I’ve been reading up on Francis Schaeffer. If you don’t know him, he was an American guy who went to Switzerland and opened the famous L’Abri workshops. L’Abri means “shelter” in French. (Thank you, Zim! I thought it meant “open,” but that’s just the sign I see on my local taco stand). Anyway, Schaeffer created L’Abri to be a safe place for people to grapple with the Big Questions… and then he told them the answers.
Schaeffer goes way over my head when he gets into logic problems, like saying that “thesis + antithesis ≠ synthesis.” And he bums me out when he says that rational thought is the only avenue to absolute truth, because on the Myers Briggs test, I’m an NF: Intuiting, Feeling.” Which Schaeffer would probably label “Witchcraft PMS.”
But there’s one thing I really like about Schaeffer: his idea of “The Line Of Despair.” Once upon a time, philosophers and culture as a whole believed there was a God – an absolute Being; and there was also an absolute truth. This put us above despair. (Unless you were an orphan during the Industrial Revolution, like Oliver Twist). Then, along came the German philosopher Hegel. I’m going skip his synthesis logic problem, because it makes my brain hurt. But Hegel insisted there was no such thing as absolute truth; all you’ve got is your own experience to define what’s true and meaningful.
Above the Line of Despair there is an ultimate reality. Below the Line you have only individual experience. And that’s desperate: just ask a single guy over fifty.
Above the Line of Despair you can say with certainty, “There is a God; there is a right and wrong, Miley Cyrus is insane and Abercrombie & Fitch perfume smells like a cheap Romanian funeral.” Below the Line, they’ll tell you, “There is no God; all things are permissible…. (Actually Dostoyevsky wrote that, but he was being ironical)… There’s no absolute truth; there’s only your truth.” That opens the door to all kinds of moral relativism, like genocide, derivative traders, Abercrombie spewing that death spray out into the mall. And you can’t do jack squat about it. Why? Because there ain’t no truth no more. No right or wrong, no classy or assy. Truth belongs to whoever’s got the gavel, the microphone, or the Neilsens.
Schaeffer warned that the Line of Despair would start with the philosophers, then seep down into art, music, pop culture, and finally worm its way into theology. Here’s a visual aid I created to aid you visually.
Take a good look at the above diagram. Once upon a time we celebrated Aristotle and the Venus de Milo. Now we worship John Waters and Lady Gaga. Tell me we are not living Below the Line of Despair. Of course, I didn’t need Schaeffer to tell me this stuff; I knew it the moment twerking was added to the OED.
Now, think about all the ways you’re tolerating life below the Line. Well, you need to name it as such. Had a bad date? That date was Below The Line Of Despair. Got overcharged for a manicure? That manicure store is below the Line Of Despair. Ate a burger at Jack In The Box? Oh, lordy, you are fast-fooding below the Line of Despair. You gotta call it for what it is, then remove it from your life. Stop doing eHarmony and go and meet some human people. Paint your own damn fingernails, son. Grill your own meat. And do not let your children listen to music sung by a weasel who can’t get a decent haircut. (I’ll tell you the One Direction they’re going… to the barber.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read some Ptolemy. I love the Greeks; too bad they couldn’t spell.