The Clash of the Worldviews

  In the aftermath of the Littleton tragedy, everyone is frantically seeking answers: Politicians and commentators blame guns, pop culture—even genetic disorders. But the real answer goes much deeper. Dramatically displayed in Littleton were two great worldviews competing for allegiance. And I believe God may be using this tragedy to force us, a rebellious people, to choose how we will live. On one side is postmodernism, with its roots in the nihilism preached by Friedrich Nietzsche. The nineteenth-century German philosopher argued that the "language of good and evil" is rooted in neither truth nor reason, but in the will to power. Fifty years ago, Nietzsche's ideas were fleshed out by the Nazis; today those ideas once again have revealed their horrific consequences as two teenagers displaying Nazi symbols murdered their classmates. Underlying the killers' fascination with the imagery of power and destruction was the outright embrace of evil—what literary critic Roger Shattuck describes as an attitude of "approval towards moral and radical evil, as evidence of superior will and power." The words are a direct echo of Nietzsche: He denounced the Christian ethic of love and obedience as "slave morality," and he called for a master race that would embrace brutality as evidence of its superior will and power. Who could imagine that two alienated teens would take Nietzsche to heart? Yet the wrenching irony is that the surrounding adult culture has been similarly influenced by Nietzsche. In a recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly, political scientist Francis Fukuyama contends that the decline in traditional morality in the West can be traced most directly to Nietzsche's view that morality is not objectively true—that people create their own values to reflect their interests. This radical relativism took root on college campuses as postmodernism and deconstructionism, and it has now filtered down to the lower grade schools, where many students are taught to "construct" their own truths and values. Teachers are trained not to offer any direction, lest they hamper a child's autonomy. Both at home and at school, today's kids receive little moral guidance because too many adults have abdicated their responsibility. The result is that many teens inhabit a parallel subculture created by movies, Internet games, and peer groups. The inescapable lesson is that ideas do have consequences. But the Littleton tragedy also highlighted a sharply contrasting worldview: the vibrant Christian faith of many of the students and their families. Kids like Cassie Bernall, an evangelical, who found herself looking down the barrel of a gun as one of the killers asked, "Do you believe in God?" "Yes," she answered, and was shot dead on the spot. Kids like Valeen Schnurr, a Roman Catholic, who answered yes to the same question and was hospitalized with nine bullets in her body. And who can forget the televised interviews with Christian parents, offering forgiveness and reconciliation? Or the funeral services, which broadcast the Gospel message across the nation? I don't remember any other event in recent years that has produced such stunning Christian testimony. In every way, Littleton underscores the impact of beliefs—the destructive power of Nietzsche's nihilism on the one hand and the transforming power of Christianity on the other. It's almost as though God is using this tragedy to thrust before us the choice recorded so long ago in Deuteronomy: Behold I have set before you life and death... so choose life!


Chuck Colson



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