Friday, April 21, 2017

The Roots of the Crisis

Rod Dreher turns in chap 2 of The Benedict Option to examine how the unravelling of the West's spiritual and moral consensus came about. " We are living with the consequences of ideas accepted many generations ago, and as a result of those decisions we are losing our religion."
He reminds us that religion provides the system of beliefs and practices that hold a community together. In the West it is Christianity that has provided this whole system, so that moral habits and social structures generated by belief kept going even when the underlying faith was abandoned. But eventually the flowers die on the cut root. The process is accelearating now, and the church is struggling to hold the younger generations because they are formed by this embracing culture that erodes faith. 

Owing a debt to Charles Taylor's analysis, Dreher notes five landmark events over seven centuries that has undermined its foundation faith. There are many forces and developments at work, but his survey is stimulating and in accord with other historians of culture. It is a long road from as a sacramental  experience of life in the Middle Ages to the emptied world of naturalism today. 
Dreher lists 
1. The loss of belief in the integral connection between God and creation (between transcendent and material realities) in the fourteenth century;
2. The collapse of religious unity and authority in the sixteenth century Reformation.
3. The eighteenth century Enlightenment that placed Reason in place of religion and privatised religious fai.
4. The Industrial revolution (1760-1840) and the growth of capitalism in 19th and 20th centuries.
5. The sexual revolution from 1960 to present.

It is hard for us to grasp a sacramental view of life and the universe. It was undergirded by metaphysical realism- the principle that all things exist and have a God-given essential nature independent of human thought. All things aware grounded in God. "Realism holds that the essence of a thing is built into its existence by God, and its ultimate meaning is guaranteed by this connection to the transcendent order." (27)  It was the British monk William of Ockham who cut down the mighty tree of metaphysical realism. He ascribed meaning to God's will. Thus was born (again) the idea of nominalism - that objects have no intrinsic meaning, only meaning assigned to them. Ockham defended God's sovereignty at the cost of separating nature from the divine realm in itself; only by revelation could we grasp meaning. 
Dreher observes that this noinalism made the modern world possible. Nature was studied in itself and a new emphasis on empiricism and naturalism was born. War and world-wide plagues disturbed the life of Europe. The defeat of metaphysical realism used in a new dynamic phase.

This analysis is not novel to Rod Dreher, but it does remind me that most of us today are by instinct nominalists. A side-issue is worth considering: whether metaphysical realism was discredited or simply replaced. Still, we are witnessing in current sexual  identity politics, an intense nominalise about the nature of human identity say as gendered. The natural embodied self is not a given, has no transcendent reality; the desiring self within decides what meaning one gives and how the body is used. 

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