An interesting article in “Humanities,” accessed online 28 May 2014, discusses the reputation of Albert Einstein. The title is “The Face of Science: How Albert Einstein Became a Celebrity,” and its author is Sam Kean.
Driven from Germany in 1933 by the evil of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, Einstein became a professor at Princeton in the US. He enjoyed America’s freedom but found some things about our culture inexplicable. Kean writes:
The paranoia of McCarthyism especially disgusted him: “Everything—even lunacy—is mass-produced over here,” he complained to a friend. Such outspoken criticism prompted J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to investigate Einstein, whom it hoped to expose as a Communist and subversive element.
The man who could explain how gravity bends light could not understand why Joe McCarthy — the enemy of political light — was granted such a hearing in the US. Having been one of the earliest to perceive that Hitler’s bent toward intimidation could mean nothing but bad for Germany, Einstein recognized McCarthy as dangerous.
What is it in the human psyche that causes so many people to surrender without hesitation to people whose style is intimidation, whether physical or verbal? I confess to being totally unable to understand why anyone gives a moment’s thought to intimidators like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Ted Cruz. Can we not recognize at a glance that they are empty-headed? When a person can speak nothing but insults, he or she is terribly insecure and uncertain. When someone has to pick a simplistic theme — such as government is bad — that person is shown immediately to be quintessentially sophomoric. A sophomore (“wise fool” in Greek) is someone who is negative, always critical, but unable to be positive and actually stand for anything at all. Certainly Limbaugh and Beck and Cruz are fools trying very hard and very unsuccessfully to sound wise.
America and all western culture is in a serious position right now. We are in the midst of a major cultural transition unlike anything we have known since the Renaissance. It is not clear what sort of mindset is going to emerge as dominant and culture-shaping. Nor is it clear whether there will ever again be a social, political, or financial institution to mold the western mind. Certainly the world of business has disqualified itself in these last six years, proving itself enslaved to greed. And we are unable to elect leaders of wisdom to guide our political life. We elect fools who spend their years in office bickering over trivia.
The church has disqualified itself on two fronts. Liberals tied themselves too closely to the modernist agenda and are failing in perfect sync with that mindset. Conservatives have thought of themselves as holding onto time-honored values but are so shortsighted that they don’t seem to realize they are simply failing to make any progress beyond the 19th century values of an America that no longer exists and never will again.
The university world sold its soul to the business world some time ago, with professors dependent upon grants and upon fawning but shallow journalists. In a great many fields, the sophomores have become the professors, knowing what they are against but not actually being for anything of substance. The popularizers of science seem unaware that their insistence that science is the only way to ascertain truth — a stance which totally dismisses human dignity and value — is ultimately devastating to a people.
Where is hope? I have no doubt that the future will see a return to some degree of strength for all four institutions — Business, politics, church, university. But which — if any — will lead the way for the others?
I’m no prophet but I can say where my hope lies. Of the four fundamental institutions of our culture, only one has a history — however blemished — of inculcating the values necessary for a people to flourish. That is the church. Having spent all my adult life in church leadership, I know only too well how ill-prepared we are to take the lead. But I also know that God has worked transforming miracles time and time and time again within and through his people. If there is hope for our survival as a culture, it is that God will raise up godly and wise men and women who will speak the truth in love.