Monday, January 14, 2008

Living in a Bersercular Age

The central question in Taylor's A Secular Age is how human beings went from a situation just a few hundred years ago, in which naive religious belief was the "default" position and unbelief was unthinkable, to our current cultural situation in which people naively believe that unbelief is the default, or "natural" position, and that belief is somehow superimposed, so to speak, on that.

To a certain extent, this simplification is true. For example, even for contemporary believers, their belief is an option or a choice, at least in the West. For our Islamic enemies, belief is clearly not a choice, since it's difficult to believe anything when your head has been removed from your body.

But for the radical left as well, unbelief might as well not be a choice. It's just a naive, unreflective, and kneejerk stance, for example, in our fully secularized academia. Therefore, it seems that only in the freely religious society is the believer able to exercise his freedom to choose God. This is clearly one of the things that makes the United States (and a few other places) so unique and valuable.

Just as love isn't love if it is compelled, only if you are free to reject faith is faith truly meaningful. For this reason alone we could say that the present age (at least in the modern West) is -- at least potentially -- more spiritually "evolved" than premodern societies where faith was taken for granted and not freely chosen. Really, the main purpose of my book was to make religion relevant to modern minds who might otherwise be caught up in the cultural template of naive unbelief, and therefore miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

I have heard it said that both Christianity and modern rabbinical Judaism were distinct but parallel developments that grew out of the matrix of a more "primitive" Judaism. Despite doctrinal differences, what unites them under the surface is the "interior" turn they reflected in the first century AD.

For example, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, Jews were forced by circumstances to go from a more exteriorized and ritualistic form of worship to a much more interior understanding, as reflected in the development of the Talmud. It was presaged in the allegorical approach of a Philo Judaeus (20 BC - 50 AD), whose style of thought is remarkably similar to early Christian fathers from Origen to Denys the Areopagite.

Likewise, I think something analogous has happened in the last few hundred years, in that both secularism and contemporary religiosity grew out of a religious matrix in response to the challenges of modernity. Just as there might be a deep "pneuma-cognitive" structure uniting Christianity and Judaism, there might be one that unites the seeming opposites of secularism and modern religiosity, which have worked dialectically to produce a deeper understanding of reality -- but only where both have been allowed to flourish, most notably, in the United States.

The "culture war" -- which is very real -- does not -- or at least should not -- involve the effort of one side to vanquish the other. The religious side actually understands this much better than the angry and paranoid secular side, since there is no remotely serious movement that aims to return to a premodern mode of government, in which religious authorities control all aspects of life. Rather, the argument is over the middle area, where the two overlap. For example, secularists want to ban religion from our schools, but no religious person wants to ban secularism.

Either way, it is again totally naive to think of secularism as a sort of religion-free zone, without any distorting preconceptions of its own. In fact, if we want to stand back and take a more disinterested view, we can see that the forces of secularism and religiosity have worked dialectically over the past several centuries to produce something greater, at least in the United States. This was certainly implied in Mead's God and Gold, which I discussed in tedious detail in a series of posts a couple months back.

Religious believers may be naive in failing to realize how secularized their minds are. This was implied in a comment the other day, to the effect that Truth was revealed two thousand years ago in the person of Christ, and that it is only for us to surrender to it. Again, Taylor's book traces the remarkable journey which has taken us "from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others." In the past, it was quite easy and "natural" to be a believer, whereas now -- especially if you live near a big city, as I do -- it is a constant challenge, as you must run counter to all of the forces around you. Indeed, I am a Mighty, Mighty Man.

Thus, even to say that we must "surrender" to "Truth" is a metaphysically loaded statement, full of preconceptions and problematics that did not exist two thousand years ago. What ever happened to the human mind that allowed it to conceive of and make such a profound choice? And is the freedom to do so a good thing or a bad thing? No one thought so until quite recently, and most of the world still doesn't think so. No one in Saudi Arabia is given the freedom to be a Muslim, just as, for all practical purposes, no one in liberal academia is free to be, say, a Christian historian in the manner of Christopher Dawson (whom we also discussed in detail in a series of posts a while back), much less a Christian biologist or physicist.

In my years of training to become a clinical psychologist, I never encountered a single idea from the extraordinary wellspring of Christian psychological thought from Augustine to the present day -- which is one of the reasons why the field is so off its rocker, for example, reducing man to animal impulses and desires instead of human virtues and responsibilities. The situation is positively kooky, one more reason why I could never be a therapist and instead had to invent the field of coonical pslackology. But nearly all professional organizations have been similarly hijacked by the forces of secular extremism.

Well, we're already up to page 3. Only 773 more to go.

9 Comments:

Anonymous dloye said...

"...both secularism and contemporary religiosity grew out the challenges of modernity. Just as there might be a deep "pneuma-cognitive" structure uniting Christianity and Judaism, there might be one that unites the seeming opposites of secularism and modern religiosity..."

Huh? A cognitive structure joining secularism and religiosity? Sort of like twins joined at the hip, one evil twin at that? Is my coonfusion obvious?

WV: alosz. That's me alosz.

1/14/2008 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Yes, clearly. In many ways secularism and modern religious thought have much more in common than modern and premodern religious thought. You wouldn't want to live in the premodern world, trust me. Been there, done that.

1/14/2008 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally you have come around :P

1/14/2008 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous at in la said...

"Religious believers may be naive in failing to realize how secularized their minds are. This was implied in a comment the other day, to the effect that Truth was revealed two thousand years ago in the person of Christ, and that it is only for us to surrender to it."

Hi Bob, the naive commenter from the other day, here. ; )

If I could...First, I agree with most everything you're saying here. From my perspective, it's actually very Catholic most of the time, even though many here may not be aware of it. And again, I think you do a great job and service in unpacking these wonderful and illuminating truths for those with little or no knowledge, and even for those in the gno and with faith. And I can appreciate you presenting things the way you do to afford people the opportunity of a lifetime (and I might also add the choice of a lifetime. But we probably mean the same thing), as you said, who may not step through the door otherwise.


However, I wasn't implying surrendering to the one time event or an idealized person/persona or some stagnant ideal. The Truth is the Truth. And you're right, there is an evolution or unfolding of Truth. Within humanity and within ourselves. But for us as Christians (again I'm Catholic) we believe that Christ is the total fulfillment of Truth, and that it was not only revealed in Him, but continues to be revealed in and through Him. Even if you don't subscribe to being a Christian, but live according to the truth as best you can, we'd say that that truth (or Truth) is Christ. He extends into the past, present and future, and contains all. He's a living Reality.

From the opening of the gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

I'm almost positive you would agree, that surrendering to Reality (even though someone may not recognize it as Christ) is the only sane choice and the only way to true peace and happiness. It's just for Christians, we see that Reality as Christ. That's what I meant by Truth being revealed in Christ and surrendering to Him. Or in other words, surrendering to Reality. Yes, this is a Christian perspective, but I believe worthy of note for those who may not be aware of that particular perspective; that to the Christian, Christ is and contains all of any truths you eloquently present here. And before I get any firestorm of negative comments, I know this is a Christian worldview. But you're free to take it or leave it, as Bob illustated today.

If I personally find "fault" with anything here at OC, if you want to call it that, it's that Bob circles the center without actually entering it. Namely Christ. In the age old question, "Who do you say that I am?" I wonder at Bob's response.

I don't expect an answer, but I do think of it. Afterall, I'm a Christian.

I hope I've been able to clear up the misintrepretation of what I wrote a couple of days ago and not created new ones. I'm not nearly as clear a writer as Bob.

Peace

1/14/2008 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

"In my years of training to become a clinical psychologist, I never encountered a single idea from the extraordinary wellspring of Christian psychological thought from Augustine to the present day -- which is one of the reasons why the field is so off its rocker, for example, reducing man to animal impulses and desires instead of human virtues and responsibilities."

Desmond Morris comes to mind, with his popular series about the human animal. While some of what he has to say is interesting, it is not by any stretch the whole picture. Rather, it is in a sense like looking at the foundation of a tremendous structure and mistaking it for the entire thing. Or perhaps like seeing only the walls and struts and missing the significance of the windows and the open space inside, without which you would not have a structure at all, but merely a tremendous lump.

1/14/2008 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Let me add my two cents (adjusted for coonflation) to the surrender discussion.

I believe that the surrender that the Christian is called to (and for that matter any religious person who has not been pathologically Osamified) is purely one of the will. By the will, I mean that fallen nature of ours that refuses to relinquish its own self-sufficiency and its own intellectual and spiritual supremacy (i.e, scientism). The will, when properly surrendered to the Spirit, is actually a good thing; it gives us the ability to survive adversity and to be persistent when we encounter obstacles to our goals and happiness. However, our wills are fallen; how else to explain our natural resistance to being told we are wrong and to acknowledging higher wisdom than our own. It is this rebellious will that in the end proves to be self-destructive that we must surrender to emerge from the quagmire of horizontal self-supremacy into the light of a guided tour of reality and Truth. This is the same surrender that the 12-step groups speak of when battling addictions. It's the same surrender that Jesus experienced at Gethsemene.

Nowhere in the entire scripture can I recall man being asked to surrender his self-identity and his intellect; only his self-supremacy, which is what led to the disaster in the Garden in the first place (whether you see that story as literal or allegorical, doesn't matter, it was a disaster any way you look at it). Humanity gave in to the temptation to be like God and become supreme in himself. That drive for self-supremacy has given us Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Osama, Ahmadinajihad, Keith Olberman, etc.

The surrender of the will is the antithesis of the triumph of the will (the title of a film about Hitler, for history buffs). It in no way implies a surrender of one's principles or self-identity, and especially not of one's country, like the misguided Christan pacifists tell us. The surrender of the will is a paradox; only in this surrender can we have true freedom and liberty. Self-supremacy is slavery to the fallen impulses; Britney and Lindsay are two of the finest examples of that I can think of.

1/14/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Anonymous at in la said...

tsebring,

very well put.

1/14/2008 09:14:00 PM  
Anonymous k fed said...

tsebring,

Britney surrendered the kids, does that count?

1/14/2008 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Thus, even to say that we must "surrender" to "Truth" is a metaphysically loaded statement, full of preconceptions and problematics that did not exist two thousand years ago."

I used to think that was such a simple statement, but even defining those words can be fraught with all kinds of complexity.

For instance, what is Truth?
What is truth?
Okay already I know there are different types of truths; physical, metaphysical, secular and religious, levels, layers, shallow and deep, above and below, etc...
The dictionary...oh wait...which dictionary?
What about personal experience?
Revelations? What does the Sensei say? What about ego? Ego? Mind parasites? Subjective or objective? Both? How soon? How long? How deep?
What if I'm wrong? I was so sure before...
I'm certain, damnit!

Clearly, only a few folks ever coonsidered these questions and thousands more about truths, and the absolute Truth(s).

What's the answer? What's the Answer? You mean there's more than One?
I used to be able to answer these "simple" questions quite easily.
Now, even if I can answer some of them, I gno it's not always best to do so.

Anyway, I believe that's a part of what Bob is talkin' about here.
Often, we take for granted that everyone in the past was basically just like us.
Hell, most people in the world today have verry little in common with us.

Why? In a word, liberty.
Yeah, I know it's more complicated than that, or Bob wouldn't have 773pages to go.
My point is...what in the hell was my point anyway? :^)

1/15/2008 06:42:00 AM  

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