The Third Way, 45: Saviours and Salvation, 1

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“save, v.t. & i., & n. [verb transitive and intransitive and noun] 1.Rescue, preserve, deliver, from or from danger or misfortune or harm or discredit. . . . 2. Bring about spiritual salvation from, preserve from damnation. . . .”

The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964.

“saviour: n. Deliverer, redeemer (the/our Saviour Christ), person who saves a State etc. from destruction, etc. (Middle English and Old French sauveour from Latin salvatorem (salvare [to] SAVE)

The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964.

“After an age of wars and catastrophes Augustus [first Roman Emperor, 27BCE – 14CE] brought peace.  He was a “savior.”  There was no way to explain a power so prodigious without appeal to a divine. . . nature residing in the soul of Augustus.  According to the customs of the time the feelings of the subjects had to find expression in divine honors.  Thus the same reasoning that inclined to divinize Alexander and the Hellenistic kings worked to deify Augustus. . . .  Thus Rome followed Greek precedents in this as in so much else, but with reservations and with distinctions of its own.”

Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), pp. 207, 208.

“Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, 1754.

Rousseau’s opening line to his 1754 treatise is one of the most resounding open lines ever penned in world literature, ranking alongside Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” in A Tale of Two Cities.  Rousseau gave us one the most succinct, pithy statements of the human condition that this writer and student of history has ever come across.  It needs to be twinned with the Apostle Paul’s famous line, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” in Romans chapter 3, despite Rousseau’s animosity to Christianity.  Paul authored many other like statements of our predicament to which we might refer.  We recall a similar phrase from Kohelet in our previous series, “God will bring to judgment everything we do, including every secret, whether good or bad.”

At the risk of over-generalizing, we can observe that every major extant belief system would hold some variation of the above diagnoses of the state of humanity.  Hindus would define somewhat differently how they understand the “chains” which hold us in bondage and slavery, or the idea of “sin”, but they agree that we are in bondage.  Buddhists would closely concur with the Hindu position regarding the fundamental human condition.  Muslims and Jews would agree that humans are sinners, and that no one is completely free in will or in power to act as they ought, or as they desire if their moral awareness reduces the “ought” to irrelevance.  Even modern and postmodern secularists concur that humanity chronically falls short of the ideals we (they) agree we should aim for in our society and in the stewardship of Planet Earth.  Thus, we find the whole human race in agreement that there is a truly serious and perhaps critical gap between what our hearts and minds (and many would say our souls) tell us we were made to be and what we actually are.

As we look back through the five or so millennia of recorded history for which we have documentary evidence, we find that the awareness of this basic human failing and incapacity has been very much part of the human psyche in every time and place.  It is often expressed mythologically, poetically, and imaginatively, especially before the innovation and invention of philosophy by those geniuses of the intellect, the ancient Greeks.  The earliest formulations of this most basic of all dilemmas were often couched in dream, vision, legend, and myth, with reference to a break or disordering in relationship between humans and the higher order of beings who create and govern  the cosmos.

Coupled with this awareness of humanity’s failure to be what it should be, or its lapse into disorderliness and misalignment with the created order (the “Fall” in traditional Judeo-Christian parlance), or perhaps some innate flaw in the original creation itself, was an equal awareness that we humans do not have the ability, and perhaps not even the will, to repair the breech or re-establish the order as it is meant to be.  There is thus a sense of being liable to judgment or subject to the whim of supernatural powers for our collective flaw or failure to measure up.  There is a sense of guilt and shame for having broken the world, so to speak.

We might (and usually do) now mock all this “superstition” and “theological mumbo-jumbo” as basic ignorance of the true facts about reality. After all, we now “know better” what the world is, what the universe is, how it really works, where it comes from, where we come from, etc.  Nevertheless, at the very least everyone still realizes that Rousseau’s diagnosis is as right now as it was 265 years ago.  And really, all the other formulations we referred to still sit in our gut.  Things are broken and we don’t know how to fix them.

The current version of the apocalypse  calling for salvation is the “Climate Crisis”.  It is really not reasonable to deny that Climate Change exists.  The compilation of several Mount Everest’s of data is conclusive that something important is happening to the earth’s climate at this juncture of its history.  The debate is to what extent it is humanity’s doing.  Rhetoric and screeching alarmism aside, the data is much less conclusive on that score.  Besides, climate change has been happening since the creation of the world.  Duh!  Tropical conditions once existed in Antarctica and, clearly, seas once covered much of every continent in existence, as Marine fossils on the slopes of Mount Everest and high in the Rockies point out.

The current Climate Apocalypse, or any other immediate global crisis (e.g., Terrorism, drug plagues, AIDS, etc.) crying out for radical resolution aside, we as a species, and as individuals dependent for survival on our Planet’s hospitality, remain in the identical position of all generations since Nimrod (a real historical figure, by the way) promised the world deliverance sometime in the third millennium BCE.  Over 5000 years, we have record of many promise-makers and claimants to Divine and semi-divine status offering themselves as the looked for saviours ready to make things right and save their people from their calamitous situations. 

Pharaohs were the living “saviours” of the Egyptian people, incarnating the will of the gods to sustain the life-giving cycle of the Nile and the land.  Each of the ancient “King of kings” of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and China called themselves “saviour”, “redeemer”, “Son of Heaven”, etc., granting order and favour from the gods to the peoples under their beneficent rule.  Alexander took all the titles of the monarchs he defeated unto himself and openly proclaimed himself the anointed of the gods, the one come to save the world from disorder and usher in unity and peace.  As Ferguson points out in our citation above, the Roman emperors each began their rule with proclamations from the Senate and themselves as the divinely appointed saviour of the peoples under their rule.

The Jews long expected the Messiah, the anointed and chosen one sent by Yahweh to right the world and usher in God’s rule over all the peoples, wielding justice and righting all wrongs, protecting the downtrodden and turning the earth once more into God’s beautiful garden with peace and plenty for all.  Legends of such a one to come could be found in China and India and even among some of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (America).  And Islam still awaits the Mahdi, the one sent as the final prophet-scourge who will punish all the blasphemous and the infidels and submit all the world to Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful (his two main attributes in the Quran).

Hinduism presents us with multiple avatars who are incarnations of Vishnu, the most compassionate and loving of their enormous pantheon of gods and goddesses, one of the three most important.  In bhakti yoga (the road or way of worship and praise), such avatars come to remind us of our bondage and show us once more how to shed maya, the illusion and bondage of this world so as to achieve nirvana, union with Brahman, the One and All, the essence of existence itself.  But avatars are not redeemers.  They cannot take our place in the judgment.  Each must find his/her own way out of the cycle of birth›death›rebirth until all negative karma has been purged.

Buddhism offers us the Buddha, the Enlightened One who teaches the path to escape from the ceaseless cycle of suffering, as Buddha defined the wheel of samsara, the cycle referred to above.  But Buddha is not a saviour or redeemer either, but an exalted teacher and guide, showing the way to salvation from our bondage to suffering, not a substitute for us.  Once more, the sufferer must find his/her own path.

But the greatest and most enduring claim to the role Saviour and Redeemer comes of course out of Christianity in the person of Jesus Christ (Yeshua ha-Mashiach).

Does the human race need a saviour?  A redeemer?  If so, in what sense?  If not, why not?  How are we to find resolution to our collective and individual inner sense of missing the mark, of disharmony, of dichotomy, of “brokenness” within ourselves and with the world we inhabit?  Is any permanent resolution really needed?  Is such a concept really practical or beneficial even to consider and discuss?  Can’t we just get on with the business of “fixing things” by the tried and true methodology of logical reason applied via the scientific method?

Let us see where this takes us in the next few instalments.

The Third Way, 21: The Allure of Rome, Part 2

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“[Virgil’s Aeneid and the legendary tales of early Rome] tell us something about how the Romans saw themselves: war-like by nature, as descendants of the god of war [Mars]; empowered with the strength and cunning of the wolf who nursed their founders [referring to the legend of the orphan twins, Romulus and Remus, being nursed and raised by a she-wolf]; and established by desperate men who successfully fought everyone around them for survival.  Many Romans believed that just as it was the fate of the Greeks to bring culture to the world, it was the fate of the Romans to bring order [ordo] to the world …. the Romans from a very early period believed they were destined to rule.  They believed that they were better suited by nature and ability for rule than were other peoples.  And they believed that the gods had selected them for this task.  Perhaps this way of looking at the world underlay their actions somewhat like the concepts of “manifest destiny” and the assumed superiority of Europeans underlay the movement westward by European immigrants in nineteenth century United States.”

James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era, Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, (IVP Academic, 1999), pp. 295-6.

The Creator is never far removed from the creation.  We go through life most of the time like sleep-walkers, barely aware of the amazing nature of the cosmos and of how the Creator has made us.  This does not annul the glory of what envelops us and which we share as the sole beings who, as far as we know, actually can perceive and gain some understanding of it and experience it.

Although we are made to reflect the Maker’s glory within the creation, our lust after petty godhood has made us blind and deaf.  We see this played out in plain sight and hearing every day in the way we react to hindrances, frustrations, and impediments to our progress towards whatever ambitions or fancies we have currently placed before us.  We grumble and complain about how such-and-such and so-and-so has blocked us and infringed upon our rights.  We denounce those who encroach on our comfort and challenge our “territory.”  After all, as ‘gods’ we are born to rule, aren’t we?  The only problem is all those other people who think they are gods too!

We are trapped in this conundrum whether conscious of it or not.  Most of the time, we don’t think about, we just feel it.  It is the resting, normal position of the rebel whose rebellion is so ingrained that it is now unconscious, subconscious—until something brings it to the surface, like a direct claim and challenge to recognize that there is a Creator who alone is God, which means I am not and I must give up my throne.  Or perhaps another petty god is more powerful or well-positioned than I, and I must defer to him/her.

While all the great religions do not perceive the Creator and creation in quite the same way, all, in one way or another, recognize the fundamental flaw in human nature.  We are internally broken, finding as much wickedness lurking in our souls as goodness.  If we were to release it, it would consume us, and sometimes the only reason we don’t is that we fear being caught and held to account.  We are bound to fail to fully keep whatever good laws we establish (we are not speaking of disobeying wicked laws), even those we privately make for ourselves to rule ourselves.  No one (except Jesus, some would say) has ever succeeded in living perfectly by what his/her own conscience tells him/her.  Even Buddha abandoned his young wife and child, and he must have known deep down that this was a rather callous thing to do.  Even Muhammad ordered massacres, and he must have known deep down that this was hardly what a God of true compassion and mercy would command.  Even Moses lashed out in anger.  Even Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin.  David was a murderer and adulterer. 

The great religions attempt to resolve our brokenness differently.  Hinduism explains that our true nature is as errant aspects of the One Reality, the “World Soul (Brahman),” to which we must return and into which we must be reabsorbed, forsaking individuality to achieve nirvana, the bliss of total rest within the all-consciousness without struggle.  Buddhism describes this quest as “non-existence,” similar to the Hindu idea but with no real consciousness adhering to any shadow of the illusion of self.

The three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, do not see humanity as parts of the One seeking reintegration through a very long cycle of life, death, and rebirth, but as beings created to honour and serve God within the creation.  The ‘orthodox’ view within these three is that humans rebelled and continue to rebel, and the Creator has sought to offer restoration of the broken relationship.  They differ in how this is to be done and what role is assigned to humans in the restoration.  Is it by exemplarily obeying rules and performing rituals, or by accepting God’s mercy and appealing to the Creator’s gracious offer of renewal through a chosen Saviour and Redeemer?  Or perhaps a combination of the two—grace and obedience?

We do not have time or space to examine these approaches and their nuances in depth in this post.  That may be for another time.  We are considering the West’s continuing, strange fascination with Rome, the longest-lived and most successful empire in Western history and perhaps in world history.  Like all human endeavours and achievements, no matter how great, it eventually failed.  But its longevity and “glory” still carry a dim lustre and a sense of nostalgia and wonder.  The West cannot escape Rome’s still potent cultural, historical, and spiritual legacy.  Neither can it escape its spell.

For those who admire manifest power, Rome presents a model and a standard: “If only I/we could create something that could equal what they did!”  For those who long for a united world that brings everyone into order and unity with common values and symbols and similar ideals and goals, Rome’s success continually fascinates and puzzles anthropologists, sociologists, historians, psychologists, philosophers, political scientists, and even some politicians who manage to have a sense of history.  For admirerers of military prowess and martial glory at its pinnacle, Rome offers endless material for study.  Rome’s political and martial prowess was not the story of a one-off genius such as Alexander or Napoleon shooting like a comet across the heavens of history.  It was a system honed to perfection, granting the most perfect instrument yet devised which leaders of talent and ability used to rise to the summit of power and fame.  Julius Caesar did not create the Roman genius for government or the unbeatable fighting machine of the Roman army; he used and honed them to further his own rise to power. Afterward, they functioned more or less well regardless of the frequent stupidity emanating from the throne. Rome’s aura often kept its enemies at bay even when its armies were wavering or engaged in slaughtering one another in civil wars.

What is the mystique of Rome; what lies behind it?  Deep beneath what we see played out we find a hunger that longs for a final answer.  It is a spiritual thing—the quest for the last best realm that will endure and bring true, lasting, unbreakable peace and harmony into the life of humanity, giving everyone a fair shake, a fair chance to be the best they can possibly be.  It is more than a hunger, it is the most basic need all—to know who and what we really are and are really made for.  We know it cannot be found in our endless wars and destructive, competitive behaviour—our addiction to assert ourselves above others which brings only more of the same in return as we seek to “get even, get back.”

The Orientals say we must finally quell this hunger as illusion, drive it out by emptying ourselves of self and ceasing to identify ourselves primarily as individuals, ultimately denying any individual personhood and slipping into the anonymous bliss of nirvana.  That is what the Bhagavad Gita is really about; that is what the Upanishads reveal; that is what Buddha’s Three Baskets disclose, in a somewhat different way.  That is what underlies yoga at its heart, and Zen.

Jesus said that it was all about entering “the Kingdom of God,” and this was the core of his teaching.  He spoke of losing our lives in order to find them.  He spoke of taking up one’s cross to follow him and not doing things the old way, the imperial way, the way of pursuing the glories of “this age.” 

When he taught and exampled what he meant, he was speaking of the way of Rome on the one hand and of compromised religion on the other, both ways of glory achieved at the expense of others, in all the ways that this is done—by economic, social, military, political, cultural, and even religious manipulation and brinkmanship.  In the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Creator, there is no room for any of this.  All of these methods are the “way of the flesh,” the way of our brokenness and rebellion against how the Maker originally made us and what He/She originally made us to be and do.  They are all ways of serving ourselves first, of maintaining and asserting our ‘right’ to be little gods.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 20: The Allure of Rome, Part 1

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The saga of Rome has never lost its allure.  It remains seared in our collective memory.   Even in the 21st Century, when history is so little valued, almost everyone in the West knows the names of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra (although not a Roman, she was intimately connected to him), mad Emperor Nero, and Constantine.  Only Classics students now study the great Greek and Roman literature, but the tale of Imperial Rome remains with us like a talisman.  Travelers to Europe find impressive reminders of Rome’s one-time glory from Great Britain to North Africa, and from Armenia to the coasts of Portugal.  The Mediterranean (Middle Earth) Sea was once “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) on Roman maps.

The Roman Catholic Church kept the legend and memory of Imperial Rome alive by locating its headquarters in “the Eternal City.”  The Pope co-opted the old Roman title “Pontifex Maximus” (literally, “Greatest Bridge Maker”), a pagan title for Rome’s High Priest of the cult of Jupiter, Rome’s supreme god.  The core of the Roman Catholic Church’s administrative apparatus is an adaptation of the late Roman Empire’s imperial administration.  During the Middle Ages, what Roman emperors had once claimed as the supreme authority on earth as divinely appointed “saviours” and “sons of Jupiter,” the “Supreme Pontiffs” reclaimed as the “Vicars of Christ on earth”—a sort of Regency status that supposedly gave them authority to enthrone and dethrone even the most powerful secular rulers of Christendom.

Less than a century after the Western Empire’s collapse, the East Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian sent his best general and finest troops to attempt to recover the lost western provinces.  General Belisarius made a valiant and almost superhuman attempt, restoring Italy, North Africa, and most of Spain to allegiance to ‘Rome’ (really Byzantium with its capital at Constantinople).  But disease, famine, and war in the East with Persia sapped Byzantine strength and most of Byzantium’s Western reconquests were eroded by local resistance and by the massive Muslim invasion in the 7th and 8th Centuries.

Rome is still a popular subject for dramatic films and TV series.  Conquerors since the collapse of the Western Empire have dreamed of recreating the Roman hegemony in some form ever since.  Perhaps the most successful of these was the Frankish King, Charlemagne, who took a Latin name (Carolus Magnus ) and title (Imperator) to legitimize his great ambition to be recognized by the Byzantine (“East Roman”) Emperor and the Pope as the first restored “Emperor of the West” since Romulus Augustulus. That boy-emperor’s reign ended with a whimper of ignominy in 476CE at the decree of the Ostrogoth “King of Italy,” Odoacer.  Charlemagne gained what he sought, but his personal charisma and aura of anointed power proved immune to transfer to his heirs.

Part of Charlemagne’s legacy was a rump “Holy Roman Empire” which lasted, on paper at least, until Napoleon simply abolished it in 1806 after crushing the Austrians, whose Hapsburg rulers had generally worn the largely empty title of Holy Roman Emperor since the late Middle Ages.  Napoleon mockingly said, “I am the only Emperor that the West needs.”  The other half of Charlemagne’s legacy was more permanent—France, Napoleon’s actual base of operations.

Here is a short list of Caesar wannabes—Napoleon, already mentioned (although he fancied Alexander the Great above Caesar), Mussolini (who boasted of returning Italy to her ancient glory and remaking the Mediterranean into ‘Mare Nostrum’), and Hitler, who claimed Caesar as an ‘Aryan’ and said the Third Reich would last a thousand years and surpass the glory of Rome in extent, achievement, and legacy.

Why does the mystique and aura of Rome continue to fascinate 1500+ years later?  The answer lies in human nature.  Human beings are created “with eternity in their hearts,” as the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes puts it.  This hunger for eternity is rooted in the hunger for relationship with our Creator, who made us to know and love Him/Her and to be loved by Him/Her.  We are made in the Creator’s image, made to reflect the Maker’s nature within and to the creation.  We too are makers, creators, formers.  We hunger for ‘glory,’ to know and be known to one another and by one another.  We are made in such a way that humans must have love and relationship if we are to thrive and become all we can be, each one in his/her own unique way.

‘Glory’ (gloria in Latin) is the manifestation of the nobility and worthiness of the one(s) who possess it.  We are all made to possess it because we are all made to be like our Maker, whose glory is manifest in all created things.  For some, achieving ‘glory’ becomes an obsession, and, once it is achieved, it frequently becomes an addiction.  Seeking ‘glory’ for oneself is rooted in our addiction to being our own gods, because all our ‘glory’ is really borrowed from the Creator who manifests Him-/Her-self in all His/Her works, but most completely and specially in us, the human race which the Creator placed on Earth to be His/Her stewards and caretakers.  Humanity’s true glory is in direct proportion to the fulfilment of our actual created purpose.

Having usurped the Creator’s mandate in order to express our own ‘glory’ and greatness in preference to the Maker’s, we are driven to prove our worth and nobility.  Most of us are satisfied to get some minor portion of it during our lives, but some are driven by personality, character, and life-influences to pursue it insatiably.  Hence Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, etc.  Hence the relentless quest for ever more success in their respective fields of business tycoons and seekers of fame and renown (and even notoriety) of all stripes.

Sometimes we give other names to this hunger for glory through extraordinary achievements: ambition, honour, recognition, and renown.  We are created with a hunger to achieve some token of worth, but first and foremost to pursue and achieve knowledge of the Creator and the Creator’s works.  Within that order, we then properly ‘share’ in His/Her reflected glory and win honour and recognition, but without hubris.  This is the picture of Moses descending Mount Sinai after forty days of face-to-face audience with God. 

Seeking the right kind of glory is not evil.  It is natural.  What is evil and ‘unnatural’ is the perversion of these things into idolatry, addiction to adulation, and obsession with dominating others in order to prove one’s worth.  This kind of perverted glory-hunting results in actions that disregard the inherent worth, honour, and nobility of others.  The extreme manifestation of this perversion of ‘glory’ is the oppression, suppression, and wilful slaughter we see in the wake of history’s greatest ‘glory-hunters’.

Which brings us back to the West’s (and even the world’s) continuing and sometimes great fascination with Rome and its legacy.  There are noble things in this legacy.  Roman law and jurisprudence is the foundation of much of the West’s legal system.  Rome absorbed and transmitted most of what we have of the best of ancient thought, art, and literature.  Rome’s engineering prowess was unmatched and a model for all that followed.  The Roman military machine was a marvel for over half a millennium and still gives lessons to students of war in military academies.  Roman government and administration is still studied and sometimes even imitated, despite its weakness at the top because of its susceptibility to the whims of too often misguided imperial potentates.

It is Rome’s claim to ‘immortal glory’ (the ‘Eternal City’, the ‘City chosen by the gods’) that signals Rome’s spiritual dimension.  The allure of the ascent to divinity beckons us.  Roman emperors were usually deified upon death—a precedent set immediately after Julius Caesar’s assassination.  Rome was not a secular state.  It always had an official religion and invoked the favour, blessing, and protection of ‘the gods’ and, after Constantine, of the ‘the Christian God.’

We now fancy ourselves living in a ‘secular age’ which gives no preference to God or any set of gods.  But, despite our official secularism and domi,nant worldview of atheistic materialism (among our social and cultural gurus at least), the truth is that we humans are spiritual beings as much as we are physical beings.  Even in business and corporate institutions, in social associations and clubs, we speak of the ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ of the entity.  Nations and states also have a governing ethos, a soul, or ‘spirit,’ at work beneath the symbols and external manifestations.  For instance, we speak of the ‘democratic spirit’ in the West, or of the ‘evil powers’ at work in some regimes.

We may well believe that we are speaking only figuratively when we use such metaphors, but, if we are perceptive and honest, all of us have a sense of what spirit is at work in many situations.  Back in the 1960s and ‘70s we talked about ‘vibes’.  For those who have traveled to some degree, you definitely feel the essential spirit of a location and even a country when you arrive there and reside there for even a few days.  That is why religions use terms like ‘the spirit of holiness,’ ‘the spirit of righteousness,’ ‘the spirit of lawlessness,’ ‘the spirit of iniquity’ in speaking of perceiving the ‘reality behind the reality’—what we perceive on the surface versus what is truly operative inside and beneath.

Rome had an operative spirit which claimed universal dominion for its sovereignty and divine status as “Saviour, Lord, Son of God (Jupiter)” for its reigning Emperor.  Rome claimed divine anointing as the chosen instrument of the gods to civilize and unite all the races.  At its peak, Rome’s dominion encompassed a quarter of the world’s population, giving some plausibility to its claims, at least in the eyes of Roman citizens.

Rome incarnated a direct claim by humans to establish an eternal kingdom on earth by right of conquest and coercive power.  Local gods could bow and be absorbed into Rome’s in order to survive, or be annihilated like those of the Carthaginians and Druidic Celts.  The Jews and Christians challenged Rome’s nature at its root.  Both paid a massive price in millions of lives for continuing to seek and honour the true Creator.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 18: The Jugular and the Son

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“Most people …. may hold a philosophy of materialism or Darwinian naturalism, yet in practice they live in ways that contradict those worldviews.  After all, who really treats their convictions as the products of natural selection, and not really true but only useful for survival?  Who could survive emotionally if they really believed that their self-sacrificing love is nothing but “pseudo-altruism”?” 

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity.  (Crossway, 2004, 2005), p. 319

“If Darwin had announced his theory of evolution in India, China, or Japan, it would hardly have made a stir.  “If—along with hundreds of millions of Hindus and Buddhists—you have never believed that humans differ from anything else in the natural world in having an immortal soul, you will find it hard to get worked up by a theory that shows how much we have in common with other animals.” [Quoted by Pearcey from Gillespie’s Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation.)  The West’s high view of human dignity and rights is borrowed directly from Christianity.  “Humanism is not an alternative to religious belief, but rather a degenerate and unwitting version of it.””  

Pearcey, p. 320.

There are a number of ways to believe in and honour the Creator.  Judaism gave birth to Christianity, while Islam arose from the influence of both these previous faiths on Muhammad and the Arabian tribes.  Hinduism does not have a single point of view on creation, while Buddhism does not require a Creator at all.  One may believe in the Creator without adhering to any of these religions, for example by practicing traditional some indigenous forms of spirituality.  The question of revelations by the Creator to specific individuals and ways of relating to the Creator which are more in harmony with His/Her true nature is not the issue at this point of the discussion, although it is an issue in a larger sense to which we may need to return at some future time.  

There are many points of intersection among the three major monotheistic faiths which seek to bring humanity into harmony with the Creator.[i]  All three believe that the Creator is personal and present in the creation—not a distant “Deity” no longer taking an interest in the stuff He/She has made; not an anonymous ‘World Soul’ hiding behind a crust of illusion.  Muslims, Christians, and Jews all believe that this Cosmos is real, created by a personal Creator.  That is what Muslims signify by God (Allah) being as close as your jugular vein.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe God is immanent [no, this is not a spelling mistake!], very close by, “permanently pervading the universe” (Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary).  Thus, if your jugular vein were suddenly severed, you would simply step across into God’s manifest presence.

If God is so intimately connected with the creation at all times, why do we not see Him/Her more often—or even at all, in the case of most of us?  Jesus used this expression: “Those who have eyes to see, let them see.”  He also used a converse referring to wilful blindness: “But their eyes have been blinded, lest seeing they would see …”

The Bible of Judaism and Christianity states that humanity, both male and female, is “made in the image of God.”  The ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) used the term ikon for “image”.  God did not break His/Her own commandment against making any image of God.  God made a walking, talking, living, breathing image who was a personal being bestowed with immense dignity and mandated with great responsibility to represent the Creator on earth.  Although monotheistic, Islam does not have the same view of human beings.  In the Quran, we are not really God’s partners and certainly not His/Her ‘images,’ for any image or incarnate representative form of the Creator is anathema.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, humans are “children of God,” albeit mostly rebellious ones.  We are estranged from the family, but the Creator reaches out in love, mercy, and compassion to restore the relationship.  The Creator longs for our return, for reconciliation, for our restoration and redemption.  He/She is prepared to go to extreme lengths to achieve it.

The ‘Old Testament,’ the Tanakh, highlights this deep desire.  Although it is sometimes difficult to see the love, mercy, and compassion of the Creator in the rocky story of ancient Israel’s relationship with the Creator, a final reconciliation was promised when God would send His/Her ‘Son’, His/Her anointed and incarnate final ‘Word’, the Mashiach (Messiah, Anointed One, in Greek the Christ).

This is the ‘Son’ we are invited to kiss, because the coming of ‘the Son’ is the Creator’s ultimate, definitive appeal to His/Her wayward children to come home.  The ‘Son’ is the unique personal incarnation of God.  He carries the very personality of God, embodying the ‘Way’ we must follow.  He shows us how to turn away from the way of death and destruction we have chosen now for millennia up to this very day.  The Son said everything the “Father,” as He calls the Creator, had to say to us.  He told us everything we need to know to return to the family, showing us what living in harmony and intimacy with the Creator and the creation actually looks like in the flesh.

The Son invites us to kiss him as we kiss our family members when we come home from a long journey.  Then we give one another the kiss of true peace.  We can freely extend mercy, grace, and compassion to the rest of God’s children, wayward or not.  Turning our backs on the Creator’s ultimate appeal is taking the great risk that, at some point, “he [may] be angry and you [may] be destroyed in your way,” as Psalm 2:12a puts it—not because of his vengeance, but by our own stupidity.  

This is far from the same old story of the wrathful, vengeful God which “we” [the West’s enlightened intellectual class] worked so hard to free ourselves from.  It is a simple, very real statement of how life and relationships work. If, as we have been observing, the personal Creator has left His/Her signature everywhere and patterned the universe on His/Her character, and made humans to be the embodiment of how the creation is supposed to relate to the Creator, why is it a shock to find that, in the time-space continuum in which our drama is lived out, time runs out and opportunities disappear?  While the Creator is eternal and His/Her love infinite, in the arena of time and space people are given choices to make and opportunities to seek, find, and pursue relationship with the Creator who made them.  As we see in our relationships with one another, opportunities are not endless and choices limit what follows.

The Creator’s love is on free offer 24/7 “as close as your jugular vein.”  You don’t have to understand much anatomy to know that the jugular keeps you alive as long as it brings the blood back to your heart in a continuous flow.  So too with our invitation to “kiss the Son while he may be found.”  Some day those who wait too long or refuse too many times will no longer be able to find him or get close enough to “kiss him.”

Pearcey’s powerful book on the cultural captivity of Christianity, especially in the USA, points to this deliberate rejection of the invitation to meet the ‘God of the jugular’ and ‘kiss the Son.’  For well over two hundred years we have chosen to block out the evidence of the Creator’s immanence in ‘the Book of Nature,’ which is what the jugular refers to, and the voice of the Creator’s constant appeal to come and ‘kiss the Son.’ 

The modern myth of progress in human rights, freedom, and dignity, and the emergence of a more compassionate, freer society says that our bright new modern world was fashioned out of ‘whole new cloth’ by the Enlightenment crusaders after exposing and discrediting the bankruptcy of Christianity and the futility of trusting the ‘fable’ about a beneficent Creator.  This wonderful tale of the liberating Enlightenment is a myth which we have largely bought into.  The truth is that those Enlightenment ‘pioneers’ owed almost everything in their basic thinking to the work of Christian, or at least theist, predecessors, including the whole notion of ‘Progress’ itself.

We do not have time or space here to deconstruct that myth, but it is plain to see that what we have now in the West is cultural deadness of soul and spirit tinged with creeping despair.  But the Son’s voice of hope is still calling and inviting us to enter the family of the Creator who gives us being and meaning.  It is time to listen to the advice of Psalm 12 and ‘seek the Son’, the Creator’s face turned toward us in full love, while he may be found.  If that is too tall an order for now, start with finding the courage to turn your face to the Creator poised at your jugular vein.  There is a promise to claim: “Seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.”


[i]  I do not include Hinduism or Buddhism here for the reason that neither conceives the universe as being the work of a single, personal Creator.  Hinduism as practised by the vast majority of its adherents is a polytheistic religion which does not have a unified theology of creation and the Cosmos.  We in the West see it mainly in truncated, idealized form—meditation and yoga to get in touch with our ‘true inner self’, which is supposedly the same as getting in touch with the ‘Universal Soul,’ the essence of being hidden within all things.  The goal is to be absorbed, ‘to lose yourself’ and become one with the all.’  This discovery may take many lifetimes, thus reincarnation is a central tenet of Hinduism.  The ‘creation’ we experience is maya, a sort of illusion which deceives us and entraps us.  It must be escaped, not valued and enhanced because the Creator (who is not really there anyway) made it and pronounced it ‘very good’.

Buddhism sprang from Hinduism, but Buddha refined the Hindu perspective.  He simply bypassed all the ‘gods,’ saying that, if they exist, they are in no better case than everyone else trapped in the cycle of suffering.  Buddhism does not offer a theology of creation, rather focusing on inner harmony and union with the inner essence of all things.  The object is to free oneself from struggle, pain, conflict, suffering, birth, death, and rebirth.

Therefore, neither Hinduism nor Buddhism offers a way of rediscovering who we are and why there is meaning in the here and now.  They are escapist and rejectionist, saying we need to leave this ‘prison’ behind.  That is not to say that there is no truth to be found in them regarding the human condition as we experience it, or help to be found in learning to discipline our passions and bear the sufferings of life. There are some quite practical things to be found there when careful discretion is used in discering them. As an old Reformed adage puts it, “All truth is God’s truth,” no matter whose mouth it comes out of, as long as, as Francis Schaeffer used to put it, it is “true truth.”

The Third Way, Part 2: Progressive Redemption, an Analysis

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Progressive Redemption, an Analysis

redeem – 1. buy back; recover by expenditure of effort or by a stipulated payment. 2. make a single payment to discharge (a regular charge or obligation0. 3. convert (tickets, bonds, etc.) into goods or cash. 4. Theol. Deliver from sin and damnation. 5. make up for; be a compensating factor in … 6. (foll, by from) save from (a defect). 7. refl. Compensate for past failings, esp. so as to regain favour. 9. Save a person’s life by ransom. 9. Save or rescue or reclaim. 10. fulfill (a promise).

redemption – 1. The act or an instance of redemption; the process of being redeemed. 2. Christianity – humankind’s deliverance from sin and damnation. 3. a thing that redeems.

Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary, 2002, p. 859.

            In the first part of this series, we began discussing the Progressive version of humanity’s future.  We cited Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now as a quintessential statement of that vision.  Accordingly, we find that this redemption comes through the human capacity for recursive reason and language allowing us to “deepen our capacity for sympathy-for pity, imagination, compassion, commiseration”. 

                Thence begins a process he describes in this way:

“As the spiral of recursive improvement gathers momentum, we eke out victories against the forces that grind us down, not least the darker parts of our own nature.  We penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos, including life and mind.  We live longer, suffer less, learn more, get smarter, and enjoy more small pleasures and rich experiences.  Fewer of us are killed, assaulted, enslaved, oppressed, or exploited by others.  From a few oases, the territories with peace and prosperity are growing, and could someday encompass the globe.”

Humanity finds itself ‘endowed’ and ‘blessed’ with the resources it needs – recursive reason and the capacity for language being the most salient, it would seem.  On the physical side, one might add begin bipedal and so having upper limbs free to develop prehensile fingers and thumbs with which to manipulate, mold, fashion, and create new things born in our recursive reason (imagination).

As we remarked in Part 1, this progressive tale of redemption partakes of a religio-mythical aura and vocabulary.  It develops its own symbology.  It adopts the language of faith, but asks us to leave behind the connotations of ‘primitive superstition’ which only breeds ignorance and bigotry and division.  If human nature is endowed, who, or what, is the endower?  If it is only the blind forces and chances of natural laws and processes, how is this an endowment?  How is it a ‘blessing’ rather than the mere ‘luck of the draw’ directed by ‘natural selection’?  Endowments mean a gifts, which means there is a giver.  Is the endower mere time and chance, accident?  Statistical near-impossibility? 

So much of evolutionary thought and language reverts to quasi-personification, as if there is a real directing force or (unconscious?) mind built into ‘nature’.  The quantum universe paradigm presents a model of random directionlessness and chaos at the sub-atomic level.  But somehow, despite the seeming chaos, it gives birth to stupendous and stupefying evidence of order and purpose – not just on Planet Earth, but everywhere we can perceive.  There is no way to calculate the ‘odds’ against such an outcome.

As many of our top astro-physical theorists and speculators would have it, the Progressive tale posits endless Big Bangs, so given enough Big Bangs, I suppose this universe could happen once.  We just happen to be the lucky ones this time around – sentient beings with all of these incredible endowments who can self-awarely contemplate our own ultimate futility.  So we must consider ourselves blessed by this eternally self-replicating Big-Bang cycle so that we can pleasurably ignore our meaninglessness. (But so many of us don’t enjoy our brief sojourn in consciousness before out atoms scatter into the wasteland of entropy.) 

So what is the ‘heroic’ tale of our ‘redemption’ in our blessed age of Enlightenment when we can finally fathom just what we are? What does our lonely little idiosyncratic terrestrial blip in an quasi-infinite universe amount to?  Are we left with a reprise of ancient Epicurean philosophy (“eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”) softened by John Stewart Mill’s compassionate Utilitarianism?  Epicureans believed it was best to live and act as if there is no afterlife, no God or gods to whom we must give account.  Enjoy life to the maximum without harming others, respecting their right to enjoy life to the max too, as long as they respect yours.  In other words, as we now say, whatever two consenting adults agree they can and want to do with one another in private, within a few limitations like not killing each other or causing each other permanent injury, so be it.  As for the rest, be prudent and enjoy! Mill’s modification comes with the principle of trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number in all things, when such things go beyond our personal and private lives – as in developing a more compassionate society.

When we add in our modern and post-modern scientific and technological prowess, the fruit of our recursive reasoning and linguistic endowments, we find our capacity to explore how these guiding principles can be applied and reshaped exponentially expanded.  So we shall not ‘go gently into that good night’ meekly accepting our eventual extinction at the hands of relentless entropy and the Big-Bang in reverse in fifty billion or so years – or whenever our sun gives up the ghost and goes supernova.  But we may yet recursively reprieve ourselves by solving the mysteries of interstellar travel in the interim, and so find a new haven to prolong our ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ existence, knowing full well that, along with everything else that lives, we will die as a race in some distant tomorrow.

If I have caricatured the Progressive epic in my interpretation, this ‘true Progressive myth’ (Pinker’s term, not mine), I do not think I have been out of step with the spirit of it.  We will ‘eke out’ our redemption, bit by bit, step by step, hopefully finding the right balance not to extinguish ourselves or irretrievably ruin our little jewel of a planetary home. We will all learn how to get along and help one another to be as content as possible.

Having, I hope, given a succinct and just description of this ‘true’ (because founded on science and reason) mythological vision of Progressive Redemption, let us consider it from the religious angle.  The Enlightenment Progressive will here protest, “Objection!  We are not practicing a religion or engaging in superstition and pseudo-scientific quackery!”

Perhaps not, but perhaps so, even if it is not ‘religion’ in a sense you choose to consider religion, as Andrew Sullivan so cogently explains in his article “America’s New Religions” (New York Magazine)cited in a previous post on this blog.  This is not a semantic game of setting up a straw man and tearing it down to make the other point of view appear ridiculous by implication.  Progressivism has taken on many of the trappings of a religion without appealing to a Deity.  That is why Progressives so frequently find themselves attracted to Buddhism, at least the brand of Buddhism which does not deify Siddhartha Gautama.  (Actually, most Buddhists do deify him.)If Christianity would relinquish its claim and attachment to a divine Jesus, no doubt many Progressives would esteem him and his teachings (minus his own inconvenient claims to be God’s Son, which, as N.T. Wright has so forcefully and convincingly demonstrated in his epic work, he really made) in the same manner.

For the Enlightenment ideology, once we get past the earlier philosophes and scientists like Locke, Hume, Descartes, Newton, and Galileo, etc., etc., (even Kant was still a Deist), as Stephen Hawking famously put it in A Brief History of Time, when it comes to the suggestion of God, “we have no further need of that hypothesis.” Interestingly, Hawking’s conclusion flew in the face of his own admission a little earlier in that work that the evidence as it existed seemed to suggest design and a Designer.  However, as a scientist with a commitment to (faith in) scientific reason’s powers, he simply could not bring himself to accept that conclusion.  He invoked his own Deus ex machina.  Somehow, sometime, our reason and logic, our ‘recursive reasoning endowment’, will lead us to the truth and we will find the Holy Grail – ‘the Theory of Everything’ – which will tie up all the loose ends.

Does this sound a little like religious faith?  Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  It is not anti-reason or superstition to believe in something as yet unseen but for which we find convincing substance and evidence –for example, the conviction that my life-partner of 45 years loves me.  I cannot “see” this love except by the evidence of action and experience.  This is not always scientifically demonstrable.  A whole host of non-scientific ‘evidence’ goes into it.  Yet it is quite reasonable for me to believe that it is so. I experience the substance of it every day.

The Enlightenment Progressive has chosen a faith-position, just as much as the Theist.  Defining his premises to exclude other approaches to reason and the same body of evidence a priori does not, as Captain Picard in Star Trek Next Generation puts it, “make it so.”  Defining the universe so that only that which can be ‘reasonably concluded/accepted/posited’ by ‘recursive reasoning’ (please read as Enlightenment Progressivism defines it) does not really define what cannot really be delimited and perceived by human minds.

We can explore chemistry and physics and psychology forever but still not know what life is, what consciousness is, what self-awareness is, what moral intuition is, why we innately experience awe and reverence, or where any of this comes from – and, beyond all that, why it became at all.  To say it is a result of purely cosmic processes and chemico-electrical activity fits the materialistic, ‘reason and science alone’ paradigm for knowing, but denies the experience and intuition of individuals and societies since humanity emerged into the light of day.  Even some animals seem to “get this” at times, apparently stopping to mourn and pine in the presence of death and loss, expressing individuality and personality.

The universe cannot be reduced to a sort of time-chance, dissonant (from the statistically predictable outcomes of the behaviour of the basic energies of whatever is) chemico-physico-atomic-subatomic strange ‘machine’.  The human species cannot be reduced to a sort of accidental conjunction (unless the ‘law of natural selection’ eleminates the chance) of heterogeneous elements that display extremely unusual characteristics because of strange electro-chemical activity in a gelatinous mass of cells located in its uppermost appendage (our heads).

Progressive ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’ suggests the best possible future as a least-painful, most comfortable, safest possible sort of existence for the greatest possible number, perhaps with a little adventure thrown in from time to time to add a little ‘danger’ and ‘risk’ (which seems to be a necessary stimulus for progress to continue).  The goal seems to be survival for the species for the longest possible time-span.

Is this enough for our species to thrive?  Or is it really a chimera which would, in the long run, stultify and smother who and what we really are?

We will continue to explore this in our next instalment.

The Third Way: Part 1

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The Progressive (Enlightenment) Road

Introduction

This post initiates a new series in this blog.  It will be entitled “The Third Way”.  This series is a sequel to the series of posts under the title “The Demise of Christendom” which extended over eight parts. 

For readers who have not read “The Demise of Christendom”, that series surveyed the journey of Western society and culture over 1700 years, during which the prevailing paradigm of the West’s identity as a society was assumed to be based on the values and story of Christianity.  As we moved through the ‘History of Christendom’, as we may term that long saga, we recall that the model of ‘Christendom’ was flawed from the beginning, having attempted to marry (Roman) imperial, coercive power, as per the typical world order born millennia before during pre-Christian times, with ideals born and derived from the example and teachings of Jesus and his Apostles.  Jesus’ saying that his Kingdom “is not of this present age (way of doing, being, ruling, ordering – the term is kosmos in Greek and is often mistranslated as ‘world’)” was suborned by the temptation that, with the aid and authority of the government holding ‘the power of the sword’, the ‘Kingdom of God’ would be established on earth[i] before Christ’s promised return.

I will not recapitulate the whole story of how that illusion collapsed and finally and only recently has faded to mere phantom memories.  Anyone desiring to learn more of that story is invited to peruse “The Demise of Christendom”.

The Progressivist Road 

I begin this series with an extensive quote from Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.  Pinker is a highly acclaimed Harvard academic of the first rank who enjoys a well-earned, positive international reputation.  As a prominent point-man and proponent for the Enlightenment and its undoubted contributions to the material improvement of humanity, Pinker has produced a sort of ‘manifesto’ for Progressive Ideology.  It is presented as the true faith and only real hope for humanity to avoid self-destruction, or devolution, or even the complete annihilation of life on earth.  Here is how he concludes Enlightenment Now, his magnum opus, his ‘manifesto’:

“ …. human nature has … been blessed with resources that open a space for a kind of redemption.  We are endowed with the power to combine ideas recursively[i], to have thoughts about our thoughts.  We have an instinct for language, allowing us to share the fruits of our experience and ingenuity.  We are deepened with the capacity for sympathy-for pity, imagination, compassion, commiseration.

“These endowments have found ways to magnify their own power.  The scope of language has been augmented by the written, printed, and electronic word.  Our circle of sympathy has been expanded by history, journalism, and the narrative arts.  And our puny rational faculties been expanded by the norms and institutions of reason: intellectual curiosity, open debate, skepticism of authority and dogma, and the burden of proof to verify ideas by confronting them against reality.

“As the spiral of recursive improvement gathers momentum, we eke out victories against the forces that grind us down, not least the darker parts of our own nature.  We penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos, including life and mind.  We live longer, suffer less, learn more, get smarter, and enjoy more small pleasures and rich experiences.  Fewer of us are killed, assaulted, enslaved, oppressed, or exploited by others.  From a few oases, the territories with peace and prosperity are growing, and could someday encompass the globe.  Much suffering remains, and tremendous peril.  But ideas on how to reduce them have been voiced, and an infinite number of others have yet to be conceived.

“We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one.  But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.

“This heroic story is not just another myth.  Myths are fictions, but this one is true-true to the best of our knowledge, which is the only truth we can have.  We believe it because we have reasons to believe it …. it requires only the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, (Viking, 2018) pp. 452-3

It is not my desire to dissect Pinker’s projection of humanity’s future in detail here, as tempting as that is.  However, I invite the reader to note a few salient points.  First is Pinker’s use of religious language to speak about the kind of future he hopes for and aspires to for Humanity and Planet Earth.  He says “human nature has been blessed with resources that open space for a kind of redemption. [Emphases are mine.]  He speaks of humanity’s having received ‘endowments’, and anthropomorphizes concepts such as ‘history’ and ‘journalism’, endowing endowment with some sort of autonomous power [which hints at a kind of magical thinking].

Like almost all Enlightenment progressives and their post-modern kin, Pinker does not attribute much, if any, of human progress to the contributions of ‘religion’.  Rather the opposite, if not explicitly, certainly by weighty implication.  He cites a figure of 55 million deaths in wars of religion which the adherents of the major monotheistic religions waged on one another or on pagan miscreants.  In the same quote above, he ends his book [it is the actual last sentence] by saying “knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance”.  I will not dispute his closing statement because I agree with it wholeheartedly, as I in fact do with most of the citation – except to say that it actually requires something more than “only … convictions” which he lists.  Any ‘reasonable’ person would agree with those convictions, including we ‘religious types’ who actually believe we are reasonable – no doubt a largely oxymoronic statement to an Enlightenment Progressive.

Another example of the actually quite religious flavour and fervour of Pinker’s manifesto’s resounding conclusion is his talk of ‘heroic tale’ and ‘myth’.  His use of ‘heroic tale’ is of course borrowed from the (mainly religious) heritage of the West, beginning with the Greeks, whose heroes (such as Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Heracles) were all intimately connected to deities (such as Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Hera, Ares, Hephaestus), the Romans, who had their own parallel pantheon guiding and protecting their destiny, and the Vikings. 

A heroic tale is a specific literary genre involving supernatural elements and the conflict of good against evil, light against darkness, justice against injustice.  It is easy to understand why Pinker and Progressives would frame their story in such terms – to inspire!  The saga of ‘heroic reason’ does not sound very inspirational.  Inspiration needs emotion and enthusiasm, belief in a higher cause, and heroic protagonists who actually act heroically.  Such is the forte of ‘religion’, not science, reason, and logic.  (Not to say that there have been and are no heroic philosophers and scientists.  But even there, conspicuous by absence in Pinker’s heroic tale is the amazing fact that a good many of them were Deists, Theists, and, heaven forbid! – even Christians!  Progressive History is largely revisionist history.)

Then there is the wholly egregious negativism towards a category of story Pinker calls myth.  He implicitly divorces ‘myth’ as he has defined it (“fiction”) from truth, because truth is only attained by the application of reason.  This is the supreme tenet of the Enlightenment.  He wants to have his cake and eat it too – elevating the Enlightenment Progressive Story to the status of the one and only ‘true myth’ – an oxymoron by his own definition.  The problem is that, for us to be converted to (or renewed in our faith in) the Enlightenment Now vision and version of “redemption” – his term – he needs the religious symbolism and language.

He sounds much like Auguste Comte in his invention of the Religion of Positivism as a necessary substitute for (then outlawed) Christianity at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th Centuries as the French Revolutionaries, invoking all the most noble principles of the High Enlightenment, devolved into tyranny and mass killing to rival any done by the ‘Christianity’ they so deplored and excoriated.  It seems that appealing to high philosophical principles and the light of Reason and Science alone simply does not inspire much hope or commitment among the ordinary unwashed masses who just don’t know any better.  The ‘truth’ has to be dressed up with religious vocabulary, regardless of the century we find ourselves in.            

In our next instalment, we will discuss the idea of ‘redemption’ à la progressiste


[i]  Unfortunately some die-hards in extremist groups who still identify themselves as ‘Christian’ would still love to take over the government and then use the ‘power of the sword’, as the Apostle Paul called it in the Letter to  of Romans, to create a ‘Christian’ theocracy.  Sorry guys, we’ve been there and done that and moved on.  It was ugly and would be just as ugly second time around.  Look at Iran or Saudi Arabia.

[ii]  “recursive/recursively” – an academic term referring to the faculty of using an ability or skill to improve itself by tweaking it through new uses and situations.  Simply: a fancy way of saying ‘practice makes perfect’ – like a mechanic or musician learns a new, more efficient and elegant way to do old things and then, from that, finds improvements and makes ‘advances’ in their area of expertise.  In this context, we get better at reasoning by reasoning; we get better at communicating by communicating.  We get better at science by applying previous science and trying new stuff with it.  We get better at helping people in real, practical ways by helping them in real practical ways.  All in all, we learn from our mistakes – but there are always new mistakes to learn from.