Friday, August 17, 2012

Man and His Religion

Let's face it:  We're pretty awesome.  You, me, and all 7 billion other folk dwelling here on earth.  There is a sense of the extraordinary surrounding mankind, a sense of unrivaled marvel around our species.  However, our majesty is at great risk; there is a threat to the glory of man, and that threat is man himself.  It is a hard task to find a man who doesn't agree that mankind is great, honorable, and praiseworthy in some sense, but it is extraordinarily easy to find a man who finds mankind great, honorably, and praiseworthy in the right sense.

Most people find man great because he can evolve, because he can change, and most especially, because cause he can progress.  By the popular definition, man is great because he is able to grow, to shed the mistakes of the past and progress into the future, and it is when man is more progressive, he is more fully alive.  Many will claim that when man is most open-minded and most progressively oriented that he is fully alive.  All of these claims are essentially rooted in the principle that man is evolutionary, that our progress as a species is a product of an evolution of sorts, voluntary and involuntary.  This idea rests on the notion that as time progresses, humanity constantly gets better, stronger, wiser, more moral, and ultimately more praiseworthy.  It supposes that our ancestors were ridiculous, that their antiquities hindered them, and that with each new generation of progeny, humanity will shed the stupidity of the modern era.  While is might be true that our ancestors were ridiculous, it is much more ridiculous to assume that we're any less ridiculous then they were.

Each war is different, each war is the same by kevindooley
Human progress isn't what it used to be.
While the human body may very well be subject to evolution, the human soul is much less susceptible.  We may have grown taller, but we certainly haven't grown much wiser.  Our technology has advanced, but the principles behind its creation and utilization have stayed very much the same.  The human soul is not evolutionary, it does not get more and more sensible as history progresses.  A brief look at the 20th century should suffice to demonstrate my point.  No, if anything, we seem to be getting more efficient at enacting the same old evils.  It used to take a sword and a strong swing to kill a man, now a bomb and a politician can kill a hundred, all from the luxury of an corner office.  If anything, the idea of man's progress has cause more regression than anything else.  The Nietzschean idea of the super-man, the evolved, transcendent man, has not lead to a more evolved man at all, if anything, it has given man an excuse to embrace folly and call it progress.

Most dangerous of these notions is the notion that progress requires the transcendence of beliefs, the removal of faith and the destruction of bias.  In the name of tolerance, we've created the greatest intolerance of all:  intolerance of human nature.  By the attempt to welcome all ideas, we've rejected all people who ever held an idea.  By saying that every belief is equal, we've made every belief valueless.  By proclaiming that your views are just as good as mine, we've made your views and mine out to be nothing more serious than the choice between chocolate and vanilla.  We are creatures who believe, we live to believe, and if we're not given something worthwhile to believe in, we'll create something to believe in, and when we believe, we desire to believe so fiercely that our belief is the only thing true.

But why listen to me, why not listen to the immortal words of G.K. Chesterton:

"Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but which has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. "

Chesterton dislikes your nonsense.
Man is not great because he transcends belief in his progressive march towards whatever-it-is-that-he-happens-to-be-progressing-towards.  He is great because he embraces beliefs.  Man becomes most human when he builds temples, not because he overcomes them.  Man's greatness lies in his ability to worship eternal greatness, it resides in his ability to commune with eternity.  Mankind is a creator and practitioner of dogmas, and those dogmas allow him access to the realm of the fantastic and spiritual.  Because man is not chaotic, but very conclusive, decisive, and faith-filled, he is capable of eternity.

We become animalistic when we forget this.  When we shun the eternal for the temporal, or eradicate the immaterial for the material, or negate the spiritual because of the physical, we are not discovering our humanity, but destroying it.  Every crime of humanity has come at the behest of this:  That we saw fit to define humanity apart from his relationship to divinity.  Even when we say that man is great in his own right, that humanity is awesome for no other reason than it is human, we have taken the definition of mankind away from a definite, eternal ideal and placed it in the hands of man, making it effectively a non-definition.

Man is great because he is inherently religious.  Even he stands at the podium to denounce religion, or if he marches with a mob to burn down churches and bomb mosques, it is because he has religious zeal against those things.  Many will say that religion is a catalyst for violence, but in reality, it makes no difference whether religion has a part in it or not.  Some of the most violent regimes in the world were irreligious groups, such as the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and Maoist China.  Men are violent because they are passionate, some about religion, some not.  While our values and structures may be sources of violence, so also is our zeal to destroy values and structures (i.e. the French Revolution).  The demolition of faith serves no purpose to man.  If you leash churches and suppress mosques, man will find another thing worth fighting for, not out of hatred, but out of passion.

A man without religion is a shell of a man.  If a man is stripped of something to believe in, an end to seek, a goal to strive for, he will inevitably fall into indifference and angst.  Man must believe, he must have a goal, a meaning, a value to orient his life around.  Great men are not great in their own right, they are great because they orient themselves to great things.  Mankind is spectacular precisely because it has the ability to pursue this greatness, to make concrete the abstract.  He can take the spiritual and make it corporal, he is the beautiful collision of finite and infinite, and in that potential, he is magnificent.  In that gift, he is infinitely valuable.

If you think this guy is anything less than awesome,
I want to say many uncharitable things to you.

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