"The West hides its nakedness behind thin curtains of affluence, decadence, and scientific utilitarianism, behind self-erected modes of judgment and ethics that barely disguise the true grossness of human sin."
In the third chapter of Genesis, man fell as a result of the universal temptation that has plagued civilization since its inception: the desire to be like God.
The serpent tempted Eve into plucking the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in direct disobedience to God’s rules for the garden. Eve looked upon the fruit, which was “pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6 NIV), and ate it, sharing it with Adam. As a result, the couple’s eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked.
Because of their disobedience and their rejection of God’s rules, rationality, and wisdom, Adam and Eve were banished from the garden.
The Bible’s accounts of human behavior often serve as opaque templates for human behavior throughout all time, though the templates can vary in their degree of clarity. The story of Adam and Eve, though, is so rife with prescience that an entire civilization — our civilization — has repeated the couple’s follies. The whole of Western civilization — its discourse, its political institutions, its measures of justice and liberty — is predicated upon Christian tradition and the Christian understanding of man’s ultimate fate and fallen condition.
Yet modernity within the West is characterized not only by an abandonment of religion but also a progressive resistance against God and His wisdom, essence, and rationality. In much the same way that Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in exposing humanity’s nakedness — its innate tendency toward savagery, barbarism, animalism, and brutality — so too has Western civilization’s desire to make itself God reaped morally and ethically gruesome results.
Modernity’s Original Sin
The West is currently suspended in that miniscule moment between when Adam and Eve first tasted the fruit and gained vast understanding and when they recognized the brutality and brokenness of their naked condition. Like the first civilization, the West wants to unlock the quandaries of existence, and it believes it possesses the necessary tools and instrumental expertise to do so — but it desires this without knowing the Architect of the universe and without its blueprint. The result will be that the West, like Adam and Eve, will eventually have to reckon with the limitations of the human condition. But before it does, the hubris of the West, and its belief that its advancement in time lends it infallibility in scientific judgment and capability, could reap a utilitarian savagery that scorches civilization.
The West hides its nakedness behind thin curtains of affluence, decadence, and scientific utilitarianism, behind self-erected modes of judgment and ethics that barely disguise the true grossness of human sin. But the unstable winds of relativism in human activity now threaten to blow the curtain away, thus again revealing man’s savagery in rebellion against God.
Western civilization has plucked from the Tree its own forbidden fruits and has erected its own gods, hoping to shape them and mold them according to its own unstable and volatile preferences and ends. Thus we witness the rise of moralistic therapeutic deism, mass consumerism, economic man, Marxism, and the like. Though in terms of technology and wealth the West has made great strides, it has deceived itself into thinking it has dressed its nakedness. It does not realize that its disdain for the objectivity of God’s moral law is the same disdain that inspired the worst atrocities of the 20th Century. Instead of correcting its moral emptiness, which is rooted in scientific materialism, it merely extends its humanistic facade to paper over its moral bareness.
Of course, the rejection of God has serious civilizational consequences in addition to savagery, and the collapse of the familial and social order has fostered confusion for individuals, who are now condemned to create their own identities based on their solitary experience without objective standards from which to derive notions of goodness and right order. Upon these identities are constructed a universe of ideas, morals, ethics, logic, decorum, and philosophies that have only exacerbated our civilization’s confusion. The desire to be like God has always reaped discord for civilization, and yet again, the Tower of Babel has fallen.
In our postmodern context, ideas are thought to be wholly predicated upon subjectively formed identities. Because of this reduction of ideas to that of identity, and because the West has so thoroughly abandoned God as the basis of its common civic life, the communication of ideas has become impossible. Disagreement between ideas is viewed as an attack not on an idea’s merit, but upon the personal identity upon which that idea rests, which necessarily calls into question the experiences, personhood, and legitimacy of the individual with whom the disagreement was struck. Hence the intense political and social divides that threaten Western civilization.
But thought leaders in the West recognize, whether openly or not, that their civilization indeed rests on the Christian tradition. The vacuous use of words such as “liberty,” “equality,” and “justice” still carry God’s shadow in the halls of Western discourse, even if in the most shallow and disguised ways. For without God, these ideas and judgments constitute little more than the empty and meaningless methods of political expediency and manipulation of lost souls, or else they point to a humanistic farce where humanity is the true arbiter of goodness and justice.
As a result of all this, the West is condemned to confusion in ethics, identity, communication, and morality. It exchanges obedience to objective morality for a poisonous fruit promising to unlock the mysteries of the universe and humanity — but to what end? Without God, no hierarchy of good can exist, for there then exist no standards of perfection. If the pursuit is “progress,” the endeavor is endless and futile because the telos is undefined. And if no telos exists, the end that is “progress” becomes a supremely humanistic pursuit, leaving its seekers to wander aimlessly in the dark abyss of nakedness and human savagery. Without Light, it will stumble awkwardly, mistaking each step it takes for progress, though it knows not where it’s heading. Thus the unmoored human volition that directs these blinds steps can guide civilization into the darkest crevices of the human imagination, proud that it’s moving by its own will but damned to a night that is, for the time being, unending.
A Precarious Civilization
The West is naked — brutal, but decadently so — but it does not yet realize it. It has plucked the forbidden fruit in its desire to become its own God; it has erected weapons of such capacity that they can reverse the creation of the Earth; it has established its own moral and ethical codes; and it has crafted its own measures and standards of moral judgment. For isn’t it clear that a contrivance such as the nuclear bomb is an expression of man’s eternal desire to be God, to control the fate of the world and universe?
The West rests in a state of limbo — a condition in which it believes itself capable of unlocking the ultimate mysteries of the cosmos and existence — but it does not yet realize, like Adam and Eve eventually did, that the nakedness of the human condition lends any civilization, no matter how far advanced in time and technology, an aura of savagery and barbarism. The West is so full of hubris that it thinks it has moved beyond its nakedness with its humanistic sophistication. But the rejection of objectivity installs in the West a contradiction: It denies infallible truth, yet at the same time it expresses moral disgust at atrocities and bafflement that its own relativism could produce and oversee such misdeeds.
Murder and gruesomeness exist, but the West fails to understand that this fact is the product of man’s nakedness. It instead keeps feeding itself the poisonous forbidden fruit rather than merely looking down and recognizing its need for deliverance from its nudity: “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10 NASB).
Man without God is naked: He is brutal and savage, barbaric and animalistic; but with God, he is clothed and robed in goodness and salvation. The West operates behind its veils of decadence and affluence to hide from its bareness, but only God can dress the grossness of man’s inevitable iniquity.
Thomas is currently a senior who attends Hope College, a private liberal arts college in Holland, Michigan. He has worked in the congressional office of Representative Justin Amash as well as served time on his campaign. Thomas plans to enroll in law school after graduating. Thomas attends Ada Bible Church in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and attends Pillar Church when at school in Holland. Thomas enjoys reading, playing golf, and playing soccer. He has a strong interest in theology and political theory and believes the mission of life is to conduct oneself always in a manner worthy of Christ’s Gospel.