For a long time, I have studied Eastern and old Western worldviews with fascination, learning a little about how similar problems can be met with such different solutions. Contrast, for instance, the solutions to the problem of suffering–the asceticism of the East, the acquisition of the capitalist, the charity and fellowship of the Christian. Yet what dominates this world today, all of it, is the overarching idealism of the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment introduced a new dialectic into Western thought that spread like wildfire over three centuries and a half. The idea of progress, so foreign to the medieval mind, firmly entrenched itself in the reigning humanism, and Hegel gave it perhaps its most elegant formulation–that of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
Loosely, one propounds a thesis, against which is set an antithesis. Through the dialectic of history (in Hegelian terms, the World-Spirit, Weltgeist), a synthesis is reached, encompassing the best of both thesis and antithesis. This is the fundamental idea, in many ways, behind our fundamentally linear view of history. Point A, being later than point B, is therefore more advanced.
Recent dramatic failures of this worldview have indicated to me that a re-evaluation of this paradigm of progress is necessary. Consider, for instance, the contemporary clamor for gay rights. There was a problem with the treatment of homosexuals, and so an antithesis was propounded: gay marriage. Now all we need to do is just get along, people, and quit resisting Progress.
It’s almost too simple really. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. If there’s a thesis, all I need to do is find an antithesis, and Bingo!–problem solved with a simple synthesis.
We’ve highlighted a latent flaw in the system. Humans are weak, and flawed, and fallen. Even if we could agree, we can’t solve every problem that exists. If we could, what use a Savior?
So what? Are you suggesting, Neal, that we give up? Not at all. I am not damning four centuries of progress. The Enlightenment has given us much of what is good in the modern world. But perhaps it is time to take the notion of Progress with a grain of salt. Perhaps it is time to realize that as telestial beings, there are problems we can’t simply throw enough logic and ethics at to solve, because those aren’t the solutions.
God isn’t using this to say “I told you so.” He’s not sitting back and enjoying the show as we butt heads. But it is happening because of our fundamentally flawed, limited nature. Against the backdrop of sin, our eyes can’t pick out all the details–and even if they could, we couldn’t satisfy the demands of mercy and justice. We simply don’t know how.
A human paradigm is, at best, a mere parable of the divine paradigm. We need to recognize this, and move towards what God knows to be best, not what we think that God knows is best.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. ∙”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” saith the Lord. ∙”For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 7-9).
The focus tends too often to be on symbolic victories–marriage, in the case of gay rights; universal health care, in the case of the poor; a lifted trade embargo, in the case of Africa. A symbolic victory glibly obscures the real issues and gives the illusion of true progress too easily. Our minds are too easily tricked, and our outraged egos too easily distracted by The Next Big Thing. Even in the case of problems we can solve, we risk remaining at antithesis–we’ve recognized that women are oppressed, and so now we patronize them with Hillary Clinton and pink iPods.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? ·Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? ·Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? ·And why take ye thought for raiment?
·Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
·Therefore take no thought, saying, “What shall we eat?” or, “What shall we drink?” or, “Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: ) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. ·But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
·Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matthew 6:25-34).
We are taking thought for the wrong things, rather than considering what the Lord has invited us to consider. What is that? Read the Sermon on the Mount again, and see. Its moral injunctions fit within the context of any religion I know well.
This isn’t to say that I know all the answers. I haven’t given any here, certainly. But maybe we ought to listen a little harder to the Holy Ghost, rather than the pundits and fearmongers–on both sides. We’re trapped in either/or thinking–and it’ll take more than “dialogue” to get us out of it.