Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Origin of the Sterility of Western Culture in the Protestant Reformation

A heretical thought, especially to those who don't think that our culture today is particularly sterile. My feeling, though, is that it is, and that the cause is the dictatorship of the scientific worldview over people in general, the replacement of a diversity of opinions on the nature of human beings and society with one that says that we're just pool balls hitting each other, acting and reacting, in a semi-deterministic vulgar materialist way, with nothing going on inside of us but a sort of interaction of chemicals and neural electricity. Love is Oxytocin, for example. There's nothing to life but dead, cold, matter. Marx, by the way, was careful to distinguish his materialism from that of the Englightenment philosophes who, in proposing this system, probably didn't know what they were doing. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, and Democracy came out of the Enlightenment but they did so wedded to an ideology that denies the basic richness of meaning in life. Whatever is rational is real, and if it doesn't agree with my idea of rationality than by definition it cannot exist, no matter that my idea of what's rational may be superficial and ideologically biased, founded on bourgeois middle class notions of society and propriety. There's a need to reimagine the world around us in a way that returns meaning to a meaningless world. A Romanticism is necessary, but I've already dealt with this elsewhere, although I'll probably do it again later. But, to stay on the subject, how is it that this enthronement of a particularly restrictive definition of reason, wedded to a particularly reductionistic definition of what the world according to science establishes came to be? My thought is that the way for the reduction of man to a machine started with the religious upheavals that characterized the Reformation.

Many people have remarked that in certain ways modern ethics are secularizations of protestant principles. You have democracy coming from the idea of every man being a priest and liberty of conscience coming from the ability of every man to interpret the bible himself. All of this definitely had an influence, a deep influence, but the ideas of democracy and liberty were already being resurrected from their Classical slumbers by the Renaissance, and one thinks that in some cases historical and economic reasons may possibly explain why the revolts for Democracy and Liberty happened as opposed to ones based on controversies over religious ideology. But be that as it may the democratic and liberal strands of the Reformation came into being wedded to theocratic society ruled by the Bible alone.

The Reformers destroyed the richness of the regular life of the people to a certain extent in places where they had power, purifying the world according to biblical law and biblical standards alone, cutting off freedom of thought unless it was expressed in a biblical key. To cite one example, Christmas carols were banned in Puritan England under Cromwell as being unchristian. Symbols, allegories, subtleties of thought that had been preserved within the Catholic Church were swept away along with the corruption that had set in within the institutions. And the Renaissance was ended as being as heathenish as anything else. By establishing a biblical dictatorship based solely on scripture and nothing else society received a blow to its worldview that we have not recovered from, because the next step, after the fury of reforming had died down, was to repair society and guide it to something that was more just, while not returning to the past. So, the Reformation was secularized, the religion was taken out of it, but the extremism of a totalistic worldview remained, only now instead of it being filled with the Bible it was filled with Nothing. And now we ask why scientistic liberal society doesn't give us what we wish when we look out in the world and look for something valuable in life beyond just the billiard ball universe that we inhabit.

I'm not suggesting returning to a Catholic mindset, or even a Medievalistic one. Both of those have obvious flaws. I'm no friend of religious theocracy, social or otherwise, whether it comes in the guise of Catholicism or Protestantism. And the Folksy Middle Ages were a time of happy delusion as part of the general richness of popular culture and church culture. But, fortunately, an alternative presented itself, one that was squelched by the Reformation itself: our friend the Renaissance. The Renaissance preserved the sort of rich popular worldview of the Middle Ages while bringing to bear Classical learning and sophistication. Instead of a sort of championship of liberty that was accompanied by dessication the Renaissance put the idea of human liberty in a context full in descriptive power regarding the nature of the world and of society. Man appears not as a cog but as a full being whose capabilities can be extended to an almost infinite extent. Learning, the arts, politics, retains its subtleties and varieties, infused with the classics but not viewing the classics through a lens of secularized fundamentalism. The Renaissance, as a departure, is a place that we can draw back to for meaning. However, just going to back to the Renaissance for inspiration about the present day is not enough. The Renaissance, as part of its positive worldview, made no distinction between the supernatural and the normal, between religion and science. Within this richness we should uphold the right of a secular world within an expanded worldview that allows for the non-secular. To do otherwise would be to doom people to yet another theocratic idea--that of the unconventional spirituality--instead of liberating them. A somewhat secularized Renaissance perspective could work, but the door would always have to stay open in the official culture to the non-secular, in whatever guise that may appear, because to do otherwise would be to reimpose the sort of totalizing ideology that we're trying to get away from. Science would have to sacrifice not itself as a doctrine but make room for perspectives rejected by it to have play in the world as well, which doesn't mean don't teach science but don't try to have a monopoly of meaning. In the wake of the breaking of the monopoly of Scientistic, as opposed to Scientific, thinking, society will have the opportunity to reassert itself in a more balanced form that will hopefully lead to a sustainable perspective, both socially as a species in the form of economics and as individual societies themselves as collections of human beings sharing common life. Simply asserting anti-scientistic or deterministic thinking as being good does nothing to answer the question of what such a thing should be based on. The field of consciousness that the Renaissance worldview contains can provide a substrate for a freer interpretation of the world that goes beyond just such a mindset. Or at least it can for Western society, which is what this is all aimed at.

P.S. We also need Marxian inspired libertarian socialism without the atheism.

No comments: