The Diagnosis and Treatment of Secular Man
Again, it is axiomatic that if man, history, and the cosmos do not point beyond themselves to a transcendent end -- to something outside themselves -- they cannot be meaningful, period.
Really, there are no degrees of meaning; rather, there is either meaning or meaninglessness (similar to there being only nihilism or theism, with nothing in between; or, more precisely, prolongations of either more nihilism or theism in between). Or, put it this way: unless meaning is anchored in Meaning, then all of the little meanings we come up with are just fleeting shadows we invent to pretend that life is more significant than it is.
This also goes to the meaning of the personal self. Why does it exist? Science, of course, cannot answer this question, for the same reason that it cannot legitimately answer any "why" question. For science -- even leaving aside the ideological reductionism and materialism that results in the deformity of scientism -- is a closed system. It absurdly posits a universe that is sufficient unto itself to explain itself and everything in it (and I use the word "absurd" in a literal sense, not as a term of abuse; I'll get to the abuse later.).
While this anti-philosophy obviously appeals to a certain kind of desiccated soul who is either not metaphysically sophisticated or in rebellion against God, it is the quintessence of a mirage. Trying to ground the metaphysical basis for such an impoverished view is about as fruitful as looking for the end of a rainbow. For both phenomena have only to do with a transient illusion that emerges due to certain concatenation of eyes, light, and vapor (or man, tenure, and gas).
As we have mentioned before, Eastern religions tend to err on the side of transcendence, devaluing this life as maya. To back up a bit, any religion begins with a diagnosis of man as such (doctrine), followed by a prescription, or kind of pneumatherapy (method): like medicine, it's Dx --> Rx --> Tx.
Buddhism, for example, diagnoses man as living in illusion, the biggest illusion of them all being that the personal self actually exists. Thus, its therapy involves "waking up" to this prior fact ("Buddha" roughly means "awakened"). Strictly speaking, its method of therapy does not result in the "attainment" of anything, only the recognition of what is, which is shunyada yada yada, or nothing but the ceaseless, passing play of empty phenomena.
In the absence of revelation, this is as far as religion can aspire. In other words, there is natural religion and transnatural religion; or, religions of ascent and religions of descent.
In the West we also have our religions of ascent, most notably the neo-Platonic tradition that reaches its perfect expression in Plotinus. Please note that this method (or cosmo-therapy) involves no grace, or (↓), only our own (↑). It does work, but at the expense of obliterating the personal self and rendering its hopes and dreams so much vain strutting and striving on the cosmic stage. Nor does the One care about us in any personal way.
What if scientism were a religion? What would be its diagnosis, or doctrine? And its method, or therapy? I suppose its diagnosis would be analogous to Buddhism, in that it affirms that you are living in illusion -- for example the illusion that you are more than your genes, that life is more than a statistically rare agglomeration of matter, or that human existence has any purpose beyond perpetuating itself (which is no purpose at all).
And what would be its therapy? I suppose attending one of its seminaries and assimilating this teaching from the priesthood of physicists and biologists. "Salvation" would be liberation from the error of religion, or really, from any kind of transcendent meaning or purpose in general. Once you recognize that life is just a meaningless competition of selfish genes, you have received the secular gnosis.
However, in any real religion there is recognition of the truth, followed by its gradual assimilation, i.e., conforming one's being to it (hence the need for ongoing "therapy," i.e., spiritual practice). It's one thing to recognize, say, Darwinism, but what would it mean to truly assimilate its truth (illumination), purge one's being of error (purification), and to live in conformity with it (unification)?
In order to do that, you would have to leave behind all traces of illusory human meaning, and see through the various stratagems produced by selfish genes. For example, you would have to recognize that romantic love is just an illusion created for the purposes of getting one's genes into the next generation. In this context, homosexuality would have to be the ultimate his & heresy, but marriage of any kind would be for sentimental fools.
Anyway, we were about to get into a discussion of the order of the mind, which itself is an interesting word, order. For the cosmos is not just ordered (obviously), but hierarchically ordered, in such way that man is confronted with various intelligible and relatively autonomous "orders."
For example, there is the order of physics, the order of biology, the order of mind -- everywhere we look, order. Why? And what is the relationship between, say, the order of the cosmos and the order of the soul? Scientism would insist that there is no such relationship, and that any supposed order of the soul is just another illusion that ultimately reduces to the order of matter.
But any religious tradition holds the opposite view, that man is both microcosm and mediator, and that there is an intimate relationship between the micro- and macrocosm: as above, so below. And ironically, the pursuit of genuine science began with this assumption, but has gradually severed itself from its own lofty roots.
But make no mistake: any tenured primate who pretends to understand reality is implicitly affirming that man the microcosm is uniquely capable of conforming his understanding to the macrocosm -- that the two are somehow one in the act of knowing that bridges them.
More generally, he is affirming that man is capable of adequating himself to ultimate reality, which is precisely what a Raccoon believes -- and which is why I don't understand the charges of "arrogance," "absolutism," or "absurd self-confidence." Those charges aren't rational. Rather, they are just what happens when someone who thought his was the only religion encounters another people with a different religion.
Out of time. To be continued....