The Spirit of History and the Shadow of Things that May Be (11.18.10)
Still, Petey pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
"The course of our lives will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if those courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"
If I were going to write another book -- which for all intents and purposes I already have, many times -- it would center around the idea of Unity. Or perhaps it would be unified around the idea of the center, which amounts to the same opposite thing. "Unity," "meaning," "purpose," "wholeness," and the "cosmic center" are all aspects of the same vertical reality.
While no form of leftism, materialism, scientism, or secularism is to be taken intellectually seriously (except as a serious threat to truth and happiness), I do take seriously orthodox spiritual views that clash with mine. The reason for this is that no form of materialism is sufficient to account for the richness, depth, and complexity of the world, and can never result in the unity which even scientists presume to exist (only materially). On the other hand, if some other guy has an alternate explanation of spiritual unity, then that needs to be given its due, since there cannot be two unities. Either one of them is wrong, or else one can be assimilated into the other.
This is why I have spent so much time discussing the traditionalist view that perfection -- which is to say, unity -- lies in the past, and that time is an ultimately degenerative process. This goes directly against my view that time is ultimately progressive, even though from within time, things are always simultaneously getting worse and better, so it's understandable that some people see through the half empty glass darkly.
I suppose it all has to do with the nature of time, doesn't it? A lot of startling things happen within time -- i.e., apparent ontological discontinuities -- that cannot be explained by either science or by tradition, but only by a higher synthesis of the two, which is what I attempt to do in my book. For example, there is not, nor will there ever be, any scientific explanation of the phenomenon of life itself, or of human consciousness. These are well beyond the limits of what materialistic science can deal with. Obviously, human consciousness explains science, not vice versa. Likewise, language and reason explain natural selection, not the converse. If evolution were the cause of language, then the truth of evolution could not be known.
I will grant the traditionalists this: the world is either headed toward apocalypse or unity. If time is progressive, then history represents an arc of salvation that will result in the reunification of the world, after our 50,000 year journey out of Africa and into the prismhouse of time and cultural diversification. If this reunification does not occur, then I agree with the traditionalists that mankind cannot be sustained, and that we are headed toward some sort of disaster foretold in all of the world's mythologies -- a disaster that falls under the heading of "apocalypse." No one knows the time, the hour, or the details, but it will be nasty. Sort of like the fantasies of the global warming hysterics, only in reality.
The question is, does history have an expiration date, or does it have a way to "renew" and regenerate itself? There are many ways to look at this question. The Christian view would be that history essentially reached its inevitable nadir long ago, which is why God decided to take things into his own hands and jump down into his creation so as to reverse its downward course. Absent having done so, history would have continued winding down into chaos and barbarism. While humans may have still existed, it would be in a kind of spiritual darkness that we can scarcely conceive. We don't have to look far to perceive the "shadow" of this darkness (so to speak), for it pervades certain precincts of the present world untouched by the Judeo-Christian timelifestream, most notably, Islamic culture and the necrophiliactivists of the psychospiritual left (not a paradox, since the left is a kind of parasitic Death that feeds on Life).
I've been reading an excellent new intellectual biography of the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, who was clearly a (small t) traditionalist, and yet, did not believe that history was inevitably winding down. He did, however, feel that only a spiritual rebirth could reverse our downward historical trend.
As Birzer explains, Dawson saw "beyond the mechanistic and materialistic understanding of history, arriving at a meta-history that transcended and transfigured conventional historical assumptions." Whereas the conventional historian who focuses on the "raw material" of history can "lose sight of the deeper spiritual forces that make history intelligible to us," Dawson attempted to place the individual "within a larger mythological understanding of story and history" and to render "the past present by the light of the eternal omnipresent."
In point of fact, the historian cannot help but place history within the context of a larger myth, the question being whether it is a true or false one (i.e., myth in the proper sense of having to do with archetypal reality, or in the fallen sense of quasi-animal imagination). For example, any sort of leftist historicism derived from Marx is pure mythology, but it is a counter-myth that is not rooted in any kind of transcendent reality, only in the mind of the leftist. The same can be said for the myths of scientism, atheism and materialism. Naturally, Dawson was not taken seriously by these intellectually unserious types, since "he took seriously the importance of the Creator, the profound implications of the Incarnation, and the movement of the Holy Spirit in history."
It is fair to say that Dawson viewed history through the lens of revelation instead of ideology -- and not just the revelation of scripture, but through the living revelation given him by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, history itself is a revelation of that same Spirit, so the writing of history ultimately involves spirit interpreting Spirit, so to speak. There is no question that he was just as "scholarly" as any academic historian, except that he was free of the narrow constraint of various fashionable ideologies which come and go.
For Dawson, historicism is "the belief that men can, by the use of their natural powers, discover an inner meaning in the historical process." Allied with this was the idea that "a civilization cannot long survive the dying of belief in a transcendent order that brought the culture into being." Therefore, by "re-mythologizing" history, Dawson was simply doing what I said must be done to avoid catastrophe, which is to write a universal history in the teeth of forces that "desire nothing less than the total subversion and destruction of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful" (Dawson was a major influence on Tolkien, who obviously attempted to remythologize the Christian West in his own way).
It was Dawson's belief that we did, however, live in a somewhat uniquely perilous age, in that (writing in 1940) "the dark forces that have been chained by a thousand years of Christian civilization... have now been set free to conquer the world." In other words, the phenomena of nazism, fascism, and communism all represented the de-Christianization and re-paganization of the West, the descent into "a chaos of pure sensation." It should go without saying that there is no merely "human" cure for this descent, and that "the forces of evil cannot be successfully resisted without the power of Spirit," the only thing which can carry on the work of Creation and thereby reverse our otherwise inevitable Fall.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you’ve shown me, by an altered life!"
The kind hand trembled.
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"