Becoming Somebody on the Way to Being a Big Nobody
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There are two possible directions I could go in this morning.... three, if you count "nowhere." That's another thing -- I'm trying to find the time to make some headway with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, which is almost 800 pages long and not an easy read. It's a very important book, and one that I will be spending a lot of time discussing in future posts, partly as a way of assimilating the material, but also to show how it relates to my book. But first I have to read it. Thus far I'm only up to page 96.
I could never be an actual scholar like Taylor, but I'm certainly glad they exist. However, I feel that my task is to assimilate these "lower" truths (and I certainly don't mean that in any pejorative sense) into a more unified vision of the whole. As I once mentioned five or six or more times, I wish my book could have been spiral-bound, as an objective correlative to its interior circularity.
But I also had the idea that it could serve as a cosmic holodex, whereby readers could just insert new material to flesh out certain areas that I had to compress due to the challenge of packing 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution into 300 pages. The point is that, just like the cosmos itself, the book could expand from within, and the reader wouldn't have to just drive off my cliff notes.
Here, I'll show you what I mean. The portion of my book covered by Taylor's 776 pages is basically six pages long, from the bottom of page 174 all the way to the middle of page 180. As I wrote at the beginning of that passage, "There is a wide range of scholars, including Charles Taylor, Eli Sagan, Weston LaBarre, Lawrence Stone, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, and Norbert Elias, who have recognized that human nature is not a universal 'essence' that has remained unchanged throughout the course of history, and that it has only been quite recently -- mostly in the past three-hundred years (with notable exceptions, of course) -- that our notion of the modern self has become the norm."
That was a somewhat careless way to express it, since I actually do believe there is an archetpyal human essence, a point I flesh out in the next chapter. The coonologically correct way to have said it would be that "more humans than ever before now have the freedom and opportunity to realize their true nature, i.e., to individuate and become who they actually are." For most of human history this was an impossibility, just as it is in many cultures today. In fact, the point is clarified in the last sentence from that section on page 180:
"[T]he extent to which a culture is able to do this [i.e., allow self-actualization] is its only moral claim to power [I should have said something like 'measure of intrinsic value']; but since each person is unique, it is not possible for a culture to define the exact endpoint of development, as this would impede the free discovery of one's own essence -- both words must be emphasized, for one's essence must be freely (without compulsion) discovered, and freely discovered (not 'given' by some external model or teaching)."
There again, I'd clarify that to say that we must realize our particular archetype, but then assimilate it into the universal, a point which I believe becomes clearer in the subsequent chapter. That is what I mean by the next sentence, but then it must be surrendered to something higher. Therefore, it is wrong to imply that external models are to be discarded. To the contrary, most Christians would consider, say, Jesus, to be the universal "omega man" toward which our individual self is oriented.
But it must be an individual self, not just a caricature, an instrumental ego, or a collective self. At least in today's world. Circumstances were obviously different in the past, when people were much more anonymous, and partook of a sort of "group self." Indeed, this is one of Taylor's main points, which he supports with abundant documentation.
The implications for theology and metaphysics are of tremendous importance to our world, and need to be explicated. Unless we do so, it will be difficult for secularized people to comprehend how religion relates to their psychohistorically hard-won particular self, especially since religion has in the past been clearly at odds with individual development as a result of its faulty or limited understanding of Man's true role in the cosmic spiritual economy -- which is a full employment economy, by the way. Which is sort of the point, since everyone's got their own unique job to do and mission to accomplish within the context of the Whole.
Which brings us to a comment left yesterday, to the effect that Truth has been revealed in the person and divinity of Christ, and that it is only a matter of the person surrendering to it. Yes, perhaps, but much depends upon what is meant by "person," because, as Taylor shows, it had a very different meaning 500 years ago than it does today. His argument is way too subtle, rich, and detailed for me to get into at the moment. But I will. Right now I need to get to my unReal work.