Wisdom That Is Folly

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
25th April 2006

Tagged: arrogance folly materialism pride society wisdom worship

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Sydney is a great city. The Twenty-first century AD is a great time to be alive. Our access to wealth and health has never been greater. We enjoy a first rate system of justice and democratic freedom. Our access to education, entertainment, information and sport is seemingly unlimited. We are in a lovely city that enjoys a magnificent climate for outdoor living all year round.

Yet for all the privileges of living in Sydney people continually complain. The weather, the school system, the courts or the hospitals - there is no end to what we can complain about and seek to improve.

I do not want to be part of that long list of whingers who decry one of the finest cities in the world. However there is something very profoundly wrong. Not the superficial but irritating issues like getting the trains to run on time - but something is seriously and deeply wrong.

For Sydney is a corrupt city whose pride is its folly. In this it is like many cities of the Western world. Out of a sense of intellectual ‘coming of age’ we have turned our back on our cultural heritage only to experience the folly of our arrogance.

The atheist hopes that removing God from society will remove worship from peoples’ lives. This, it is hoped, will remove subservience from humanity. It will establish us in our true place as the rulers of our own destiny.

But it is a futile and silly hope. In worship we give our lives. When we worship nothing we value nothing. Without worship life is meaningless. Meaningless living is unsatisfying.

Consequently people will always find a meaning in their life even if they have to create it. Indeed some advocate the importance of creating your own meaning as an authentic act of adult freedom. Better to believe your own fiction than to acknowledge the possibility of God.

So inevitably all people worship - giving their lives to - something. Some, having denied God, worship themselves. They pride themselves on being “humanists” - by which they mean that humans (namely themselves) rule the world - or should.

Yet not even that will restrain their descent into corruption. Without the supernatural, humanity cannot be anything other than natural - part of the material existence of the world. Some atoms evolved into rats and others into humans or trees. The thought that I am something more than my body - the thought that I am a person - is the disordered twitching of my grey matter. Just like those other distorted twitches that give some sense to world like ‘love’ or ‘justice’ or ‘purpose’ or ‘virtues’.

And when there is nothing in life but material existence then there is nothing to live for but materialism and hedonism.

Economic materialism - with all its greed and short-term destruction of the environment - with its false promises of satisfaction and pleasure that it never delivers - is the inevitable outcome of philosophical materialism. It may take a generation or two to develop into its full fruit. It is slowed down by the resistance of “immature” people who will not give up their belief in God. Those who keep hanging onto the old values of God without acknowledging him also slow it down. But the logical outcome of materialism is materialism.

And with materialism comes hedonism. Pleasure becomes the ultimate goal of life. The only thing that the materialist has, are the sensations of the body. Pleasurable ones are better than painful ones. Life becomes that pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The drug culture is an inevitable outcome as is the pornography industry and the shameless sensuality of Western popular culture. That hedonism never satisfies has been known for centuries. The indulgent slavery and bondage that it creates is all too sadly obvious.

When humans in their arrogance turn their back on the worship of God, they always wind up worshipping something else. And what they worship will be less than themselves. For humanity’s dignity, value and worth is found in God.

Having come of age intellectually we have embraced meaninglessness and the folly of idolatry. As God says “Claiming to be wise they became fools.”