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Part III: Medieval Synthesis: Modern Fragmentation Chapter 5
The Chief End of Man ‹ and the Means
THERE IS a vital distinction between the kind of truth which is apprehended by believing and the kind of truth which is arrived at by rational processes of thought. There is an emotional involvement in the first, but the second requires little beyond mental assent. The first is often, perhaps usually, the basis of conviction and therefore of action; the second is more frequently the basis for the restraint of action. pg 1 of 8
A man may be absolutely certain that something is a fact and yet react with a characteristically "so what" attitude. On the other hand, the man who believes something to be absolutely true, though he cannot otherwise prove it to be so, seldom assumes complete indifference toward it. To a certain extent a man is what he believes, not what he knows. Knowledge gained by belief involves the will and provides the spring for action. Knowledge gained purely by reason can also be internalized to such an extent that neutrality is no longer possible, and it then becomes like the knowledge of faith since it is no longer merely "known" but "believed." The end-result is the same. Yet this still does not alter the fact that we hold two kinds of knowledge ‹ believed knowledge and assented-to knowledge. I am convinced that these two kinds of knowing, though they may be held in the mind with equal certitude, are in entirely different categories. Indeed, they tend often to be in conflict, not because the one is more true than the other or because the one is true and the other false, but because the effect which each has upon the will is so different.
Moreover, rational knowledge is essentially dependent upon recognition of what is "conceivable." We do not really grasp rationally what we cannot even conceive to be possible. But a Christian may have real knowledge of certain things by faith which are otherwise quite inconceivable. That something material was created out of
nothing material (Hebrews 11:1) is inconceivable ‹ yet we know it to be a truth. This is where Revelation is absolutely essential, and this is why, without it, there are real limitations to what a man may know. The man who is not a Christian is never completely sure of that which he cannot conceive, whereas a Christian can be ‹ for example, the omnipresence of the same Lord in every part of the world.
This difference in mental set is fundamental and underscores the fact that a Christian not merely believes something because he understands it, but understands it because he believes it. One kind of confidence is born of understanding, and the other kind of confidence gives birth to understanding. George F. Thomas has rightly observed that the religious perspective of the Christian does not contribute new facts but does contribute an interpretation of the facts which deepens our understanding of their ultimate significance. (184)
Now, by the use of logical argument based upon commonly accepted assumptions, speculation may lead to strong opinions about things otherwise unprovable. But these speculations have real limitations, because they lack the factual basis to turn them into certainties. I believe it can be said that these limitations are most serious in their consequences when they chiefly concern the matter of man's "ends," both his origin and his destiny. It would be a matter of keen, though academic, interest to know how the Universe originated and what its fate will be. But it is a matter of paramount importance for man to know with certainty his true origin and his true destiny. Origin and destiny are closely related: the one "end" relates to the other. Indeed, where purpose is involved, the destiny determines the origin. In evolution, where purpose is excluded, the origin determines the destiny. The question then arises, What is the chief end of man? And here, for the Christian, divine Revelation is decisive.
I am well aware that the chief end of man has been defined by godly and scholarly men in the Westminster Confession as being, "To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The concept is both beautiful in itself and beautifully formulated. And yet, for myself, I believe Scripture provides us with an even simpler and more profound definition. It is a definition so simple as to be easily dismissed for its very brevity: The chief end
184. Thomas, George F., Religious Perspectives in College Teaching: Education, Hazen Foundation, New Haven, 1951, p.13. pg.2 of 8
of man is "To please God." It was for this that man is and was created (Revelation 4:11), and everything else is subservient to this end. pg.3 of 8
The Lord Himself completely fulfilled this role as Man (Matthew 3:17; 17:5), but it seems certain that the vast majority of us please God only now and then. Once or twice in my own life I have had the feeling that the Lord was smiling. Once or twice: no more. Probably this is true of most of us. But I believe that this is the one end for which man is made and that everything else that we may be or do or strive toward is a means to this end. All our service, all our worship, all our sorrow for sin, every sacrifice, every aspiration ‹ all must subserve the same end. . . even obedience to His known will, which it is quite possible to perform without pleasing Him.
It seems so easy when we first become Christians, especially if we are still young, to say with complete earnestness, "I wish only to do the Lord's will" ‹ and having said it, to feel a wonderful sense of personal satisfaction in the approval of those around us who share our desires. Yet even here the motive may be confused. There is really only one standard by which our lives will ultimately be judged and that is whether we were pleasing to God. One is driven to the conclusion that it must be what we are and not what we do that really counts with the Lord. Thus, loving the Lord or enjoying the Lord or obeying the Lord or even accepting the Lord's salvation in the first place ‹ all these are means serving the chief end, which is to please Him. It was entirely of His own pleasure that we have been adopted into the blameless family of God (Ephesians 1:5).
I might say that the writing of these papers is what I believe the Lord has called me to do, and it might appear that I should have fulfilled my mission in life when the last word of the final paper has been set down. If; to complete this mission, I should become increasingly impatient of interruptions, neglectful of common household duties, indifferent to the needs of those around me, and unwilling to assume any of my responsibilities as a citizen, then the completion of this life's work might have some significance as an end in itself; but if this life work is merely a means appointed of the Lord in order that I myself might in the doing of it become pleasing to Him, one would have to assess it as a failure. Thus, while there is a sense in which each of us may have a goal in this life which we may come to look upon as that which all else must be made to serve, it is not really the true end. All our doings ‹ casual tasks or life work ‹ must be a means, never ultimately the end. In everything we do, the object must always be simply to please God. So, for the true assessment of a man's life, one must clearly distinguish between the means and the end. If his life work is viewed as end. end in itself, we may look upon it
as a success. But if we look upon it as a means to a higher end, our evaluation of it might not be the same at all. What a man has done may be highly successful, but what the "doing" did to the man himself may be a very different thing.
It makes all the difference to our evaluation of the worth of a life whether we think in terms of ends or means. At the present time in all areas of life, what had once been recognized as merely means to one well-defined end are being made ends in themselves. We seek wealth for its own sake, leisure for its own sake, and even peace for its own sake. (185) We are all touched by the disease in one way or another. The various means by which men formerly hoped to achieve certain goals have themselves been substituted as the goals to be achieved. When we ask people why education is important, it is usual to be told, "In order to get a better job." Why a better job? In order to earn more money. To what end? For security and leisure in retirement. This is the "end." But it is not an end at all, it is merely a means; ironically we recognize the fact when we speak of a man retiring with affluence as being a "man of means."
Of course, one may properly speak of goals along the way, each of which becomes an end to be achieved. But they are merely stages, points marked ahead giving a sense of fulfillment when passed. Yet all these stages must be contributory ‹ not really ends in the absolute sense. They do allow us to set our sights within reach at each stage of development, but they can never be substituted for the true objective. But, following the ways of the world, we are often tempted to confuse means with ends and to look upon the journey itself as though it were the destination.
In secular life the point has been reached where the hallmark of success is to have obtained first-class passage on a train, the destination of which is no longer a matter of concern. To distort a well-known adage, It is better to travel well than to arrive at the right destination. And as a matter of fact, it is an occasion of considerable annoyance to most people to ask them what the destination is: and by destination I'm not thinking of eternal destination in this case, but simply the fundamental purpose of all the striving. The annoyance rises in part
185. 1n a paper entitled "On the Social and Moral Implications of Science," Joseph Schneider observed: "A weakness in the scientific approach to problems of social order from the first has been the faith that man's innate good sense will prevent the misuse of power over nature. The winning of power over nature has tended just for that reason to become an end in itself . . . . People have forgotten the reasons for the acquisition of material riches. Acquisition has become an end, not a means to better living. The conclusion to which we are brought is that the winning of power over nature has not effected the good life. So the tools of science are powerless to decide the good life." (Scientific Monthly, November, 1945, p.358). pg.4 of 8
from the fact that it is far easier to succeed in defining the means, and acquiring them, than it is the end for which they are being acquired. It is easier because we are not quite sure what the end should be, so we postpone its definition until we have accumulated enough means to provide us with leisure and security ‹ we hope ‹ to sort out the more important question. Thus we live almost a life before we give much thought to why we are living at all. And when the time comes to think about it, it is almost always too late.
Lewis Mumford writes eloquently and rather as a prophet of doom about the fate of our Western civilization, with its city-centred mass culture dedicated to the accumulation of means and our ever-increasing gross national productivity. "If society is paralyzed today, it is not for lack of means but for lack of purpose." (186) And in a kind of summing up to his massive Story of Civilization, Will Durant observes: "Since we have admitted no substantial change in man's nature during historic times, all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends." (187)
We shall explore this point further, but for the present I wish only to draw attention to the fact that natural wisdom (reason) is an exercise of the intellect applied much more appropriately and much more successfully to the question of means than faith is. And conversely, the exercise of faith is much more important in the matter of goals or ends. To the question, What is man's end? the answer must involve an exercise of faith. To the question, By what means shall he arrive there? the answer still involves faith to some extent, but reason has much greater importance.
Now, the proper goal for man is closely linked with his origin. It is tied to the question of what he is, and what he is is inevitably involved in the question of how he came to be, his origin. Thus the nature of his origin has very much to do with the nature of his proper goal in life. And in this question of origins, faith plays a very important role. This is equally true whether one believes in the creation or evolution of man, because absolute proof is impossible either way: both concepts are matters of faith.
The Christian is very frequently chided for his naive faith in the record of Genesis which, it is held, sets forth the origin of man in such detailed form that one cannot be expected to believe it because it is all too concrete. If we had been given a very generalized statement with as little detail as possible, it might have been acceptable.
186. Mumford, Lewis, ref.91, p.299. pg.5 of 8
187. Durant, Will, The Lessons of History, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, p. 95.
In answer to this criticism, it is important to bear in mind that the record of Scripture which deals with man's origin assumes the detailed form it does simply because it is revelation. If reason could have supplied the details, revelation would not have been necessary. Thus, to understand man's "end," faith has to be exercised both in
the revelation concerning his origin and in the revelation concerning his destiny. Both are beyond reason. When we ignore or deny this fact, we easily confuse the issues of life by appointing to man an inappropriate end, an end which might be proper were he merely a superior animal but is not proper to a special creation of God.
Thus we end up by converting the means by which the appropriate goals might have been achieved into goals themselves ‹ mere survival, for example.
It is so easy, even for a Christian, to forget that to achieve holiness of life, to serve mankind in love, to sacrifice a promising career and go to the mission field ‹ all these are merely means to an end, not ends in themselves. They must be done "to please God," or they are merely to please ourselves. Motives can be terribly confused ‹ even among the children of God ‹ and this includes all kinds of sacrifice which may be made apparently out of a pure heart. It is sadly true, as Ruskin said, that all too often the rarest gifts of purest love are no self-sacrifice at all but only self-indulgence. Even the desire to be Christ-like in character may be quite wrong if it becomes an end in itself. Not a few have sought to be saintly for dubious reasons. This, too, must be a means; and the end to please God. It is so simple and yet so profoundly difficult.
The true end of man is lost sight of when his true origin is denied. This is why life has for so many become pointless. No "means" can be successfully substituted for ends ‹ neither wealth, nor health, nor any of the other commonly desired things of life. Not even godliness. Men constantly try to make the substitution, but always with the same result ‹ disillusionment. This is why even the most godly of men may say, "I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence" (Psalm 73:13).
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All this may appear as an intrusion into the flow of thought of the paper as a whole. However, my object is to underscore the fact that the quality of man's life is determined by what he sees to be the proper goal for himself. And as with the man, so with the society as a whole. So long as a sufficient number of people of influence in Medieval society saw the purpose of life to be a spiritual schooling ultimately directed toward the high aim of making a man pleasing to God, then there was a possibility that means would be recognized as means and not
be made ends in themselves. The quality of life was ultimately spiritual; though men were as sinful then as today, there was a greater possibility for the recognition and preservation of transcendental values in ordinary behavior. Common courtesy and chivalry were both expressions of this recognition. While the true end of man was thus kept in view, the exercise of faith was naturally encouraged.
Today chivalry and common courtesy are rare: faith is out of fashion, and the high aim of making the things of this world serve the purposes of the next has been replaced by making the things of this world ends in themselves. The achievement of means has become the goal. It follows naturally enough that faith tended to be eclipsed by reason.
In two areas of life particularly, this transposition has had acute repercussions. Education has lost its way, and material wealth has brought about a peculiar kind of poverty. At a conference of the Scottish Institute of Adult Education held in Dumblain, Sir Eric Ashby observed: (188)
Adult education is in a dilemma of ends and means. There is, of course, a vague end in view. Although education for leisure and personal satisfaction is now declared to be the purpose of adult education, it is a very shadowy purpose.
Ashby then proceeded to show how, formerly, when the ends were clear, the means were on the whole inadequate for the ends. Now that the means have become more adequate, the ends have become clouded. He concluded: (189)
These changes have two consequences. There is a new pre-occupation with resources; people worry about food, new forms of energy, new materials; and there is a frenetic concern for security. . . . Society spends most of its time thinking about means and not ends.
More recently, Aldous Huxley is quoted as having said: (190)
In our institutes of higher learning as much is spent on the natural sciences as on the sciences of man. All our efforts are directed, as usual, to producing improved means to unimproved ends. Meanwhile intensive specialization tends to reduce each branch of science to a condition almost approaching meaninglessness.
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- 188. Ashby, Sir Eric, "Technological Humanism" in Nature, 10 March, 1956, p.443.
- 189. Ibid.
- 190. Aldous Huxley: quoted by John Walsh in a note: "Aldous Huxley: the late Author felt Scientists tend to search for Truth, Ignore Consequences" (Science, vol.142, 1963, p.1446).
There are many men of science who are actually proud of this state of things. Specialized meaninglessness
has come to be regarded, in certain circles, as a kind of Hallmark of true science.
We have, then, a preoccupation today with means instead of ends and, as an inevitable consequence, the eclipse of faith by the crowning of reason. Those who have faith have also been deceived at times by the advances made in perfecting means and by the resulting material improvement in the life of the common man. It all contrasts so markedly with the failure of the Church to improve the lot of the common man in the Age of Faith that we suppose faith does not have the kind of importance that reason does. Faith becomes a place of refuge only in times of emergency, and in our modern world the man of faith has become a kind of second-rate citizen. The more faith he has, the less likely he is to have means ‹ a fact which once led, and still leads, many people to assume that there is some kind of virtue in poverty.
It is probably not altogether untrue that the man of strong faith does neglect reason and pays the price of having done so by being to some extent a failure in the things of the world. He falls back upon an artificial kind of emphasis on his "poverty" as a proof of his "great faith." In so doing, he almost inevitably begins to convert his faith into a means, a way of getting along, a navigational aid that is not really different in kind from the philosophy which the unbeliever holds ‹ except that it is far less successful. So faith comes to be a substitute for reason, and it is apt to be employed where it is quite improper to employ it, namely, in the matter of means. And this, I believe, is a cardinal error.
To summarize, therefore, what we have been setting forth in this short chapter: it may be said that both the individual and society as a whole must make the proper use in the appropriate places of both faith and reason. An order of society which lives exclusively by faith or exclusively by reason will ultimately fail to fulfill the total needs of its members and will collapse. There is an essential place in the life of man for the exercise of faith where reason will not serve and an essential place for reason where faith will not do. Essentially, reason applies in the matter of means and faith in the matter of ends. Only the Synthesis which pays strict heed to this fundamental truth can ever prove lastingly satisfactory.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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