The Cosmic Covenant
In this regard, culture is an adaptation, partly to the external environment, but much more importantly, to the interior world of human subjectivity and the gift/curse of self-awareness. Once it is projected and "crystalized," culture then shapes its individual members, often in ways that foreclose their further evolution. You might say that culture is an evolutionary "niche," except that it is a manmade one to which we must then adapt. In so doing, we are "adapting to mindedness," as I put it in the book.
For example, if I were born in the Palestinian terrortories, I would undoubtedly be forced to adapt to their culture of death worship, Jew-hatred, sadistic violence, and premodern, sacrificial religiosity.
So human history -- i.e., history, as opposed to mere biology -- has a common beginning. But does it have a common end? This has always been the dream of (classical) liberals, that human groups evolve through kinship groups, to kingdoms, to liberal democracies, so that at any given time, different groups will inhabit different psychopiritual/developmental spaces.
However, the modern liberal has abandoned this notion as a Euro/ethnocentric atavism, and regards all cultures as equally precious and worthy of our respect. Thus, for example, our effort to lift Iraq out of tribal tyranny and into liberal democracy is condemned by the modern left as a literal genocide.
Now, each human culture also centers around a divine revelation at its origin. In other words, there is no culture that doesn't have a vertical source through which it acquires both its meaning and its legitimacy. There was a time, not too long ago, when men were generally unaware of the diverse revelations at the origin of different cultures.
Or, if they were recognized, then they were dismissed as error, or fantasy, or barbarism. Each culture assumes that it has been vouchsafed the Revelation, so there is nothing whatsoever that is unique about the Jews, for example, and their self-understanding as the "chosen people."
Today, all of the so-called revelations are in mutual contact, so there is no hiding the fact that there are sharp theological differences between human groups.
But in truth, even within groups, there has rarely been unanimity about the meaning of revelation, at least in the absence of coercion and violence. For example, there has never been a time that Christians have agreed on the meaning and implications of its defining events, the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
This is emphasized in a book I recently read, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I didn't really care for the book, but there is no gainsaying the author's well-documented point that Christianity -- just like Judaism -- has really consisted of one long argument, only occasionally without violence breaking out.
I don't blame the violence on Christianity, since there is nothing in it that would justify such behavior. Rather, I blame it on man. Still, what is it about the revelation that prevents it from getting through the thick skulls of its adherents? Is it just that mankind truly is that sick and depraved, so that even the strongest medicine has little effect? Or is there some defect in the message that prevents it from having the intended effect, or that is too easily swamped by man's mind parasites?
When we think of real progress -- and progress as we understand it was really only unleashed a few hundred years ago, with the scientific revolution, free markets, and liberal democracy -- we think of a movement from particularity to universality. In other words, science and economics increasingly came to revolve around universal principles that applied to all mankind, regardless of culture.
And mankind made a huge evolutionary leap when it also discovered universal political principles, e.g., life, liberty, property, the rule of law, consent of the governed, etc.
But while even barbarous governments such as Iran or North Korea are on the same page vis-a-vis the universality of nuclear physics, here at home we have our own political left, with whom we are still engaged in the battle of 1776 over universal political principles. Same old tea party against the same statist elites who would deny the universal truth of our liberty, property, and individuality.
As you know, I've been at a certain impasse recently. It's not that I have writer's block or anything like that. No, I could continue writing about the same things until I lose every last reader. The impasse has to do with whether religion must "push ahead" or remain frozen, as it were, in our present and/or traditional understanding. And as you may not know, this struggle takes place in my very own being, in that I have equal respect for certain sages and spiritual authorities who come down on opposite sides of this question.
Schuon, for example, was a strict traditionalist who believed that revelation was handed down by God, and that was that. He even situated the human cultural norm in premodern times, something that I could never go along with under any circumstances. Rather, I greatly value modernity, even though I am fully aware of its spiritual dark side. But there is always a spiritual dark side, man being what he is.
Shifting gears for a moment, I was arrested by a passage in one of Balthasar's book, in which he discusses Vatican II and its more generous -- evolved? -- attitude toward other revelations. I'll just quote him, but then I have to get ready for work:
"God's purpose after all was not merely to redeem the Church, but to save the world; the grace he has bestowed upon the world in Jesus Christ must of necessity flood over the boundaries of the visible Church, even though the Church continues to be seen as a kind of focal point of grace....
"For centuries now, theology has spoken of a 'baptism by desire,' that is, a baptism received by those who according to their limited insights have resolutely involved themselves in the kind of activity that contributes most to the welfare of their fellow men and of the world as a whole. These men are received and sustained by God's grace and are made invisible members of the visible Church....
"God's grace is bestowed in every part of the world because the 'whole Christ' fills the world with his presence.... [A]ll men who struggle for the salvation and advancement of the human race in the spirit of self-sacrificing activity are united together in a living, quasi-religious union."
Call it the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora.