René Girard [was] a French philosopher and anthropologist whose brilliant career culminated in a position at Stanford University. Girard became fascinated with the fact that in modern times a “marginalized” person assumes a moral authority . . . Girard noted that a cavalcade of liberation movements—abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, animal rights, gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, human rights—had gathered speed in the 20th century.
The trend mystified Girard because he found nothing comparable in his reading of ancient literature. Victors, not the marginalized, wrote history, and the myths from Babylon, Greece, and elsewhere celebrated strong heroes, not pitiable victims. In his further research, Girard traced the phenomenon back to the historical figure of Jesus. It struck Girard that Jesus’ story cuts against the grain of every heroic story from its time. Indeed, Jesus chose poverty and disgrace, spent his infancy as a refugee, lived in a minority race under a harsh regime, and died as a prisoner. From the very beginning Jesus took the side of the underdog: the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the “marginalized.” His crucifixion, Girard concluded, introduced a new plot to history: the victim becomes the hero by being a victim. To the consternation of his secular colleagues, Girard converted to Christianity.
When Jesus died as an innocent victim, it introduced what one of Girard’s disciples has called “the most sweeping historical revolution in the world, namely, the emergence of an empathy for victims.” Today the victim occupies the moral high ground everywhere in the Western world: consider how the media portray the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa or Tibetan refugees or uprooted Palestinians. Girard contends that Jesus’ life and death brought forth a new stream in history, one that undermines injustice. It may take centuries for that stream to erode a hard bank of oppression, as it did with slavery, but the stream of liberation flows on.
Sometimes Jesus followers join the stream, and sometimes they stand on the bank and watch. Yet over time the gospel works its liberating effect. (You can see the contrast clearly in societies that have experienced little Christian influence.) Women, minorities, the disabled, human rights activists—all these draw their moral force from the power of the gospel unleashed at the cross, when God took the side of the victim. In a great irony, the “politically correct” movement defending these rights often positions itself as an enemy of Christianity, when in fact the gospel has contributed the very underpinnings that make possible such a movement. And those who condemn the church for its episodes of violence, slavery, sexism, and racism do so by gospel principles.
According to Jean-Paul Sartre . . . the basic philosophic question is that something is there, rather than that nothing is there. The first basic answer is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing. In other words, you begin with nothing. Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing-nothing. It cannot be nothing-something or something-nothing. If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing-nothing, which means there must be no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.
My description of nothing-nothing runs like this. Suppose we had a very black blackboard that had never been used. On this blackboard we drew a circle, and inside that circle there was every- thing that was—and there was nothing within the circle. Then we erase the circle. This is nothing-nothing. You must not let anybody say he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.
The truth is, I have never heard this argument sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing.
–Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? …Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies.
“The most consequential life in human history was lived 21 centuries ago in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire by a person who never traveled 100 miles from his birthplace, never held public office, never write a book, and died… in his early 30s.”
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.”
–W. E. H. Lecky (1838-1903),
History of European Morals
If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography … , the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.
― Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
When we are angry at evil, we are acknowledging that life has purpose. We are recognizing that there is a difference between good and bad. We are affirming that bad should be punished. But what does that mean for my bad actions? And from where did my sense of justice come in the first place? If life is the result of an accident, how can life have a purpose? And if life has no purpose, why am I angry at what I think is unfair?
My sense of oughtness is an indication that I believe in a standard of life. But what standard, an arbitrary one set by changing cultures driven by natural selection or a transcendent one that never changes even though societies might? Mankind’s sense of justice can point them to the good Judge.