Sunday 13 May 2018

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

A comment by Moose Thompson on Bruce Charlton's previous post set me thinking. The gist of it was that, while we are certainly living through a time of great spiritual apostasy, there are many things about the modern world which are a great improvement on the past. The abolition of slavery and the reduction of physical cruelty were cited but these are just the tip of the iceberg. There is less injustice in the world now, in the West, at least, and, of course, we live in considerably more comfort, materially speaking. The advances of science have brought relief and greater freedom to huge swathes of the population. Enlightenment values have also resulted in political liberation, and so on and so forth. The list is long.

This is a serious point which cannot be ignored. There have undoubtedly been many improvements in the world over the last several centuries. You might even say that things have always been getting better. And not just materially. There have been moral advances in several areas too, and even those of us who are interested in spiritual things have much more access to a much wider variety of spiritual teachings than would ever have been possible before.

No one could possibly deny any of this. And yet I would still go along with Bruce and say that we do now live in very evil times. Indeed, the two things may well be linked. The obvious improvements blind us to the subtler evils. What has happened is that the improvements on a material or humanistic level have obscured the spiritual collapse. They may well even have been partially responsible for the spiritual collapse. When you focus on one level of being, let's call it the worldly for convenience, you will clearly improve the state at that level. But if, in so doing, you neglect higher and more fundamental levels, you will be considerably worse off in the exchange. This is what has happened. We have concentrated all our energies on outer things, things observable to the mind and senses, and abandoned what is not so discernible. So inevitably we have made many improvements on the material and merely human levels. But at what cost?

Never before have human beings not regarded the spiritual world as primary. Perhaps occasionally you could find times like that in history but you would have to look hard and even then the spiritual rejection would not be to such a degree as it is now. Present day public morality actually enforces an anti-spiritual attitude. Whether this be in the fields of science, art and education, of culture in general, in matters of marriage and sexuality or the relations between the sexes, almost everywhere prioritises this worldly concerns over spiritual realities. Everywhere sees man, as in man and woman, as a creature primarily of this world and not as a visitor to this world from a higher plane of being. Even much contemporary religion does this. Other times and places, however corrupt in many ways they might have been, would not have thought like that and this is the primary reason for seeing the present day as the most benighted time in human history. We have forgotten who we are. No, it's worse than that. We actively deny and reject who we are. And in doing that we totally ignore our reasons for being here.

Note: It's occurred to me that Jesus' saying "He who is not with me is against me" has a bearing on this present time. Previously in the Christian world we may have been great sinners but we were at least with Jesus, outwardly so anyway. Now we are not even that which means we are against him. There is no neutral option.


edwin said...

Evolution as a world-view encompasses the notion that society is inevitably improving with time: bad behavior is being eliminated as a matter of course, just as useless organs supposedly atrophy and disappear. Evolution, as a biological hypothesis, is extended to the moral domain. Religion is then seen as part of the past, and the past is always inferior to the more evolved present. Christianity is identified with inquisitions, witch hunts, sectarian wars, fear and superstition - all bad things that we have left behind us in the inevitable march toward a better species. Nature is all. Nature is wise. Nature is moving us in the right direction. But whence came nature? Why should evolution desire moral refinement, which cannot be reconciled with the brute survival of the fittest concept on which Darwinism in based? We live in a welter of contradictions. Most of us fail to recognize that we only behave better toward one another by accepting, at least unconsciously, our common origin in that which transcends the natural world. There are at Harvard a group of scientists in various fields who are cheerleaders for evolution, writing books and speaking to the media about how the world is getting better and better, thanks to Darwin and science. These are brilliant men who never examine their axioms or the implications of their assertions. But they have become the gurus to many and their reign seems assured for the near future. Along with Dickens' famous lines, perhaps we should recall the Latin maxim, "corruptio optimi pessima" - the corruption of the best is the worst. And in turning away from the supernatural, the natural becomes coruupted, as it cannot sustain itself. Those who might have been the best and brightest among us become the most benighted and we follow them blindly into the pit.

William Wildblood said...

The natural man may improve all he likes at the level of natural man but if he doesn't make the transformation into spiritual man then all his improvement is worthless and he just becomes better at being non-spiritual.

Moose Thompson said...

William - thanks for addressing my comment and I pretty much agree with you that moderns tend to reduce their concerns to the material at the expense of the spiritual and you may be completely correct as to the extent. I myself am undecided as to the extent we are "better" or "worse" than the past and I feel like I/we are on speculative ground here. A couple of reasons I still doubt:

I am unsure of the importance or necessity of correct belief to moral and spiritual growth. While I am of the opinion that beliefs are very important it seems true that people are developed morally and possibly even spiritually by life experience independently of belief. In the west, Christianity places a great deal of importance on belief obviously, but Christianity arose with battles over doctrine from the get go. So I tend to wonder if the the emphasis on belief in the Bible/interepretation was a reaction to various alternative interpretations and what allowed Christianity as we know it to catch on.

In tandem with the above point I also question the the extent most people believe a materialistic metaphysics. In Ross Douthat's book Bad Religion he makes the argument that Americans aren't actually abandoning religion, they are rather embracing inferior forms of it, like more self affirming new age stuff. While of course that is a negative trend, it is different thing than denying the spiritual altogether. It is the intelligentia that now believe materialism, but most non intellectuals I know have various magical beliefs and do not seem hostile to traditional religion (just my personal experience here). I do think however materialism filter will more and more to the masses, but again this is a different thing than what often seens to get suggested here.

Third, I think the push for materialism is due to the rise of science which as a matter of course makes the metaphysical assumption that anything that cant be weighed or measured doesn't exist. This suggests to me that the rise of this view may be expected and a normal part of the unfolding of human history (more or less the point I was making to Bruce). So I'm not so sure that anything went wrong.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MT - "the argument that Americans aren't actually abandoning religion, they are rather embracing inferior forms of it, like more self affirming new age stuff. " I have also seen this argument applied to political correctness - to post-1960s New Leftism... But the argument is basically wrong. Or, if these are still religions, but inferiot forms, then these 'new religions' are qualitatively different from every preceding form of religion.

As a biologist - which is a very partial and reductionist model of behaviour - I sometimes see humanms as an animal, a social animal, who evolved such that religion (of the old type) was an essential part of our existence.

Without religion, the species is maladaptive; we are not reproducing at a rate to replace ourselves, we don't even want-to; we don't even value our own families or cultures enough to want to protect them; we don't particularly care whether we live or die, so long as we don't suffer; we don't acknowledge that sexes are real, or different; that sex is fundamental, a fact.

(Talk about 'flat earthers' - if we can't, each of us, know from experience the reality of sexes; then the failure to accept other people's assurances about the shape of the planet is trivial!)

We are missing/ excluding something vital; and consequently we are dying.

That is biology; but the same spplies with even greater force in the spiritual realm. We are trying to live without the essentials, and consequently no longer really want to live, but merely dissipate our lives, with an increasingly aggressive dissipation.

To my mind, we should not be trying to pretend that things are basically OK needing a few 'tweaks' to fix; things are basically wrong, wealthy and well educated people are behaving in ways that are literally insane and fundamentally evil in motivation; and all this is being driven from above...

All this being the hallmark of demonic domination, in my book.

William Wildblood said...

Moose, what you say does seem reasonable but I think things just don’t work out like that. Beliefs are important because they determine action and thought. I don’t mean one has to be doctrinally sound (I’m not myself by conventional standards) but your attitude to life is shaped by belief and if it precludes the primacy of spirit that will have a big effect. Certainly, life experiences are important but the way one reacts to them is usually determined by belief. Also, your beliefs are often a reflection of who you are.

Regarding the inferior forms of religion people are embracing, we may have vague beliefs and yet they don't usually affect our lives in any substantial way. But if religion doesn't radically affect our attitude to this world and reorient us to the next it is useless. Our current morality is clearly an ersatz replacement for true religion because people need to have some sense of good and bad, but it’s been misdirected away from true north to something that is often completely opposite. For example, the confusion over sex differences represents a fundamental abandonment of spiritual reality for materialist ideology. It's that significant which, of course, is why it is so relentlessly pushed, and why our desire to be thought of as a good person, a kind of moral vanity, is so exploited.

The long and short of it, in my opinion, is that modern consciousness was a risk and an opportunity but we have mostly succumbed to the risk element.

Moose Thompson said...

To be clear I'm not saying beliefs aren't important or that things are "basically ok". I tend to think we have the same obligations regardless.

Bruce - I think a strong case can be made that much of western infertility can be attributed to effective birth control and economic and other factors not directly related to religion.

I would argue that most modern people do know the reality of sex differences from experience.

William - Modern culture mostly pushes worldliness and acts as if f God doesn't exist and is therefore antichrist, so I get it and mostly agree with you. However such culture is very shallow and at odds with what most adults experience. Is it possible that many/most will see through this illusion once they reach a certain age and start to develop different attitudes? I don't know really.

William Wildblood said...

Regarding your last paragraph Moose I would like to think you're right but the culture is against it so if people do see through the illusion it will be despite the culture not because of it which is not how things should be. The culture should help us in self realisation not hinder us.

Anonymous said...

The Cathar heresy (which the modern world resembles greatly) and resulting Albigensian Crusade also took place at a time of great peace and prosperity in the West.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I cannot concede that slavery is entirely abolished, nor that there is less injustice and cruelty in the modern world than in former times.

The modern world has far more material wealth than any former age of history, and this drastically ameliorates the effects of injustice, violence, and cruelty.

That is all, and it will not remain the case for much longer.

Bruce Charlton said...

Amplifying CCL - Slavery is far from abolished, indeed it has come back into Britain (after an absence of some 400 years) in a big way over the past couple of decades, due to mass immigration; and because of that fact slavery is tolerated, excused, covered-up.

There are admitted to be 10,000 slaves in Britain already, which must be an underestimate - yet of course there could be near zero slaves within six weeks if the authorities took seriously the need to stop slavery.

But they will not do that - partly because it is a low priority, partly because other things are a higher priority; mostly because they are pursuing a demonic strategy.

En route to slavery is mass, systematic, organised rape by gangs - again affecting many thousands.

The re-emergence of slavery and the new phenomenon of organised mass rape - mass drugging of children with brain harming psychiatric drugs, state enforced mutilation and poisoning of children in the name of the trans agenda... these are pretty big, new moral facts to be set against the positives.