, 227
Kaf ka, Franz, 96, 110-11,

115-16, 131, 140
Kant, Immanuel, 10, 137,

Keegan, Lynn, 176
Keen, Sam, 166, 191, 195,

Kellner, Douglas, 215
Kepler, Johannes, 49
Kierkegaard, Søren, 118,

136, 138, 143
King, Richard, 178
Kinney, Jay, 178
Kitagawa, Joseph M , 249
Kitchen, K A , 211
Klassen, Norman, 85
Klimo, Jon, 174, 188, 203
Kornblith, Hilary, 76
Kraft, Charles H , 27
Kreeft, Peter, 30
Krieger, Dolores, 176
Krupnick, Mark, 230
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth,

Kubrick, Stanley, 177
Kurtz, Paul, 70
Kvaloy, Sigmund, 161
La Mettrie, Julien Offray

de, 67-68, 70, 72, 77
Laing, R D , 203
Lawrence, Bruce, 268

Leary, Timothy, 173
Lemley, Brad, 173, 177
Lenin, Vladimir, 90
Lentricchia, Frank, 232
Leonard, George, 184
Leone, Mark P , 146
LeShan, Lawrence,

183-84, 187-88, 193,
195, 201-3, 212, 286

Levi-Strauss, Claude, 230
Lewenstein, Bruce V , 235
Lewis, C S , 11, 31, 104
Lilla, Mark, 216, 224, 228,

Lilly, John, 166, 174, 179,

182-83, 188-95,
199-200, 203

Lindbeck, George A , 236
Linssen, Robert, 161
Lipner, Julius, 147
Lippmann, Walter, 79
Locke, John, 50-51, 54,

67, 220
Lockerbie, Bruce, 85
Lodge, Sir Oliver, 198
Longman, Tremper, III,

Lott, Eric, 147
Lovelock, J E , 176
Lowrie, Walter, 136
Lucas, George, 178
Ludwig, Arnold M , 193
Lundin, Roger, 230
Lyon, David, 86
Lyotard, Jean-François,

216, 225, 229, 234
Mabe, Dale, 173, 177
MacIntyre, Alasdair, 80,

MacKay, Donald, 202-3
MacLaine, Shirley, 60,

169, 171, 177, 179,
183-85, 188, 190-94,

196, 198, 204, 208
Macquarrie, John, 136
Madonna, 184
Magee, Bryan, 241
Mahdi, 270-71
Mahesh, Maharishi, 147,

152, 177
Malachowski, Alan R ,

Mangalwadi, Vishal, 167
Marcuse, Herbert, 138
Marsh, Jeffrey, 69
Marshall, I Howard, 211
Marshall, Paul A , 19
Martin, Richard C , 255,

Marx, Karl, 86-92, 230
Marxism, 12, 86-92
Mascall, E L , 28
Mascaró, Juan, 150, 153,

155, 160
Maslow, Abraham, 174,

Masters, Robert, 171, 191,

Maugham, Somerset, 279
Maver, Kate, 179
Max, D T , 231
McCallum, Dennis, 232
McCracken, Samuel, 178,

McGrath, Alister, 234,

McMillan, Liz, 235
Medawar, Peter, 49-50,

Menninga, Clarence, 81
Mezan, Peter, 203
Michelmore, P , 108
Milson, Menahem, 251
Middleton, J Richard, 27,

Miller, Kenneth R , 81-82

Index 2 91

Millet, Kate, 230
Milton, John, 11, 47-48, 85
Mitcham, Carl, 72
Mitchell, Joni, 184
Mitchell, W J T , 229
Miura, Isshu, 162
Moliere, Jean Baptiste, 20
Monastersky, Richard,

Monod, Jacques, 83, 101
Moody, Raymond J , Jr ,

Moore, Charles A , 147
Moreland, J P , 28, 69, 82
Morris, Thomas V , 28,

Moucarry, Chawkat, 12,

Mouw, Richard, 19
Muhammad, 244, 246-47,

252, 260, 263-65, 268,

Muhammad Ibn Abd
al-Wahhab, 246, 272

Mumma, Howard, 130
Murad, Mahmoud,

Murray, Michael J , 82
Mu’tazilites, 253, 256,

Myocho, Zen master, 161
Nagel, Ernest, 71, 73, 75
naturalism, 17, 47, 51, 53,

66-93, 97, 102-4, 106-7,
109, 112, 118-21,
144-45, 152, 166, 170,
174, 178-82, 201, 208,
217, 219, 227, 237,
242-44, 279, 281-83

Naugle, David, 10, 13, 20,

Nayef, prince of Saudi
Arabia, 273

Neill, Stephen, 139, 146
neo-Kharijite, 269
neo-orthodoxy, 131-39
New Age, 9, 17, 60, 149,

166-213, 220, 232, 242,
279, 281, 283

Newman, Margaret A ,
176, 185

Nida, Eugene, 181
Niebuhr, Reinhold, 132,

Nielsen, Kai, 240
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 18,

97-98, 108, 111, 116,
118, 140, 214-15, 217,
220-22, 227, 239-40,

nihilism, 17, 24, 35, 53,
94-119, 123, 130-31,
140, 142-45, 178, 202,
208, 212-13, 278, 280,

Noel, Daniel C , 175
Noss, David S , 253
Oates, Joyce Carol, 175
Oden, Thomas, 236
Okholm, Dennis L , 236
Oliver, Joan Duncan, 168
Olson, Carl, 205
Olson, Roger, 82
Olthuis, James H , 18-19
Overbye, Dennis, 69
Owen, H P , 28
Packer, J I , 85, 285
Paine, Thomas, 51, 59
Paley, William, 67
panentheism, 61
pantheism, 61, 84,

144-65, 170-81, 193,
195, 208, 213, 216, 279,
281, 283

Paramahansa, Sri
Ramakrishna, 146

Pascal, Blaise, 34
Pater, Walter, 279
Peterson, Britt, 231
Paul, apostle, 18, 102
Pauli, W , 102
Pearcey, Nancy, 27, 31, 49,

82, 101, 176
Pennock, Robert T , 82
Peraino, Carl, 97
Peters, Ted, 166
Phillips, Timothy R , 236
Phillips, W Gary, 27
Picasso, Pablo, 279
Plantinga, Alvin, 103
Plato, 223
Platt, John, 79, 99, 122,

pluralism, 9, 215
Pollard, Nick, 110
Pope, Alexander, 47,

55-58, 208
postmodernism, 9-10, 17,

76, 92-93, 102, 118,
213-43, 278-81, 283-84

Potthapada Sutta, 162
Al-Qaeda, 245-46
Quine, Willard Van

Orman, 223-24

Sarvapalli, 147, 151
Raju, P T , 249
Ramakrishna, Sri, 149,

Ramanuja, 147
Ramm, Bernard, 85
Raschke, Carl A , 167
Ratzsch, Del, 31, 82, 234
Reimarus, H S , 58
reincarnation, 22, 41, 44,

156, 158, 196
Reisser, Paul C , 172, 176
Reisser, Teri K , 176
relativism, 9, 108-9, 126,

2 9 2 Th e U n i v e r s e N e x t D o or

197, 199-203, 216, 221,
224, 228, 280

Renan, Ernest, 139, 141
Reynolds, Mark, 82
Romain, Rolland, 151
Rorty, Richard, 203, 221,

223, 227-28, 239-40,

Rosen, Winifred, 172
Rosenfeld, Albert, 188
Roszak, Theodore, 174,

Russell, Bertrand, 74,

202, 240
Ryken, Leland, 230
Sagan, Carl, 68-69, 83,

Said, Edward, 222
Salafi, 269
Sanborn, Sara, 52
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 18,

117-22, 124-26, 129,
143, 221, 226

Sasaki, Ruth Fuller, 162
Saussure, Ferdinand de,

Sayers, Dorothy L , 35
Schaeffer, Francis A , 31,

40, 136, 139, 279
Schiffman, Richard, 149,

Schmitt, Richard, 86
Shankara, 147
Schönborn, Christopher,

Cardinal, 83
Schrödinger, Erwin, 202
Scotus, Duns, 138
Seaborg, Glenn, 93
secular humanism, 85-86
Seznec, Jean, 27
Shakespeare, William, 27,

Shawn, Wallace, 178

Shi’ite, 270
Showalter, Elaine, 230
Sidney, Sir Philip, 35
Simpson, George

Gaylord, 73, 78-79,
82-83, 92-93

Sire, James, 20, 22, 27, 30,
37, 76, 85, 218, 224, 241,

Skinner, B F , 79, 100,
122, 209, 282

Smalley, William A , 181
Smart, Ninian, 19
Smith, Barbara Hern-

stein, 229
Smith, Christian, 63
Smith, James K A , 236
Socrates, 113, 215
Sokal, Alan, 176, 202,

234-35, 242
Solomon, Robert C , 220
Spangler, David, 183
Spanos, William V , 226
Spenser, Edmund, 85
Spielberg, Steven, 178
St John, Henry (Boling-

broke), 58
Stavans, Ilan, 231
Stenger, Victor J , 176
Stevens, Bonny Klomp,

Stevens, Wallace, 279
Stewart, Larry L , 230
Stewart, W Christopher,

Stott, John R W , 285
Strauss, D F , 139
Stryk, Lucien, 147
Sufism, 251, 275
Sunni, 253, 257, 268
Suzuki, D T , 146, 162-63
Swihart, Phillip J , 195-96
syncretism, 9, 145, 276

Synnestvedt, Dan, 12, 51,

Taimni, I K , 191
Taliban, 245-46, 268,

272, 277
Tart, Charles, 193, 203
Taylor, Charles, 19, 45,

47, 83-84, 163, 239
Taylor, Eugene, 173
Taylor, LaTonya, 179
Taylor, Mark C , 236
Templeman, William D ,

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord,

Thaxton, Charles, 31, 49,

82, 101, 176
theism, Christian, 25-46,

and passim
Thielicke, Helmut, 35,

113, 202, 212
Thomas Aquinas, 219
Thomas, Lewis, 176
Thompson, Keith, 175
Thompson, William

Irwin, 174, 179, 183,
187, 190, 193, 208-9

Vidette, 176

Toland, John, 58
Tolle, Eckhart, 179
Tolkien, J R R , 35
Toulmin, Stephen, 215
Transcendental Medita-

tion, 147, 165-66, 177
Trevethan, Thomas, 12
Tucker, Richard, 86-87
Turkle, Sherry, 72
Upanishads, 147, 150,

Updike, John, 66, 75
Van Till, Howard J , 81
Vanzant, Iyanla, 179

Index 2 9 3

Varghese, Abraham, 61
Velarde, Robert, 173
Vieth, Gene Edward, Jr ,

Vivekananda, Swami, 146
Voltaire, F M A de, 51
Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr ,

Wahhabism, 246, 268-69,

272, 277
Walhout, Clarence, 230
Walsh, Brian, 27, 236
Watson, Jean, 176
Watson, Peter, 241
Watts, Alan, 146
Weber, Max, 108
Weil, Andrew, 172-74,

177-78, 180, 184, 191,
194, 203

Weinberg, Steven, 176,
202, 235

Weldon, John, 176
Wellhausen, Julius, 139
Wells, David, 236
Wenham, John, 38, 41

Westminster Confession,

Westminster Shorter
Catechism, 45

Westphal, Merold,

White, Michael, 60
Whitehead, Alfred

North, 67-68, 119
Whorf, Benjamin, 200
Wilber, Ken, 167, 171-72,

174, 184-85, 187-88,
190-91, 193-94, 202,
209, 212

Williams, Bernard, 239
Williams, Jeffrey J , 232
Williamson, Marianne,

Wilson, E O , 231, 241
Wilson, James Q , 79
Winfrey, Oprah, 179
Winkler, Karen J , 232
Witherington, Ben, 142
Woltjer, Lodewijk, 81
Wood, W Jay, 37

Woodward, Bob, 169
Woodward, Thomas, 82
worldview, definition,

Wright, J S , 211
Wright, N T (Tom), 139,

142, 205
Wright, Robert, 60, 73
Yandell, Keith, 12, 113-14,

147, 281
Young, Davis, 81
Yusuf Ali, 247, 270
Zaehner, R C , 146, 178,

191, 193, 195
Zaretsky, Irving I , 146,

Zen, 161-63, 185, 191,

193, 195
Zimmerman, Jens, 85
Zoroaster, 172, 269
Zukav, Gary, 170, 176,


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