Calvin, Aquinas and a Whopper with Cheese

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Thursday, May 29, 2014

Calvin, Aquinas and a Whopper with Cheese


“Have It Your Way!” You’ve heard it thousands of times. That’s because Burger King has been drumming it into our heads for forty years. But you’re not going to hear it any more. Burger King no longer wants you to “Have It Your Way!” That’s not good enough for you. From now on, “Be Your Way!”

According to Associated Press, Burger King wants to communicate that customers, “can and should live how they want anytime. It’s ok to not be perfect ... Self-expression is most important and it’s our differences that make us individuals instead of robots.” It’s a matter of “making a connection with a person’s greater lifestyle.”

Yes, we’re talking validating existence with Whoppers. But, no, it’s not crazy. The new slogan sums up the prevailing philosophy that drives our choices and much of our public debate on moral questions.

In his book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, Notre Dame history professor Brad Gregory writes, “As [Alasdair] MacIntyre notes, the widespread default in Western societies at large is emotivism, an ethic of subjective, feelings-based, personal preference, which only exacerbates the unresolved and irresolvable [moral] disagreements. The de facto guideline for the living of human life in the Western world today seems simply to be ‘whatever makes you happy’—‘so long as you’re not hurting anyone else’—in which the criteria for happiness, too, are self-determined, self-reporting, and therefore immune to critique….”

The result, as Gregory points out (again citing MacIntyre) is that questions of whether or not “Your Way” is good or bad, moral or immoral, acceptable in civil society or unacceptable in civil society are never resolved because they cannot be resolved. Marriage, life, immigration, education, sexuality, and anything else you can name including “Large or small fries?” are understood as nothing more than feelings-based personal preferences and, as modern psychology preaches, feelings can never be wrong.

You have a right, yea even a responsibility not to just “Have It Your Way,” but to “Be Your Way.” People “can and should live how they want anytime.” This makes the role of government and business the infinite proliferation of choices, a notion that’s in everything from our fast foods to our laws.

As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated in Lawrence v. Texas, “As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom”—limitless freedom being highest good (excepting, of course, the freedom of those who believe and wish to live out a biblically-based Christian morality.)

Recently I listened to Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio conversation with James Bratt about his book, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Mars Hill 120).

Kuyper who lived 1837 to 1920, had three critical insights in light of the growth of philosophical materialism of his era, said Bratt. First, culture would be dog-eat-dog and ruthless since there could be no foundations for an equitable and just society, that is, no agreement on morality. Second, human life would be without eternal hope—we eat, we drink, we die. And third (and most important), “He said, We cannot stand up against this piecemeal. We cannot be nice, warm, spiritual individuals—although we want to be that, but that’s not enough. We have to have as systematic, holistic, antidote to this and the only thing on the scene... well, there were two options. One was Calvinism and the other thing that was just starting to emerge...that’s neo-Thomism. But you have to have a systematic whole to counteract what was a menacing systematic whole.”

While the particulars of our era are different today that 150 years ago, the prevailing cultural problems Kuyper discerned are the same. Culture today is dog-eat-dog and ruthless (see my column about Dartmouth College). People only have hope—a false hope—because they live on the fumes of Christianity in the form of what sociologist Christian Smith has termed “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” And love demands that we supply our neighbors with a systematic option if we ever hope to push back the systematic, emotivist, self-focused, antinomianism in which we live. This includes our neighbors in the pew many of whom have been fed and believe a distorted gospel where “Have It Your Way” and “Be Your Way” are the touchstones of spirituality.

The available systemic antidotes are still Calvinism and neo-Thomism. They come packaged today in Evangelical circles as Christian worldview that seeks to submit our hearts and minds to King Jesus. He, of course, being a welcome alternative to the Burger King.

 

Publication date: May 29, 2014

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