Congratulations! You’re a Puppet! How Should We Then Live pt. 2

Note: This series is intended to be a pocket commentary on How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer. If you’ve worked through the book or video sessions on your own or in a Classical Conversations Challenge II class, I welcome your comments and ideas below. 

Schaefer doesn’t hesitate but plunges straight in with the bad news, which is, “Congratulations! You’re probably the unwitting puppet of your culture!”

It can be disturbing to realize how many of our beliefs were never carefully thought out by us, but  instead simply absorbed from the culture around us. (A whole group of people who share basic beliefs, thinking and acting in the much the same way can be defined as a culture.)

Francis Schaeffer argues that the things we humans choose to do and say leave clues for the rest of the world about our inner life and our values. He points out that Michelangelo, through his art, communicated what he cared about and valued. And when Hitler unleashed the full extent of Nazi ferocity, he certainly gave away a great deal of information about the state of his mind and heart. Unfortunately, Hitler managed to successfully infuse most of Germany with his mindset, and by doing so he changed the whole culture around him. The Germans of the time whose standards came from their society were in deep trouble.

So, the bad news is that to one degree or another, quite a few of us carry a lot of baggage resulting in knee-jerk reactions. The good news is that once we’re aware this is the case, we don’t have to continue doing it. We can choose to use a different script than the one our culture hands us. As history–and the rest of How Should We Then Live–shows, if you’ve got a badly-written script, your play is unlikely to end well. There aren’t really very many worldview scripts to choose from, because only a limited number of them cycle in and out of history. Life is stressful, so choose wisely, because you need a set of beliefs up to the task of guiding you through.

When people or civilizations are exposed to stress, they’re only as good as the foundation under them. A bad foundation dooms a culture. Across Europe, many of the  small bridges built by the Romans are still functional for pedestrians today, but anyone who tried to drive a modern truck across one would probably end up in a pile of rubble in the river below. In the same way a truck needs a bridge engineered to handle its weight, a society needs a good foundation.

In order to understand how modern people came to choose their foundations for life and government, Shaeffer follows three threads throughout the book:

*Philosophy, which expects the mind to come up with the answers to life’s questions,

*Science, which looks at facts in the world around us and interprets them, and

*Religion, or people’s collective thoughts and ideas about God.

The remainder of the chapter covers the birth and death of Rome in a short arc. It’s a manageable introduction to how the later eras will be discussed, and also a good opportunity to establish a rubric to jump through for each one. Here are some possible questions to ponder and return to each time:

On what did the people of this era base their civilization? Was it a strong foundation? Why or why not? How and why did this civilization end?

We’ll talk about how that turned out for Rome in the following post.

Discussion points for this section:

*If a detective gathered evidence about you based on the things you’ve done and said, what would they conclude based on the clues you left?

*Would that picture be accurate? Do you tell the truth about yourself by your words and actions, or do you censor yourself because you’re afraid of what your friends, family, or community might think about what you actually believe?

*What are some of the presuppositions you’ve picked up from your culture?

If you missed pt. 1 of this series, you can view it here:

For the next post, click here:…e-then-live-pt-3/


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