Thursday, January 26, 2012
Secularism: The Neutral Umbrella
Introduction: The religious value of secularism
The virtue of secularism for religion indicates a broader role for the former, transcending the perennial conflict by which religion is considered, both by theists and atheists, to be arrayed in opposition to secularism. In fact, I propose that secularism embodies a central virtue of religion—specifically, of modern Western religion that has differentiated into eschatology: Judaism and Christianity (we are not accepting pirated (per)versions of same; e.g., Islam).
The central virtue to which I refer stems from the etymology of the word ‘secularism’. The word comes from the Latin word, saeculum, which literally means a “long period of time”, an “era” or an “epoch”. It came to be used, during the long period of time historians used to call ‘Christendom’ (spanning roughly from the 4th century C.E. to the 16th century C.E.), to refer to the counter-pole of the eschaton: ‘this world’ or ‘this life’. Augustine himself inaugurated this usage, in his famous phrase, the saeculum senescens, or “the Age growing old”. In Augustine’s formulation, this Age growing old is all of history, as it waits patiently for the Second Coming of the Lord to end history.
What Augustine (354-430 C.E.) did not foresee, however, was that, although the Age seemed to be winding down and deteriorating in his time, with the decay of the Roman Empire (even after its Christianization beginning with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 312 C.E.), the Christian West would slowly but surely over the centuries increase in health, vitality and dynamism. Christian theologians continued to use Augustine’s phrase of the saeculum senescens even as late as the 16th century (if not later), but the spectacular facts of Western progress all around them belied the essential assumption of that phrase, that all of history is just winding down as we wait patiently for the eschaton.
Discussion: Eschatology and This Life
The astounding and marvelous ascendancy of Western Progress—which began in the High Middle Ages, but really picked up steam after Christendom began to dissolve institutionally in the late 16th century—has generated a new fact for the religious consciousness; i.e., for the eschatological consciousness: the Saeculum, this world, this life, all of history—are obviously not going away any time soon (though every age has its doomsayers and alarmists and conspiracy theorists, and the specter of an Islam Redivivus in our time is stimulating them yet again).
Not only is the Saeculum not going away any time soon, it is continuing to thrive and progress, notwithstanding our current threat, as mentioned parenthetically above (which, due mainly to Western blindness and naivety based in PC multiculturalism, may result in horrific casualties and dislocations in the near future, but will not be able to dismantle the overall structures of the West).
With the reigning fact of the Saeculum, the religious-eschatological consciousness has two options on how to digest it: a) stubborn resistance, rejection of Western Progress and its values as ‘un-Christian’, and an obstinant and fantasizing obsession with ushering in the Last Days; or b) readjusting the religious mind in order to respect the Saeculum in its integrity as representing the context by which the process toward the eschaton (as well as its mysteriously paradoxical frustration) happens at all.
What we mean to say in (b) is that Christian eschatology from the very beginning was based on paradox and mystery: only the Father knows when the end of history will come, Jesus himself said. Many of the admonitions and prescriptions for life which Jesus pronounced imply a call to the Christian to acculturate himself to the way this world and this life continue to be, and while he is to pursue the values that become luminous in the light of the imminent eschaton, he is also to remain patient while waiting for that eschaton, and much of the new ethics of the Christian seem to be based upon abiding by the structures of the untransfigured world.
The existential situation as presented in the New Testament, however, is not that simple and copacetic: there is actually a great tension—sometimes apparently self-contradictory—between the urgency of an imminent eschaton, on the one hand, and the call to abide patiently while history wends its mysterious way toward that eschaton (more often than not seeming to be taking its bittersweet time getting there). This tension has oftentimes not been managed very well in the history of Christianity, and after the dissolution of Christendom, the West was wracked by sociopolitical cataclysms based on deformative, mostly Gnostic, responses to that tension (with the French Revolution, Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, as well as the more amorphous cultural diseases of the West in the last 200-odd years).
The very dominance and vitality of the Saeculum highlights and energizes the mystery of the eschatological tension which is at the heart of the Christian’s existential posture throughout his life. It is easier, and more facile, for the Christian to cultivate the goal of the eschaton when the world is “winding down” and deteriorating all around him. In that situation, the Christian can comfortably denigrate his surrounding world and its societies and institutions, and just hunker down to wait for the Apocalypse.
But the real challenge arises when the surrounding world is not in fact winding down, but is growing and progressing by leaps and bounds. The Christian must then search more deeply within himself to get in touch with the mystery of the existential tension that is the heart of the spiritual Exodus from this world to the next, rather than rely on external, superficial and materially based markers. And of course, as we intimated before, a vibrant and vital era (or any era, for that matter) may also be beset by various problems and crises, which may be exploited by the eschatologist impatient with the perdurance of the Saeculum. How impatient the eschatologist gets depends on how much of the Gnostic virus he has. Such challenges and crises, and the quasi-apocalyptic responses to them, are as old as the hills, and themselves only become absorbed into the ongoing mysterious warp-and-woof of the History that, contrary to the impatience of the Christian (and the post-Christian Gnostic), apparently just won't go away.
By and large, modern Christians have digested the sociopolitical dominance of secularism maturely—as have all those millions of Western Christians who exist throughout the West (as well as various parts of the non-Western world) in various stages of decomposition, transformed over time into various types of "secularists" reflecting various flavors of spirituality, agnosticism and atheism.
While the former have by and large learned to integrate the dominance and vitality of the Saeculum into the wider tension between this world and the next world, between this life and the next life, between History and the End of History, the latter have learned to respect the "neutral umbrella" of the secularist modus vivendi by which religious people of all stripes are accorded full equality of rights (as long as those rights do not presume to involve the arrogation of any particular Absolute Truth into laws affecting those who disagree with that Absolute Truth), and are by and large accorded respect (with some measure, inevitably, here and there, of criticism, condemnation, and even sometimes mockery thrown in, as befits freedom of expression).
Conclusion: The Neutral Umbrella of Secularism
The most important feature of the virtue of the system of modern secularism is its organization of the Meaning-of-Life component of society under the aegis of what may be termed the neutral umbrella it provides.
By this term is meant an overarching sociopolitical neutrality with regard to the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life. While there may well be one Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life—and while the logic of faith, hope and love in fact points to, and is oriented around, a unity in that regard—nevertheless the world has always been populated by individuals and groups who claim that they, and they alone, possess the patent on the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life. Meaning that in the political dimension of existence, there is not one, but many competing Absolute Truths about the Meaning of Life. And while there are always certain individuals and groups here and there who claim they have a magical key to the "harmony" of all these jostling Absolute Truths about the Meaning of Life, the fact is that much of history has involved violent conflicts among these various individuals and groups.
If it means anything else, the most important facet of the wisdom of the modern West is that it has learned and recognized, after centuries of bloody conflict and bitter dissensions (not to mention various forms of intolerance and oppression stifling freedom of expression), that the best way to organize society with the least degree of such conflicts is by erecting and enforcing an overarching neutrality by which no single Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life has undue influence over laws in order to force the followers of all the other Absolute Truths about the Meaning of Life into any manner or degree of submission to or inequality under their own particular version of theirs.
And remember children, laws require violence to enforce, unless of course everyone conveniently agrees with you. And also remember children, in the real world where people disagree about essential things—particularly something so essential as the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life—it often takes nothing short of laws, with the teeth of violence to back them up, in order to enforce the law that forces people not to force laws on other people about their particular version of the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life. This may sound paradoxical, but it is the same paradox—a perfectly logical and useful paradox—of true Tolerance not tolerating Intolerance.
This paradox, furthermore, includes enfolded within it a secondary, mobial paradox generated by the perversity of PC MC in the face of Islam—namely, the paradox of:
true Tolerance not tolerating the faux Tolerance which claims to be absolutely and universally tolerant but which actually and regularly practices intolerance against those who do not tolerate the Intolerance of Islam.
Through this paradox, the faux Tolerance preached and practiced by PC MC twists into a tightly incoherent mobius strip the double hypocrisy of being intolerant (against those who defend Tolerance by being against the Intolerance of Islam), and of tolerating and thus countenancing if not outright supporting the worst form of intolerance on the planet—namely, the intolerance encoded in the holy texts and laws of Islam and regularly preached and practiced in various parts of the world by its adherents, Muslims.
So, in the same vein as this paradox of Tolerance/Intolerance which currently besets the West and beleaguers the defenders of its core values, we have the paradox that, in order to defend and protect the virtue of allowing society to tolerate multiple Absolute Truths about the Meaning of Life along with their believers and followers—which means enforcing the law of respecting their rights and full equality among others—modern society must include in that law the enforcement of not tolerating any group that foments sedition against that law and seeks to dismantle it and the sociopolitical system of which it is a necessary, intrinsic and crucial part.
Currently, the only major, internationally dangerous group that persists in believing in forcing their particular version of the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life upon society through laws is Islam.
Make no mistake: in Islamic law, there is no room for the full respect of rights and full equality of other Absolute Truths about the Meaning of Life and their believers and followers—only, at best, an allowance to live as long as you submit to the domination of Islam. Muslims, following the encoded blueprint of their holy texts passionately and fanatically, believe this is the best way for all Mankind. And they are committed, due to their encoded blueprint, to try to realize this, through violence when they are able, and through stealthy deceit when they are unable to use violence successfully to bring about that end. This belief is what is meant by supremacism. And this commitment to realizing supremacism in sociopolitical terms (which requires violence—unless everyone conveniently happens to fully agree with your particular version of Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life) is what is meant by expansionism.
That's why, needless to say, Muslims qua Muslims* do not belong in the modern world. And that's why Muslims qua Muslims do not belong under the protective shade of the Neutral Umbrella: simply put, because ultimately they want to destroy that umbrella, even if in the meanwhile, while they perceive themselves to be insufficiently able to destroy it, they may pretend to support it.
Secularism: The Supermarket of the Gods
The Church-State Tension
Church and State: Separation or Tension?
The Modern West and the Bible: Paradoxical Progress
Croppers, Ego Quoque, Utraquism, Theocracy and Neutrocracy
Dante's Dual Ultimate
Seven Wonders of the Modern World
* What kind of a Muslim is not a "Muslim qua Muslim"...? Ah, good question. Someday we may visit it.