Purchasing Eternity With the Gift of Time
The question of whether mankind is degenerating or progressing inevitably touches on other fundamental complementarities such as evolution/creation, authority/personal experience, tradition/modernity, science/religion, and ultimately time/eternity. In my view there is a dialectical and generative space between the two poles, where what Mead calls "dynamic religion" may take place.
The central point, I think, is the question of the importance of time. Ironically, both science and a certain kind of religiosity devalue and even dismiss time as illusory and even pointless -- which it must in fact be if, on the one hand, there is only nature, or, on the other, only God.
But I believe time not only serves a metacosmic purpose, but that there can be no eternity in the absence of time, and vice versa. That being the case, there can also be no creation without evolution, no authority without personal experience, and no science without religion (and vice versa).
Put it thisaway: the One breaks out of eternity into two (i.e., duality), but this duality is resolved (and progress occurs) within a dynamic and transitional trinity. Thus, history can be seen as a sort of rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory) in hyperspace, as the many make their winding way back to the One. History is ultimately the straight book that God tries to write with crooked liars.
Let us stipulate that history either has a direction -- and therefore a purpose -- or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no point to anything, including religion. It would be like an endless baseball season with no World Series. Instead of a 162 game season that only seems endless, the season would actually be endless, with a new game every day, day in, day out.
Eventually, players would stop scratching their crotches and begin scratching their heads and ask themselves, "why are we doing this? Why are we playing all these stupid games?"
So the founding gods of baseball bifurcated the teams into a duality which we call the American and National leagues, and then invented this third thing called the World Series in order to create a sense of purpose and finality. Thus, when you win the World Series, you have reached the highest pinnacle, the "absolute," the baseball equivalent of enlightenment, or the toppermost of the poppermost.
But just as in religion, there is apparently more than one Absolute, since there is a new champion each year, and it is not as if the new champion surpasses all the previous ones. The 2010 Giants are not better then the 1954 Giants. Baseballically speaking, both went as high as it is possible to go in this world. Sure, you could argue over which team is better, but that's like arguing over whether Plato or Eckhart was a better hitter.
But in the case of the World Series, deep down some of us realize that it is something we merely invented for the purposes of finality. We simply superimpose it on the individual games, in order to give them a higher meaning, so to speak. Since there is this finality to an otherwise endless season, it creates intensity and drama, very much as does death (the playoffs are exciting because teams are always facing "sudden death").
If you knew you weren't going to die, it would be analogous to an endless baseball season. No, worse than that. Like an endless soccer season. No, worse. An endless soccer game. Just a bunch of people running around in circles ending in a 0-0 tie.
If history has no purpose, then it is bound to get worse, i.e., to degenerate. This is for the same reason that the quality of professional baseball would degenerate in the absence of a World Series. No one would bother acquiring a player to improve their team at the trading deadline, since there would be no deadline. Standings wouldn't matter, since there would be no point to them. Wins and losses would be just like Monopoly money, a symbol of nothing.
To the extent that things are getting worse in the world, could it be linked to the widespread belief among our elite that history has no purpose, no direction, no telos? Interestingly, this is where the secular far left and traditionalist far right converge. As an anonymous commenter mentioned, given his 'druthers, Schuon, the hardcore traditionalist,
"considered a 'totalitarian' [in the traditional religious sense] society preferable to a secular society. Religion, culture, science, art, and soccer, should all be under one heading, if you will. He was obviously opposed to secular totalitarian regimes, like the Nazis or the Soviets, but not religious totalitarian regimes. One can also see this in the leaders he writes positively about -- Charlemagne, Napolean, Franco, and even Lincoln (Lincoln's temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."
It seems to me that we have only three choices. One can go along with Schuon and other traditionalists who affirm that timeless and total truth has already been revealed to us, and that it is only for us to conform to it. Alternatively, one can be a member of the psychospiritual left, and maintain that history has no meaning except that which we impose upon it (which is no meaning at all, just self-deception).
Or, you can be one of our pneumacosmic coonfolk and maintain that timeless truth does exist. However, for our purposes, it exists in the future, not the past. Primordial man does indeed gambol above the clouds in the sacred garden atop the cosmic mountain. However, this is not just situated in the longago but the heretocome.
Our intimations of paradise are just that -- they are what Bion called memoirs of the future. Being so, they are the vector that guides history and confers its real meaning: the arc of salvolution through which we are given the uppertunity of a lifetome to dwell in time but to aim our eros at the heart of eternity. Our days are measured, guided, and given meaning by a sense of growing proximity to this sacred, nonlocal ground.
If this dimension is in the "past," then each day that passes is simply a measure of how far we have fallen from the ideal -- a meaning, to be sure, but a kind of "anti-meaning." Again, what's the point except to wait to die?
Conversely, for a member of the psychospiritual left, what's the point except to deny death and lose oneself in the senses? In this view, a Bill Maher or Hugh Hefner are the wisest men on earth.
Now obviously, various Christian theologians emphasize different sides this dialectic, hence the argument between faith and works. If eternity is all that counts, then faith is all that matters. But if history has a purpose, then works take on much more significance.
Long story short, faith and works just have to do with the practical applications of time and eternity.
Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognizable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.... [T]he whole tendency of development of an individualistic age of mankind [goes] back to the one dominant need of rediscovering the substantial truths of life, thought and action which have been overlaid by the falsehood of conventional standards no longer alive to the truth of the ideas from which their conventions started.... [M]an has to circle back towards the recovery of his deeper self and a new upward line or a new revolving cycle of civilization. --Sri Aurobindo