Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Trouble With Modernity

People, said T.S. Eliot, have to be able to believe in something larger than themselves, which is usually defined in religious terms because only religion can tell us in language that we can understand how we ought to live. Socrates thought that philosophy could satisfy this need, but what is one to do when the philosophers can't agree? Reason alone can lead us in too many different directions. When Christianity came along, the philosopical tradition was too fragmented to compete.

The trouble with Christianity, despite its vast appeal and many virtues, is Hell. No religion, even Islam, is as punitive as Christianity. Even unbaptized infants, according to Calvin (who, I suppose, was only trying to be consistent) are damned. My mother, brought up as a strict presbyterian, gagged on the doctrine of infant damnation and rebelled. She was not alone.

The trouble with modernity (I offer a rough definition in the Introduction to my book, SHAKESPEAREAN QUESTIONS, which appears as my first posting) is that it saps the foundations of religious belief, while offering little in return for the loss of "certainties beyond the grave." Which is why so many still believe, defiantly, that the bible gives us the word of God about everything that matters including how we should live. Now these are voices crying in the wilderness, it being now a generally accepted democratic principle that no one, and no single text, offers privileged access to the truth or truths about how we should live.

Our current difficulty with Islam is a case in point. The rule of law is pretty basic for us and them, but our law is secular and their law--Shari'a law--is based on the Koran. Shari'a law is more than a law code; it is about how people should live. When Arab armies conquered the middle-east and north Africa in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, they made no attempt to convert their new subjects to Islam, but they did demand that everyone should accept Shari'a law. The restoration of Shari'a law as the only law of the land--or indeed, the world--is the principal object of Jihadists today.

Spinoza was considered an atheist for identifying God and Nature. Now, as a consequence of the way modern science has changed and enlarged our understanding of nature, nature for many of us is all there is: no providence, no immortal souls, no essential differences between us and other sentient creatures. The fact that such creatures exist at all on this little, lonely planet is a matter of blind luck. "The stars," as someone says mournfully in one of Tennyson's poems, "blindly run." Naturally, this is a view of the universe and nature that most people find unacceptable.

1 comment:

  1. The principle objective of Jihadists has three prongs: restoration of Shariat, invocation of Nemesis, and a guaranteed berth in paradise with doe-eyed houris fooling about, and nibbling at, whatever appendages hang about from the stout body of the human bomb.
    You ply a mean quill, Bwana. What blessed gaggle of geese donated it to you?