Russell and Duenes

No Less Bloodthirsty Than the Gods of the Heathen

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dynamicsofworldhistoryOne of the prophets of old said, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever.  He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history; He raises up kings and also brings them down; He provides both intelligence and discernment; He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark—light spills out of him!”  The coming of Jesus was God’s most important and fundamental intervention in human history, and it happened relatively recently. Some find it impossible to believe that the creator and sustainer of everything was born in a barn in a small town in a backwater part of the world about two thousand years ago.  With disbelief, atheist Christopher Hitchens says that, as far as any activity in human history goes, God “only in the last six thousand years at the very least – decided that it was time to intervene as well as redeem with a filthy human sacrifice in a remote part of Palestine.”

Many historians have felt the weight of this kind of sentiment, and as Christopher Dawson says, It changed the Western view of history and inaugurated a new type of historiography.  The religious approach to history as the story of God’s dealings with mankind and the fulfilment of the divine plan in the life of the Church was abandoned or left to the ecclesiastical historians, and there arose a new secular historian modelled on Livy and Tacitus and a new type of historical biography influenced by Plutarch…This new approach to history was one of the main factors in the secularization of European culture (The Christian View of History, 1951).

This “secular” historiography, at least in Europe, saw human history as “the will to power,” or as the state being “the instrument of divine providence or of that impersonal force which was gradually leading mankind onwards towards perfection (ibid).  Dawson teases out the implications:

It is easy to see how this belief in progress found acceptance during the period of triumphant national and cultural expansion when Western Europe was acquiring a kind of world hegemony.  But it is not less clear that it was not a purely rational construction, but that it was essentially nothing else but a secularized version of the traditional Christian view.  It inherited from Christianity its belief in the unity of history and its faith in a spiritual or moral purpose which gives meaning to the whole historical process.  At the same time its transposition of these conceptions to a purely rational and secular theory of culture involved their drastic simplification.  To the Christian the meaning of history was a mystery which was only revealed in the light of faith.  But the apostles of the religion of progress denied the need for divine revelation and believed that man had only to follow the light of reason to discover the meaning of history in the law of progress which governs the life of civilization.  But it was difficult even in the eighteenth century to make this facile optimism square with the facts of history.  It was necessary to explain that hitherto the light of reason had been concealed by the dark forces of superstition and ignorance as embodied in organized religion.  But in that case the enlightenment was nothing less than a new revelation, and in order that it might triumph it was necessary that the new believers should organize themselves in a new church whether it called itself a school of philosophers or a secret society of illuminati or freemasons or a political party.  This was, in fact, what actually happened, and the new rationalist churches have proved no less intolerant and dogmatic than the religious sects of the past (ibid).

Whether Christian or not, one certainly has to look human history in the face and give an accounting for her overarching meaning, her metahistory.  The issues are not simple, and I can’t help pondering what God might have been thinking.  The “Christian” view has been largely discarded and mocked in our western culture.  But I also think that if man is “merely a creature of the economic process – a producer and a consumer,” merely a species acting according to the law of the jungle, as many of the western apostles of secular history have told us, then what meaning do our lives have and upon what basis do the Christopher Hitchens’ of the world anchor their indignation at the idea of God waiting so long to send us a savior?  And how does one account for the universal religious impulse among humanity in our attempts to understand our history and the place and meaning of our existence within it?  As Dawson says,

The political myths and ideologies which modern man creates in order to explain the signs of the time…are our modern idols which are no less bloodthirsty than the gods of the heathen and which demand an even greater tribute of human sacrifice.  But the Church remains the guardian of the secret of history and the organ of the work of human redemption which goes on ceaselessly through the rise and fall of kingdoms and the revolution of social systems.  It is true that the Church has no immediate solution to offer in competition with those of secular ideologies.  On the other hand, the Christian solution is the only one which gives full weight to the unknown and unpredictable element in history; whereas the secular ideologies which attempt to eliminate this element, and which almost invariably take an optimistic view of the immediate future are inevitably disconcerted and disillusioned by the emergence of this unknown factor at the point at which they thought it had been banished (Ibid).  Perhaps God sending Jesus as He did falls into this “unknown factor.”  May the conversation continue. 

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

March 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Duenes, History, Philosophy

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