One of the most meaningful road trips I have ever taken with my family was our cross-country tour of Civil War sites back in 2002. Seeing the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg and monuments to generals and soldiers on both sides—Confederate and Union—gave us all a stronger and more deeply rooted sense of ourselves and our country. It reminded me that while not all of our history is without struggle and pain, we faced the struggle head on. This is who we are. We are Americans.
The efforts by many on the hard left to remove statues of Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee of Virginia doesn’t set right with me. First of all, Robert E. Lee was a true American hero, a godly and respected man who earned the admiration of both northerners and southerners– and who even Lincoln wished had fought for his side. It was because of his loyalty to his home state of Virginia that he chose to lead the Confederate troops.
I am bothered by the faulty reasoning of the deconstructionists who insist on destroying public monuments to make themselves feel better. It’s as if by removing the presence of these statues we can remake reality and redefine our history. Kind of like a sex change. “I don’t like who I am so I am going to fundamentally (though artificially) make a change so I feel better about myself. And once I do, all heaven and earth must see me differently.”
As a student of the Bible, I have always been impressed by the “warts and all” quality of scripture. It tells it like it is. Truth emerges again and again from the rough and tumble canvas of human experience. Paul the Apostle wrote “prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.” This principle has guided my study of scripture and my approach in life. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, no need to try and manipulate reality, no need to conduct a “clean up” crusade to make God or history look better. Truth can stand on its own two feet. The wonder and beauty of the human experience is that we mortals, faced with a myriad of contradictory perceptions and choices each day, can do what is right and cling to truth we discover along the way. We can fall seven times and pick ourselves up again in course correction and be deemed “righteous” for the effort. This is the human experience.
There are those among us, however, who refuse to allow what I have just described to stand. They insist that history must be deconstructed and reconstructed to fit their present day view of reality. Post-modernism operates on the premise that each cultural group can and should start from scratch to create it’s own context and narrative. Hence the racial divide grows larger and people of color insist that they must have their own space, unsoiled by “white” presence. And vice versa. Ideological differences, too, must be polarized and insulated from one another. Free discussion and debate is a thing of the “modernistic” past.
“Meta-narratives be damned! They are the creation of those who were in power at the time they were hatched. We will create our own narrative and this will be the truth for us.” So goes the thinking.
Fair enough. People can do what they want in their community and their club. But a serious problem arises when those on the hard left insist on hoisting their post-modern views on those who don’t share them, demanding that their views of reality must be enforced as the law of the land, and others must stand aside and watch their monuments and their treasures decimated before their very eyes. They insist that “resistors” must be branded as bigots for resisting this tide of deconstruction.
As we watch on nightly television these days the bizarre posture of students on campus creating “safe zones” and racially defined dormitory areas and a mad rush into “group think,” many of us are asking the question: Where did this kind of thinking come from?
Descartes’ “Cognito ergo sum”
A major ripple in in the ocean of philosophical thought took place when a French philosopher by the name of Rene Descartes declared the dictum “Cognito, ergo sum”—“I think, therefore I am.” Up until that moment all philosophy began with the universal and from there defined the particular. In other words, the individual defined himself by finding his proper place in greater society and in the universe as a whole. The Biblical Christian world view, for example, begins with God and by discovering God and His purposes we discover ourselves and find meaning.
Descartes’ declaration basically turned the whole process upside down. From that time forward, the individual would begin with himself and define everything outward from that point. The natural result of this thinking, of course, is that we develop a universe of perception that grows from our understanding of ourselves and ultimately rotates around us. This kind of thinking has been going on for about 400 years. And it is a part of the foundation of Postmodern thought. But today’s postmodernist left have taken it a step further, inspired by a new hero, the Father of Postmodernism: Friedrich Nietzche.
According to D.P. Teague, Nietzche “taught that each of us constructs our own world according to our own perception. There is no objective truth, only our perception of what is true. Our minds share no common categories. Instead, truth exists only within specific linguistic contexts which we construct and perhaps share with others. Truth is a metaphor, an illusion of our perception, which appears real only because we have become so familiar with it.”
So there we have it: we now have a generation that no longer says “I think, therefore I am.” It is now saying “We as a community think, and therefore what we have discovered as truth is all there is and all that matters.” Those who are radically consistent with that belief system feel totally justified in tearing down and destroying any group or person who holds a different view.
The American experiment was based on the words “we hold these truths to be self evident” and the constitution was written to protect the rights and privileges of all who think, act and move in the convictions of their belief system without coercion. Whether coming from the far right or the far left, totalitarian “group think” that demands conformity must be exposed for what it is.