Although many of the false gods of ancient cultures are no longer worshiped, the first speaker of the Desiring God 2013 National Conference said Friday, there is at least one idol of old that continues to be worshiped today – man.
"The old gods are dead," proclaimed N.D. Wilson, an author and fellow of literature at New Saint Andrews College, during his talk titled, "Myth Wars: C.S. Lewis vs. Scientism." But, he said, human self-worship continues today, and has been around since Cain sacrificed his brother, Abel, out of pride and envy.
The first gospel preachers helped defeat paganism and idolatry, he said, by being humble, self-sacrificing and by following the example of Christ. Christians today who are concerned about "humanistic, pride-of-man idolatry," he said, should also take the same approach.
Wilson contrasted the views of H.G. Wells, whom he called "one of the prophets of modernistic scientism" and the "poet of meaningless destiny," and Lewis with regards to how the world began, and asked conference attendees to consider the consequences of both views. Scientism, which treats science as a "savior" of sorts, results in pride, he suggested, because it teaches that man has evolved from chaos and has survived as a species by its own strength. The view that God created man, on the other hand, inspires humility and gratitude.
"Survival of the fittest makes man the defending champion of reality," said Wilson. If humans were not created by God but have evolved and survived all these years, he added, then "we are as close to gods as we can get."
One of the pitfalls of idolizing man in this way, said Wilson, was exampled by Nazi Germany, which took survival to the fittest to the extreme by its practice of eugenics. During our "binge on the pride of man," said Wilson, The Holocaust was born.
"Every effective lie appeals to man with a false gospel release," said Wilson. He later added, "The good news of Christ's sacrifice is replaced with the good news of no guilt in the first place."
Lewis addressed the problems related to idolizing man and science in his "Space Trilogy" series of books, said Wilson. In the series he shows, among other things, the consequences of pursuing power and knowledge at all costs. A pursuit of power that begins as materialism, said Wilson, can ultimately devolve into what Lewis called "sheer devil worship."
It's not enough for Christians to turn people away from worshiping human achievement and science, he said, but rather the story of scientism should be replaced with the gospel. In order to make that possible, he suggested, Christians should do as Lewis did and learn to use stories to communicate their faith.
"Because you can say whatever you want, but you're not going to effectively replace the [scientism] narrative unless you tell something that sings," he said. "You tell the truth and it better be harmonic, because the world is. When you open your mouth and say, 'You know what, our story is better,' you can't then fail to tell it well."
Those who aren't oral storytellers, he said, should make sure the story of their lives communicates their faith.
The theme of this year's Desiring God conference is "The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis." The event, which began Friday and concludes Sunday, is being held in Minneapolis, Minn., and is being live-streamed via the Internet throughout the weekend.