"We Are All Abraham Now" (11.02.10)
One of Mead's central points is that "the choices between faith and unbelief did not appear as stark to much of the English-speaking world as they did elsewhere." Rather, we have been able to maintain a creative tension between them, which forms the essence of "dynamic religion." The dynamic religion of the Anglo-American world has not just been able to coexist with, but thrive upon, the sort of skepticism that is so corrosive and ultimately fatal to static religion (which ends up being the disease that kills curiosity). In other words, our form of religiosity was well-suited not just to usher in science, but to then assimilate it and give it meaning.
People naturally seek the comfort of a closed system of thought, whether it be religious or "scientific." In the West, we have been able to reconcile the absolute and relative, time and eternity, through the notion of progress, or evolution (understood in its broader, non-Darwinian sense). Mead does a good job of showing how we in the Anglo-American world -- whether secular or religious -- all share this spiritual deep structure of faith in the idea that progress is both possible and good. Thus, we can assimilate and make sense of change, whereas overly tradition-bound cultures see change as the enemy, and therefore reject the notion of progress. They cannot escape the closed circle of tradition and therefore evolve forward.
But at the same time, English society "decided that reason cannot stand alone as the basis for a human society." In fact, "the 'scientific' societies of the Communist world, boasting of their objective grounding in rational and scientific truth... were considerably less flexible than the Western societies they opposed," just as "there was less freedom in France under Robespierre and his Reign of Terror than under the less systematic and less 'rational' revolutionary governments that preceded it."
With respect to change and progress, "the degree to which the individualistic basis of Anglo-American religious experience links the religious life of the individual to a God who reveals Himself in the changes and upheavals of life, rather than in the stabilities and unchanging verities, has had a profound effect and continues to exercise a powerful force on the English-speaking world today."
Virtually all of us in the Anglo-American world are progressives, which is to say whigs, which sets us apart from almost all cultures that have preceded -- and coexist with -- us. This is why a Raccoon believes in darwhiggian evolution. Of course evolution exists, as it is a necessary consequence of the existence of God. The only place evolution cannot occur is "within" (some might argue "beyond") God, or in the ground of the Absolute, which is necessarily outside time and therefore free of change. However, one could argue that evolution is also impossible within the leftist university, since they create a "shadow eternity" that is cut off from reality. But that is obviously a temporary condition.
Progress can only exist in the light of permanence, otherwise it is merely "change." The secular folks who go by the name "progressive" are in fact mere "changeists," since they reject that by which progress can be objectively measured, i.e., God, the Absolute.
Mead notes that Milton was one of the first to recognize this, and to argue that "truth is revealed in a process," so that "knowledge of God [as opposed to God in Himself -- GB] must necessarily change over time." Of Truth, Milton wrote that "if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition," the perfect image of a closed system -- and only an open system is susceptible to evolution.
In the English-speaking world, change was eventually understood "as a permanent, necessary, and even sanctified element of true religion." This is also responsible for our inherent optimism (at least for non-leftists), in that "the ever-recurring belief that the world is about to become a much better place is deeply rooted in Anglo-American culture." Thus, whiny and pessimistic leftists are intrinsically un-American (spritually, not factually).
Here is an interesting idea, which, like it or not, links the most unfun fundamentalist to the newest newageist: in the Anglo-American world, We are all Abraham now. The idea that we must have "a personal relationship with God" has "for more than three centuries been strengthening its hold in American life." That we must all "answer the call" and discover our own identity, vocation, and meaning, testifies "to the power of the Abrahamic archetype in the American mind":
"The Abrahamic believer, convinced that God is leading the way to an unknown future in a new land, is ready to accept not only the personal but also social consequences" of his freedom -- including his economic freedom. Those grounded in static religion naturally have difficulty accepting change, but "for the dynamic believer, change is both a sign of progress and an opportunity to show the growing virtue of faith." Thus, "with an energy that no centralizing power could ever summon or shape, millions of Americans through decades and centuries spontaneously" struggle to improve themselves and progress toward God.
Another provocative idea: "yankee secularism" is just another variation of our archetypal religious puritanism. For example, the radical secularist has simply "translated both the fervor and the certainty of ancestral New England religious convictions into a set of secular political values." And how!
Again, as we were saying the other day, there is no priggish, sanctimonious moral scold of a church lady like a secular one, such as Al Gore or the New York Times idiotorial board. Dailykos is nothing but fire-and-brimstone, snake-handling, religiously secular fundamentalist whack-jobs (see Dr. Sanity's post today for more fine examples). They hardly exude the "amused and easy tolerance" of a good-natured Raccoon, but rather, "the bitter response of a Calvinist divine to the whiff of heresy." On the one hand, America is "filled with radical revolutionaries who think they are religious conservatives." But it is also filled with conservative secular fundamentalists who think they are progressives.