In my post the other day, my fundamental point was that too many, probably most, people who call themselves Christian tend to look at the Gospel message through their tribal filters rather than to look at their tribal culture and its presuppositions through a Christian filter. No one is able completely to transcend the culture into which he was born, but at least since the axial period, especially in Greece, Israel, and India, a certain kind of individual appeared--a philosopher, prophet, or enlightened guru--who stood in relationship to the culture as someone who had one foot outside of it and one in. These figures, particularly in the West, have played a fundamentally subversive role because of their way of challenging the given assumptions of the tribal mentality and calling the tribe to move beyond their tribally defined, i.e., socially constructed limitations. These are the type for the fringe people to which I adverted in my last post.
The Judaeo-Christian stream differed from the Greek and Indian one because it validated time in a way the other two didn't. I and others would argue that a purely Greek or Indian idea of time would have made a Vico or Hegel or Marx, or even a Darwin an impossibility. The idea of progress or of progressive politics is an impossibility without this biblically rooted mythos providing the narrative context, even if it is not consciously acknowledged.
The Judaeo-Christian narrative sees time as having a beginning and end rather than in the cyclical terms the other two did. Time begins with Genesis in a garden and ends with Apocalypse in a city--the New Jerusalem. I would argue that the implied progression here is from embedded consciousness to a re-embedded consciousness we don't yet understand. We're still in the last throes of disembedding and only taking the most preliminary steps toward re-embedding. The French and Russian revolutions were, I would argue, failed premature attempts at such a re-embedding because the people seeking to effect it in those societies were not sufficiently disembedded or mature enough in their individualism to succeed. I would argue likewise that the developed societies are more progressed in their individualism, but not yet mature enough to successfully re-embed. That's at the heart of this awkward, neither-here-nor-there stage we're in at the moment. We know we can't go backward, but we haven't a clue how to go forward. We're stalled, and it's painful.
So I don't think many people would argue against the assertion that the idea of historical progress depends on the biblical mythos, but here's the thing: Who believes in historical progress anymore? Since the two world wars of the last century, the idea of progress has fallen on bad times because it was linked to the Enlightenment ideal of rationality and progress through science--that progress was imagined by Enlightenment cultural elites to be an emergence from, or disembedding from, superstition and irrationality into a disembedded world inhabited by free individuals ruled by reason and science.
But all we got in the end was more confusion and bloody chaos. We got the transformation of one of Europe's most enlightened cultures into a pack of genocidal madmen and the good guys produced the nuclear capability to destroy the world several times over. And then on a parallel track we saw the totalitarian subjugation of huge swaths of the globe by ruthless Jacobin/Marxists inspired by enlightenment ideals of justice and equality. It will put a little crimp in any optimism people felt about Enlightenment way of framing progress.
So does anybody believe in progress anymore? What exactly do secular political progressives think we are progressing toward, anyway? It doesn't matter where we're going for most of these, because progress has mainly meant moving away from all that murky religious irrational stuff from the past. They define themselves more by what they are trying to get away from than by what they are trying to move toward. And so the scientific/enlightenment idea of progress persists among these for want of anything better, but I would argue that science's idea of the human trends toward the cyborgism I alluded to in my last post: Progress and human evolution will be humanly engineered through biological and information technologies. The potential disasters that will follow from a spiritually naive and morally bankrupt human race creating such new beings has been well imagined in science fiction from Frankenstein to Battlestar Galactica. The "singularity" will be the true Apocalypse.
But my point is not to decry these developments. I accept them as inevitable until a robust spiritually inspired alternative emerges. And now there simply is not one that has broad cultural credibility. That's my reason for having little regard for the role of the churches in dealing with this monumental challenge. They have, to use the current argot, "branding problems" that make it virtually impossible for them to be taken seriously except by those who are still tribally identified with them. I don't see this as a permanent condition, but renewal will come from the wilderness fringes, not from the establishment center.
My longstanding argument here has been that we are in a decadent period, and by decadent I follow Jacques Barzun's definition as a temporary phase during which a culture loses any sense of future possibility. As individuals we may have our ambitions and hopes, but as a culture we do not--certainly not in the way the West viewed progress in the 19th century. So the point of my last post was to argue that it is pointless to lament the spiritual darkness into which we have been plunged, and that it is counterproductive to scramble this way and that to find some unworkable fix for it the way conservatives seem bent on doing.
Rather than lament to the loss of what had been in the past vital tribal and blood connections--connections to the tribal culture, the land, and nature--we should embrace their loss and plunge into the darkness as if into a Cloud of Unknowing. Because unlike the Desert Fathers who felt compelled to leave the tribe behind by plunging into the desert wilderness, the wilderness has come to us and is stripping us of our tribal mentalities whether we will it or not. Not everybody can embrace the darkness in freedom this way, but if enough do, they will be the ones who will move us out of decadence to whatever is next.