Friday, October 21, 2016

What's upstairs???

It is certainly a common perception of life as having two dimensions -- a physical realm in which objectivity and concrete things live and an upper storey that possesses spiritual reality.  At one point in history this idea of a two-storey universe had as its upstairs the realm of religion and, specifically, Christianity.  It was the common idea that united Europe when the Roman Empire fell and it was the almost universal realm of the Church until the Reformation.

The lower storey was the arena of work and family life, sort of a first article domain.  The upper storey was the domain of values that attached to things physical and concrete but did not derive from them.  As long as there was some sort of commonly ascribed upper storey, the various differences of race, ethnicity, and vocation were not threatening and, in fact, were drawn together.  When a common religion could not be replaced by another common system of values, then we were left with more troublesome contradictions to deal with in the physical realm.  When the same secular identity of the first storey became the criteria also of the second storey, the whole thing began to fall apart.  What modernity has been doing slowly at first and then with more rapidity is the bleaching out of positive values and religious identity to make both the lower and the upper storey values neutral and religion free.

The outcome of this has left our culture with a mass of contradictions and the inability to resolve them.  The the aftermath of his erosion of common values and religion has left us with conflicting truth and values that divide us and leave it to the politicians to bridge the gaps -- between individual liberty and the common good, religious liberty and politically correct vocabulary that attempts to silence even religious disagreement, and the new values of personal expression and diversity that had no precursors in the old, more homogenous world-view that went before. So something had to replace values and religion.
In place of values and religion, the upper storey has become dominated by psychology, the pop psychology variety which appeals to intangible things like feelings, desires, and wants.  The non-sacramental world that has replaced the poles of sacramental reality and ethical certainty has left us merely a collection of individuals whose individual consciousness now defines and orders our whole sense of what is real and good. Reality has become a psychologized notion in which the supreme values are assigned to ideas, thoughts, desire, and feelings (personal expression) instead of an objective deity and external notions of right and wrong, virtue and vice, truth and falsehood.

Personality has come to define all things in a world where nominalism is its organizing and governing philosophy.  The only and all-surpassing good is self-expression and freedom must be adjusted to allow this self-expression without hindrance (except in the most extreme cases of harm).  Our modern world has become a global network of “relationships” or affiliations, formal and informal, real and virtual.  We use this web of relationships as the means of finding our own personal value among those who value us. It is no surprise, then, that the “experience” of a person's gender is more important than the actual biology of one’s gender, that this is a fluid reality because it is based upon feelings and desire more than upon physical reality, and that this is the greater defining characteristic of who we are than nearly anything else. Marriage then has less to do with sex, children, or even love and becomes a consensual attraction and affirmation of a psychological relationship tied to the goals of personal happiness and self-expression than it does with any traditional sense of the union of a man and a woman.

We look in vain to find a way to reconcile the substitution of psychology with values and faith.  Though some have sought to join these together, the end result has always been that God has become merely an idea, religion condensed to sentiment, and the moment the defining factor in both doctrine and morality.  In the past we wondered who was upstairs.  Now we are no longer at all convinced that any personal being is there and so we are left to wonder what is upstairs -- the what of feeling, thought, desire, and idea.  In such a reality, there is little reason to argue over specificity since nothing can be known or proven on any factual or real level.  Coexist becomes the only path and, if hope endures, that coexist will become a more single and ordinary principle giving expression to the triumph of self.

The problem with this, of course, is that Christianity does not know a two storey universe.  It knows only one domain, the seen and unseen, in which the Father created all things, the Son has come in flesh to rescue, redeem, and restore what was lost to the Father, and the Spirit engenders both the awareness and faith in this saving act and instills the desire for communion with the Father and life ordered according to His will.  My point is that compromise will gain us nothing in a worldview that has eradicated God and truth and replaced it with feelings, desires, ideas, and pleasure.  We can do only one thing:  proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified!


ErnestO said...

Atheism is a strange thing. Even the devils never fell into that vice, for “the devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). Spurgeon

John Flanagan said...

Much truth in this article, and I suppose many people today may see God as "only an idea," as stated in the article. But what comes to my mind is the Christian gospel song by Johnny Cash, which is simply and aptly titled, "My God is Real." For millions of people He is real, and despite the false ideas, prideful assertions, cynicism, and reaches of psychology, philosophy, and psycho-babble, we withdraw from it all and say our prayers, sing our hymns of praise, and experience the same love and reverence as those of His followers who came before us. The mark of a true disciple of Jesus is being consistently on guard in our minds and hearts against the wickednesd and unbelief characteristic of this fallen world. We endure because He will guide us, and we have an enduring relationship with our Heavenly Father which will stand with us now and when we are laid in our graves.