As an aside, I think it is important to read the Commandments as going against human nature, otherwise why would they be necessary? Their existence seems to imply that there is a default setting in human nature that moves in the opposite direction: toward polytheism, idolatry, theft, murder, envy, etc. What I would say is that we have higher and lower natures (or vertical and horizontal), and that a central purpose of the Commandments is to tease the former from the latter.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the question of freedom, specifically, whether human beings have an innate desire for it. Like most westerners, his appreciation of freedom is so fundamental that he had difficulty accepting my belief that freedom is not a universal value, for if it were, human history would appear very different than it does.
Rather, God has to first liberate a people and teach them to sanctify their liberty -- to never forget the God who brought them out of slavery. The good news is that roughly 30% of these people still remember, and have not succumbed to the ambient spiritual I-AMnesia.
We have already touched on some of the unappreciated blessings which Christianity brought into the world, but here is where it all starts, with the vertical ingression of the divine freedom on earth. After that it is just a question of widening it out. And obviously the struggle is ongoing. This morning I read that the Islamic slavers are holding people hostage in a Jewish market. What a diabolically appropriate metaphor of human history: the divine freedom vs. demonic slavery.
We have discussed in the past how freedom developed in the west, in particular, in America. The earliest Americans did not have an abstract notion of freedom which they set about applying to human relations. Rather, they first lived it, and only afterwards drew the abstract conclusions from the lived experience. You might say that freedom was first concretely embodied -- you know, incarnated -- before it was mentalized and eventually enshrined in the Declaration.
This is quite the opposite of the French Revolution, which began with the abstract ideology of pinhead philosophes, which it then attempted to force upon the populace in a top-down manner. (This is one of the themes of the excellent The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.)
We see this same pattern in contemporary America, with tenured pinheads and political sociopaths using various groups as guinea pigs to live out their pet theories. Look what they did, for example, to the black family by interfering with its organic evolution. Although this has resulted in the destruction of millions of lives, the left will never be called to answer for the crime in this life or in this world.
Siedentop goes into how Christianity was first understood in rather concrete terms, at least among pagan peoples for whom there was a greater psychopneumatic developmental leap. For example, he notes that in the 6th century, the Mass "was assimilated to the immemorial habit of offering 'sacred' meals to ancestors." Thus, "Despite their new beliefs, Christians continued to feed the dead."
Which, I think, is preferable to the way of Islamists or tenured revolutionaries who simply hold a gun to your head or sword to your neck and invite you to accept their new abstraction.
Siedentop notes that "Only in the seventh century did the Eucharist -- the Mass -- lose this quality of a 'meal' relayed from the family to the dead." This is a fascinating observation, because it demonstrates how Christianity only gradually cured man of religion -- or of one of the default religions of mankind, ancestor worship.
As the more abstract understanding of the Eucharist is setting in, we see a parallel development, a "profound change" involving "a new fascination with the 'day of judgment,' the fate of the individual soul after death." People -- individuals -- increasingly worried "about sin and its consequences for the individual on that final day of reckoning."
You might say that this is the birth of anxiety as we have come to know it. Or, it is a redirection of whatever it is that preceded anxiety -- just fear of the external world, I guess -- toward the internal world.
So, "little wonder" that scholars such as Peter Brown "identify in this questioning a new depth of self-consciousness -- which is to say, a more individualized picture of the way things are."
And back to my own long cherished Pet Theory, we also see "the beginnings of a clearer separation of moral from physical phenomena," accompanied by an "all-important struggle within the self to create an upright will." In other words, man had to first discover the voluntary in order to perceive the involuntary. Which is maybe why Islamist slaves have no understanding or appreciation of freedom.
This developmental shift has other delightful ramifications, for example, a new distrust of merely deductive argument in favor of a more empirical approach -- you know, actually observing the world instead of simply accepting the axioms, principles, and models of authorities. People at the leading edge of cosmic evolution "began to strip intentionality from the physical world" -- i.e., disentangle world and psyche -- which is a prerequisite of the scientific method.
One has only to argue with a post-Christian liberal to appreciate how impossible it is to reason with people who have no clear distinction between the external world and the projected content of their own minds.