Aristotle’s Worst Fear May 15, 2016
The famed Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three primary forms of government: monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy. Of the three, Aristotle favored democracy the least. He did so because he claimed it was the most easily deceived and led astray, which would result in anarchy.
Aristotle believed that a healthy democracy was better than a corrupt monarchy or oligarchy, but a degenerated democracy was disconcerting. For when the masses were led astray, there was no limit to the violence and atrocities they could commit. The Greeks invented democracy with their city states. However, they also placed strict controls on it. Only men who were citizens could vote. Women, slaves, and foreigners could not. It was thought that those who had an educated mind, and typically those with property, would make wiser decisions than those who had neither.
Of course, in America today, there is much debate about who should be eligible to vote. It is widely held that those who are illiterate, cannot speak English, or who have no drivers license or any other form of identification, are still entitled to cast their vote. Aristotle would have been mortified!
Neil Postman in his seminal book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, argued that television had fundamentally altered the way Americans think. Before television, people typically read. With the advent of television, books were increasingly set aside in place of the remote control. The problem is that books and televisions elicit fundamentally different responses. To read a book, people must understand context and the flow of an argument. You can’t jump into the middle of a book. You must start at the beginning for it to make sense. You must remember what has been said and understand the context of what you are currently reading. It demands literacy and rational thought. The authors are continually making their case and you are deciding whether it is logical and convincing.
Television is fundamentally different. It appeals to your emotions, not your reason. It does not require context. It can assault you with an emotion-inducing picture without explaining anything about how the image came into being. Television does not allow you to linger. Thirty-second commercials are the norm. Newscasts flit from story to story, with breaking news and weather updates constantly gliding past the bottom of the screen. People make dramatic pronouncements on television without providing any means to verify what they said. Instead, music by Beethoven plays confidently in the background with the lighting and backdrop best suited to remove any doubt.
When you couple this with 144 character Twitter posts and billions of daily Facebook updates, it is clear that American society no longer has the ability to rationally evaluate what it is being told. Rather than being given the facts, society is bombarded with emotional slogans and pictures that mobilize people to the latest cause or politically correct fad.
America’s founders were highly educated men. Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Madison were well read and thoughtful. George Washington actually felt self-conscious around his colleagues because of his lack of education. They established a Republic, not a pure democracy, because they shared some of Aristotle’s concerns. Nonetheless, today’s society is increasingly influenced by the mob and popular opinion. One angry tweet can send hundreds of college students into action, demonstrating against a speaker on campus or a fast food outlet.
What is particularly alarming is how American society is increasingly determined to sanction anyone who dares to think differently than the current politically correct norm. If Hollywood disagrees with a moral stance taken by a governor, it exerts enormous pressure on the state to conform to its values. If a state or city embraces a traditional moral position, corporations boycott it, professional sports refuse to play their all-star game in that city, and rock concerts and conventions are cancelled. Some of today’s trends are so new that there is no data to support the truth of its claims. Yet anyone who questions them is labeled hateful, bigoted, and un-American.
It is one thing to have a difference of opinion, but today’s society does not allow for that. To disagree or question current popular thought indicates that you are filled with hate, bigoted, and in desperate need of being sanctioned, fined, and thrown in jail. It is becoming increasingly unpopular and even dangerous, to profess traditional Christian positions on morality, marriage, or even the gender segregation of bathrooms.
What is worrisome is the vitriol that is being expressed toward those who have differing opinions. Universities used to be institutions where various viewpoints could be expressed and examined. Now if a lecturer is invited to express his conservative views on campus, students may create a riot outside the lecture hall so no one can hear the lecture, or they will establish “safe” places they can go to seek solace because they feel threatened by having a different viewpoint than theirs being presented in their vicinity.
If a businessman wants to support an organization that strengthens heterosexual marriages, he may be violently boycotted for being “anti gay.” If women express concern about men changing in their dressing room, they are castigated for being insensitive to the feelings of transgenders. What’s worse is people are not interested in understanding another’s viewpoints or entering into a respectful dialogue. Rather, people are shouting and bullying one another into submission, convinced that they, alone, know the truth. It is becoming increasingly impossible to hold an opposing opinion. To do so makes you an enemy.
The apostle Paul warned: “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them a strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:9-12). Paul warned that in the last days, society would reject God’s truth and believe in lies. Surely we live in the last days!
So what can Christians do? First, they must not follow current trends and lose their ability to think. For all of society’s attacks on Christians for being backward thinking and unscientific, they are the ones who refuse to allow others to do their thinking for them. Christians must read. They must educate their minds. They must develop solid, compelling cases for their biblical beliefs.
Second, Christians must not be fooled. The Bible clearly identifies behaviors and attitudes that are godly and ungodly. These do not change just because someone is sincere or loving. Truth does not depend on feelings. It is based on God’s word. Christians must not be swayed by popular, secular thinking that runs contrary to Scripture. Christians should not adopt views simply to “fit in” with society or so they do not appear judgmental. Too many Christians are succumbing to bullying that pressures them to conform to the world’s views.
Finally, Christians must provide positive examples to a skeptical society. They need to demonstrate how, when you do things God’s way, you receive God’s blessing. As society continues to push morals and lifestyles to greater extremes, the verdict is still out on the results of such lifestyle choices. Christians should not just promote certain lifestyles; they should successfully live them. This will be increasingly difficult to do in a society that is becoming ever more hostile to Christian values. Yet the world needs to see living proof that, even though God’s commands might appear to them to be dated and unrealistic, they work!
This is an extremely complicated time to live as a Christian. Yet, the need for a clear, visible, compelling example of the Christian life has never been greater. I pray you will live your life to its full and bring much honor to your Creator.