Trailing at Halftime

February 9th, 2009

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Back to the basics…
In 1974, the University of Southern California football team trailed Notre Dame 24-6 at halftime. The game was over. But USC returned to the basics and the second half was very different. 2009 is halftime for Darwinism. It enjoys an impressive lead defining reality today. But if we return to basics, the second half might be different.

The 1974 game is a sore spot for Notre Dame fans. Trailing 24-0 late in the first half, USC eked out a touchdown but failed to convert the point after. At halftime, USC coach John McKay told his team they were returning to the basics – blocking and running. Anthony Davis took the second half kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and the Trojans proceeded to pummel Notre Dame, winning impressively, 55-24.

The early church scored impressive wins in the Roman Empire, for example – but it took more than four quarters. More like 300 years. By AD300, “the Christian church had already gained a prominence far out of proportion to the relatively small number of Christians, as a whole, within the empire,” Peter Brown writes.1 Christianity defined reality for business, education, family life, health care, and government. “The third century, indeed, was an age of surprising Christians,” Brown notes.2

But that was long ago and far away. This Thursday, February 12th, is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. November of 2009 will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species – marking halftime for Darwinism. Darwin’s definition of reality currently holds a wide lead in education, media, and economics. Yet a return to basics by believers could make the second half very different. What “basics?”

When the scriptures defined reality, it was understood that “all human faculties had legitimate objectives entitled to fulfillment,” writes Harvard Professor Emeritus Daniel Walker Howe. “An unregulated faculty – whether pride, licentiousness, or some other appetite or emotion – was called a passion. The good life required continual self-discipline, as one sought to ‘suppress his passions’ or ‘cultivate and improve his virtues.’”3 It was the task of mentors to shape conscience, cultivating virtue. Passion was an unregulated appetite requiring management.

The Bible says we never “manage” people but only animals, our appetites and assets. A wild donkey, “accustomed to the wilderness” that “sniffs the wind in her passion” is how the Bible views an unregulated faculty (Jer. 2:24). Not good. People, however, are not like “the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check” (Ps. 32:9). They’re supposed to be mentored.

The 19th century was the Great Reversal of this definition of reality. With the publication of Origin in 1859, Darwinism declared that people are merely evolved animals. In 1882, “Nietzsche published The Gay Science and there declared that God was dead and all god-terms with him,” one cultural analyst adds.4 With God gone and people demoted to the level of animals came The Great Reversal: passion became a healthy appetite, a virtue.

Any reversal is ecological. “I mean ecological in the same sense used by environmental scientists. One significant change generates total change,” Neil Postman notes.5 The new Darwinian definition of reality accounts for why we hear little about conscience. It’s why mentoring has largely disappeared and why modern management theory gained traction in the 20th century. We want passionate workers, not conscientious colleagues.

Any reversal is also institutional. It is better to think of culture as a thing, a product, if you will, manufactured not by lone individuals but rather by institutions and the elites who lead them. Influentials like Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”), John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William James disseminated Darwin’s ideas. Today, passion is paramount. New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, asks how magazine editors – month after month, year after year – can churn out “page after page on lip-gloss trends, armoire placement, or powerboat design” without getting depressed. The answer? “These editors have, to use their favorite word, passion.”6

Passion however is pointless. In 2008, Langham Auckland launched a winter weekend package, Passionate for Prada. “Diabetes is our Passion,” advertises Novartis. What makes George Washington University’s MBA program great? Passion. Pierce Brosnan is pursuing his two great passions – environmentalism and movies. Bratz has a passion for fashion slippers and flip flops. Yanni sells Reflections of Passion. Lauryn Hill’s got Passion. The Cure is cuter – Plastic Passion. Duran Duran – Of Crime and Passion. Jimmy Buffett – Cuban Crime of Passion. Stop the madness! Somebody, do something!

The most important thing anyone can do is name something, Albert Einstein said. 2009 is halftime for Darwinism. Even though faith communities are trailing, they can return to the basics. They could promote mentors who cultivate a protégé’s conscience. They could play down passion as an unregulated appetite. Who knows what might happen in the second half? If we return to the basics, the next 150 years might play out very differently.

________________
1 Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom (Malden MA: Blackwell, 1996), p. 31.
2 Brown, Rise, pp. 24-25.
3 Daniel Walker Howe, Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 6.
4 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority,
Kenneth S. Piver, General Editor, Volume I, Sacred Order/Social Order (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006), p. xxiv.
5 Neil Postman: Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, NY: First Vintage Books Edition, 1993), p. 18.
6 David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 188.

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13 Responses to “Trailing at Halftime”

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Mike, you left out the best passion song of alltime…Rod Stewart’s title song I quote
    “Hear it in the radio, passion
    Read it in the papers, passion
    Hear it in the churches, passion
    See it in the school yards, passion”
    Thanks for bringing the old whipping boy :)maybe people might start caring if you start channeling Rod! Don’t give up! Never give up!

  2. Trent says:

    I like the concept of naming this the halftime for Darwinism. This kind of analysis can help those believe the Biblical worldview regroup and move forward with a new game plan for the second half. Do you think the recent efforts of the intelligent design movement are going in the right direction? For example, what do you think about the Ben Stein movie and the teaching of Francis Collins?

    I agree that the Church should take more seriously the role of true mentoring (aka discipleship). But does Mike take his critique of passion too far? What about the use of this term in Christian teaching? John Piper often speaks of having a “passion for God.” There is a significant college student movement called “Passion.” Their slogan is “spreading a passion…” Have they bought in to what you are critiquing?

  3. Mike Metzger says:

    BTW, I’m making a distinction between Darwinism (an ideology) and theistic evolution (a mechanism). A lot of people hold to evolution as a mechanism by which God created. Darwinism is different. Huxley defined it as “unguided natural process.” No purpose, no person, no nothing. Just stuff. It’s this ideology that’s ahead at halftime.

  4. The Irreverent Reverend's Wife says:

    Hmmm… I’ve always wondered if Darwin-ISM is the same as what Charles Darwin actually wrote and believed, just as Calvin-ISM is often something quite different than what John Calvin actually wrote and believed. Both “ISM”s show man’s tendency to calcify thought-in-progress, taking us all off into unproductive tangents that require a great effort to redirect.

  5. Mike Metzger says:

    Hey Trent:

    You raise some good questions. Historically, the church has spoken of passion as the marking the week leading to the suffering and death of Christ – far different than how most Christians are imagining passion today. Second – and I could be wrong and would welcome correction – I can’t find the church (or Christians) praising passion until rather recently (say, the last 20 years or so). Funny – that’s when Madison Avenue started speaking of passion as a virtue. Hmmmmm…. It sounds more like we’re unwittingly aping culture, which was some of David Brooks’ point. I know I often unwittingly ape culture more than Christ – I simply want to be made aware of it and change.

    Every reference to passion in the Bible is negative, except for managing sexual lust (passion) by getting married. There is no doubt that the meaning of words can change over the years, but why have we jettisoned a virtue such as enthusiasm (which is rooted in God) for what was historically considered a “lower faculty?” I have enormous respect for Piper, but part of imaging God (as Dallas Willard and Richard Weaver pointed out) is properly describing reality. As I said, I could be wrong… but are we really supposed to be passionate people? What’s wrong with an enthusiastic and ardent faith?

  6. Scott says:

    Okay, you got me. First you reference one of my all-time favorite football games (I can still see the cover of SI the enxt week with weeping ND cheerleaders!)and then you sound this bugle call for seizing the second half. Well done! I am spurred on by watching others in the Body who are mentoring urban youth, who are digging wells for water and basically doing the “behind the scenes” work with all of it’s redemptive potential. We need people like you, Mike, to “argue” the point on a macro scale while the rest of us do the work of Christ in relative obscurity.

  7. marble says:

    How did the historical use of the term “Passion” of Christ come into being in the Christian tradition?

    Yes, it is very different to the way most people imagine “passion” today. . . .

    Hey – but give my man William James a break, will ya?! Have you read his article “The Will to Believe” or his book “The Varieties of Religious Experience”? Rather than James being a Darwin-disciple, it was Darwin who sent James into a bit of a worldview tailspin, from what I understand. This tailspin culminated in James’ hard-won conviction that it is reasonable to have faith in God even though an empirical or humanly rational proof is never forthcoming. He may have taken some Darwinian thought on board, but I believe he retained a distinction between human and animal.

    Granted, William James is often thought of as the ‘father’ of pragmatism, but what he meant by pragmatism is rather different than the scientific cost-benefit analyses that so often pass for it today and which is so closely tied to Darwinism and the reduction of people to the physical and the countable/measurable. In fact, James mounts a blistering critique of Pascal’s so-called “wager” for effectively attempting to translate religious faith into a cost-benefit analysis:

    “Translated freely, [Pascal’s] words are these: You must either believe or not believe that God is – which will you do? Your human reason cannot say. A game is going on between you and the nature of things which at the day of judgment will bring out either heads or tails. Weigh what your gins and your losses would be if you should stake all you have on heads, or God’s Existence: if you win in such case, you gain eternal beatitude; if you lose, you lose nothing at all.”

    I laughed out loud to read James’ suggestion that such a faith, “adopted wilfully after such a mechanical calculation would lack the inner soul of faith’s reality; and if we were ourselves in the place of the Deity, we should probably take particular pleasure in cutting off believers of this pattern from their infinite reward.” I myself have never found Pascal’s “wager” to be particularly compelling “reasoning”.

    It is Pascal who is using a pseudo ‘scientific’ method – a pragmatic cost-benefit approach – claiming thereby to “prove” God. James exposes the fraud of scientific proof in such cases, looks to deeds to show what one truly believes, and notes how acting in faith (and hope) can provide its own validation in the face of a “Thou” [God] rather than an “it” of the universe.

    James is not so easily lumped in with the others of his time who jumped on the Darwin band wagon. His explanation of the reasonableness of faith is brilliant, in my opinion.

  8. BJeffrey says:

    Definitions for “passion” are in order: from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/passion:

    4a. the emotions as distinguished from reason
    5a. a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept

    Sounds like 4a is the definition preferred up until about 20 years ago then 5a took over.

    That’s why I appreciate the argument that we need to be watchful about allowing emotions to rule over reasoning. But I’ve also noticed a strong tendency in myself to let reasoning completely discount emotions. I’ve found I’m at my best when I can integrate the two. And I think that’s what “enthusiasm” gets at with its roots “en theos” or “in God.” Certainly the divine One calls on us to worship him with all our minds and hearts (and souls and spirits and strengths, too).

    It seems like where Darwin’s approach is so very lacking is that it denies those other aspects of our nature–we are not just physical and emotional; in fact, it seems more and more clear to me that we are primarily spiritual, and that aspect of our being will be difficult to find in the elements of the physical universe.

    It’s not so much that Darwin’s theory is so wrong as it is so limited. It really explains so little about who we are, where we came from, where we’re going, and what we’re supposed to do when we’re here.

  9. marble says:

    “Changing the culture . . . requires changing the conversation.”

    “Conversation” . . . . hmmmmm. . . .

  10. Trent says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for your clarifications. Your comment on the distinction between Darwin’s ideology is helpful. I think if Christians focus our critique there then we have a more compelling conversation.

    Whether or not Christians today who use the term “passion” are incorrectly defining reality may depend which definition of “passion” we are referring to. However, I don’t think scripture does not square with rationalism. Rather it teaches that the whole man is made in the image of God. We are an organic unity, not just the sum of mind, body, soul. Our distinction from animals is not just our capacity to reason but our likeness to God. So, perhaps Madison Avenue is over-reacting against the Modern (and obviously Classical Greek) notion that to be human is primarily to think.

    Mike, do you agree? I know your pieces are not entire works on the Christian Worldview and cannot mention everything every time.

    Thanks for your thoughts (and enthusiasm!)

    Trent

  11. Mike Metzger says:

    Hi Trent:

    Help me here – “I don’t think scripture does not square with rationalism” is a double negative. Not sure what you’re saying. Yes, our distinction from the animals extends beyond conscience – good point. I doubt that Madison Avenue is reacting against what you mention, however. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that Madison Avenue is operating inside their definition of reality. That definition, in my opinion, varies widely from a Jude-Christian definition. But they’re operating in, rather than reacting against.

  12. Trent says:

    Mike,

    I meant to say, “I don’t think scripture squares with rationalism.”

    I think you make a good point of how a culture acts within their definition of reality rather reacting against other definitions of reality. Our culture, our worldview is so basic to how we think and live.

    Thanks for the dialogue and the excellent work you do on the blog.

    Grace,

    Trent McEntyre
    Atlanta, GA

  13. Jack Hafer says:

    Passion, when referring to the experience of Christ, meant suffering. Today it basically means desire. The Christian has forgotten the calling to suffering almost completely.

    Christianity is rational, but a far cry from rationalism (which is the belief that one can find all life’s answers apart from God, and that mankind doesn’t need God) – Nietzsche’s ubermensch.

    Thanks, again, Mike, for your thoughtful stimulation of the economy.

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