I think that at a most basic level my concern is apologetic in the sense of making orthodox (i.e., Nicene) Christianity something that can make sense in our fragmented cultural milieu. In doing so, I try to work within a framework that respects traditional affirmations, but which might make an approach to Christianity plausible for those who cannot accept the premodern presuppositions so much of the faith seems required to assume.
Anybody who has read this blog over time knows that I have tremendous respect for what premoderns understood. I don't think they were prone to delusion anymore than we are, and I am certain that 500 years from now people will look back to our time in amazement at how absurd and limited was our modern understanding of the world. But we live now, and if we are intellectually honest, we have to work within the limitations of its particular historical cultural frame, even knowing how provisional it is. But if late-modern and postmodern thought treats the grand narrative with such diffidence, such an attitude is liberating because we are no longer locked in to any particular way of understanding the world--scientific or religious. Anything goes--there are no heresies; there is only agreeing or disagreeing, and that gives us a latitude to explore possibilities that would have been difficult even thirty years ago. And while this is uncomfortable for those who want certainty and security, there are advantages for those who want to probe around the edges of what is currently acceptable.
The conservative/liberal cultural battle is an artifact of the modern period which continues like a bad habit. The more interesting question is what new narrative will emerge that will supersede both. And whoever comes up with the most compelling, spiritually/scientifically consonant imagination wins. Right now everything is mush, but it's not unlike the confusion experienced by the early moderns. John Milton, an admirer and younger contemporary of Galileo, was certainly open to the idea that the earth revolved around the sun, but he still wasn't sure of it. The idea was near the tipping point, but hadn't yet tipped. The same thing is likely to happen some time this century. Some new, world-view altering discovery or idea--it could be scientific or spiritual or some combination of both-- will emerged and slowly it will reach the tipping point, and the world will look differently. I am interested in stripping down Christianity to its essentials, so that when that day comes Christians will not react as so many of them reacted to Galileo. If we are currently wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, we have to travel lightly with little tolerance for the superfluous.
So I am poking around in an area that is currently pretty fringe, which is to think about history as a context for defining human purpose and meaning. I do this not because I think I understand what the purpose and meaning of history is, but because I am convinced that history has purpose and meaning, and I am drawn to think about it. I find almost everything I read on the subject inadequate--particularly by religious thinkers, and so I am trying to cobble together my own thoughts about it in a way that draws from some admittedly marginal sources and my own intuitions.
And while I recognize and accept the warnings from thinkers like Voeglin about the dangers of immanentizing the eschaton, and that the end of history cannot be known, it nevertheless seems essential to me that at some point a renewed sense of teleology become a part of our imagination of history. If we currently are wandering in the wilderness, it's ok to look forward to the occupation of Canaan, but also to know that our arrival there will present us with a new set of problems. There is no such thing as a final arrival; there is only and always the taking of the next step. But here's my point: there is a next step, and if we cannot imagine it, we cannot choose it. If we do not choose it, we live history by default.
And so without some sense of history's movement, without some sense that there is a next step, we flounder and fissiparate, and so confused and divided, we are conquered. And our particular challenge at this point in the unfolding drama is to understand the enormous significance of human freedom in shaping history. We are no longer nourished in the womb of a given tradition. Modernity has effected a virtually complete disembedding from a world given by tradition, and so very little of value is given anymore, very little prescribed for us, and so value must be discovered anew and chosen. And to the degree that we must choose, we are responsible for shaping, i.e., choosing our human future together. There are good and bad choices, and knowing the difference at least in part has to be determined by whether a choice moves us forward or moves us backward. But what does forward mean? The Liberal/progressive imagination of a better future is rear-view mirror thinking, but there are seeds in it that need to be carried forward. The same is true of traditionalist and conservative thought. It's mostly rear-view thinking and nostalgia, but there are seeds in them that need to be preserved.
But here is what I think is the key heuristic: while there is no externally given, prescribed program that tells humans what to do, humans have the interior resources to find a way, because the divine has infused itself into the depths of the human soul. Humans are not going to find the Good outside of themselves; they have to rediscover it within. We humans are the seedbed for the divine, and it is up to us whether those seeds germinate, grow, and bear fruit. If we find a way to focus on what that means and how to do it together, I think everything else will fall into place. To emphasize the point, if it is not yet clear: God isn't going to do it. He already did it, and now it's up to us. He has given us what we need; the question is whether we will recognize that we have it and do what we need to do.
And if the Good continues to be neglected, history will continue to be instinctually driven by greed and the will to power. This has always been true, and I would agree that greed and will to power have always been with us and always shall be, but that in traditional societies, East and West, these instinctual drivers have always been constrained by an idea of the Good, call it what you may--the Tao, dharma, natural law, virtue. Secular modernity, has rejected such ideas of the Good, and instead has embraced as the principle for social organization fear of chaos and the Hobbesian social contract. There is no such thing as being good or aspiring to be--only of being well behaved and lawful. Moderns do not indulge their greed or the will to power because it is fundamentally wrong to do so, but because they fear that they will eventually meet someone who will steal from them or kill them as they have killed or stolen.
But how can Thrasymachus be stopped if the typical American longs to be him. Isn't that essentially what Americans do in their embrace of Friedmanite market capitalism? Is it not broadly accepted throughout the culture that every American has the right to become as rich as he can, and once rich, that he has the right to do everything he can to protect his interests, and that that means he will try to aggregate to himself as much political power and influence as he can and with it to rig the system to favor his interests, and isn't that precisely what we are seeing and are so powerless to stop? And isn't a part of what makes us powerless the fact that so many long to be like such a one or hope his children will be, and cannot condemn in others what he admires and longs most deeply for himself? To the degree that the nation accepts this disordered understanding of human aspiration, there is no hope.
Main Street Americans are not even doing what is in their interest according to social contract theory. They are confused and asleep and most likely will remain so until it is too late. And in the meanwhile hardly anyone really believes in the Good, and the idea of public virtue has devolved into a meaningless platitude, an empty political catch phrase that nobody takes seriously. What else can be expected except that people fill the vacuum with their greed and will to power? Blagojovich isn't the exception; he typifies what most of us have come to accept as normal. Blagojovich simply confronts us with the ugly truth of a "normal" that we really are powerless to do anything about. Throwing him in jail changes nothing anymore than jailing other Illinois governors changed anything.
So I have no interest in fantasizing about an ideal future that we must all strive to realize on earth--I believe that there is an evolution of consciousness, and that modernity represented a new level of human development, but we are done with that and are moving on to the next stage which will have its own special moral challenges, which, as I've stated, have mainly to do with accepting the grave responsibility of the burdensome freedom that is now ours. And so far we have not even begun to rise to its challenge. And until enough of us do, the forces of greed and will to power win by default.