The intellectual and spiritual well-being of our culture owes much of its fashioning to the father of modern philosophy, René Descartes. If you have never heard the name before, you probably have heard his famous quote, “I think, therefore I am.” Basically, his ideas (often called Cartesian philosophy)ushered in the modern era of philosophy, which abandoned the traditions of the past and sought to establish a new method of philosophic inquiry – a new way to figure out what is true.
THE ROOT OF MODERN DOUBT
Descartes advocates for a kind of skepticism which casts doubt on every form of knowledge that seems unknowable. This is the root of modern doubt: that everything we think we know must be questioned and confirmed by our own understanding. Cartesian skepticism places the individual’s mind at the center of existence and everything the mind cannot attain, it rejects. All truth must be able to be fully understood. Naturally, this approach to knowledge collides with the idea of faith in God since God is necessarily beyond human understanding.
USING VS ENJOYING
When the individual is the moderator of truth, it is easy to simply make God an object that we understand and use for our own benefit. In St. Augustine’s work On Christian Teaching, he makes a distinction between things that ought to be used and things which ought to be enjoyed. Things that ought to be enjoyed are things that we cling to in love for their own sakes while things that ought to be used help us towards the thing we enjoy. Unfortunately, those of us who confess Christ tend to useGod more than we enjoyHim. This often occurs when idolatry shifts our affections towards something other than God. As a result, God becomes a mere tool to get to our hearts greater desire rather than being the very object of our desire. Instead of enjoying Him for who He is, we use Him as a tool to help us enjoy something we think is greater.
This natural inclination for people to enjoy God’s creation more than Him, in conjunction with Descartes influence on the way we think, has dealt a deadly blow to the faith of many young believers. Often times fleshly passions, the advice of peers, and Google seem to have more authority over believers’ lives than the Holy Spirit, scriptures, and wise counsel. In this, the true authority in these situations is the mind of the individual for he is the moderator of truth. He picks and chooses which passions should be fed, what advice to listen to, and what he should google. II Timothy 4:3 predicted that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” The modern “teacher” is the individual, and it teaches us that no higher authority exists.
THE ROOT OF FAITH
As for Christianity, followers are told to have faith. Faith, according to the scriptures, requires the human mind to be submissive to a higher reality rather than being the source of authority. In Proverbs 1:7 King Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” People often define the fear of the Lord as respect or reverence for God and this is true, but the fear of the Lord is not merely respect. We are called to respect parents, teachers, police officers and other forms of earthly authority as well. The fear of the Lord is a conviction that God is to be enjoyed, esteemed, and worshipped more than any other thing in our lives. Fearing God means that His standard, not our own way of thinking, is the true plumb-line by which we discern truth.
In recent years, there has been a great push for Christian apologetics to remedy this doubt that we have seen in modernity. While apologetics can be incredibly beneficial, and an instrumental tool for one’s growth as a believer, it cannot solve the issue of lordship. There is a kind of doubt that simply lacks all of the information, and apologetics would prove to be powerfully effective against such issues, but the kind of doubt that derives from Descartes – rejecting tradition because it is traditional, external council because it is external, and divine revelation because it is divine – needs to be broken of its pride. They must learn to take God at His word without it first making sense to their finite understanding. The beginning of knowledge is not knowledge itself, but the fear of the Lord. It is by His light that we see light, not by our own light that we see Him. If we continue to be our own source of knowledge, God will always be a tool on our path to idolatry rather than the Lord of our life. Once we submit to His lordship and allow His truth to be authoritative in our lives, our hearts and minds will finally be satisfied.
T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.