In A Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1952), Edward J. Carnell provocatively states, “the average man in Western culture happens to be a quasi-Marxist.” (85) His chastening observation, however much Bernie Sanders would like us to believe, was not that most Americans support the public distribution of wealth. Instead Carnell was making an acute philosophical and theological assertion. In a section of the book entitled “Two Jews,” the author explains, “The issue which separates Christ and Marx is one of basis values: Is the material subordinate to, and explained by, the spiritual: or vice versa?” (84) Karl Marx believed that physical matter was the fundamental substance in nature – in all phenomena. He was a so-called materialist. Carnell’s point is that Americans, by their lifestyle and their worldview, unconsciously align themselves with Marx when they seek after and supremely value material things over eternal ones.
Carnell could very well have also contended that the average Westerner was a quasi-Hobbesian. After all, it was Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century philosopher, who trumpeted the modern view that material being is the essence of reality. Hobbes was a contemporary of the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes. Descartes’ “Cartesian” philosophy was dualistic, positing that the entire universe could be separated cleanly into matter and spirit.
Hobbes’ materialism fit well into this compartmentalized scheme. And ultimately it had perilous consequences for the Christian faith. After all, if matter could operate independently of God and the spiritual realm, what need was there of God? Cartesian duality and Hobbesian materialism had provided the seminal idea for modern unbelief. Coupled with Lockean/Humean empiricism and Kant’s transcendental philosophy, the skeptical seeds of atheism could be firmly planted in a natural worldview.
However, Descartes’ modern philosophy wasn’t blatantly atheistic. It simply contended against Aristotle that the universe operated according to natural laws – not their own internal sources of movement. For Descartes, a devout Catholic, this was further evidence of a wise and omnipotent Creator. However, for some, Descartes’ stark dualism between the natural world and the spiritual left the door wide open for atheism. This included Isaac Newton. Newton recognized in the Cartesian scheme the raw materials for Deism and unbelief. In a fully mechanistic universe, was God superfluous?
For Newton the scientist, nature operated according to clear laws of science. However, there was still plenty of room for God in that universe. In fact, these laws pointed to God’s immediate involvement. In his famous Opticks, the man who discovered and formulated the laws of gravity asks, “does it not appear from phenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent…?” (Westfall, 647)
This very much remains the modern problem today. What unbelievers see as clear, brute laws of nature in an eternal universe, Christians see as “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature…clearly perceived.” (Rom. 1:20) Therefore, Newtonian science continues relatively unchallenged in the twenty-first century. However, “Newtonian philosophy” argues something else entirely. In The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, Carl L. Becker asks rhetorically, “Why, indeed, should ordinary men read Newton? They were not greatly interested in the proposition that ‘reaction is always equal and opposite to action.’ They were interested in the Newton philosophy, a very different thing.” According to Becker, this philosophy “was of interest to them, not so much for the scientific discoveries it set forth as for the bearing of those discoveries upon the most fundamental of human problems – that is to say, the relation of man to nature and of both to God.” (60-62) These newly discovered laws of nature said just as much about God as they did about the world. What began as the question of God’s involvement in the world then became one of God’s very existence.
Despite the faith of its progenitors, modern science and philosophy birthed a natural, Darwinian worldview that eviscerated God from the very universe He created. And eventually the world was introduced to Karl Marx – someone who saw the spiritual realm as completely irrelevant in explaining the history of the world. Naturalism had birthed materialism. According to Edward Carnell, the man Owen Strachan has identified as the “brightest” of the Cambridge Neo-Evangelicals, “Marxism is the logical conclusion to a long tendency within Western culture to displace the Platonic-Christian metaphysics with a this-worldly, materialistic value theory and a pragmatic method of verification.” (86) Marxist theology drives Marxist economics.
When the spiritual is subordinated to the material, God is subordinated to man. In reality, in the Marxist scheme, man becomes God. And nowhere is this more vivid than in the man-centered, materialistic worldview of Marxist economics. The man who claimed that “religion is the opiate of the people” had little use for Christianity. And even less for a God who is Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17) Marx seems to support Max Weber’s thesis that capitalism was birthed by the “Protestant ethic.” Nonetheless, what remains painfully obvious even today is that, apart from the grace of God, sinners are destined to become materialistic lovers of mammon with a penchant for power divorced from the authority of Christ. (1 Tim. 6:10, Matt. 20:25)
“We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -2 Cor. 4:18