Continued from last post . . . You know, I remember at the height of the Greek debt crisis in international news, a lot of journalists who thought they were very witty would joke about ancient Greek philosophy.
|Lakewood Church in Houston is the largest church in
the United States, regularly drawing crowds of more
than 40,000 to its weekly sermons. So I'd say that
North America is still a pretty damn Christian place.
But that pagan culture no longer has any direct influence on the Greek character. For about 1600 years, Greece has been a Christian country. Christianity changed the philosophical landscape of Europe categorically, but a lot of ideas and concepts from the pagan world survived and defined the Christian world-view.
When I was reading Leo Strauss talking about these Greek concepts of humanity’s corruption, it reminded me of Christian ideas.
I’m not a Christian myself. But I was raised in the West, Newfoundland in particular, so the Christian religious and philosophical tradition influenced my culture pervasively.
Even though I write and think in my nonfiction work from a perspective that keeps God out of things,* I did draw on Christian imagery about Eden. Edenic thinking describes humanity as inherently corrupt. In environmentalist thinking, this is usually part of a dualistic way of thinking of nature and humanity.
* This isn't the same as an atheist perspective, though in short form, that's how I explain this part of my approach. Basically, since Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity deals with human politics and scientific principles, I see no need to bring God into things.
There’s the natural on one hand, and the human or technological on the other. Nature is a positive pole in an Edenic thinker: beautiful, harmonious, self-sustaining, godly. Humanity is therefore the negative pole: ugly, destructive, violent, debased spectres of death.
|The version of the story of Eden that I remember best
from my childhood.
Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity argues against this way of thinking about the world and humanity. Not only because it's untrue. That’s the least interesting part to me. But I argue against it because, even though many environmental activists and philosophers think this way, the idea’s message is that activism is useless.
If humanity really is inherently (that is, essentially, inescapably) corrupt, then the only way that nature will be safe from destruction is when humanity is gone. There's nothing we can do to make ourselves better, or live in less destructive ways.
Humanity is fallen. No, check that. Man is Fallen. In the very nature of our being, we're corrupt. So aspiration to be better is inherently futile. Strauss paints this notion as the centre of Machiavellian thinking in the modern tradition of political philosophy.
The Machiavellian idea: the primary goal of politics isn't raising ourselves and our communities to some more noble way of life or set of virtues, but simply keeping us all alive in a hostile, violent world.
This idea forms the basic core of modern political thinking, in combination with the Hobbesian idea: the only reason communities even come together in the first place is to avoid violence. Any higher goal of justice is impossible.
It’s also that side of ancient Greek political thinking that describes human justice as a diluted form of the divine. Human justice resembles true justice, but is limited in accord with our abilities. Humanity is permanently debased.
|Martin Heidegger was remarkable in
expressing so much of conservative
Christian philosophy in the context of
a thoroughly atheist existentialism.
Is there any relief from this hopelessness? Not really. This is why Calvinism is so bleak. It's a form of Christianity that defines humanity's relationship with God through the Eden story: the essence of humanity is a corruption that we have no power to heal on our own.
So the only way out of our corrupt nature is through the grace of God. And we, being inherently corrupt beings, have no way to earn this Grace. We're infinitely distant from it. All we can be is what we are. Grace is an intervention from beyond being. A crack in reality to save us.
I reject this simply because it is so pessimistic. It makes us passive, hopeless, depressed. We dwell only in our corruption, fixated on the permanently abject status of our debased nature.
If we accept this, we’ll never work toward justice, because we'll consider justice infinitely, categorically, and ontologically separate from human possibility. And I have a very complex, nuanced argument why I can’t accept this.
Because fuck that. To be continued . . .