“Even now. . . the Christian world view still affects—indeed, permeates—the Western cultural psyche, even when the latter is most apparently secular in disposition.”
– Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind, Understanding the Views That Have Shaped Our World View, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990). p.91
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Tarnas’ statement in the opening citation is still as true now as it was thirty years ago. In some ways we have become even more secular, but in others considerably less. When Tarnas wrote his much-acclaimed The Passion of the Western Mind, the internet was in its infancy and the World-wide Web a mere zygote. Star Wars was still just a trilogy and the big-screen production of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit not even on the horizon.
Since then, we have seen an explosion of fantasy and dystopian post-apocalyptic tales, and the pulp-entertainment industry churns out so much magic and dragon-world mind-narcotics as to keep anyone hungering for escape of an kind able to spend the rest of her/his days doing just that – or playing super-real video-game versions of such imagined realities. For many, virtual reality has become reality, for therein they can be a super-hero(ine) or super-villain and reach some sort of nirvana as they arrive at the pinnacle the final great quest.
All off this testifies that, as far as the deepest needs of the human spirit and soul go, the secular paradigm which keeps the wheels of Western society more or less functioning is empty at the core. It cannot truly inspire, It offers a degree of bodily comfort and security, but has no vision to inspire the soul and engage the heart-of-hearts seeking real significance rather than the cold comfort of existential angst and the uncertainty principle married to quantum infinities. Without the myth of a “supernatural” realm, in the end there is finally only a cold, dead universe left when entropy has finished its work in fifty billion years, or the implosion to the microdot of super-heat once more exploding into whatever random formulation appears the next time around.
Humanity is hard-wired for the quest for meaning, the hunger for significance, the driving passion to either find God or be god. All of our known history shows it. All our personal experience shouts it in our faces. When we cannot or won’t find the Creator (although the Creator finds is, truth be told), we turn our innate drive for eternity to making stories and myths to set in the vacuum of the soul until the Light of Truth finds us.
That is why we have myth. That is why, no matter how much we have been told and programmed to deny the myth, we keep replacing the old ones with new ones. Denying the oldest “myth” of the Creator making humans in His/Her own image so that we might seek and find Him drives us literally insane – as in being of unsound mind, denying the most basic of all things about ourselves. We compel ourselves to act even more terribly than the “Old Believers” ever did, creating Holocausts of whole inferior races and cultural groups instead of sacrificial holocausts of reconciliation with our Maker.
The most beautiful story ever told is about the Creator becoming one of us in order to lift us out of our spiritual suicide. It has been repeatedly and minutely deconstructed in the hope that He (not an “it”) would just fade away as a quaint old memory and irrelevant folk-tale. As Saul-Paul of Tarsus once put it, writing to the Congregation in Corinth in ancient Greece in the mid 50s of the First Century:
“Where does that leave the philosopher [scientist, intellectual super-star], the Torah-teacher, or any of today’s thinkers? Hasn’t God made this world’s wisdom look pretty foolish? For God’s wisdom ordained that the world, using its own wisdom, would not come to know him. Therefore God decided to use the “nonsense” of what we proclaim as his means of saving those who come to trust in it. Precisely because Jews ask for signs and Greeks try to find wisdom, we go on proclaiming a Messiah executed on a stake [cross] as a criminal! To Jews this is an obstacle, and to Greeks it is nonsense; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, this same Messiah is God’s power and God’s wisdom! For God’s “nonsense” is wiser than humanity’s “wisdom”.First letter to the Assembly in Corinth, Chapter 1: 20-25, The Complete Jewish Bible
The “Jews” and “Greeks” in Paul’s analysis represent all of humanity in our dual approach to circumventing our desperate need for communion with our Maker and the incredible Cosmos He/She has made us a part of. Our end-run around who and what we are and are made to be takes the two forms the Jews and Greeks of Paul’s days incarnated- the religious-spiritual-supernatural search for truth under our own terms, and the “philosophical” road. But we need to understand that the “philosophy” of Paul’s time was not the dry, esoteric pursuit of a select group of academic theorists endlessly fussing about the definitions of terms to the point of not even being able to meaningfully communicate with one another, let alone the rest of society.
Paul, himself no slouch in the philosophy and literature of that time, summarizes it as “the wisdom of this world”. The object of the search was “wisdom” – understanding of the cosmos and the human place in it.
In today’s successor-West that role has largely devolved upon Science and its Siamese Enlightenment twin, Reason. Part of the mythology of the present paradigm of wisdom, which is of the same character of the “wisdom” of the thinkers of Paul’s day, is that the story of the Messiah as God-come-as-a-human is nonsense. In our reasoned scientific wisdom we know that a personal Creator cannot be behind the Cosmos, and therefore no human can be that Person incarnate. It is still “foolishness to the Greeks” (everybody banking on the way of Science and Reason) and still an obstacle to the religious seekers.
The religious seekers of truth and the secular de-mythologizers have this in common: if we are to find the truth (wisdom), if such is to be found, about Reality as it exists, it must be on our own terms and by our own efforts. We are, must be, in control.
The Christian Third Way proclaims something so different that it lays an axe to the root of both these still-prevailing paradigms. It first says that the true myth is that of human independence and self-sufficiency, that we are and ought to be proudly in control. Secular wisdom warns, “The Maker robs us of our independence and demands our submission because He is ungenerous and wants to deny us our rights. Therefore, away with the Creator!” Or, if we can’t really get away from Him, we need to define how to relate to Him by deciding how and when and where.
Now we hear two whispers. One is Marcus Aurelius’ echo of the elusive dream and vision of the world as it is supposed to be – the perfect “Rome” which is actually the pale reflection of the “New Jerusalem”, the everlasting City where the Creator abides and calls us. The other is that of an ancient deceiver lurking in the shadows, trying to stay out of sight as part of the old discredited myth – “Did God (Elohim in the original, the same name of the Creator when He/She said, “Let us make humanity on our image… ”) really say…?
Neither whisper is going away. Both will remain, breaking ever in upon us, piercing our armour of self-sufficiency and independence at the most inconvenient and unsuspecting moments. The monstrous Nazi and Soviet horrors of the twentieth century remind us. At such moments the whispers become warning shouts, alarms, that our true nature is other than the myth of self and independence, the conspiracy of silence (or rather silencing) about the greatest story of all time. Even a great leader of the West in that moment (Winston Churchill) recognized that it was really about the survival of “Christian civilization”, which even in 1940 was well on the road to a fading echo, although not then quite a whisper.
We will make one more foray into the Third Way in our next episode.