Here's a message I gave a few years ago around July 4, Independence Day:
(This message was preceded by a children’s sermon on the Emperor’s New Clothes – which is included below and which you really ought to read to get the full import of the message).
The Emperor's New Clothes
by Hans Christian Andersen
Once upon a time there lived a vain emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.
Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.
"We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."
The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel's strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels.
"Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately.
"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you." The two scoundrels asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well; in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.
"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."
The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrels.
"We're almost finished, but we need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" The old man bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.
"I can't see anything," he thought. "If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If the prime minister admitted that he didn't see anything, he would be discharged from his office.
"What a marvelous fabric, he said then. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The two scoundrels rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.
Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit.
"Come in," the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two scoundrels pretended to be holding a large roll of fabric.
"Here it is your Highness, the result of our labor," the scoundrels said. "We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.
The farce continued as the two scoundrels had foreseen it. Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth.
"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones." The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.
"Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."
"Your Majesty," the prime minister said, "we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit." The Emperor was doubtful about showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.
"All right," he said. "I will grant the people this privilege." He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.
Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!"
"What a marvelous train!"
"And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life." They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.
A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.
"The Emperor is naked," he said.
"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:
"The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"
The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.
On Wednesday of this week we’ll celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. Percentage wise few Americans will pause to consider just what Independence Day means – to most of us it is a time for cookouts, picnics, sports, games, fun and…of course…fireworks.
Few Americans will stop and consider that the fireworks of 1776 were muskets, rifles, cannon and swords. Few will stop and consider that husbands and Dads…and in some cases women and children, were dying in a war, a revolution.
Few of us will think about the fact that at the time of Lexington and Concord, in April 1775 when the first shots were fired in the Revolution, that we had no army, no navy, no standing army…we just had husbands, Dads, farmers and merchants and blacksmiths and carpenters and other tradesmen…few of us will think about the fact that one day in April 1775 they were going to work…and the next they were going to war.
Fewer still, this July 4th, will consider the fundamental belief in God that most of these men and women had – both the men and women who fought for the Revolution and those who fought against it. For while it is true that some were Deists, that is they believed in s Supreme Being but didn’t think He was personally interested in the affairs of men, and that while others were Theists, which means they also believed in a God but didn’t believe in Christianity (I’m being simplistic in my descriptions), and that others were Christians of different persuasions…that the clear consensus was that there was a God who had written His laws into the hearts and consciences of women and men and girls and boys –
There is yet at least one more thing that few people will consider this July 4th, and that is that in 1776 we declared our independence from Great Britain – while in 2007 we are a nation that has declared its independence from God.
Being a pastor in 1776 would not have been easy for a number of reasons, not the least of which was which side – if any – of the Revolution to support and how to support it. You see, the Revolution wasn’t just an us versus them war, it was an us versus us war, a civil war between American colonists – and what a number of pastors were concerned about was rebellion against established government and where that rebellion would lead.
Were some of those pastors here today, perhaps they would tell us that our rebellion against Great Britain ultimately led to our rebellion against God. It is a question that few will ponder this July 4th.
It is a bit ironic that I’m saying these things in a school named for pastor Peter Muhlenberg. I wonder what he would say this morning?
The philosophical and religious basis for the Revolution was that our Creator had written His laws on our hearts and minds and that He had established universal laws in both humanity and nature. If we, as a matter of law and policy and education and, yes, even religion, have repudiated the idea of a Creator – then we have also repudiated the moral basis for our declaration of independence of July 4, 1776 and we are now a people without a moral direction or a moral national purpose – we are a people of anarchy…which indeed we are.
And because we are a people of moral anarchy, we are a people of spiritual anarchy… and that is why when we, as a people, are confronted with the claim of Jesus Christ to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life that we think that that can’t possibly be – for after all, there is no absolute truth…it is a matter of every woman for herself and every man for himself…
How did we get here? How did our Revolution reach the place where it has declared its independence from God and has set itself on the throne of the universe?
If I pick up popular Christian books, or read popular Christian emails I’ll often read about putting prayer back in schools or the Bible back in schools…and I’ll read emails with pithy poems about being able to bring condoms to school but not a Bible, about the good old days when chewing gum was what the teachers worried about, not whether a child was carrying a gun.
But you see, one of my problems with that line of thinking is that if I assume that Christians occasionally read their Bibles and that they occasionally pray – I am faced with the fact that Christians…as a whole…live their lives the same way their neighbors do who make no profession of Jesus Christ…and that most Christians no longer believe in absolute truth according to study after study…so the Bible and prayer does not seem to have helped us very much.
I do not believe that teaching right from wrong is the answer, nor do I believe that reintroducing the Bible and prayer in school is the answer. I suppose I’ll repeat that in case you think you didn’t hear me correctly, I do not believe that teaching right from wrong is the answer, nor do I believe that reintroducing the Bible and prayer in school is the answer.
How did we arrive where we are as a society? Is it because we removed prayer from school? Is it because bringing a Bible to school is now a risky undertaking in many school systems?
If I have a life threatening disease, and associated with that disease are severe headaches, nausea, and sleeplessness, is it sufficient for the headaches to be treated, the nausea to be remedied, and a sedative given for the sleeplessness…without also dealing with the disease that is causing the symptoms? If the disease itself is not treated, if the root of the problem is not dealt with, I may die free of pain…but…I will still die.
Consider a blind man staying in an unfamiliar house. He is by himself, his host is gone for the day. He walks into the living room and knocks a lamp over, a few more steps and he tumbles over an overstuffed chair, two more steps and he screams in pain as he gashes his shin on the coffee table.
And so our society walks through life and we tumble over children having children, we smack into the breakdown of the family, and we gash our collective shin against school shootings…and we scream in pain and indignation…and curse the furniture which we do not see. For we are like the blind man in that we bump against things and things bump against us and we do not see our surroundings.
We cry out to have someone medicate the pain, for if we must die then let us die free of pain. The issue is not curing the disease, the issue is relieving the pain. And so the pain is relieved through materialism, through sexual, drug, alcohol and work addictions...through blaming others…and through the two truly great and constant values of our society…personal peace and affluence. Leave me alone to live as I want to live and to accumulate what I want…and as long as you do that I will acquiesce in society’s program. As long as I can be left alone I’ll mortgage my children and grandchildren, I’ll mortgage the future.
How did we get where we are today?
From roughly the 1400’s through the late 1700’s Western civilization experienced an explosion of thinking, scientific discovery, and spiritual renewal. This explosion was birthed out of a Christian mind-set, a Christian consensus, a consensus which stated that there is an infinite – personal God Who is the Creator of the universe, who has fixed, immutable, moral and physical laws and to Whom mankind is accountable. When I use the term “infinite – personal God” I mean a God who is infinite, and therefore He is Other than we are, He transcends His creation…but He is also personal, in that He can be known by each of us individually. As the song verse goes, “He’s big enough to fill a mighty universe, but small enough to live within my heart.” Yet the universe is not God nor is God the universe, that is pantheism and that is not true, God transcends His creation, He is Other than all the creation.
Most of the great scientists and inventors of these centuries were Christians, and the ones who weren’t nevertheless worked from a Christian consensus. Because the likes of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton believed that God was Creator, they believed that His creation would operate according to principles and laws that they could observe and demonstrate. They did not believe that the universe is a random happening.
Toward the end of this period of 1400 – 1800 a movement gained momentum and acceptance which we call “The Enlightenment.” While this movement had many forms, and while some of the thinkers associated with it believed in God, and some were indeed Christians, it eventually took a form which placed man at the center of the universe and which held that reason alone was sufficient with which to live life. While this was perhaps not the birth of Humanism, it was the amalgamation of humanistic thought into a distinct movement with overt antagonism toward Christianity and God.
Perhaps this was best illustrated when during the French Revolution with its bloody guillotine, the goddess of Reason was enthroned in a ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
So Western Civilization began separating itself from God and placing itself at the center of the universe. However, even in this initial process the thinkers of the Enlightenment, by and large, still believed that they were on a search for truth, they still sought to demonstrate that there was such a thing as absolute truth. They believed that the integration of all knowledge would lead to truth…whatever truth might be.
The very word “university” has to do with the intellectual integration of truth into a coherent system of thought and life. They thought there was a way to understand the universe.
But as the French Revolution revealed, as did the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and as our society now demonstrates, when man places himself as the final arbiter of right and wrong there is no possible absolute right and wrong. I’ll repeat that: When man places himself as the final arbiter – or judge - of right and wrong there is no possible absolute right and wrong…everything becomes utilitarian…that is…everything is judged by its sociological, economic, or political value and there is nothing, there is no truth, which transcends those utilitarian needs. And so in our society the values of personal peace and affluence are now what arbitrate, what direct, our lives. What decision will give me the greatest personal peace and affluence? The answer to that question is the path that we take.
This departure from a Christian consensus in which we have an infinite – personal God, and this shift into Secular Humanism, has led to the devaluing of the human being, to the point where we now view ourselves as simply biological – chemical mechanisms. Our departure into Humanism has led us to inhumanity.
“Secular humanism is the belief that man lives in a closed universe. There is no God who is transcendent above and beyond created reality [that is reality created by man]. The secular humanist presupposes that the Christian God does not and cannot exist—that everything which does exist is merely the product of matter plus time plus chance. The secular humanist presupposes that the only thing which can exist and have importance to mankind is that which is open to empirical verification and observation by man. Therefore, the Christian God and biblical Christianity are ruled out of bounds from the start by the so-called objective materialistic scientist, even before the investigation of reality begins. The essence of secular humanism is that man is the measure of all things. Man, not God, is the determiner of reality, meaning and ethics.”
Man has become a machine in our political, economic, scientific, medical and educational thought. And because man has become a machine then all that matters is cause and effect, there is no significance, no love and no meaning.
Much of our educational system and thinking is based on the type of behaviorism of which B.F. Skinner has long been a leading proponent, Skinner writes, “All that people need is conditioning by society…to man as man we say good riddance.”
I recall watching a clip on CNN of an elementary school class taking Character Education, the children had their hands over their hearts as if doing our traditional pledge of allegiance, but they had new words which included, “I pledge to believe in myself.”
Dr. Thomas Lickona defines Character Education as the “deliberate effort to develop virtues that are good for the individual and good for society.” As so what we have is Sociological Law, that is law based on either a 51% majority or based on the decisions of a ruling elite. Sociological Law is a law that is based on whatever is good for society at the moment.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., an often quoted former Supreme Court justice wrote, “The ultimate question is what do the dominant forces of the community want, and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions stand in the way.” I’ll repeat that, “The ultimate question is what do the dominant forces of the community want, and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions stand in the way.”
Here is another quote, “The law of nature must take its course in the survival of the fittest.” Now I wonder who wrote that? Heinrich Himmler, one of Adolph Hitler’s henchmen. Well, I guess that’s what happens when people practice what they’re taught…when they’re taught that we are simply biological – chemical machines and that there is no infinite – personal God.
Man, beginning with himself cannot generate any real values or dignity to man.
As Francis Schaeffer has pointed out, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, then society is absolute.” Schaeffer goes on to point out than when there was a Christian consensus, and society was wrong, the individual could stand up and say, “You’re wrong,” based on the absolute truth of God’s Word. That is no longer the case in a society which is its own final arbiter and judge.
Learning right from wrong makes no sense if the right and wrong are not grounded in something bigger than itself, in something bigger than society. Otherwise the right and wrong is transient, it is relative. Now if we are willing for it to be transient, then we must be willing to accept the consequences. What we have is majority rule and majority rule can be merciless.
As Schaeffer writes, “If you begin with that which is finite no matter how far you project it you will never come to the absolute.”
“The Enlightenment [thinkers]…took it as axiomatic that there was only one possible answer to any question. From this it followed that the world could be controlled and rationally ordered if we could only picture and represent it rightly.” David Harvey quoted in Veith page 42
But the Enlightenment has now fallen apart and we have chaos, or what is properly call “Postmodernism.” This is a term that few, if any of us, are familiar with, but it is the philosophy which drives our universities, educational theory, political thought, much of what passes for science, the world of art, entertainment and music…it affects virtually everything we touch. It is a worldview which essentially says that it is impossible to have a unified coherent system of thought or truth.
We now live in a society in which “everyone creates his or her own meaning, [and therefore] every meaning is equally valid…The content of one’s meaning makes no difference…Everyone inhabits his or her own private reality….Moral values, like other kinds of meaning, are created by the self. Veith page 38
“British historian Sir Arnold Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 21 civilizations, from ancient Rome to Imperial China, from Babylon to the Aztecs, and he found that societies in disintegration suffer a kind of “schism of the soul.” They are seldom simply overrun by some other civilization. Rather they commit a kind of cultural suicide. Among the characteristics Toynbee identified include:
A sense of abandon, this is a state of mind that accepts moral and ethical lawlessness as a substitute for creativeness. People stop believing in morality and yield to their impulses.
They succumb to truancy. That is escapism, seeking to avoid their problems by retreating into their own worlds of distraction and entertainment. [More and more we live in a society of virtual reality].
There is a sense of drift, in which people yield to a meaningless determinism, as if their efforts do not matter and as if they have no control over their lives.
There is a sense of guilt, a self – loathing that comes from their moral abandon.
There is a promiscuity which Toynbee means not so much in the sexual sense, but as the indiscriminate acceptance of anything and everything…an uncritical tolerance. Toynbee describes this promiscuity as “an act of self –surrender to the melting pot…in Religion in Literature and Language and Art as well as…Manners and Customs,” the triumph of a mass mind.” “ Veith pages 44 – 45
Bringing the Bible and prayer back into schools without the context of an infinite – personal God is giving an aspirin to a patient with cancer. Teaching right from wrong in a Humanistic context is like sailing a ship without navigational charts or a rudder, because whatever we’re teaching today will change its meaning tomorrow.
The secular humanist, if honest and consistent, would simply assert that “in the end we’re all dead”; the injustice and evils of life are never resolved. Hitler, Stalin and Mother Teresa all turn to dust. The universe expands to an icy death. In such a system your life and supposed good deeds have no real meaning or lasting significance at all. [At least the apostle Paul was straightforward enough to make the honest observation] “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Cor. 15:32)
If you are a parent and you want to help your children, I’ll even say, protect your children, then begin to understand the world we live in, understand that virtually everything we touch, whether it be political thought, education, much of what passes for objective science, art and literature, history, virtually the entire entertainment industry…that it is not value neutral by any stretch of the imagination, but that it is all undergirded by a philosophy that would have us live in a closed –system…and understand what the logical outworkings of that closed system are…spiritual and moral anarchy.
If you are a student, ask yourself…do I really want to live without God? What is the message behind this music video? What is the message behind this movie? What are the underlying assumptions on which this textbook or article is based? What is the real message I’m hearing, reading or watching?
Will we, will you, will I…devote our lives to Jesus Christ…not as some super-servant with a great big smiling face giving us cotton candy whenever we want it…but will we call Him Lord and Master above and beyond the anarchy of society…and yes…above the anarchy of our own lives?
Do we have the courage to say, “The Emperor has no clothes”?