Monday, January 16, 2006

It's Really Simple

Differing cultures have varying assumptions about God and Man, and these ideas have concrete consequences. Often it is pretty simple to predict consequences just based on abstract philosophy.

Is Man merely an animal? If a culture believes this, then we can conclude that comfort, contentment, and pleasure are also believed to be the greatest goods of Man. Sex is one of the greatest pleasures, so if a society really believes that pleasure should dominate, then sex would be encouraged, even among children. And, the bad consequences of sex would be eliminated; therefore that society would need birth control and its backup, abortion. If an animal is suffering, we put it down; and so the same goes with humans, if they are just animals. To be content, an animal should have plenty of entertainment under this view: the arts and sporting events would be encouraged by this society. Recreational drugs are pleasurable, so a society like this would encourage their use. The human species, like any other animal, can be altered at will by selective breeding and by culling from the herd undesirable individuals. Even genocide is justifiable.

Is Man purely spirit? If so, then our bodies are mere illusion, and freedom, which is an attribute of spirit, would be the greatest good. A purely spiritual culture would probably not care for the needs of the body. A spiritual culture would also disregard the natural sciences. A culture that disregards these material things would be attracted to 'alternative' therapies. A purely spiritual culture would not care about poverty, since its an illusion. A spiritual culture would not care about government or society, but only loose collections of individuals who form friendships. To further break the bonds of material illusion, a spiritual culture could encourage the use of mind-altering or mind-expanding drugs. This society would be rootless in this world. Individuals in this society will spend their money on spiritual goods.

Is God purely transcendent? Under this view, God is unknowable and remote. A society that believes this may still praise God in worship, but may have little use for other forms of prayer, like intercession. Due to God's remoteness, religion would probably be relegated to just certain days of the week or seasons of the year, and not be a central part of life. Under this view, morality tends to be legalistic.

Is God purely immanent? Under this view, God is pervasive in the universe and is present in every part, and individuals in this society may believe that the Cosmos itself actually is God. This society would believe in constant access to the Spirit, and new moral laws could be proclaimed continuously, even if they conflict with earlier teachings. Under this view, a person could perhaps pursue great wealth or power with a clear conscience, while self-actualization would be the greatest good. Under this view, religion would be congregational, with the group recognizing God in each other.

I hope all this seems familiar. The United States, Canada, and the European Union seem to only recognize humans as animals, and so tend to encourage pleasure-seeking. The central question in the Judge Alito confirmation hearings is whether or not he thinks that unrestricted sexual pleasure is the Greatest Good of Man, for that is the underlying meaning of the abortion controversy.

The orthodox view of Man is that the Greatest Good is blessedness, by being righteous and by loving and serving God and Man.

Among our elites, God is seen as immanent. We often hear about the "Spirit of Vatican II" and progressive Bishops and Religious often talk about the Church being moved in various directions through dialogue with the Spirit. Congregationalism is common in the Church today, and this concept was adopted by the New England Puritans who were the ruling elite (at least in their own minds) of the United States from its inception. I've attended numerous motivational seminars as an employee, and the central theme of these seminars was self-actualization and 'thinking outside the box'; these kinds of seminar are very common on PBS (the U.S. publicly-funded television network). These speakers believe in an immanent reality, where we, as 'God', subcreate a new world. immanence is a central concept in Enlightenment thinking and the New Age movement, and is present in the heresies of Gallicanism, Jansenism, and Modernism, as well as in Liberal Christianity. A specific danger with this view, according to orthodox Christianity, is that Satan claims to be the god of this world, and that he cannot create but instead can only corrupt.

Among the population, God is more seen as transcendent, to Whom occasional lip-service is given. Morality in this group is often seen more as following the rules, even if the rules are man-made. Either they end up being legalistic or skeptical about morality.

The view of Christian orthodoxy is that Man is both Animal and Spirit, and that God is both Transcendent and Immanent. This is perhaps one of the greatest consequences of the mystery of the Trinity: we view God the Father, Creator and Lawgiver, as transcending the material world, while God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier and Advocate, dwells within us in a relatively immanent way. And centrally for us, Christ the Redeemer is both Man and God, Who binds together all of the views of both God and Man described above. But this only scratches the surface. God created the Cosmos out of nothing, yet we are made in the image and likeness of God, and His Providence sustains the world. The Christian orthodox view does not see the Cosmos as the immanence of God, nor does it view God as being unknowably transcendent.

The consequences of the orthodox view is that Man has both material and spiritual needs. We must be concerned with poverty and freedom, and science and spirituality; ultimately these apparent conflicts must be resolved by personal and social responsibility rooted in both material and spiritual truth. All of the one-sided views tend to denigrate or deny the existence of either personal or collective responsibility, and tend to be selective about the truth. We must have both good science and good religion. We must discourage junk or pseudo-science, but we must not have a reductionistic view of Man or the Cosmos. We must have concern for the poor, the comfort of the sick, and every material need of Man; but we must not needlessly restrict the freedom of others so as to meet these material needs. Nor can we allow unrestricted freedom if it leads to material or spiritual misery for others. Our religion must not reject natural science nor be subsumed by it.

A consequence of the orthodox Christian view of God is that we must follow the Law of God, and yet be open to divine inspiration. The crucial orthodox distinction is that these cannot conflict, and that we must not choose one or the other. What takes us beyond mere legalism is Charity, or Agape Love. The trouble with legalism is that man-made rules (which may be fine and good in themselves) often take precedence over charity. Ignoring the eternal Law of God leads to moral relativism, where each person does what he thinks is right, even if it harms others or opposes God. Again, Christ tells us that we must follow the Law of God, but we must also have great charity. The differing views of God between the elites and the population is a main driving force for class conflict, while the orthodox view is universal.

Excellent and convincing arguments can be made for viewing Man as either an animal or a spirit. Likewise, similarly convincing arguments can be made for viewing God as either transcendent or immanent. So instead of picking-and-choosing cafeteria-style, the Christian orthodox view is that they all must be true in some way. We are animals and have animal needs. We are spirits and have spiritual needs. God is transcendent, but has revealed Himself to us and manifests Himself in Creation. Immanence reveals our individuality, personal unity, and distinctness from our environment, and draws us to union with God.

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