21 December 2007

So does this book count as God's wisdom or man's?

The Battle for the Mind
Timothy LaHaye
Baker Book House, 1980

Timothy LaHaye, best known as co-author and idea man for the Left Behind series, vomited up this work back in 1980 just in time for "morning in America." In it, he pits "God's wisdom" against "man's wisdom," and in the time-honored tradition of ideologues of every stripe, proceeds to define the former as everything he values and the latter as everything he derides. This isn't the place for a full rebuttal of this book (and that this book even needs rebutting bespeaks the current anti-intellectual state of the nation), but suffice it to say that LaHaye manages to be breathtakingly wrong-headed 100% of the time. To add insult to injury, his writing is juvenile, impressive only to those who recently graduated from his alma mater, Bob Jones University.

For LaHaye, following "God's wisdom" does not simply mean regarding the King James translation of the Bible as absolutely inerrant in all matters. It turns out that God is also the mind behind such wisdom as free market capitalism and American patriotism. The Bible, and Judaeo-Christian morality (as LaHaye defines it, of course), are the "intellectual base[s] for a morally sane society" (p. 49), an assertion that would certainly surprise ethical adherents of religions other than Judaism and Christianity. LaHaye even goes so far as to equate God's wisdom/Christianity with "science," albeit apparently not the same science that has its origins in reason and empiricism.

In opposition to "God's wisdom" is the wisdom of man, which LaHaye equates with humanism. But "humanism" for him does not simply mean the "broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities" (source: Wikipedia article on "humanism"). Rather, LaHaye's "humanism" entails atheism, Communism, liberalism, socialism, Freudianism, higher criticism, feminism, sexual liberation, art, self-determination, rock music, tolerance, evolution, rationalism, empiricism, situational ethics, Unitarianism, and just about everything else that LaHaye doesn't like or find "moral." (Hard to believe he didn't include the commitment to universal literacy in his laundry list since the ability to read is what has led so many to embrace the "evils of humanism." Maybe he covered that in a sequel.) LaHaye is only the second person I've encountered who seriously regards Renaissance nudes as precursors to pornography (the first person being my father). He also makes no bones about condemning both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as eras that brought us to this sorry state by insisting on evil ideas like individual dignity, self-determination, and the brotherhood of man. The fact that free market capitalism is as much a product of these eras as Marxian socialism escapes LaHaye, as does the fact that the Constitution was inspired by the Enlightenment ideas of Baron de Montesquieu etal. (That LaHaye attributes the idea of "separation of powers" to the Bible with a straight face indicates perhaps that he needs a straightjacket rather than a publishing deal.) Also conspicuous for its absence is any mention of the other world religions, even those that predate Christianity. I guess Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc. are all just atheist, amoral humanists in disguise.

LaHaye's so-called research is pathetic. He bases his discussions of humanism on two publications and falsely asserts that these two works are definitive, "the official position of the humanist movement...accepted by the faithful as the current mandate on humanist beliefs, values, and goals" (p. 85). One doesn't even know where to begin dismantling this monstrous claim. First, humanists, as narrowly defined, don't have an "official position" since one of the claims of humanism is that each is to be guided by his or her conscience. In fact, this description says more about LaHaye's projections and understanding of the faithful-as-automatons than it does about humanism, however one defines that term. As well, since LaHaye's "humanism" effectively includes every worldview except his own, finding a definitive source would be IMPOSSIBLE. And then there is the matter of citations. If he wants to quote scripture, he is right there with chapter and verse, but when he makes the craziest assertions about the evils of "humanism" he does so without a single source to back him up. Oh well, my reliance on facts and evidence is probably just indicative of humanist indoctrination.

This book would be laughable if LaHaye were merely one more fundamentalist moron who can't come to grips with a bigger, more complex world than the one into which he was born. Alas this is not the case. The ideas he expresses in this book inform his best-selling Left Behind series, which has influenced millions of self-proclaimed American Christians. Throughout his book, he talks about how "humanists" are unfit for holding public office in the US (a position that flies in the face of Article VI of the Constitution) and repeatedly advocates that "Christian, pro-moral Americans" take power back by whatever means necessary. If you don't find that a chilling thought, read about how non-Christians are treated in the Left Behind books or play the new Left Behind video game, and you may change your mind. When examined, LaHaye's us-versus-them worldview reveals itself to be murderously pernicious and downright fascistic.

Alas, with the dawning of the 21st century, it looks like "taking the power back" is precisely what LaHaye's acolytes intend to do. Those of us who still care about individual freedom and Enlightenment (i.e., Constitutional American) values would do well to read this book to see what we are up against. It ain't pretty.

(This review was originally written on February 22, 2007.)

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