Discovering New Worlds within Worlds
Secular types imagine this doesn't apply to them -- as if it is possible to approach the world without any beliefs, assumptions, or principles whatsoever -- but this is analogous to a computer with no program, or a game with no rules. Furthermore, many of our deepest assumptions are innate and inbuilt, even limiting ourselves to the horizontal. Call it the "wisdom of the species," if you like.
Come to think of it, we have in the past discussed those four annoying limitations or infirmities that constrain every man, every time, here for example:
First, we are "creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle" (Schuon). Second, we are not angels; we are neither at the top nor the bottom of the vertical hierarchy, but somewhere in the middle -- which, of course, goes to the issue of free will, as we are suspended halfway between our better and worse selves, between the saints and the Sharptons. Third, as unique individuals we have essential differences that are not accidental or contingent. This is not a matter of "ego" but of self, i.e., our divine clueprint.
The fourth infirmity touches on what we usually think of as sin, since these are the differences that are accidental or contingent, not essential. More often than not they are a result of mind parasites of varying degrees of virulence, but sometimes they are simply a result of inertia, convenience, dullness, conformity, credulousness, absence of curiosity, or tenure (i.e., all of the above). (More fine insultainment here.)
At any rate, a primary difference between Christians and secularists is that we are candid in announcing our metaphysical assumptions up front, while they either pretend they don't have any, or else lack the cognitive sophistication to understand what they are.
For example, the most dense among them -- e.g., what's his name, the glorified planetarium gift shop manager -- unwittingly deny all of man's intrinsic infirmities, which is why they can be such inappropriately confident yahoos. But even denying infirmity #1 lands us in all sorts of trouble. To quote myself:
"The first is the Biggest, which is why it is enshrined in the First Commandment: sorry, but you are not God. You are 'creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle or Being.' In fact, only the godless can be unaware of the fact that they are not God, which is probably the greatest source of their political mischief. As Obama might say, if I had a God, he'd look like me."
Back to the new logic and constraints brought into the world by Christianity. These two are different but equally important.
With regard to logic, Christianity furnishes certain premises which man must work out on his own. With regard to the constraints, certain avenues of thought become either unthinkable or, more to the point, unworthy of thought: they are cognitive nul de slacks. At the same time, certain behaviors are off limits, say, cutting open a live human being in order to see what's going on inside. For now man is aware of "a 'moral' law distinct from custom or human command."
As it so happens, my fourth grade son is being forced to read a nauseatingly politically correct book about the Indians. For the sake of equal time, I pulled out my copy of D'Souza's America, which has a chapter on the Indians. At the beginning he addresses the objection that Columbus couldn't have "discovered" America, being that there were already people here. But this ignores the deeper point, that it was a European who landed in America, not a native American who landed in Europe. There are important reasons why the latter was impossible.
One central reason is that the discovery of this new material world followed on the heals of the prior discovery of another new world: the human interior. I hope I'm not beating a dead hobby horse, but one of the reasons I am so drawn to this book is that Siedentop shares many of my ideas about the emergence -- or discovery -- of this new interior world.
For example, "The sharp edge of the moral sword wielded by churchmen cut through to -- and exposed -- an 'awareness of self'.... in its essentials, the realm the clergy claimed for themselves and sought to defend was unseen. It was within." He quotes one representative churchman, who said that God "resides in us like the soul in our body... Ever must we cling to God, the deep, vast, hidden, lofty and almighty God."
This is one of those notions that now seems second nature to us, but it was a radically new conception at the time. I don't have sufficient time to be systematic here, so I'll just cite some additional examples from Siedentop. He references the historian Guizot, who claims that "If the Christian Church had not existed, the... world must have been abandoned to purely material force." The Church "spread abroad the idea of a rule, of a law superior to all human laws."
Although modern secularists may regard this as some sort of "oppression," it was in fact a liberation, part of the truth that sets us free. And as we have been acknowledging all along, it took many centuries for the message to sink in and change man from the inside out. But change it did. There is a reason why even (most) secular westerners cannot conceive of, say, murdering a writer who pokes fun at the messiah while screaming obamahu ackbar! Rather, they just hack your computer.
The discovery of this new interior world contributes to a growing awareness of the distinction between power and authority, or force and right, or spiritual and temporal power:
"The separation of temporal and spiritual power is based upon the idea that physical force has neither right nor influence over souls, over conviction, over truth. It flows from the distinction established between the world of thought and the world of action, between the world of internal and that of external facts" (ibid., emphasis mine).
Siedentop continues: "Distinguishing spiritual from temporal power rests on the premise of individual conscience," for "there must be a sphere within," a God-given "area of choice, governed by conscience." Or just say horizontal freedom guided by vertical constraint -- constraints which must equally apply to terrestrial rulers (the "rule of law").
Today's bottom line: "Increasingly, acknowledging that subjects had souls was making a difference to the question of what constituted proper governance. It was another step in inventing the individual."