John Milton & Reinhold Neibuhr: “In His Image”

JOHN MILTON
Paradise Lost, 1667

Th’ Apostate, and more haughty thus replied:
That we were form’d then, say’st thou? and the
work
Of secondary hands, by task transfer’d
From Father to his Son? Strange point, and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learn’d:
who saw
When this creation was? Remember’st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?
We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quick’ning pow’r, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native Heav’n, ethereal sons.
Our puissance is our own; our own right hand
Shall teach us highest deeds, by proof to try
Who is our equal: then thou shalt behold
Whether by supplication we intend
Address, and to begirt th’almighty throne
Beseeching or besieging. This report,
These tidings, carry to th’Anointed King;
And fly, ere evil intercept thy flight.

REINHOLD NEIBUHR
“The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” 1937

Every form of modern secularism contains an implicit or explicit self-glorification and deification. Humanistic rationalism, forgetting that human reason as well as human physical existence is a derived, dependent, created, and finite reality, makes it into a principle of interpretation of the meaning of life; and believes that its gradual extension is the guarantee of the ultimate destruction of evil in history. It mistakes the image of God in man for God Himself. It does not realize that the freedom by which man is endowed in his rational nature is the occasion for his sin as well as the ground of morality. It does not understand that by this reason nature’s harmless will to live is transmuted into a sinful will to power. It is by this reason that men make pretentious claims for their partial and relative insights, falsely identifying them with absolute truth. Thus rationalism always involves itself in two descending scales of self-deification. What begins as the deification of humanity in abstract terms ends as the deification of a particular type of man, who supposedly possesses ultimate insights.

– “Conversations” in Lapham’s Quarterly

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