A Brief History of Bad Ideas
by Maeve McDonald
If you have ever studied philosophy, religion, or political thought, you will have noticed that the course of history is heavily impacted by ideas. At various points throughout history, either a revolutionary ideology, a political philosophy, a new religion, or a “spiritual awakening” has sprung up, each time claiming to hold the solution to the ever-pressing problem of the human condition. Ideas like these are powerful because they give people a sense of hope for a better future. They can shape culture and influence our collective consciousness, thus impacting society with great force. Such ideas can be expedient, bringing about societal change with short-term benefits. But tragically, many of them ultimately lead us away from God. For example, Gnosticism, the Religion of Reason, Marxism, Mormonism, secular humanism, selfism, and the New Age movement—to name just a few—all hinge on the belief in human perfectibility/deification though human effort (whether it is through the realization of an inner divinity, through self-actualization, through societal progress, or through works-based salvation). In this way, they each distract from—or often attempt to completely negate—the human need for a supernatural Savior.
In actuality, each of these false religions and philosophies veil man’s deep-seated desire for self-autonomy in rebellion against his Creator. The fact is, there is usually simplicity on the other side of complexity. While the elaborate religions and mind-bending philosophies of men are widely
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lauded as “genius,” “revolutionary,” “ground-breaking,” “eye-opening,” or “spiritually enlightening,” they all start out as they eventually end up: as a power-grab in direct opposition to the authority of God. They can be deceptive, however, because they can generate mass-appeal on an intellectual or emotional level, and they may contain enough partial truths to be convincing. But, each one—whether it has grains of truth or not—merely represents yet another chapter in the perpetual story of man’s rebellious grasp for self-empowerment that has repeated itself over and over in every generation throughout history.
It is an old, old story—far older than the self-adulation that’s rampant in our culture today…far older than Marx’s claim that man created God, not the other way around…far older than the Gnosticism and the destructive greed sects that first infiltrated the early church. It is a story that began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve made that first, fatal grasp for godhood themselves at Satan’s beckoning. And it’s a story that was pre-echoed by Satan himself in the prideful power-grab that led to his downfall, and the fall of his legions, from Paradise even before the world’s creation. As Scripture tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18). And it is when we are puffed up with conceit that we can fall into the condemnation of the devil (1 Tim 3:6). What easier way for Satan to wreak havoc in the world than to tempt man with the promise of his own godhood?
The default setting of the fallen human heart is self-worship. The heart is deceitful above all things because it is plagued by pride, an inherent tendency to love and serve oneself in God’s place, which stems from the chronic heart-condition of Original Sin. Satan prays on this desire, tempting us into sin, which eventually leads to our separation from God…