Save Us II: Only a God, Research Time, 11/12/2015

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 . . . 


  1. In these dark days (which may not be so dark), you're very idealistic. Sometimes I lose hope, but I agree with you, and it's also what I like about you. There is hope. Just have a look at our relatives, the bonobos. Grooming behavior is a primitive form of love. It's still love and it's in our genes.

    I get caught up in Edenic thinking a lot. I think it's a natural human disposition. I swear there's a neuropsychological correlate to this behavior, getting stuck in the past. Have you ever thought about that? If there was some fundamental difference in the way conservatives and liberals think on that low of a level? Just throwing that out there.

    I watch newer tv shows, and listen to newer music, and automatically start to think that it's somehow more cynical, nihilistic, or pessimistic. I remember growing up hearing songs like "man in the mirror", "imagine" and "he aint heavy", and shows like fresh prince of bel air ( which had a lot of positive messages in it that are still relevant today ), and lets not forget captain planet.

    But you know what? As an example, domestic violence rates have been falling consistently (as far as I am aware), so the invisible hand must be doing something right even if things seem bad on the surface. Who am I to judge or even think? Of course, there might be a delayed effect to consider. I mean, the people who commit crimes have to grow up in a toxic environment first, so it's not really possible to know for sure how the current cultural conditions affect the kids growing up in it until 20 or 30 years later. As an example of our current conditions I can point to the gamergate controversy, or how some (many?) people seem to irrationally hate "SJWs".

    I can tell you one thing though. The fact that Donald Trump has so much support in the US despite the stuff he says is disturbing. Human nature isn't changing. We have potential, but if you feed negative emotions and negative thought processes you become corrupt. I think it goes deeper than that though. I think whoever controls the invisible hand that I am almost certain exists, knows a lot more about human nature than I do.

    For now all I can I do is continue to live, try to stay idealistic, and keep looking to the bonobos.

    1. Thing is, cynicism is very important as a motivator of anger, and is good at keeping that anger righteous. A cynical eye identifies the real enemy because it's a perspective that inures you to hype and propaganda. If you know when and how people are lying to you, you can better navigate those lies to the truth of a situation, and our world's current situation is pretty tough.

      A cynicism that refuses to become horrifyingly depressed maintains that insane optimism in the face of horror. You know that somehow, a way out of this is possible, even if you may never find it. To me, that's the ethics of Doctor Who, best shown most recently in Heaven Sent. Even in the full face of the horror of your situation, you do what has to be done despite all the suffering you might undergo, because it's the only way to victory. You summon the strength to keep hammering away. Even if your own action doesn't do much more than a bird sharpening its beak against a mountain peak.

      All mountains sink back into the sea eventually.

  2. btw: I didn't mean to come of brash when I said "have you ever thought about that?"... I read some of your previous posts and I am sure you did.