Moving toward a new civilization

Saturday, October 12, 2019

4:40 a.m. Gentlemen, are we ready for a full session, or should I just read, or sit up and sip coffee until things settle down?

You can always try, and if we have to cut the session short, what have you lost?

Understood. Okay, let me look at where we left off on Thursday. I guess Thursday was about the image of the rainbow as a symbol of how things are continuous yet differentiated, then the reminder that evil must be accounted for in the scheme of things, not reasoned away or let’s say wished away by words.

This is another aspect of “It is better to be whole than good”; the saying applies to one’s view of the universe, no less than human affairs or one’s life or one’s character. Evil exists and must be accounted for, regardless what its ultimate derivation or nature is determined to be.

I take that to mean, just as everyone who does evil is the product of prior evil done to him, or her, so it is not a question of excusing evil, nor, at the contrary extreme, of anathematizing it as of a different nature from oneself.

You may want to sip your coffee for a moment.

Smiling – almost laughing, in fact. Yeah, that was pretty clumsy. All right, trying again. All I was saying is that evil is part of us, and yet that doesn’t excuse anything. Really, this is nothing new to religious thought, and it is ridiculous that contemporary society should need to have it explained yet again.

The reason for that need is that contemporary society – for more than a hundred years – is in the process of redefining its understandings, bringing them to a new level of sophistication, and the process unavoidably involves losing ground.

I have the general idea, but I gather you want to spell it out somewhat.

We do. You recall that we explained that a new civilization’s assumptions are going to include some that the prior civilization took as fact and some that it took as fancy. Or, “fact” and “superstition.” Well, that is twice as true for religious thought. No new civilization accepts the prior civilization’s way of seeing things (by definition, practically), and so no new one receives the older one’s religion or religions unchanged. It may not intend to change it, or replace it; it may not realize that it has done so; it may even disapprove of the fact. Nonetheless, new wineskins and old wine. It is a reciprocal process: A new culture produces new individuals; new individuals change the culture. One special case of this is that new individuals in a new encasing framework of understanding are not going to fit into previous schemes of understanding the world and interacting with the older world’s gods.

To state it in crude outline, the Roman Empire was not the Roman Republic. The older Roman religion, excellent as it was for the older Roman civilization, died out in new circumstances, not by anyone’s design, but all the more definitely because it was not. A Roman Emperor himself could not stem the tide, let alone reverse it, for neither he nor anyone else knew why the new Christian tide came flowing in. The Christian religion in turn changed its nature as the Roman Empire fell in the West and was replaced by the primitive but vigorous creators of its successors. In the East, where the Roman Empire clung to existence for another thousand years, the Christianity that lived in the civilization became almost unrecognizably different from the Christianity existing in the West. Both sides saw the difference, and each accounted for it by ascribing it to evil or stupid theological distinctions by the other side and/or by politically motivated corruption.

Similarly, in the West, when the Protestant revolution split the apparently whole fabric of Western Christianity. “Apparently” because a religion that is given only lip service by most of the population most of the time has already at least greatly changed, if it has not withered and died on the vine. But notice that Protestantism could not arise until certain societal conditions had changed things to prepare a congenial surrounding for it.

And, finally, the Protestant Christianity which flourished for 500 years in turn lost its vigor and its societal support by further changes in the social world around it, and – certainly by World War I and its chaotic and catastrophic results – had actually died and was left standing, like dead trees.

This is not about religion. It is about interactions between society and the individual and the enveloping technological and scientific convictions that result in a certain way of seeing; that is, a certain way of being. Any given individual may be a communing member of a religion and live it quite sincerely and shall we say productively. But that is not the same thing as saying that that individual’s religion is (or isn’t; it doesn’t say anything about it either way) appropriate for the times.

I know what you are meaning, even saying, but I don’t think we’re getting it across without considerable room for slippage.

Being misunderstood is always potential. You try it, then.

I get that we in our time, another time of huge change, only this one global in scope, do not fit into our accustomed mental lives. We have outgrown our skins, or our shells, and are in the in-between phase.

True enough but we would say more. What science is, what religion is, what art is, is changing, has changed, must continue to change, as older partial civilizations come under the continued bombardment of living among other partial civilizations that are themselves enduring the same process. A new global civilization will not universally adopt Christianity, nor Islam, nor scientific materialism. It may adopt (express itself in) English as a language, in Buddhism, say, as a philosophy, in this or that stance regarding human relations to the 3D world, but it will not adopt the prior scheme of things. How could it? It being different, how could the old ways fit it?

But do not take this to be confined to the conditions under which humans will agree to be governed or organized. We refer to the way you will see the world. And, change that, everything changes.

Certainly.

Not just a religion, or even all religions, but religion per se. Not just a given stance vis a vis the scientific method, but what science is seen to be; how science is to be practiced and experienced. Not just “art for art’s sake” at one extreme, or, say, “socialist realism” at the other, but a new conception of what art is, and therefore how it is to be pursued and experienced.

Every single manifestation of change that strikes you will be, in itself, trivial. Every single problem that seems to flow from this or that policy decision will be seen, eventually, as symptomatic rather than causal. If you are in the middle of an earthquake, probably the falling crockery cannot be justly ascribed to your neighbor stamping his feet.

“And enough for now,” it being 5:40.

And as you often say, we will see you next time.

Our thanks as always.

 

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