How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

This book had long been recommended to me, so when Mark (now graduated from high school) studied world history in tenth grade, we combined it with a study of Western culture and philosophy using Schaeffer’s material. I just recently got around to reading it myself, and it is one of the most enlightening books that I have ever studied. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, gives the best explanations that I have seen as to the differences between the freedom of the Western world following the introduction of Christianity and the “Dark Ages” when much of the Christian message had actually been corrupted by the Roman Catholic hierarchy through its synthesis with pagan philosophy; between the Renaissance/Enlightenment that led to license and the Reformation that led to freedom, which were going on about the same time; between the English “Bloodless” and American Revolutions, with their Biblical bases, and the French and Russian Bolshevik Revolutions, with their atheistic origins; and the difference between the origins of science in trying to search for God’s order in the universe and modern science which simply eliminates the supernatural.

Some of the specifics of the book are a little dated today, but the overall thought of its message is just as true now as it was when written, and it is a bit eerie to see how some of Schaeffer’s predictions based on trends that he saw in the early 1970s have come true in our time. Here is an example from Chapter 12, “Manipulation and the New Elite” in which Schaeffer points to the development of an authoritarian state to fill the vacuum left by the loss of Christian principles.

“In Walden Two Skinner’s utopia was a totally conditioned society. The director, T. E. Frazier, manipulated everyone to control all the details of the society. He made the people think that they wanted what he had decided they and society itself should be.”

This reminds me of Barak Obama and the health care debate. Schaeffer then goes on to describe the role of the media in all this. How Should We The Live? is not easy to read, but no study of Western Civilization is really complete without it.

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