Chronological Snobbery

Do we have a better notion of how people should live inherently because we live in the present and not the past?

Transcript

INTRODUCTION 

Morning.  David Sorn.  Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

First of all, a big thank you to our Director of Operations, Ryan Speck, and all the men and women who help with set-up and tear-down

Unloading and loading all of this into our trailer in Minus 35 Degree wind chill is no small thing, and we greatly appreciate their sacrifice.

In fact, if you’re currently on one of our set-up or tear-down teams, would you stand for us?

We just want to clap and honor you on a day like today.

If you’re not on one of these teams, you can always sign-up on your connection card.  Make a difference with us.  

All right, let’s get started.

Imagine you were alive 1,000 years ago.

 What would you have believed?

You would have believed the earth is the center of the universe.

You would have believed the earth is flat.

You would have no understanding of germ theory

You would have no idea what electricity is

And on and on we could go.

So here’s the question:  If you’re from 1,000 years ago, are you unintelligent? 

Are you, because you are from 1,000 years in the past, significantly more likely to be wrong on a whole number of things simply because you are not from the present?

What if we expand this beyond science?

What about your views in 1000 AD on how to treat people (morality)?

Or your views other races or people groups?

Or your views on relationships?

Most people today say, “yes, yes, and yes!” 

“Those people were antiquated!  Uneducated, racist, cruel, ignorant.  We’ve come so far!

“What we believe today is CLEARLY superior to what they believed”

But this is a belief that C.S. Lewis once wryly dubbed, “Chronological Snobbery”

Chronological Snobbery is the argument that any science, or for that matter art or even thinking, of an earlier time is INHERENTLY inferior to the present…simply because it’s from the past.

Often people from the past are disregarded through what’s called the “Chronological Fallacy”

Here’s what people do in the Chronological Fallacy (fallacy means a false way of thinking)

“So and So believes A”

But “A” is an old belief which dates back to when people thought the earth was flat…or had slaves…or pick anything you like.

So therefore, A is wrong…because…it’s old. 

The brilliant J.I. Packer describes the thinking of our modern age this way:

 The newer is truer 

Only what is recent is decent

Every shift of ground is a step forward

And every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject

-J.I. Packer

There is a major, pervasive fear in our culture, of going “backwards”

Going back to what people perhaps believed in the past is considered antiquated or medieval or puritanical or Victorian

Listen to how those time periods have now been associated with negative moral values.

To be medieval is not just to be perhaps from the year 1200…but to be wrong in some sense.

Even the word “modern” seems to carry a “value judgment” with it. 

And so when it comes to morality (how we should live, conduct ourselves), our culture values what’s new.

We value how people think of moral issues TODAY…in the present…not 100 years ago, not even 25 years ago

Why?  “Because people back then weren’t as informed as we are today.

And it’s not only that, it’s that what we think about morality is changing faster than ever before!

We determine what’s right and wrong nowadays mostly by mob mentality

Whoever can shout the loudest on Social Media wins the day.

And opinions on morality are changing, quicker than ever, thanks to globalization and technology

 

 

THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY

Perhaps this idea of NEW moral values being superior to OLD moral values is best summed up by a very popular phrase in our culture right now:  “The right side of history”

You can’t escape this phrase in the last 3 or 4 years

It’s everywhere.

I hear it in sports, in politics, in ethics; it’s everywhere!

So what do people really mean when they say, “Vote with me and be the right side of history” or “join our side and support player safety in the NFL and be “on the right side of history!”

It’s an idea that’s actually directly connected to the concept of chronological snobbery.

When one says: “Believe X, Y, or Z, and you’ll be on the right side of history,” they’re saying, “We might be the minority position now, but soon enough, we will be the majority, and history will prove us right!”

“History will prove us right because, in time, as we get better as humanity, the majority of people will see this issue as right”

But this philosophy is about as full of holes as the Swiss cheese I ate in my plain ham and cheese sandwich this week.

In fact, let me give you 4 reasons why “the right side of history” isn’t a logical statement at all (but instead an emotional one, or just simply a debate tactic)

Write these down, and I promise this phrase will drive you batty from now on J

The Illogical Thought behind “The Right Side of History” 

#1:  It’s silly to assume history is always progressing.

Embedded in the saying, “Be on the right side of history” is the belief that the story of humanity is always progressing…always getting better

In this thought, every chapter of history is by definition “better than the one before”

You can’t invoke a phrase like “The right side of history” and also believe that history is going downhill.  

If you think history is going downhill, you wouldn’t say that future generations are going to agree with your opinion.

But is this a rational belief?

Is history on some predestined arc of human progress?

At some level, I can’t believe I even have to ask that question J

I think this phrase is often uttered by people who haven’t looked much to the past.

At the beginning of the 1900’s, a lot of people believed that human history was only progressing positively

And then WWI happened.

And that shocked their belief system.

So President Woodrow Wilson called WWI the “War…to end all wars”

It must have just been a blip on the arc of human progress.

But then a generation later…WWII happens.

And no in the 1940’s was thinking, “This chapter of history is clearly better than the one before it!” 

But it’s like every generation or so, we again irrationally convince ourselves of this idea that history is only going upward 

History is much more of an ugly rollercoaster than a climb up the staircase of goodness

Let me give you a second reason why we can’t use the “Right side of history” as a defense for changing our morals..

The Illogical Thought behind “The Right Side of History” 

#1:  It’s silly to assume history is always progressing.  

#2:  Progress implies one has a fixed morality

If we don’t have an objective/unchanging right and wrong (and our culture clearly says there is no such thing), then you can’t technically “prOgress towards anything”

 Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College says it this way:

“Without an unchanging standard, there can be no progress, only change. To such people, “progress” means no more than “change,” and therefore “change” means the same as “progress.” – Peter Kreeft

This is really close to the theme of this series

Culture has, in many ways, kept the Christian chair of morality intact, because it can’t stand to think about how ugly the world would be without right and wrong…

But the culture hates the idea of an unchanging right/wrong from the past (or worse yet, from God)…and so they took that part off

But without legs, there’s no foundation…and this chair will clearly fall.

How do you have progress without anything definitive to measure progress by??

You can’t move towards a “more right way of living” if you have no agreed upon “right way of living”

Only God gives us a standard by which we can truly measure moral progress:

(Isaiah 45:19) – NIV

 I have not spoken in secret,
    from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,
    ‘Seek me in vain.’
I, the Lord, speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

Let me give you a third reason why we can’t use the “Right Side of history” as a way to say our current morals of present day are superior to those of the past

The Illogical Thought behind “The Right Side of History” 

#1:  It’s silly to assume history is always progressing.  

#2:  Progress implies one has a fixed morality

#3:  When does history actually get to be a final judge?

The idea that history itself gets to judge is a hollow concept that most people haven’t carried out to its logical end.

Take an issue like American’s views on Abortion.

Go back to the first half of the 20th century, and Americans would have overwhelming said the practice of abortion was morally UNacceptable.

Go the latter half of the 20th century, and the majority of Americans would have said the practice was morally acceptable.

Yet, in the last 7 or 8 years, millions of Americans have switched their stance again, and now many who were pro choice are pro life.

IN fact, Gallup says America is in a virtual tie over the issue…but the trends say in a 1 or 2 years, the majority will be Pro Life again.

And who knows where this will go in the next 50 years?

And you can do this with almost any issue.

And so the question is this:  When does “history” (as if it were some moral entity) actually judge an issue as “right?”

You can see, this phrase is just a debate tactic, it’s not logical.

Did history in 1973 decide the victory and prove those silly people of 1930 as wrong?  

Will history, perhaps in 2018 then somehow disprove the rightness of the people of the 1970’s?

You can see, we can’t just say that someone is right simply because their further down the time-stream.

That’s Chronological snobbery.

We can (and we should) feel good about the fact that we don’t have slavery on a massive level anymore…

You can even try and say, “We’re on the right side of history”

But who’s to say slavery doesn’t return on a massive level in 500 years?

75 years ago, hardly anyone thought we were going back to the sexual ethics of the Romans and the Greeks but indeed we are.  

But thankfully, history is not the judge…

God is our judge.

(2 Corinthians 5:10) – NIV

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

And let me give you a fourth reason why we can’t use the “Right side of history” as a way to say our own moral ideas are automatically superior to those of the past

The Illogical Thought behind “The Right Side of History” 

#1:  It’s silly to assume history is always progressing.  

#2:  Progress implies one has a fixed morality

#3:  When does history actually get to be a final judge?

#4:  Being in the majority doesn’t always mean you’re right

All the “right side of history” means is “trust our view…because someday, we will be the ones in the majority…and you won’t want to be wrong then!”

“Someday, 50 years from now, almost everyone is going to believe what we believe,” and history will judge us as right!

But look at the circular reasoning here.

It couldn’t be more obvious, and yet more hidden to our culture.

Being in the majority in the future isn’t what makes you right…especially if you’re saying that in the present that the people in the majority…are WRONG!

Why should anyone listen to someone who’s saying: “Don’t listen to the majority!  They’re wrong!” 

And yet, when they’re the majority, they want people to listen to them, simply on the basis of “being the majority!”  

It’s backwards reasoning

The fact that the “majority” now backs your issue is not a defensible position for morality. 

The “majority” has believed a lot of terrible things over the years.   

 

 

TRADING SINS & VIRTUES

So how should we compare our culture to others throughout human history?

Are we clearly better than humans 500 years ago?

Modern people have this idea that we are so much better than those of the past…perhaps because most of us haven’t spent much time reading from those of the past.

You ever read Thomas Aquinas or Augustine? 

These guys aren’t moral or intellectual slouches

You ever studied communities of 300 years ago or 500 years ago?

The integrity of their families

How they cared for their aging parents & grandparents…

How they often helped the poor in their own neighborhoods…where today we don’t even know our neighbor’s first name…let alone what they need.

Instead of looking hard at well-rounded evidence from the past, we just fall for the Chronological fallacy, and cherry pick certain issues and therefore, to us, the evidence for human progress looks overwhelming.

I read in an article this week where a writer said the following, and I think this is indicative of how a lot of modern people think: “

“Consider that 150 years ago we kept human beings as slaves, 100 years ago American workers worked in terrible conditions for low wages with no safety net, and 50 years ago African Americans were still being lynched. I think we've come a long way and I'd much rather live into today's society than the world of the past.  There’s no such thing as a decline in morality in our present day."

Is that true?  

I believe that when large portions of a culture have surrendered to Jesus and are following His ways…culture can improve.

We can change the world.

God’s ways are indeed higher and better. 

However, usually this is not the case.

Rarely have cultures, as a whole really surrendered to God’s ways.

Instead, cultures are usually predominately governed by human ways and human ideas.

And therefore, throughout most of history, humanity is not really getting any better, we just redefine sin & morality, to make it look like we’re getting better.

Human progress, in many ways, is an illusion.

 We champion one new moral victory, while redefining a new moral failure…as a non-moral issue anymore.  

Besides, we’re far too biased to objectively assess our own morality.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve read from the secular world in the last month that has said something to the tune of, “Racism is a moral issue, equality is a moral issue, but let’s not pretend that there is anything moral about sex”

Hardly anyone from the 1600’s or 900’s would have accepted that line of thinking.  

And so, in reality, we’re not on some massive arc of human progress.

We’re just trading in our sins (and virtues) for different ones.

We admirably freed the slaves in the 1860’s, but then become greedier than ever in the Gilded Age starting in the 1870’s

We admirably fought for women’s right to vote through the first 20 years or so of the 1900’s, but by the late 1930’s and 40’s, we were engaged in the bloodiest war the world has ever seen

How can we be on an arc of human progress when the last century was bloodier than the other 19 centuries combined?

And so we can’t say that our morality today is more RIGHT simply because we are further down the time-stream.

We can’t treat truth like a timeline.

As if each generation gets progressively closer to discovering ultimate truth on how we should live

That’s chronological snobbery, and the evidence of history completely betrays that idea

BUT…let’s be clear…the answer isn’t to just look backwards on the timeline either!

For every group of people that says, “We’re so much better than we were 50 years ago,” there’s another group of people that says, “We’re so much worse than we were 50 years ago!”

I find a lot of Christians fall into that latter camp. 

And the Bible doesn’t seem to endorse either camp.

The Bible says we are sinful at birth (Psalm 51), and apart from God we can do nothing (John 15)

That apart from God’s spirit working in us, it’s always easier for us to choose sin (Romans 8)

And thus, humans have been incredibly sinful…in every culture…since Adam & Eve fell.

And just as a lot of secular people romanticize human progress and the future, a lot of Christians romanticize the past.

They have this idea that back in the 1950’s or back when America was founded, we were Godlier than ever!

Do we not remember the 1950’s and separate drinking fountains and separate restaurants for people of color?

Do we not remember the late 1700’s when we were basically committing genocide on native Americans and enslaving Africans?  

Let’s not pretend those were the glory days of morality.

Different sins for different times.

In some categories, people in the 1950’s or the 1700’s were SIGNIFICANTLY more moral than us.

But in others, clearly not.

Unless we can find spots where cultures in mass are truly surrendering themselves to God, generations merely trade sins & virtues. 

They get a few new virtues, but in turn, pick up a few new sins.

 

 

CONCLUSION

So if we can’t be trusted to know what’s best just because we live in the present…where should we get our morality from then? 

We have to be willing to look not ahead on the timeline…not backwards on the timeline…but ABOVE the timeline of history

A truth outside of time.

I hope throughout this series, if you’ve been here, this is the conclusion you’re firmly landing on.

We cannot get morality from anywhere but God.

God is bigger than time, outside of time, and thus above any sort of cultural bias

He’s above any culture that’s overly obsessed with change or “progress” and thus is willing to bend morality

AND…He’s above any culture that’s too stuck on tradition to see that their beliefs are actually immoral.

God doesn’t change.

(Malachi 3:6a – NIV)

 6 “I the Lord do not change. 

 

He’ll always be the same

(Hebrews 13:8) – NIV

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

 

And God is not unchanging stuck to some old moral idea…God is the ORIGINAL moral idea.  Higher than our timeline

(Isaiah 55:8-9) – NIV

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

And therefore, as Christians, we need to resist the urge to adapt our beliefs to the culture…even if you feel like no one else thinks like you do anymore.

In his writings on Chronological Snobbery, C.S. Lewis said that Chronological Snobbery is:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” - C.S. Lewis

And so for Christians, where the rubber often hits the road, is in the places where you read the Bible, and you cringe a little bbit.

And you read about what the Bible says about husbands and wives…or creation…or anything to do with sex nowadays…and we think, “No one in the culture believes this stuff anymore!”

And you’re feeling tempted to just hop on the bus towards the “right side of history”

But that’s a feeling that starts from a false assumption:  “That if God is real, He’s somehow supposed to match your feelings on what feels right”

Matt Chandler says it this way:

“Do you really believe if there's a transcendent, almighty God that you two aren't ever going to disagree? How highly of yourself do you think?”  - Matt Chandler

If every culture is different, every culture is going to be wrong and not line up with God at some point. 

Right?? 

And so too will our culture have its disagreements with God’s truth. 

What was the perfect culture in history?  Ours?!?!

And so as Christians, we need to stop trying so hard to fit our beliefs into today’s culture, just so we won’t sound archaic or like old-fashioned dinosaurs to the people around us.

Because remember…history isn’t just a climb up the staircase of goodness.

You’re not automatically wrong…just because your belief is older.

New doesn’t always equal RIGHT.

We must too realize that the fashionable beliefs of this world will eventually be out of fashion.

So please, don’t jump on board with a new moral fashion just because you feel like you’re in the minority…stay on board with the unchanging truth.

Many of today’s current beliefs are just that…fashions.

Here for 10 years…or 50…or even 100.

But just like real fashion… what is in one day, will certainly one day be out on another day. 

And when we adjust from Biblical thinking or change our Christian beliefs because they feel out of fashion with the culture…we sell out for short-term acceptance…

See, the culture, like a snake-oil-salesman, has tricked many Christians into believing that by trading in their Christian beliefs, they are buying a slice of the right side of history.

But instead, we’re selling out rock-solid truth that has existed before the earth was even created and will exist for the rest of eternity…for a temporary fashion, that could in 100 years, be laughable history.

Don’t feel the pressure to change your Christian morality on what you believe or how you treat people just because the culture is convinced that history is only going in their direction.

Think longer than that.

As Christians, our version of future is much greater anyway.

We believe that one day, Jesus will come back, and his followers will live forever in a new heaven and a new earth

And for eternity, you will know and live in the truth.

And it’s out of that truth, that John Piper says:

“If you live for eternity, you will forego a few fads in order to be everlastingly relevant” – John Piper

 

(Isaiah 40:8) – NIV

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.

 

And so let’s trust in God that his ways are best…and that His ways will long outlast any way that our culture is convinced that history is going.  

Trust in your God

Let me pray.


Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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