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Why Perfection Continues to Evade Society

3 ¾ min

Just a few weeks ago I was surprised to see a headline indicating American confidence had increased over the past few years. The following chart from a January Gallup poll gives a glimpse into that confidence:

Nation of Optimists

How quickly things change. As a friend recently told me, when everything looks good and optimism is up, that’s a sure sign everything is about to tank. Recently, all the headlines showcase stories of gloom and doom. Coronavirus. Falling stocks. Businesses struggling. Tumultuous primaries.

In this uncertainty, I stumbled on an intriguing quote in Whittaker Chambers’ Witness. Although written in the mid-20th century, it seems oddly fitting for our time. He notes:

[A]s 20th-century civilization reaches a climax, its own paradoxes grow catastrophic. The incomparable technological achievement is more and more dedicated to the task of destruction. Man’s marvelous conquest of space has made total war a household experience, and, over vast reaches of the world, the commonest of childhood memories.

Chambers’ next words, taken line by line, conjure images reminiscent of recent headlines:

“The more abundance increases, the more resentment becomes the characteristic new look on 20th-century faces.”

Americans – even those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum – are better off than the rich of other nations. Yet we still experience anger and resentment, a fact underscored by the 80-plus percent of Americans believe their countrymen are angrier than a generation ago.

“The faster science gains on disease (which, ultimately, seems always to elude it), the more the human race dies at the hands of living men.”

We live in a time when vaccines and medications are commonplace. Scientific research into various health issues is always in full swing. Yet then a novel coronavirus hits, catching medical research off guard and raising fears in first world hearts, and it becomes clear that trust in modern medicine isn’t as sure as we thought.

“Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.”

Millennials are the most educated generation in recent history, yet IQ scores in developed countries suggest that “people are getting dumber.” We send students through years of schooling, yet when it comes to using plain old common sense to navigate the adult world, our students seem to be lacking.

What caused these things to come to pass? Chambers offers a theory:

Under the bland influence of the idea of progress, man, supposing himself more and more to be the measure of all things, has achieved a singularly easy conscience and an almost hermetically smug optimism. The idea that man is sinful and needs redemption has been subtly changed into the idea that man is by nature good, and hence capable of indefinite perfectibility. This perfectibility is being achieved through technology, science, politics, social reform, education. Man is essentially, good, says 20th-century liberalism, because he is rational, and his rationality is (if the speaker happens to be a liberal Protestant) divine, or (if he happens to be religiously unattached) at least benign. Thus the reason-defying paradoxes of Christian faith are happily by-passed.

In essence, Chambers believes we have forgotten God and pursued perfection on our own, an assessment that seems to be confirmed in the growing number of religious “nones” in today’s society. Yet, as Chambers’ other observations testify, going it on our own is not producing very satisfying results.

With this in mind, would we be wise to acknowledge our human frailty and reexamine the relation we have to God, particularly in these times of uncertainty?

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Image Credit: 

Flickr-Brett Wood, CC BY-SA 2.0

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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bkendall
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I wonder if part of the issue is that people believe they are better educated than they are? And another group believes they are not educated well at all and are angry?
 
 

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Buckneccid
Too many are equating education with intelligence or wisdom. They may have every degree attainable, but if they don't know how to use the education, they lack something. I've seen many well educated people come directly out of school and be placed into a management positions, make major changes and only then find out their ideas had been tried before and failed before. Each attempt like that results in lost assets of people and money.
farmermom
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Too many people confuse schooling with education. The propagandizing that belief in God was only for stupid people, which has been prevalent in post-secondary education for at least a century, has been moved down to the preschool level. The cleric described in CS Lewis' "The Great Divorce" is still--75 years later--easily recognizable. So are the university professors. Our modern, progressive, woke pastor preached yesterday on Jesus' parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22. She stated that this was "Jesus turning everything upside down" that the king was a bully, and that the man at the feast who was not wearing wedding clothes was just too poor and downtrodden to know that he should be wearing the proper clothes. This type of apostasy is what we are sometimes hearing in mainstream churches. Wow! God is a bully and we shouldn't worry about having the right kind of clothes? And this comes as despite the fact that Matthew also tells us not to judge, that we are harangued to judge all people based on the color of their skin. That is, after all, what Black Lives Matter preaches, and "systemic racism," and "white privilege" mean.
 
 

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HmP
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The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. To be cut off from our Creator causes confusion and leaves us open to deception. He warns us not to rely on our own wisdom but to acknowledge Him in all our ways and He will make our paths straight. It follows that all will be crooked without Him. We will be blown about by every wind of philosophy without the anchor of His Word.
 
 

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mountainseagull
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Whittaker Chambers was a dropout Seminarian who was a Communist, and encouraged the Ayers and thus Obama...and you are quoting and supporting the great Community organizer why? It's articles like these that make me wonder if Chronicles edits their writers....in fact I wonder that all the time.
 
 

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deanKoontzfan
Whitaker Chambers realized Communism was wrong when Hitler and Stalin signed their nonagression pact. After that, the American communist party demanded they all support Hitler, and Chambers realized they were a pack of liars and frauds, He immediately stopped working as a soviet spy and did everything he could to stop them. He may have even been killed for his anti communist activities.
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Rab33
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I think people lack common sense because they no longer have to figure things out. Just Google 5 tips, just find a video to tell you how to do it....whatever it is. "Figuring things out" is how one learns to think. Education is pre canned ideas memorized and recited. Now today, one can't even argue against the liberal woke crap without drama or worse. No debate, nothing to figure out, and punishment for trying to have an independent thought...these all add up to people too weak to think.
 
 

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