The following is an excerpt from Kenneth Zaretzke’s article Ethics, Environment, and Society or A Critique of Everything. It first appeared in Soli Deo Gloria (1976), a festschrift for Dr. John H. Gerstner (edited by R.C. Sproul).
It is tiresome to have to bring up some of the things that are being taught today in regard to ethics, but do it I must if my paper is to be complete. Everywhere you look, you hear polite conversation about how the times have changed and now we must discard the values that were appropriate in a former time, but which at present will only be a hindrance to man as he presses on to glory. It is the whole notion of cultural evolution and “man come of age” that makes me grow unnaturally weary. I don’t think there has ever been a greater deal of nonsense than there is today when evolutionists and trend ethicists talk about syncretism, synergism, and situation ethics. Indeed, it is this example of modern man’s amazing ability to deceive himself that makes me such a pessimist. We stand in much greater peril from foolishness than we ever did from evil. It is the mild-mannered professors who worry me more than gun-toting guerilla fighters. Some of these professing intellectuals are suffering not so much from excessive cerebral activity as from a swollen head, or sloppy sentimentality.
Economics, population explosion, political structures—all of these problems are only incidental to the much greater problem of value vertigo.
The reason why our values are in a state of disintegration, it seems to me, is that our whole idea of who man is mistaken. Evolution will be the death of us yet! We are so obsessed with mastering our own fate that we cannot see the forest for the trees. We major in minors, and then we laud our ability to become self-educated men. We talk endlessly about truth and honesty and continue to be untruthful and dishonest. Modern man is a hypocrite! Especially tiresome to me are the people who naively proclaim the emergence of a new heaven and earth if only everyone will be himself. I’m not a patient person when it comes to intellectual folly, and it appears as if I will have to live in an increasing state of impatience and frustration. Far be it from me to think that such frustration is proof that I hang onto an irrelevant and tired past. Actually, if I am frustrated, it is because I can see the positive crash of the modern mentality; and with the crash of the modern mentality goes the crash of society.
I contend, very simply, for absolute values. I know, in advance, that self-deceived modern man will have nothing to do with absolute values. No wonder I’m a pessimist! Zealously, modern man talks about open-mindedness, but in the modern glut of perverted mentalities and twisted truths, the forever open mind is in danger of becoming a reprobate mind. And we are learning that there is no way around it: the choice is not between religion or no religion, but between religion with revelation or religion without revelation. The question is not whether you will have a God or not, but whether you will have a God of Righteousness or a God of Darkness. Militantly and imperiously, I insist that the gods of Julian Huxley, George Leonard, and Robert Theobald are all Dark gods.
Alvin Toffler writes that “new saints and prophets will emerge to articulate the transformed values of the coming super-industrial civilization.” Lynton Keith Caldwell writes, “There is a great need and opportunity for religious thought, freed from fetters of dogma, to assume a role of leadership in extending and refining human ethics to meet the ominous challenges of the coming era of Spaceship Earth.” “Students of ethics,” writes Garrett Hardin, “like to think of their subject as somehow being prior to, and superior to, mere selfish interests, but when we dig back into the archaeology of the discipline we cannot help being struck with the way ethics adapts to the Establishment.”And in all seriousness, Harold K. Schilling writes, “In other words, I suggest that the vocabulary of ethics must include the term God or its equivalent.”
Reading such things, I am torn between laughing and crying, but since the above-mentioned gentlemen are serious, I usually cry. If such sentiments are indicative of more to come, we can certainly expect the destruction of society.
The fashionable thought in chic society is that man can change values as he changes his clothes. The very idea nearly renders my imagination impotent so that it is exceedingly difficult to communicate my thoughts on paper. The stormy futility of this whole thing must be what Thomas Aquinas felt when he stopped fighting the wild heresies that keep coming out of man’s crazy head and heart. Poor Aquinas—it must have been some burden to have been so far in advance of the age that he knew how we would think today. In a fling of futility, let me tear off some fast quotes:
As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. . . . The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.
Does a permanent moral standard preclude progress? On the contrary except on the supposition of a changeless standard, progress is impossible.
. . . those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated or expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript. They wish us to depend on them instead of that original, and then to deprive us of our full humanity. Their activity is in the long run always directed against our freedom.
– ibid., p. 56
There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or “ideologies,” all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily .wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet, still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my race or my country. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves.
The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color.
Considering all this, considering that we actually live in a generation in which a book entitled Beyond Ethics is sure to become a bestseller, it will be a miracle if the ship stays afloat—a miracle on which grand scale there is no precedent. But if man can capture a sense of true values, then he will be able to handle the awesome responsibility that goes with advanced science and technology. If there is a return to absolute values, we will witness a social renaissance.