Free How Should We Then Live Book Review Sample

Published: 2021-06-21 23:41:18
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The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
This book review has been written by Name of Student of Class of Student of Name of College
Book Review on How Should We Then Live:
The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
“How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture” deals with the major Christian culture written by Francis A. Schaeffer, and published in 1976. Basing on the book, a series of ten films were produced. In the book, Schaeffer objected to the influences of Renaissance, the Charles Darwin and the Enlightenment. His thoughts inspired many leaders of the Movement of American Conservatives including Jerry Falwell. The book review aims at analyzing and evaluating the controversial nature of the book and discuss the criticism of the book with a view to judge its importance for study at doctoral level.
Importance of the book, “How Should We Then Live” is evident with the fact that it covers the Western history from the times of ancient Rome to 1976. Knowing of the history of the ancient West from the religious perspective is essential for the doctoral level of students. The writer intends to convey his ideas about living of life according the principles dictated by the Bible or manmade principles that vary as per the understanding of the humans. In the book, the history has been discussed along three approaches; the religious, the philosophic and the scientific. The writer also makes frequent references to the art and architecture in order to show the changing patterns of thought during the course of different religious and scientific movements. The main premise of the writer revolves around the living of human lives as per the instructions of the Bible. He argues that when the people decide to follow the Bible in their lives, the conduct and judgment in the lives becomes much easier as there is no chaos. Schaeffer calls it a Freedom without chaos. However, when the people decide to live their lives as per the principles of humans, where humans have their own measures. The man is independent and autonomous, and all the human values are relative. No system exist to differentiate the right from wrong in a system devised by the humans except the utilitarianism. The disagreement between the people and their thoughts leads to the division in the community, and ultimately leads to the hopelessness and estrangement in the society. Another premise of his book deals with the modern relative values that are based on desire to be personally at peace with no reference to the worldly problems. In such a scenario, the government will provide the definition of relative values and such a government will be based on manipulation and indirect method of information mechanism, inheritances and psychology.
The writer conveys his message through the book by dividing it into thirteen chapters, a special note, a chronological index and a topical index. In chapter one of Ancient Rome, he describes the reason for the fall of Rome. He declares that Romans fell from within and the offensive of barbarians was only a final blow to the already falling walls. Over the period, Rome had become weak due to the intrigues of the people from inside, and the Barbarian attack on Rome did not face the resistance as it should have encountered at the time of strength of Roman Empire. In Chapter two of the Middle Ages, he describes the Christian society with many positive elements, however, later it allowed the human made concepts to blend into the Bible based principles which resulted in polarization during the renaissance. He describes the infusion of materialistic things into the principles of the Bible, thus infecting the pure with the humanistic interest. In Chapter three of the Renaissance, the writer discusses the age of renaissance dominated by the humanistic ideals. Human made principles based on the interests in materialistic matters took over the control of Christian society. The Church was slowly and gradually disengaged from the running of the state affairs that caused humanistic principles taking over the Bible based way of life. The writer feared the continuation of the same for a long time in future. In Chapter four of the Reformation, Schaeffer highlights the philosophic reasons for going away from the Church of Rome and reformers approach towards art and culture. The reformers believed more in art and culture and made the policies accordingly, thus reducing the role of the Church to the bare minimum and only to the religious issues. In Chapter five of Reformation-Continued, Schaeffer gives out the effects of reformation on the society and thinkers whom he does not consider as the Christians. To his understanding, the reformers who made the policies of the government and promoted art and culture, were not Christians by religion.
In Chapter six of the Enlightenment, Schaeffer discusses the human optimism that separated them from the religion. Humans thought that the religion had nothing to do with the running of the country and it should remain limited to the Church. Culmination of French Revolution was a clear indication of the waning powers of the Church. In chapter seven of the Rise of the Modern Science, Schaeffer describes the science foundation based on the concept that God created an understandable world. It was because of the nature of the world created by God that helped humans in making the progress in science and technology. In chapter eight of the Breakdown in Philosophy and Science, he discusses the shifts from open system to the closed system. The concept of uniformity was replaced with the concept of natural causes. It was the change in the concept that led to the despair in men and compelled humans to work like machines. In chapter nine of the Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology, the writer describes the differentiation between the two as further stepping down on the line of despair and hopelessness. In this chapter he also describes how the theologians follow the philosophers. In chapter ten of the Modern Art, Music, Literature and Films, Schaeffer gives many examples of disaffection and desolation in contemporary productions. The human made principles and the modern inventions lead to the desperateness and despondency in life as they continuously disillusion the humans. In chapter eleven of our society, he discusses as to how the values of individual peace and income saturate our society. Everyone in the society is running after the individual peace and is not concerned about the collective good. Similarly, every person is trying to make more income for himself and family in order to live a better and comfortable life, and he least considers others for they having more money and better lifestyle. In chapter twelve of Manipulation and the New Elite, the writer talks about the way the society has opened up itself to an authoritarian state. People have submitted to the authority of state that is based on the human made principles, and taken the religion out of their lives. In chapter thirteen of the Alternatives, Schaeffer advocates the return to the Christian foundation of the society and live a life free from the fears of worldly peace and income. Otherwise, he fears that the Christian people will have to face the consequences in the shape of economic breakdown, shortage of food and the war. In his special note, the writer reminds the Christians of their special responsibilities, and persuades them to fulfil their obligations as the members of Christian community.
The audience of this book remained the Christian community across the globe in general and across the United States in particular. Schaeffer wanted Christian community to come together in the lap of Bible and live the life according to the teachings of Bible. It will enable them to get away with the worldly problems of economy, war, violence, the unjust distribution of wealth and shortage of the food and other natural resources. Schaeffer has addressed the Christian people from across the globe to come back under the umbrella of the Bible. It will make their lives comfortable and protect them from the pains and agony of the world they are suffering for not following the Bible in letter and spirit.
There are many theoretical assumption presented by the author, that relate to the basics of Christianity. The author objects to the autonomous nature of human and declares that the noble savage man of the past was superior to the modern man of today. (Schaeffer 1976) He writes that the man is good by the nature and he will remain good till the time some external force compels him to do the bad things (p. 172). Schaeffer observes that Rousseau gave up faith in the progress of humanity in 1749 when he concluded that men is running after the reason and for the enlightenment. The enlightenment did not give much to the human as much as it took from him. Rousseau and his followers de-emphasized reasons and called the restraints imposed by civilization on humans as the evil. (Schaeffer 1976). In Rousseau’s words, “Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains.” (p.176). It was Rousseau’s idea that prejudiced the French artist Gauguin to desert his family and tried to be a noble savage by moving to Tahiti. He later concluded that the idea was a delusion. He returned to his family and painted his last painting of a dying woman with the name of “Whence Come We? What Are We? Whither Do We Go?” Going into the despair, Gauguin tried to commit suicide but died five years later.
Another theory about the human freedom given in the book is the example of Marquis De Sade; the term Sadism is derived from his name. De Sade was an advocate of men’s strength and questioned the existence of humans in a society without disorder. He said that individual freedom is part of the general will and is reflected in the social contract. He cites the example of French Revolution where the general will came through force. Schaeffer writes on page 179 about the theory of Hegel in which he united the two world’s views of Kant. According to Hegel, the universe is gradually unfolding itself to the humans and human understand the universe gradually. One single revelation about the universe does not describe the whole universe and does not unfold the whole thing. Sometimes, the new revelations are opposite to the previous revelations that proves the thesis wrong, however, thesis and anti-thesis exist and shall continue to unfold with the passage of time. Thus the human’s understanding of universe and the unfolding of earth may not follow the same sequence. But the consciousness of the humans evolves in sync with the unfolding of universe. Schaeffer narrates a story of witnessing a lecture by George Wald, professor of chemistry at Harvard. Wald believed that everything happens out of a chance as he said during the lecture that about four hundred years ago, a collection of molecules called Shakespeare produced Hamlet. He said that man started with the humanism few centuries ago as a pride man and tried to be autonomous, however, he found himself worthless, just a collection of molecules, and that the man is nothing.
Schaeffer has tried to respond to the questions about the beginning of the human. In that he gives out four possible answers to the question of human origin. First answer: once there was nothing existed and then something came to be; that means everything, the man came from nothing. Second answer: Everything came from something or someone; that means everything came from someone and that someone is God. God is the one who guides and runs the universe and man has to only play his part of the thing. Third answer: everything came from an impersonal someone; that includes gods, a living impersonal force, deism or pantheism. There is no guidance or control being exercised by someone. Fourth answer: everything came from an impersonal something that is an Atheistic evolution. No guidance or control by anyone and everything happens by a chance; only the fittest survives.
The book contributed a great deal in awakening the Christian audience, and it became an impression for the evangelicals who followed the book and later the movie in masses. A strong following of the book and the writer Schaeffer was formed around the world. Schaeffer visited different cities of America to deliver lectures on the book and woke the conservative Christians to follow the teachings of the Bible. The book sold forty thousand copies in a period of initial three months. The conservatives in the Christian community were seeking the reason for their drifting away from the teachings of Bible and prevailing secularism in their society. The book provided them the desired understanding in the shape of Schaeffer’s analysis of present-day cultural evils prevailing in the society. Schaeffer motivated an entire generation of people to read philosophy in order to broaden the range of Christian apologetics. Schaeffer has a strong following of thousands of conservative Christians in high schools, colleges and universities of America. People take Francis Schaeffer as their only introduction to the culture, history, politics and the issues of life. The book initiated the development of a political Christian Rights Movement when the conservative Christians protested against the legalized abortion in the United States. By 1980, following the preaching of Schaeffer, many Christians had stopped abortion and considered it as a national sin. They also objected to the sexual freedom to the homosexuals, feminists and pornography. Opposition to the abortion continued and by mid-80s, the abortion was considered as an exceptional evil much eviler than the other national immoralities. It is believed by the conservative Christians that the illegality of abortion became an issue only after the publication of the book, “How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.”
Schaeffer has been criticized by Taylor Marshall, the Roman Catholic Scholar about his assessment of fall of intellect by Thomas Aquinas. Schaeffer, throughout his book has quoted Aquinas as the major source of development in the field of relativism and humanism. His remarks about the Thomas Aquinas describe his obsession with Thomas Aquinas. Schaeffer names the Aquinas as the outstanding theologian of his period whose thinking still prevail and has influence on the present day theologians. His view of the fall of the human was incomplete when human revolted against his God. Thomas Aquinas considered the human will as fallen or corrupted, but not the intellect. Due to the presence of intellect, the philosophy started acting independent of the human will and became more autonomous. Dr. Taylor Marshall describes four wounds as the effects of the fall of man and the fall of human intellect to include the wound of ignorance, the wound of malice, the wound of weakness and the wound of concupiscence. On the contrary, the Catholic see Thomas Aquinas as the opponent of relativism due to his work on theology. J.P. Moreland, a professor of theology has described Schaeffer as the one who misinterprets few thinkers in his own way, which is incorrect. J.P. Moreland objects to his higher level of treatment to Thomas Aquinas and terms it as not entirely fair and correct. Schaeffer’s obsession to Thomas Aquinas can be well judged with a cartoon that was published in Christian Today Magazine after the death of Schaeffer. The cartoon showed Schaeffer entering the paradise where Saint Peter tells him that Thomas Aquinas wanted to have a conversation with him in the paradise.
There was a strong response from the Catholic Church on the issue of legalized abortion. Schaeffer while talking on reformation, had much criticized the Catholic Church on the lines of protestant leaders. Schaeffer described the criticism by protestant leaders as a fact and supported the same with the evidences. This drew strong response from the Catholic Church and they described it as something totally based on falsehood. The Catholic Church termed it as misinterpreting their faith and objected to the Schaeffer’s arguments.
There has been criticism about the book written by Francis Schaeffer by the people who comprehend the subject in detail. The strongest thing about the book appears to be its dominant rhetorical conflict as Schaeffer was not the first person to write the cultural history of the west. When the particular book was written, William Fleming had already written a book with the name of Arts and Ideas some twenty years before that, and the book was in its fourth edition. There is no point in re-writing the history, still Schaeffer undertook the task of writing the kind of Arts and Ideas type of cultural history of the western. Schaeffer’s efforts to rewrite the history with particular perspective was meant to attack Dante and Caravaggio for not being good Protestants. He skipped the destruction of ancient artworks by Protestants as a reaction to the culture of idolatry. Schaeffer appears to be at the new mission of blame and exemption of old accusations in order to rewrite the history that is a job of revisionist historians. Schaeffer was in sort of panic while assessing the television as part of traditional strength. The book gives the reader the version of the history as Schaeffer wanted the readers to see it. The book gives a partial picture of the history of the western culture spread over 3000 years.
In a way, this book is a fun read with several pleasant surprises. Schaeffer did not discuss the Capitalism even in the waning years of cold war, however, very openly he has highlighted the dangers of economics ideologies and unjust use of accumulated wealth as a problem with the system of the government. His idea of giving up the individual liberties under the manipulative authoritarian government is not well taken. Schaeffer’s book is neither completely resounding and nor a complete frustration. The book has been an effort to take too much information in a very brief volume. The Arts and Ideas by Williams Flemings remains focused on the historical boundaries, however, Schaeffer often gets into diversion where he tries to preach Christianity. Schaeffer’s prose style often breaks down when he talks about the rise of rock and roll. (Schaeffer 1976) He tells that emphasis on psychedelic medications produced many rock groups such as Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Grateful Dad, Pink Floyd and Incredible String Band. Maximum of their work was from 1965 to 1968”. (p. 189)
“How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture” is the most renowned book of the American literature on Christianity, in which Francis Schaeffer uses philosophy, religion, history, culture, art, music and literature as the foundation for discussing the society and people’s way of living life. He advocates living under the direction of God given in the Bible in order to avoid the multifarious problems. The book has been instrumental in recent awakening among the Christian world and their turning towards the God and the Bible for the guidance. Schaeffer approaches the world from the viewpoint of reformed protestant perception. His arguments are valid, but his protestant perspective twists his arrangement of the argument, make it appear that reformation caused all the constructive cultural progresses. Irrespective of the religious perspective, Schaeffer has been able to provoke the minds of the readers and has managed to have a very strong following by conservative Christian community. His discussion of authors, artists and philosophers gives an idea as if he expects his audience to already those people in detail. That is a little more of expectations from an audience. If the audience already has strong classical education, they may not find the book much appealing and the scope of information and ideas may appear overwhelming for the readers.
The book, “How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture” is a good read for the people having interest in western culture and Christianity. Christian community takes inspiration from the Francis Schaeffer ideas and effort by the conservative Christians to steer the society in line with the instruction of Bible has made the difference. The issue of illegal abortion got the attention of government only after the writing of the book by the Francis Schaeffer. The book shall serve as the foundation of western culture and Christianity in the years down the line.
Francis A. Schaeffer. (1976). How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.

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