Secularists habitually steal things from religion and then either pretend that they invented them or presume that they can be wrenched from their sacred context without doing grave damage to them. For example, secularists benefit just as much as anyone else from the blessings of Judeo-Christian values, while at the same time doing everything possible to attack or belittle the source of those values. Many things we take for granted in the West developed specifically in a Christian context and nowhere else: the infinite worth of the individual, democracy, science, etc.
History is another case in point. It’s hard to imagine what it would mean to be a human without history, and yet, historical consciousness is something that only developed within history. Furthermore, as Van der Leun pointed out yesterday, just as many people in our modern dark age have become “post literate,” there are apparently an equal number who are becoming “post historical,” coming full circle and mirroring the pre-Jewish pagans of antiquity. For the Jews invented history as we know it. They were the first to rise above the stream of time, and view history as having a definitive direction.
Therefore, the postmodern view of historical meaninglessness is quite similar to primitive cosmologies, which either viewed the cosmos as a cyclical process of “eternal return” (like the seasons) or as a degenerate process of departure and increasing distance from an idyllic past. Only with the Hebrew approach to history did mankind begin to discern a “direction” in history, and with it, a sense of history’s purpose. That is, for the first time, history was seen as trying to “get somewhere,” and was looked upon as somehow interacting with some G-D thing on a “vertical” plane--a trans-subjective force which both intervened in history and drew human beings toward it.
This is one of the primary reasons why secular progressives are so ironically named. They can never really be progressive, since their materialistic metaphysic denies meaningful progress at the outset. Scratch a leftist and you will always discern a nostalgic, backward-looking metaphysic--the painful recollection of the lost entitlement of infancy, the desire for a romantic merger with the eden of childhood--only projected into the future.
As I have mentioned before, in the absence of religion, people will fall back onto more primitive, pre-religious modes of thought, but then imagine that they are progressing beyond religion. But this is impossible, for religion discloses objective metaphysics. Therefore, anything short of real religion descends into mere mythology: relying upon it to orient yourself in the cosmos, you will move laterally and eventually backwards, as we see in contemporary Europe--a fine example of trying to live off the fumes of Christian values in the absence of the Christianity that gave rise to them.
The vast majority of our contemporary pagan scholars would undoubtedly agree that history has no direction, purpose or meaning outside the individual historian’s mind. For a secularist, this is necessarily the case. If history does not refer to something outside itself, it has to be without meaning or purpose, truly the proverbial "tale told by a tenured idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying a nice paycheck.” While there can be limited purposes within history, there is no transcendent meaning to any of these endeavors, any more than there can be transcendent meaning to your individual goals and pursuits. It's all ultimately pointless. History is simply history--just a material process, a journey of many roads leading nowhere.
But if this were true, mankind would never have found the exit out of its closed circle of material and instinctual existence. In the logoistic understanding of Christianity, history is witness to a literal descent of the logos into the stream of horizontal time, so as to forge a concrete link between the vertical and horizontal--between time and eternity. To say that "God became man" or "Word became flesh" is just another way of saying that the vertical, that is, the ultimate, timeless ground, outside time and anterior to manifestation, poured itself into material form and chronological time--not just in a single human being, but in humanity.
Only humans can serve as a bridge between the higher and lower planes that are manifest in the outward flow of history. Indeed, this is our purpose: to nurture and grow the seed of eternity within the womb of time. (This is not dissimilar to the Jewish concept of tikkun--of participating in the repair and completion of God's creation, nor is it dissimilar to Vedanta, where the point is to identify with the divine atman behind the outward personality.)
In the neo-Platonic view, History is the Aeon, a sort of rotating, hyper-dimensional object that throws an illusory shadow we experience as history. When eternity breaks into time, it bifurcates into a left side and a right side, or more exactly a day side (the horizontal) and a nocturnal side (the vertical). In reality, History cannot be understood without reference to these horizontal and vertical streams. The horizontal aspect of History is well known to us, consisting of the “stream of time” that historians dip into to retrieve facts, documents and events.
But contemporary historians, who focus exclusively on the horizontal, have forgotten all about the “vertical,” about the womb of History where things inwardly incubate before becoming events in time, and where events in time go to be “worked over” in the dream logic of the night. Nevertheless, all historians unwittingly operate “vertically,” in the sense referred to above. That is, they approach the historical enterprise with a “topdown” (or “bottom-up”) view which organizes their search and allows them to “see” what is significant in History (at least to them).
What does it mean to say that something has historical significance, that it is important? Only that the fact in question is a particular that illuminates, or is illuminated by, the values of the historian. But if that is true, then History has only the value given to it by the historian, and is only valuable as long as the illusion lasts.
To contemporary observers, the life of Jesus, or of the Hebrew prophets, was invisible. This is highly instructive. That is, the most important and influential events in human history were completely undetected and overlooked by contemporary sophisticates. Rather, they were noticed only by a handful of provincial rubes who "saw" and "heard," not with their eyes and ears, but in a trans-cerebral, intuitive manner. It is no different today. The most important events and trends will go unnoticed by the secular mind.
History had a beginning, of that we may be certain. Regardless of where you situate the point in time, there was a moment when a particular species on a particular planet violated all that had happened before in the cosmos, broke with nature, and “lifted” itself out the stream of mere duration, so that the stream could be observed. Up to that time there was only the stream, then suddenly humans discovered that they were “floating” on the stream that carried them along. By virtue of this fact alone, we see that we are not equivalent to the material stream. But at the same time, our lives are lived in and on the stream, and the stream appears to be antecedent to our having been here.
Since the selection of historical facts is guided by what the historian regards as important or meaningful, I would like to suggest that the most important historical fact is the presence of both history and historians, and what makes them possible, specifically, this other dimension of History operating perpendicular to the horizontal flow of time: vertical history. This type of history is not a product of history, but is the origin of history, the basis of history, and the ultimate point of History. Using this approach, we look at horizontal, exterior history for evidence of vertical, interior history.
The analogy with an individual person's history is exact. For example, patients come to therapy with a narrative of their past life, chronicling their experiences with parents, their education, their friendships, loves, passions, conflicts, etc. But as a psychologist, I am not so much interested in this horizontal narrative as I am of evidence of influences coming from a vertical dimension called the unconscious. All along, their lives have been shadowed by this unconscious, which has continuously created, shaped, sabotaged, or prevented events in the horizontal, even (or especially) if they have been completely unaware of it. Some lucky people are also aware of a higher vertical influence that has been influencing and guiding their life “from above.”
In fact, the great discovery common to all religions is the existence of a vertical influence operating both personally and collectively, this one coming from a “higher” dimension rather than from the unconscious below. It is what the Book of Genesis refers to in mythological terms when it says that man was created in God’s image (in that we are “mirrors” of the One who exists outside horizontal time), or in the Gospels, where John the Baptist bears witness to the (vertical) light--when the spirit “descended like a dove” on Jesus. In fact, the figure of Jesus is regarded as the essence of the vertical energies deposited into horizontal time, or the “word made flesh.” What is salvation history but the attempt to look for the meaning of History in light of its ultimate vertical perspective, the “exclamation point” or (eschclamation point) at the end (or top)?
Time for human beings is not the mere abstract duration of physics, but the very substance of our being, the “form of inner sense," as Kant put it. The soul is a mysterious point of potential freedom in space, while the human species is engaged in a sprint toward the realization of this freedom in historical time. History is really only one great cosmic event: the attempt to become conscious and return to God, opposed at every step by deterministic forces on the horizontal plane and by lower, anti-Divine ones on the vertical.
The time allotted to us is analogous to the shutter of a camera; it opens with our birth, allowing in the small amount of light we must work with before it closes and the universe vanishes. With that light we must enter our “dark room” and develop our conception of existence--what we are, why we are here, and what is our relationship to the whole. There are pneumagraphs laying around that others have left behind--scripture, books, images and institutions. Some of them were successful in capturing the Light, others only darkness visible.
There is so little time, but time is literally all we have: we must work while it is day, for the night cometh, when no man can work. Saying you have no time is logically equivalent to saying that you have no life, light or freedom. If you are not free, then your time really is nothing more than duration. And if you have no light, you are free in the illusory way that an animal is--free to be led horizontally by your instincts and learned behaviors.
Time. Freedom. Light. If you don’t have one, you really don’t have the others either. Your life is history.
You and I are told we must choose between a left or a right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream: the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. --Ronald Reagan
The natural course of the world is aging, sickness, and death; this means degeneration. This is not a path, but rather an unconscious gliding down of consciousness into the realm of unknowing, of forgetting, sleep and death. In contrast to this exists a path going in the opposite direction to the “way of the world,” like swimming against the the stream of the world.... Over and against the soporific influence of the world stands the way of awakening. Calls to awaken go forth from age to age originating from powerful Awakened Ones, each of whom is the central point of an awakening impulse, and who teaches the appropriate way, exemplified in himself. --Valentin Tomberg