Part 4: The Anthropocentric Turn
Let's sum up what we've presented in Parts 1 - 3. Part 1 focused on the process of disembedding from the premodern enchanted social and cosmic imaginary to one that is thoroughly disembedded and disenchanted. This disembedding process has produced the buffered selves that we have become and the radically secular society to which buffered selves are native. The radically secularized society culminates a long process that began in the Axial period starting in the first half of the first millennium BCE.
The Axial religions, among them Buddhism, Greek ontology, Judaism--and later Christianity--are significant because for the first time they assert that there is a higher Good than ordinary human flourishing. They introduce the idea that there is a level of Being that transcends our ordinary experience of the world, and that true happiness or liberation lies in aligning with that transcendent, universal Good rather than in traditional religious practices that focus on appeasing or propitiating local gods. So while the enchanted world of spirits, demons, devas is still very much a part of the world in which the post-Axial spiritual practices are developed, the dynamics of the enchanted world are unimportant. The goal is to not worry about all that, but rather to focus on aligning oneself with the higher Good. So this starts the process of disembedding and disenchantment in these different societies, a movement from local and particular to transcendent and universal.
Buddhism envisions liberation as deliverance from the chain of incarnations in world where the ordinary pursuit of human flourishing was considered delusion; the goal was to shed the illusion of one's individuality and to melt back into the cosmic pleroma--the Deep Real. Judaism taught that while there may be many gods, they were false gods, and there was only one that was the true God, a 'personal' Deep Real, whose existence transcended time and space and yet who cared about the people to whom he said he was betrothed. Loving Him and obeying his laws should be their only concern, and the ancient Israelites developed a society that disembedded them from the enchantment-heavy pagan fertility cults in the societies that surrounded them. No need to propitiate or appease the local gods for this and that; there was only the one God: if the good Jew loves this God and follows his law, he will flourish.
Greek ontology asserted that there was a Deep Real that transcended space/time and which provided a universal standard of truth and goodness by which the quality of things in space time could be measured. And Christianity integrates both the Jewish and Greek streams in a synthesis that paradoxically asserts that the transcendent Deep Real--the Logos--entered into space time in a way that opens up possibilities for the transformation of space time that were before impossible. The paradox of the transcendent immanentizing is something that Jews and Greeks (and their rationalist heirs) could not accept then or now. It was blasphemous for Jews and a logical impossibility for Greeks.
Part 2 focused on the unique impulse for reform that developed within Latin Christendom, which goes through two phases: the first, was/is very like the Buddhist model in which there are two levels of religious commitment. The higher level was lived by monks outside the world of flourishing and committed to the goal of living a life that sought greater levels of alignment with the transcendent Good. The second level was lived by everyone else whose lives were mostly circumscribed by concerns about ordinary human flourishing--health, prosperity, fertility-- and religious practice for them was mainly one of management of the spiritual forces that promoted or obstructed flourishing. In Buddhist and in Western (and Eastern} Christianity, a two-level system of hierarchical spiritual complementarity developed in which both levels worked in a larger system of hierarchical social complementarity.
This system promoted social stability to a fairly significant degree, although there was always tension because of the gap that lay between the higher and the lower levels. No one in Latin Christendom--or anywhere else--believed during the first millennium BCE that society was reformable by the standards presented in the gospels. If the transcendent Good to which the gospels pointed was to have a transformative effect, it would be only in the lives of spiritual virtuosi who left society and went into literal or figurative wildernesses to find the transcendent Good there. As St. Anselm (d. 1109) said:
If thou wouldst be certain of being in the number of the elect, strive to be one of the few, not of the many. And if thou wouldst be quite sure of thy salvation, strive to be among the fewest of the few… Do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or by night, that they may attain everlasting blessedness.
The elitism is pretty stark, and it doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Christ of the gospels who spent most of his ministry with ordinary folks and often society's outcasts. The wilderness and mountain fastness are places where in Jewish and Christian tradition one encounters the transcendent Good, but the goal is not to stay there, but rather to come back into society. So the second phase, which Taylor calls the evangelical turn, seeks to break out of this static, hierarchical, elitist understanding of the Christian life and to raise the standards of religious practice throughout the larger extra-monastic society. In the 1200s the Franciscan and Dominican orders emerge to take the higher transcendently grounded spirituality out of the monasteries and into the world. Other popular religious movements emerge, and a serious Christian life becomes a possibility for people who are not monks.
So in the late medieval period, this kind of seriousness, however, continues to be mixed in with Christianized pagan popular practices that are designed to help the everyday Christian manage in a still very enchanted world. There is this mix of enchanted religion in popular piety, but also a very strong idea that the God of Love who revealed himself in His Son wanted them all to live lives that sought to be closer to Him. In that late medieval world there was an interesting, vibrant mix of religious possibilities. So people were religious in all kinds of ways and at all different levels of seriousness, some in a more pre-Axial key, others in a more post-Axial key for whom spiritual transformation or 'theosis' was the focus of their practice. And the institutional church and its leadership reflected this hodgepodge of possibilities, sometime leaning more post-Axial, sometimes more pre Axial, sometimes just concerned with its own institutional prerogatives and power. The selling of indulgences was clearly more pre-Axial in its mentality, and it was this and other pre-Axial tendencies of the Roman Church that inclined a growing educated, literate class in the Renaissance period to demand radical reforms in the 16th Century.
The Calvinist reformers rejected the Catholic pluralistic model, and adopted a model that was more like the society of the ancient Israelites. There was one norm of righteousness, and everybody had to live by it. No more pluralism of practice, no more Christianity at higher and lower levels or different speeds. Everybody was equal in the eyes of God, and Christian practice was the same for everybody. So this collapsed the two-level spiritual/secular system in the Catholic model--the spiritual as a special vocation of prayer and contemplation was eliminated completely, and with that the eventual unintended consequence of creating a much larger space for the secular.
But to the extent that churches, and later states with churches, set themselves the goal of mobilizing and organizing and actively bringing about these higher levels of conformity to (what was seen as ) the Christian life, this latter comes to be codified, laid out in a set of norms. Reform comes to be seen as a serious business, brooking no alternatives. There is no more separate sphere of the "spiritual" where one may go to pursue a life of prayer outside the saeculum; and nor is there the other alternation between order and anti-order, which Carnival represented. There is just this one relentless order of right thought and action, which must occupy all social and personal space.
How then does the break-out occur? Because the very attempt to express what the Christian life means in terms of a code of action in the saeculum opens the possibility of devising a code whose main aim is to encompass the basic goods of life in the saeculum: life, prosperity, peace, mutual benefit. In other words, it makes possible what I call the anthropocentric shift. Once this happens then the break-out is ready to occur. It just needs the step to holding that these "secular" goods are the point of the whole code. Pushed by annoyance and resentment at the ascetic demands of ultra-conformity, many will be willing to take this step. (266-67)
Any robust impulse within Protestant societies that sought post-Axial aspiration to spiritual transformation or theosis was de-legitimated. There was instead a focus on a piety that at its best sought genuinely to reform society according to the spirit of the gospels, but because that is so difficult to sustain, this project inevitably devolved into a rigid, extrinsic moralism that I call 'whited sepulcher syndrome'. The gospels make fairly clear that this kind of extrinsic moralism is the deepest and most difficult kind of alienation to remedy because it creates a hard heartedness that is impervious to grace.
Part 3 focuses on how parallel to these changes in the social imaginary, there were changes also in the cosmic imaginary. The early Christian thinkers used Greek thought, particularly Stoicism, Neoplatonism, and Aristotle to help them articulate a Christian ontology. The premodern order was based on ancestral heritage on one hand, but also on a Platonic hierarchical cosmic order in which the social order was implicated, and the health of the social order was dependent on its virtue, i.e., the degree to which it realized its ideal form.
It is out of this outlook that the idea emerges that disorders in the human realm will resonate in nature, because the very order of things is threatened. The night on which Duncan was murdered was disturbed by "lamenting heard i' the air; strange screams of death", and it remains dark even though day should have started. . . .
...in these cases, it is very clear that a moral order is more than just a set of norms, that it also contains what we might call an "ontic" component, identifying features of the world which make the norms realizable.
So there was an organic sense of order in that everybody had a job to do in the way that the head, the heart and the limbs have jobs to do in the body, and that there was a greater dignity to some of those functions than others. This idea of hierarchical dignity was tossed out in the modern period as the new idea of complementarity was determined simply by the random roles people play in society with no correlation to any ontological order. In the premodern order--
…the hierarchical differentiation itself is seen as the proper order of things. It was part of the nature or form of society. In the Platonic and neo-Platonic traditions . . . this form was already at work in the world, and any attempt to deviate from it turned reality against itself. Society would be denatured in the attempt. Hence the tremendous power of the organic metaphor in these earlier theories. The organism seems the paradigm locus of forms at work, striving to heal its wounds and cure its maladies. And at the same time, the arrangement of functions which it exhibits is not simply contingent: it is “normal’ and right. That the feet are below the head is how it should be.
The modern idealization of order departs radically from this. It is not just that there is no place for a Platonic-type form at work; but connected to this, whatever distribution of functions a society might develop is deemed contingent; it will be justified or not instrumentally; it cannot itself define the good. The basic normative principle is, indeed, that the members of society serve each other’s needs, help each other, in short, behave like the rational and sociable creatures that they are. In this way, they complement each other. But the particular functional differentiation which they need to take on to do this most effectively is endowed with no essential worth. It is adventitious, and potentially changeable. . . . In one way or the other, the modern order gives no ontological status to hierarchy, or any particular structure of differentiation. (163-65)
In the Christian Neoplatonic order the impersonal Logos embraced by the pre-Socratic philosophers through to the Stoics was personalized in the person of the Cosmic Christ depicted in the Prologue to John's Gospel and the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Colossians. The enchanted world is a deeply personal and interpersonal world, and the Christian revelation of the gospels and later the emergence of idea of the Trinitarian structure of the Deep Real reinforces that sense of a deeply personal cosmos in which the Deep Real is the Deep Personal. Salvation or liberation in the Christian scheme is not release from the world, but a release from Deep Alienation--human alienation from God, from the natural world, from one another, and even from one's own sense of Self. The goal, in other words, was a liberation from deep alienation, and the cure was the achievement of a deep interpersonal communion analogous to that the Trinity enjoys within itself.
This personal cosmos, however, is significantly depopulated by the Calvinist reformers starting a process that the Enlightenment rationalists will take further. The Calvinist reformers take the process of disenchantment to another level: gone the sacramentals, relics, images and statues, Marian devotion, the intercession of the saints, etc., and all that's left is the remote Father God in his heaven outside time and space. This is a God who must be dutifully loved and worshiped, but who doesn't really need us, and it's just his caprice that some of us he'll save and most he won't.
This is a very severe, austere God, and what it has to do with the God revealed in the gospels, I don't know. But within Catholicism, too, this severe God became embraced by the Jansenists who played a very significant role in shaping the kind of extreme juridical-penal imagination of Christianity that perversely took root in France and Ireland. And then there were the Spanish Dominicans who took this severity to a bizarre level according to their own perverse logic. And then, as if to counterbalance all this severity there was Baroque exuberance in the arts in Catholic countries, and exuberant wealth in the Protestant capitalist societies, as in Holland. There's a lot going on.
This is an important shift. The cosmos already before the dawn of the scientific revolution, especially in Protestant societies, has become disenchanted and impersonal. This is an important precondition for the development of the scientific method, which requires that the meanings of things be bracketed in order simply to understand the mechanical logic of things with instrumental reason. Aristotle and his final causality had to be eliminated. The scene is set for the clockmaker god who built the machine, started it running, and then became the deus otiosus, leaving humans in charge to figure things out for themselves using instrumental reason.
Living a godly life in this world is something very different from living in the ordered Aristotelian Cosmos of Aquinas or the hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysios. It is no longer a matter of admiring a normative order in which God has revealed himself through signs and symbols. We rather have to inhabit it as agents of instrumental reason, working the system effectively in order to bring about God’s purposes; because it is through these purposes, and not through signs, that God reveals himself in his world. These are not just two different stances, but two incompatible ones. We have to abandon the attempt to read the cosmos as the locus of signs, reject this as illusion, in order to adopt the instrumental stance effectively. Not just on a level of popular belief, as a world of spirits, do we have to disenchant the universe; we have also to bring about the analogous shift on the high cultural level of science, and trade in a universe of ordered signs, in which everything has a meaning, for a silent but beneficent machine. (99)
The enchanted cosmos suffused by the life of the Logos stops its singing (or is it that buffered ears can no longer hear it?). The cosmos is no longer full of angelic hosts, but is now dark, cold, and silent. The earth becomes reified, a thing to be exploited for human benefit. The natural world in this new imaginary is a machine that runs according to the logic of the engineer rather than the lighthearted free play of the artist. This was Blake's lament about how the social imaginary by his time had been Newtonized. The chief human project now becomes to understand its mechanical principles, its clockwork, in order that it might better serve human utility, that is, ordinary human flourishing. We're back in the pre-Axial mode, but now science and technology replaces magic and the ritual appeasement of the gods.
So now that we've summarized this broader historical context, let us focus on the implications for what Taylor calls the 'anthropocentric turn' and the movement to the possibility of the social imaginary embracing an exclusive humanism, i.e., a humanism completely immanent with no need of transcendent reference or grounding. This turn was driven first by the impulse for reform that began in the late medieval period that led to the radical split within Christendom after Luther and Calvin. This in turn led to the grisly confessional wars in roughly the century between 1550 and 1650 that ended on the continent with the Treaty or Westphalia in 1648 and in the Puritans' beheading of Charles I in England in 1649 and the restoration of Charles II about a decade later. This was a grisly, bloody time of so-called Christians killing one another so that confessional factions could insure control of their respective societies.
So it's understandable that many intelligent, decent people coming out the experience of these absurd, disgusting confessional wars would view the claims of orthodox Christianity with a huge degree of skepticism. Both sides did their best to discredit themselves. And so it's understandable that there would be an attempt to retain what was best from the Christian tradition and throw overboard everything that was irrational and violent. The Enlightenment rationalists weren't anti-religion so much as they were anti-Church. As Terry Eagleton puts in in his Culture and the Death of God--
The Enlightenment's assault on religion, then was at root a political rather than a theological affair. By and large, the project was not to replace the supernatural with the natural, but to oust a barbarous, benighted faith in favour of a rational, civilized one. It was the role of ecclesial power in consecrating the ancien regimes, the unholy alliance of throne and altar, which scandalised these scholars more deeply, as the intellectual avatars of an emergent middle class. Some of them were less philosophers in the modern sense of the word than ideologues and intellectual agitators. . . .What seized their imagination was the Baconian project of harnessing knowledge and power, placing the findings of scientific reason at the service of social reform and human emancipation. (12)
A new apologetic project emerged whose goal was to take Calvin's idea of God, and to make him even more remote and 'civilized'. He would be retained as Creator and providential benefactor, but now we see him as the author of an impersonal, mechanical moral order whose code it was the human task to discern. No need for revelation. So now we see a move to understand religion in moralistic or disciplinary terms rather than in devotional or prayerful terms--too irrational (i.e., primitive, barbarous). It's not hard to see how that natural desire to restore peace and order for the pious or impious alike converges in their wanting to take the irrational out of religion. We, therefore don’t need to be soul transformed; we need simply to behave according to prescribed norms and laws. The goal was to become 'civilized' after a century of barbaric religious strife.
So Taylor describes this new moral order that emerges in the late 17th century as having the following six characteristics:
First, God has no other inscrutable purposes for us other than the fulfillment of our own good understood in terms of normal human flourishing. Post-axial spiritual aspiration drops out. There are no spiritually transformative aspirations, no idea of theosis. Theosis is rejected as anti-social monkishness that impedes rather than promotes the new ideal of mutual support through mutual exchange--
Our primary service to each other was thus (to use the language of a later age) the provision of collective security, to render our lives and property safe under law. But we also serve each other in practicing economic exchange. These two main ends, security and prosperity, are now the principal goals of organized society, which itself can come to be seen as something in the nature of a profitable exchange between its constituent members. The ideal social order is one in which our purposes mesh, and each in furthering himself helps the others.
The ideal order was not thought to be a mere human invention. Rather it was designed by God, an order in which everything coheres according to God’s purposes. Later in the eighteenth century, the same model is projected on the cosmos, in a vision of the universe as a set of perfectly interlocking parts, in which the purposes of each kind of creature mesh with those of all the others.
. . . Locke reasons that God gave us our powers of reason and discipline so that we could most effectively go about the business of preserving ourselves. It follows that we ought to be “Industrious and Rational”. The ethic of discipline and improvement is itself a requirement of the natural order that God had designed. The imposition of order by human will is itself called for by his scheme.
We can see in Locke’s formulation how much he sees mutual service in terms of profitable exchange. “Economic” (that is, ordered, peaceful, productive) activity has become the model for human behavior, and the key for harmonious co-existence. In contrast to the theories of hierarchical complementarity, we meet in a zone of concord and mutual service, not to the extent that we transcend our ordinary goals and purposes, but on the contrary, in the process of carrying them out according to God’s design. (165-69)
Second, the eclipse of grace. God is retained as the creator and designer of the cosmos, but the idea of a God who intervenes in the world is rejected; it is enough that he created a beneficent order and bestowed on humans reason, which, if used correctly, gives them the capacity to discern God's benevolent purposes in the world he created. If God does not intervene, then there is no grace. There is just the natural capacity of humans to use their brains. The shift to the impersonal god of Deism is not far behind.
Third, in addition to reason, God, in his benevolence, made humans naturally inclined toward benevolence, if they would just use their reason to understand the benevolent cosmos as it is. The great obstacles to the natural flourishing of human benevolence are the irrationality of tradition and custom. Religion is fine so long as it is "reasonable" and eschews delusion (i.e., superstition), enthusiasm (i.e., mysticism), and fanaticism (i.e., inquisitions, witch hunts). The imagination of the cosmos as dark, random, cruel will come later after Darwin.
Fourth, God as Judge: he stands at the end of time ready to distribute rewards and punishments. Even if it be in everyone's interest to be reasonable and benevolent, the enlightenment elite, at least at the beginning, thought that the fear of punishment was still a necessary motivator for those who were not intrinsically motivated to be reasonable and benevolent. The need for extrinsic rewards and punishments eventually falls away, and it is seen as morally superior for humans to demonstrate benevolence for its own sake, not as a means to an end.
Fifth, the sense of mystery fades. “If God’s purposes for us encompass only the fulfillment of our own good, and this can be read from the design of nature, then no further mystery can hide here." Evil is dismissed as stupidity and ignorance, and all the motivation we need to be decent human beings is innate, either in our self-interest well understood, or in our natural feelings of benevolence. There is no mystery about God. All we need to know about him is in his plan for us, which is knowable by reason. No miracles or interventions, no grace, no mystery. We're in the suburbs already of the Secular City.
Sixth, God has no plan for human transformation or ‘theosis’. Certainly not in this life, but maybe in the next. After a while, neither in the next. The afterlife becomes a place where we are perhaps reunited with loved ones, but the idea that any kind of profound spiritual transmutation of the human being is a goal is dismissed. And eventually, for many, the afterlife is altogether dismissed as the delusional wish fulfillment of the childish who cannot face the hard truth of the finality of death.
There are so many converging factors that contribute to this shift: increasing literacy, the civilizing of the nobles, the celebration of commerce over warfare, the strengthening nation state, increasing urbanization, the disruptions of war, and significant shifts in technology and production. Taylor spends a chapter entitled "The Spectre of Idealism" in which he argues that these changes on the material level and on the thinking or imaginative level reinforce one another dynamically. There's a lot going on. But the inevitable endpoint of it all is that while many people clearly remain religious believers, a huge space opens up for the possibility of non-belief, particularly among the culture's elite.
There is thus no iron link, but there is also here a possible affinity, which in the absence of other factors can lead people into the sense that a more impersonal reading of Christianity, or Deism, or even something further removed from orthodoxy is more suitable to their age. This link is invoked in another form by David Martin when he remarks about the eighteenth-century British scene “that latitudinarian clergy deployed a public version of Isaac Newton to promote a separation of creation from its Creator in order the better to ensure that rationality ruled both the natural and the social universes”.
This affinity becomes stronger when one thinks of the ethical consequences of the two kinds of belief. At the heart of orthodox Christianity, seen in terms of communion, is the coming of God through Christ into a personal relation with disciples, and beyond them others, eventually ramifying through the church to humanity as a whole. God established the new relationship with us by loving us, in a way we cannot unaided love each other (John 15: God loved us first.) The lifeblood of this new relation is agape, which can’t ever be understood simply in terms of a set of rules, but rather as the extension of a certain kind of relation, spreading outward in a network. The church is in this sense a quintessential network society, even though of an utterly unparalleled kind, in that the relations are not mediated by any of the historical form of relatedness: kinship, fealty to a chief, or whatever. It transcends all these, but not into a categorical society based on similarity of members, like citizenship; but rather into a network of ever different relations of agape.
Of course, the church lamentably and spectacularly fails to live up this model; but it is the kind of society that it is meant to be. (282)
Agape is the universalizing impulse at the heart of Christian transcendental universalism, and for Christians a kind of selfless love that is impossible without a grace-nourished spiritual transformation. But Taylor wants to argue that the space created for an exclusive humanism within this impersonal cosmic imaginary needed to see itself as morally superior to what it replaces, and in order to do that it had to find a way to retain this agapic ideal without any transcendent grounding for it. And once achieved this became a possibility for a completely immanentized humanism. Taylor argues that it was achieved in a completely new way with the celebration of dispassionate instrumental reason, which in those who have realized it come to experience non-transcendent agape, i.e., a natural, magnanimous benevolence. Modern humanism innovated in relation to the ancients in that they drew on the forms of Christian faith it emerged from, but, following the Calvinist lead rejected the post-Axial aspiration to transcend flourishing. “The successor to agape was to be held strictly within the bounds of measure, instrumental reason, and perhaps also good taste.” (247)
The immanent resources of benevolence were found in four places:
- Disengaged instrumental reason. Disengagement itself frees us from the confused, perturbed mass of personal desires, cravings, envy, and liberates a universal benevolence in us. He quotes the atheist Bertrand Russell who articulates this eloquently
Distant ages and remote regions of space are as real to it [disengaged instrumental reason] as what is present and near. In thought, it rises above the life of sense, seeking always what is general and open to all men. In desire and will, it aim’s simply at the good, without regarding the good as mine or yours. In feeling it gives love to all, not only to those who further the purposes of the self. Unlike the finite self, it is impartial; its impartiality leads to truth in thought, justice in action, and universal love in feeling.
No need for God or grace here. The capacity for this kind of universality and magnanimity is within the natural scope of the human being. It begs the question, of course, why humans are constructed in such a way as to have this capacity in the first place. Can it be explained by Darwin?
- Sense of a pure, universal will, an inner power before which we stand in awe, as with Kant. The very fact that we have the power to act by universal law is an object of wonder and infinite respect.
- A sense of natural, universal sympathy, which only needs the right conditions to flourish into virtue. Since the human will is naturally good, it inclines toward solidarity or sympathy with others. This natural ability has been lost and must be retrieved. It has been covered over by the false and denaturing conditions which have developed in history. The goal is to create the social conditions that will liberate and nourish it.
- Eventually, a Feuerbachian vision that the powers we have attributed to God are really human potentialities.
Taylor is at pains to point out that this isn’t the discovery of something old that was always there, but the creation of something new, i.e., to live in these modes of moral life in which the sources are radically immanentized. The subtraction story doesn’t allow us to be as surprised as we ought to be at this achievement—or as admiring of it.
The newness of the modern form which Russell articulates is this: that for the first time, we have such an opening to the universal which is not based on a connection to the transcendent. This purely immanent sense of universal solidarity is an important achievement, a milestone in human history. It is an achievement, because getting to the point where we can be inspired and empowered to beneficence by an impartial view of things, or a sense of buried sympathy within, requires training, or inculcated insight, and frequently much work on ourselves. It is in this respect like being moved by other great moral sources in our tradition, be they the Idea of the Good, or God’s agape, or the Tao. These things are not just given to us by birth. Making the new sources available was thus a step in an unprecedented direction. Of course, Nietzsche, the cranky anti-humanist, comes along and says the whole project is just Christianity in disguise, and I think he's right about that. He rejects it for that reason, but I embrace it. I see it, however, as a chapter in a longer, continuously developing story.
But what is the ontic component in this modern understanding of moral order? What makes these norms appropriate and possible of realization? The old order was anchored in the cosmos, which tends to realize itself, and reacts to any breach as the animal kingdom did to Duncan’s murder. So is it just an arbitrary construction? Taylor argues that the new order is not an arbitrary construction, that it speaks to something profound in us, so that building toward it is not like constructing sand castles. On the contrary, it can be self-stabilizing, its realization making us see how much we cherish it. There is just something in us that responds to this idea of universality, even if so much postmodern thought has striven to repudiate it. The attempt to deny it defies common sense and common decency, and it's just unnecessary, even if it is an eddy of thought that some had to go into and explore for a few years.
I think there's an argument to be made, and I don't think is that hard to make, that while it's possible that this universal benevolence and capacity for reason is something that might have developed in humans as a completely random Darwinian outcome, it's not very likely that it did. It is more likely that what we experience within the human microcosm reflects the larger macrocosm, and sooner or later we'll find our collective way to embracing a social imaginary that retrieves that old idea in a postmodern key.
And whether or not a Christian version of this retrieval is broadly adopted, the whole point of Christ's incarnation was to immanentize the transcendent in the depths of the human soul. Since the incarnation, the "ontic component" is grounded as much in the human soul as it is in the cosmos. The human project, as I understand it, is to develop this interior ontic component, inchoate though it is in most of us, so that the human soul comes gradually to live more in alignment with the cosmic "ontic component".
This means then a retrieval of the Patristic idea of theosis, which is just another way of saying the same thing. That's for me the significance of the anthropocentric turn. The ur-anthropocentric turn actually occurred in the events that trasnpired between the first Good Friday and Easter. The Logos, the Deep Real, lived into human death and alienation so that humans could die into a life of communion with the Him. If before that moment transcendence was experienced by most as outside in, since then gradually it has become something experienced inside out. And the Secular Age is for us like a collective empty tomb that creates the space for that arising from within its austere darkness. No need to go out into the wilderness to find God; the wilderness has come to us. And this experience of transcendence inside out does not require that one be a Christian, but Christianity, I think, gives the most robust explanation for the why and the how of it.