“A learned fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool.” – Molière
“People are never nearer playing the fool as when they think themselves wise.” – Mary Wortley Montagu
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” – Alexander Pope
“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no Creator.”” – Psalm 14:1
Last time we finished with this:
“The game was on. Whose way would yield the most results – the team of Scientific Reason and Progress, or the teams of the model “City on the Hill, the New Jerusalem”? Who would win the reins of influence and power to direct the future of the West?”VJM
As we survey the civilization of the West in the third decade of the 21st Century, it is not unreasonable to give the decision to the secular progressives. In the public forum – the world of politics, general culture, and social policy – secularism undoubtedly rules. Matters of personal faith have been, and often by law are now required to be, kept as private, personal convictions.
We still publicly profess all the requisite “freedoms”, including those of conscience, religion, and expression. We have enshrined them in constitutions and Bills of Rights.
Human societies have always engaged in excluding deviants and misfits, in shunning and shaming them by subtle and, if necessary, blunt and even brutal sanctions. It is just a question of who and what will be placed in the “too be shunned and shamed” category. That is a moving target – just as it was with the original ostracisers of ancient Athens in the 5th Century BCE. Once a year they would write the name of the latest pariah on their ostrakoi (pottery fragments used to vote someone out of the polity and into exile). A few years later they could invite him back to save them from the dreaded Spartans. (I am referring to the gripping story of Alcibiades in Thucydides’ great classic, The History of the Peloponnesian War.)
For certain sorts of behaviours and thinking, severe sanctions are entirely appropriate and essential. No one wants sociopaths and psychopaths running wild and claiming they have every right to legally declare and practice all sorts of perversion and destructive behaviour. Occasionally, as in totalitarian societies where the sociopaths and psychopaths take over, we have witnessed the results of such legalized horrors unleashed on the general population. The pariahs rule and outlaw the former good people. But here in the Post-Christian West we find ourselves walking a razor-thin line. How do we handle the now much-frowned upon, old Christianity-tainted ideologies of our forebears and still maintain the reality, or at least the veneer, of our all-inclusivism?
Other cultures have less of an issue with forthright discrimination. Islamic countries make no bones about it. Islam is #1 and the rest may be tolerated up to a point. Nominally communist societies d0 likewise, although there is no genuine communist society anywhere, nor was there in the soviet era. Soviet countries were communist in name and in official ideology, but a far cry from the Marxist version of utopia, however they rationalized their horrendous performance.
The saddest part of the West’s identity crisis is that the triumphant secular establishment does not have the courage of its own proclaimed convictions. It has gone beyond the pendulum-swing analogy of a strong reaction against the stifling shackles of the old religion and its clinging tentacles.
“Civil liberties” zealots have militantly sought out and, with the assistance of their acolytes and adherents in positions of legislative, judicial, and cultural power and influence, sought to expurgate or at least silence the vestiges of the Judeo-Christian roots of this culture from public consciousness. In many disciplines, no respectable, serious student and scholar would adopt that sort of worldview for themselves (at least never in any public way) and hope to retain their reputation and ability to advance to the highest levels of their chosen field.
Our cultural amnesia conveniently sets aside the clear evidence that the very foundations of all the best progressive features of the very culture we luxuriate in are more than a little derived from the very foundations we wish would just disappear under the sediment of history.
What are we talking about? What do I mean by such a statement?
What are the actual origins of the progressive social-democratic West? Is it really rooted in the Enlightenment minus Christianity? The progressive elite will not say so in so many words, but they still believe in “our” (the West’s) sacred mission to show the rest of the world the way past Marcus Aurelius’ “whisper” to the reality of the coming utopia. This is nothing more than a retooled evangelistic mission to “save the world” – minus the Cross of Christ.
After all, isn’t the West the beacon and example of how to educate a population into the great pluralistic, inclusive, multicultural all-embracing paradise? Isn’t the West the example for all of how to include everyone in being cared for in a universal health-care system, a universal welfare system, a universal pension system, etc? Haven’t all these things been born in the West, instituted in the West, and now been exported to all the rest of the benighted world who need to learn the “right” way to look after their own people? Haven’t we developed the economic methods, the technologies, and the organizational methodologies to bring all this to pass? Didn’t we spearhead the United Nations, the Red Cross, and so many other great benevolent institutions to bypass the blockages of the pernicious old nationalisms and particularisms?
Isn’t the emerging World Order due to the West’s great leadership, humanitarianism, and compassion for all? And isn’t all this the outcome of the magnificent breakthrough of the Enlightenment in shattering the old superstitions and dark fantasies of supernaturalism?
But what is the whole notion of the progress of history, of human society from one phase to another, from “worse” to “better”, less-developed to more developed, really rooted in? Did the secular worldview derive this from the “Classical” past which its proponents place with the brilliant Golden Ages of the Greeks and Romans, the great minds of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and so many others?
To put it bluntly – No! The whole notion of progress in history, in human development, in the rise of human life and society from darkness into light, brutality to civilized polity, is Biblical!! It is straight out of the Creation epic and the saga of the human journey from its Creation to its “Fall” – rebellion against the Creator, to its Redemption, to its journey in this world towards the promised completion in our ultimate destination in a New Heaven and a New Earth, promised by the Creator and guaranteed by His sending of His Son, Yeshua ben Yosef of Natzeret at the right time.
The roots of the other story we are being asked to accept lie in the great “Classical” philosophers who have inspired so many since. The great secular philosophers of the modern and postmodern West are all their disciples, generations removed indeed, but still the children of the Ancients. But the Ancients’ whole notion of the big picture was not linear or progressive at all. It was cyclical.
“But what about the evidence of science and evolution as the “real” story of beginning and progress to greater and better? Doesn’t the whole line of evolution take us “naturally” to some ultimate goal or destination with a humanity of unlimited potential?”
It may seem so superficially. But the same story concludes with a return to elemental disintegration, full circle, dissipation, the end of all meaning. It’s a great big “SO WHAT?” After all that movement for billions of years, what does it mean?
We are left with an empty void – just like the old creation myths describe the beginning. Except this is not the beginning, but the end. And then, just perhaps, it all begins again to go back around ad infinitum.
Thus “progress” is really an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves to give us a sense of meaning while we are here, as long as we don’t think too long and hard about the glossed over brutal meaninglessness of it all.
There is no reason that it should mean anything at all in any ultimate sense. The only other possibility is that we are wrong about the beginning and about how things have moved in time and history and why they move that way. Unless there is a real story of progress rooted in a real series of events that have had a sense and meaning right from that beginning.
That is what the Judeo-Christian story has said, what it still says, and what it has passed on in the very heart of the West’s, worldview. Today’s secular progressives can try with might and main to change the story of origins and why we value what we value. But their very foundation-stone, the very “cornerstone”, as the Bible calls it, is the story of the Creator’s action to create, to create humanity in His/Her own image, and to give humanity an infinite value and an infinite purpose, with a story to live and co-create, and with a goal to arrive at – eternal union with the Person of the Creator Him-/Herself.
Meanwhile, our culture is running as fast as it can the other way with its fingers stuffed in its ears like a rebellious child yelling, “No! No! I don’t want to hear this! Stop it! Stop it! I won’t listen to this!”
TO BE CONTINUED
One thought on “Myth, Conspiracies, Shame, and the Quest for Truth: 3”
Wonderful analysis, Vince.