Francis Schaeffer first published How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture in 1976. Forty years later, it remains insightful and relevant. In a relatively short space, Schaeffer traces the intellectual trend lines from ancient times to the 20th century. His bottom line is the shift from belief in an ordered universe to a belief in relativism and disorder. This has resulted in "modern man's loss of meaning and values."
It's a whirlwind tour, but well worth the ride. At times, due to the vast scope of the subject matter, he breezes through important eras and ideas, like a tour bus that barely slows down enough for you to get a snapshot of an important landmark. However, he provides an extensive bibliography for those who want to get off the bus and take a more leisurely tour.
The overall argument is unassailable, and he makes many other important points throughout that are worth noting. On the Industrial Revolution, productivity increased like never before, leading to major demographic shifts and, for many, and increased standard of living. However, it was also marked by moral blindness on "race and the noncompassionate use of wealth." Christians missed an opportunity in this era to claim moral leadership and shift society's direction.
Even though he was writing four decades ago, Schaeffer was rather prescient on many points. Does this sound like something you might read today? I think so: "Random and indiscriminate terrorism is even more frightening [than political terrorism]. Similarly alarming are the indications that terrorist organizations from all over the world have in some way coordinated their efforts. We have already seen indications of how people give up their liberties when they are faced with the threat of terrorism." Random terrorism. . . . Giving up liberties. . . . We can relate.
In the most sobering statement of all, Schaeffer paraphrases Edward Gibbon's conclusions in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon wrote that the end of
Rome was marked by five attributes: affluence, wealth disparity,
"obsession with sex," "freakishness in the arts," and "an increased
desire to live off the state." As Schaeffer pointed out forty years ago, and any casual observer today can attest, these five attributes are alive and well. How will this play out in the 21st century? Time will tell. But Francis Schaeffer, from beyond the grave, can say, "Don't say I didn't warn you!"
2016 Reading Challenge: A book by Frances Schaeffer