Ideas in Conflict

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN May 11, 2012

The 20th century witnessed the ascendancy of two powerful ideas. How people approach these ideas largely determines which side of the political spectrum they're on.

The first is that God had nothing to do with the creation of our universe or of ourselves. The other is related. It holds that sex should be unrelated to procreation - among humans at least. It is just for pleasure. Some historians believe there were more changes in day-to-day life for the average person in the 20th century than in all prior centuries combined, and it seems that these ideas have had more effect on how the average person feels about his or her place in our world and what it all means.

I saw two bumper stickers on the same car last week. The left one said: "Neitzsche: God is dead." The right one said: "God: Neitzsche is dead." That one was on the left and the other on the right seemed appropriate. Whether God is dead or not has been hotly debated since Neitzsche first claimed it in the late 19th century. Neitzsche's death, however, is accepted fact. He died in 1900, the beginning of the 20th century, but his ideas have had enormous effect on thinking ever since.

Neitzsche was influenced by Darwin's research into evolution - the idea that humans just happened by chance - a significant departure from the widespread belief that humans were created for a purpose by a Creator-God. If we just sort of happened, what's the point? Neitzsche claimed there was no point - that life was meaningless. God was dead, he claimed, and so was meaning.

Evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive ideas, but they are in the minds of atheists, and thus began the rise of "Nihilism" - the concept that nothing matters. That's the essence of today's political and ideological conflicts. Those who see meaning, and those who don't.

The idea that God created the universe also went out of fashion during the 20th century with the rise of the "Big Bang Theory" which proposes that fifteen billion years ago or so, a dense chunk of matter exploded and is still exploding. No explanation for where the chunk of matter came from. No matter for atheists. No meaning either. Galaxies, stars, planets formed incidentally, and so, ultimately, did we.

Such thinking was fertile ground for Karl Marx's teachings. Religion, he said, was the "opiate of the masses," a drug capitalists used to keep people quiescent during their short lives so they wouldn't rebel against the nasty rich capitalists who exploited them.

"War, comrades, is a great locomotive of history," said Leon Trotsky, paraphrasing his intellectual mentor, Karl Marx, who said, "revolution is the driving force of history." Ideas are catalysts for revolutions whether they be violent conflicts or transformational social movements. Both were ubiquitous in the 20th century.

Born in 1951 at the beginning of the century's second half, I was inculcated with the values and conflicting world views of people who came of age in the first half. Conflict escalated during my lifetime and rages still.

Rendering down the reasons for those conflicting views, we come to a few basic ways of perceiving our world and our existence within it. Some of us still believe God created it and created us afterward. Our Founding Fathers believed it too, and in the late 18th century they started a revolution with words like: "All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . ."

Some Americans still believe those words, but others don't. They tend to believe our rights are endowed by government and our current president is one of them. He chokes on the three of the words "by their Creator" and habitually omits them when reciting that line from our Declaration of Independence.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s furthered the notion that sex and procreation should be dissociated, just as meaning and human existence were. Sex isn't necessary for pregnancy anymore. Pregnancy is a negative side-effect of sexual activity and detrimental to "women's health." The misnomer "Planned Parenthood" has become a sacred institution for the secular left which believes parenthood is something to be avoided. Its mission is to disseminate contraception and do abortions when it fails - all in the name of "women's health." Sex is good. Babies are bad. Pregnancy is a disease to be "cured" in their "women's health" clinics. Sex is for pleasure, not for babies.

Governments grant rights to all kinds of sexual activity, and to abortion if those activities lead to pregnancy. For the secular left, there are too many humans on earth already. The more abortions, the better. Fewer humans means fewer carbon emissions and more habitat for other species. Habitat for animals trumps habitat for humanity. Those still believing in God tend to object to abortions and also consider some forms of sexual activity depraved. Government, however, is steadily outlawing references to God in schools and other public places. Many Biblical quotes are being considered "hate speech." The secular left believes those clinging to belief in God will die out eventually as the brave new world of hope and change emerges. Religion and capitalism are yesterday's ideas and we can eliminate them forever.

Yes we can. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.  Email him at


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