Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Speedy Decline

“It may be that nature and history are not separable in the last resort, but at the level at which we do most of our ordinary thinking it is important to separate them, important not to synthesize them too easily and too soon, important above all not thoughtlessly to assume that nature, instead of being the substructure, is the whole edifice or the crown. The thing which we have come to regard as history would disappear if students of the past ceased to regard the world of men as a thing apart – ceased to envisage a world of human relations set up against nature and the animal kingdom. In such circumstances the high valuation that has long been set upon human personality would speedily decline.” -- Herbert Butterfield

Of course what Butterfield feared was coming in 1949 has come. Nature has become the whole edifice, and the old valuation of human personality has not just declined, it has disappeared. And let’s be clear what the discipline of viewing nature as the whole edifice is called; it is called ‘science.’

The Roman Catholic Church has been running scared for centuries as well as the Protestant churches. The Monkey Trial was a great indicator of this. The Roman Catholics stood on the sidelines in that battle, not wanting to appear unenlightened, while the mainstream liberal Protestants battled it out with the Fundamentalists. Of course the whole world has decided that the Fundamentalists were in the wrong. But were they? If one is wrong in one’s basic assumption, most everything that follows from that assumption will be incorrect. For instance, if I start with the assumption that sand is the best foundation for a house, every attempt to add on to the foundation will prove the folly of my initial assumption. In contrast, if I start with the assumption that concrete is the best stuff for a foundation, and later decide that cheap balsa wood is best for the window frames, then I will have flimsy windows, but I will still have a sturdy foundation.

The Fundamentalists’ assumption was correct: Man is separate from nature, at least separate from the nature defined by modern science, and that really is the issue. The Roman Catholic Church was content to stay in the theoretical realm: theoretically nature and man are one. Yes, if one defines nature in the Shakespearean way, holding a mirror up to nature, the nature of the human personality, which should be the object of all true studies of nature. But that is not what modern science does. It holds man up to a microscope and studies him as a biological specimen, as a product of nature, not as a personality with a living soul. The Fundamentalists saw this, or to be more accurate, felt it in their bones. The liberal Protestants, on the opposite side of the Fundamentalists, also saw much more clearly than the Roman Catholics what was at stake. And without the support of any organized church, the Fundamentalists lost the battle. The court victory meant nothing. The Fundamentalists lost.

The modern clergy are so enamoured of the scientific view of man that they really should replace their current clerical garb with white lab coats. What kind of future is there for us when nature alone is the edifice? One thinks of Captain Ahab standing up to Moby Dick, the symbol of dumb, impersonal nature, and asserting that a “personality stands here.” Can we do less than Ahab who had to do battle without the Lord?

It seems to be a trick of Satan to use the generic human to destroy the human. Humanity the abstraction is a slave of brute nature. But the human personality is a freeman, a child of God. To assert that, in the face of a nature worshipping clergy and a bio-technocratic modern world, is the primary duty and glory of a 21st century Christian.

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