by Scott Murray
In the days of my youth, skeptics used to ask, “Does God really exist?” This is a moot question today. God has long ago been pronounced quite dead. The death of God movement popularized by J. A. T. Robinson is old news. The question being posed today is “Do others really exist?” What I mean is that so many view others as a mere appendage to their own life. The other is only valuable to me if the other can be a source of satisfaction for me. I was saddened while watching an extended family traveling together over the summer. There was one small boy in the group, who was uniformly ignored by the adults but was entertained with a screen full of children’s activities. The child and adults had absolutely no meaningfully human interaction in the three hours I observed them. They were all entertained by the screen. I felt deep grief for that little boy, because he was not getting any human care from those who ought to have cared most for him. The others might as well have not been there. The members of the family were alone together.
Philosophers call the idea that there are no others in the universe “solipsism,” from the Latin word for alone or only, “solus.” Solipsism means that others are at most mental data and definitely not real in a material sense.
This seems contrary to the common sense flow of our culture in which scientism has raised our consciousness about external phenomena, leaving us with the impression that people and things have reality outside of us–“out there.” However, solipsism has become universalized by our practical rejection of a need for interaction with others (“I didn’t hear you. I was listening to my iPad!”). Others have been reduced to mere objects to give us pleasure, an experience of a mental state. Others are not important as persons in their own right, but only as objects that could give pleasure to me. Whether others are “out there” or not is irrelevant (what is called epistemological solipsism), because their existence has been reduced to being the source of my pleasure.
How did we get there in our society? Solipsistic dehumanization grows out of a denial of God’s existence. Culturally, God is dead and without the God who exists outside of me to define humanity, I begin to doubt the reality of other persons. How can we look on the sexual ethics of our time as anything other than a dehumanization of the other where they are merely objects for bestowal of pleasure, not persons in their own right to be honored, loved, respected, and sacrificed for?
What could we say about the assisted suicide culture in which others are encouraged to “off” themselves so we don’t have to deal with the burden of their suffering? No wonder that we are encouraging our aging loved ones to accept early termination of their lives, à la the Hemlock Society. If they are causing us discomfort or not adding to our pleasure, it is better for us if they are dead. The life of the other is no longer seen as sacred, because I am the only one with real life. If there is no God, then I am the arbiter of all things including the value of life; my own and others.
The other is no longer human, but an object. That’s all. We hated the God who wanted to be “for us” in Christ. The God of Jesus Christ comes to give Himself for us, not to demand from us (Matt. 20:28). Luther says, “What help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God for you?” We killed the one who was the crucified, even though He wanted to be for me. With that God dead and gone, now we have demanded that all others be reduced to “for me”–a horrifying irony. How could true humanity flourish under such conditions? With God dead and humanity being put to death, what is left to us? Where shall we go?
We Christians must be aware that our society is in the process of committing suicide, both literally and intellectually. Once things have come apart, we must again be ready to deliver the God who is for us humans and once again give our culture the source of human flourishing. We are so precious to God that He is “for us.” God really does exist and therefore so do other humans.
The Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray is pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston Texas, and second vice president of the LCMS.