Trying Once Again for the Light

Winter Fundraiser 2016, Day Three

We’re rolling along into the third day of this quarter’s fundraiser, and I must say, y’all have really stepped up to the plate this time. Dymphna and I will be writing thank-you notes until the Fourth of July at the rate we’re going! Many thanks to everyone who hit the tip cup so far.

The theme of this week’s fundraiser is “The Age of Reason”, with topics drawn from the lyrics of the song “A Man for All Seasons” by Al Stewart. For those of you who joined the show late, the full lyrics were posted on Monday, along with an embedded YouTube of the song.

Tonight’s topic is drawn from the following lines:

We measure our gains out in luck and coincidence
Lanterns to turn back the night
And put our defeats down to chance or experience
And try once again for the light

“The age of reason” can have multiple meanings, one of them being that point in a child’s development when the Church considers him to have a sufficient maturity of understanding so that he can participate in the sacraments. It can also be a reference to a book of the same name by Thomas Paine.

Tip jarIts most common usage, however, is as a designation for the era in which Paine was embedded, a period that is also known as “The Age of Enlightenment”, or simply “The Enlightenment”. European civilization reached its apogee during the Enlightenment, which lasted from the 16th or the 17th century — depending on who is doing the reckoning — and culminated in the 18th century. Science, literature, and the arts flourished in those years as never before, and produced such great thinkers as Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith, just to name two.

Brutal warfare and political repression also characterized the same period. Two great revolutions, the American and the French, bracketed the final years of the era. The latter is considered to have rung the curtain down on the Enlightenment, and after Napoleon had his way with the continent, the Romantic Era took over.

The Age of Enlightenment has a bad reputation these days, thanks to the seeds of political and social destruction it sowed for the bitter harvests of the 20th century. Atheism and nihilism eventually grew to dominate intellectual fashion, migrating from the French revolution into the thought of Karl Marx and the Anarchists, and all their grisly successors. Lacking a belief in God or transcendent meaning, European civilization devoured itself in a series of increasingly destructive wars, laying waste to the magnificent culture that had preceded it and bequeathing us the sad, tattered remnants of the West now entering its final twilight in multicultural madness and terminal socialism.

So we have good reason to disparage the Enlightenment, which paved the way for so much horror and heartbreak in the two and a half centuries since its greatest flourishing. Yet it’s important not throw out the enlightened baby with its foul bathwater. There was a reason that the Enlightenment was called that — its thinkers and artists and scientists and philosophers experienced it as a dawning of great knowledge. It was a time when the world was illumined by the light of reason. There was an opening up of the human mind, so that mortal understanding of the entirety of God’s creation seemed a realizable possibility.

Heady days indeed! But God disappeared from the picture, and the horrors unleashed in His absence left all those grand hopes in ruins.

It turned out that great genius and creativity could no longer thrive in the absence of divine inspiration. Johann Sebastian Bach was a devout Christian, and signed his musical scores with the motto Soli Deo gloria — “Glory to God alone”. It’s no surprise that the West has not seen another musician like him in the 266 years since his death.

Someday neurophysicists and psychologists may discover the exact mechanism behind this decline in artistic genius. All we can do in the meantime is to observe the undeniable correlation between the receding of the sea of faith and the drying up of human creativity. Those who could no longer exert themselves for the greater glory of God were often unable to exert themselves for anything much at all.

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The flowering of reason and creativity during the Enlightenment was the result of the resurgence of the Christian faith during the preceding centuries, as Bibles printed in the vernacular became widely available. Theology and philosophy grounded in the teachings of Jesus nurtured a spirit of inquiry. God’s creation was considered to be unfolding according to immutable laws which could be discovered by human investigation. Out of that early dawn came the full day of scientific understanding and the unprecedented technical achievements we take for granted today.

The Newtonian “clockwork Universe” was part of the new corpus of scientific theory. Belief in God did not disappear immediately — first came the idea that the matter and energy of the Universe had been set in motion at the moment of Creation, and everything thenceforth proceeded according to the laws of cause and effect. When scientific knowledge eventually increased to the point where the entire Universe could be fully understood — something that was considered inevitable, based on progress up to that point — its mechanisms would be revealed as totally determined by the first cause at the moment of Creation, with no intervention by God thereafter.

The Almighty thus retreated into the shadows of human thinking, from which He was eventually discarded entirely. Creation was replaced by the Big Bang — which just kind of happened, with no determinable cause. But it was definite: no God was involved.

Eventually, by the late 20th century, Newton’s “clockwork” model of the Universe had been refuted. Heisenberg, Gödel, and Chaos Theory sketched out the limits of what could be known, forcing a revision of scientific epistemology. Cause and effect could never be totally understood or charted. Most physical processes were inherently unpredictable due to their chaotic complexity, and would always remain that way. And a corollary to Gödel’s Theorem showed that the existence or non-existence of God could never be logically proved.

But by then it was too late, because God was gone, consigned by the great intellects of modernity to the ash heap of history. Newton’s tick-tock universe had been around too long for the model to be abandoned by the movers and shakers of the academy. The status quo of the Godless Universe remains with us and dominates fashionable thinking to this day.

In abandoning their Creator, Westerners were forced to worship other things, because the impulse to worship is always with us, and will not be denied. In place of the divine, humans set up the Baals of power, wealth, pleasure, and self, and bowed low to them.

However (to quote from a different religious tradition), whatever is contrary to Tao will not last long. We are rapidly approaching the endgame of the post-modern post-Enlightenment post-spiritual Baal-worshipping era. Change is upon us.

Those of us who have always felt the presence of the Lord draw comfort from Him. My physical eyes are now failing me, but my spiritual eyes are open to the radiance that surrounds me. That is what sustains me in this, the evening of my days, amidst all the ghastliness I have to confront every morning when I get up, turn on the computer, and see what new horrors are there before me on the screen.

And this is why I have such great respect for the atheists I work with in the Counterjihad. Some of the finest, most dedicated people doing this thankless job don’t believe in God. I don’t understand how they can continue with their tasks, day after day, because I’m certain I couldn’t manage it if the divine presence were not always close at hand.

I’d like to say that the source of their inner strength is known only to themselves and God, but that would probably offend them.

But heck — I’ll say it anyway: God bless them!

We’re heading into some dark times. We’re going to need that light, so I urge you all to reach for it one more time, in whatever form it makes itself known to you.

We’ve got to try once again for the light.

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Yesterday’s many donors illumined us from these places:

Stateside: Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming

Near Abroad: Canada and the Dominican Republic

Far Abroad: Australia, India, Portugal, Slovenia, and the UK

Thank you all for your generosity, Dymphna’s on deck for tomorrow.

The tip jar in the text above is just for decoration. To donate, click the tin cup (or the donate button) on the sidebar of our main page. If you prefer a monthly subscription, click the “subscribe” button.

23 thoughts on “Trying Once Again for the Light

  1. Interviewed in 2003 about his spirituality, David Bowie had this to say;

    “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on…that’s the shock; ALL CLICHES ARE TRUE; the years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God…so do I buy that one? If all the other cliches are true….HELL,.. don’t pose me that one!

  2. Blaming atheism for the wars prior the Crimean war, Napoleonic wars, world war 1, 2 or whatever else you’d like to lump into this farce of a scapegoat is very disheartening for me to hear. I thought this site was somewhat secular in its thought and debate process. Is that really what you believe? I appreciate that you’ll give atheists some credit at the end of your post, and I’m an agnostic with strong leanings towards some kind of deity (not an Abrahamic one though) but I would strongly strongly disagree that atheism had anything to do with conflict/war in the past say 300 years. In fact I’d argue that much of it goes the other way. War as a direct result of religion meddling, altering, and sparking global strife.

    • Dookert: Having studied people with character disturbance, they invariably have some version of the “humans are on top” syndrome; they refuse the idea that there is a higher power over them, whether the higher power is expressed as God, or as a moral force, or some variation thereof. They submit to nothing and nobody, and leave a path of destruction behind them.

      The meme that war is a direct result, as you say, of religious meddling, is clearly disproved by all the wars that have had secular ideologies behind them.

      Those who wish to start wars will use any ideology as its justification. Any ideology that is handy. Some ideologies, of course, are handier than others for that purpose. I don’t recall a war ever started on behalf of Taoism. Am I misinformed?

      • I don’t know of any war fought on behalf of Taoism. Interestingly enough, though, Lao Tzu provided guidance to generals and political leaders in his verses.

        From Chapter 38 of The Tao Te Ching:

        On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
        On sad occasions to the right.
        In the army the general stands on the left,
        The commander-in-chief on the right.
        This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
        When many people are being killed,
        They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
        That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.

        Chapter 36:

        Fish cannot leave deep waters,
        And a country’s weapons should not be displayed.

        Chapter 57:

        Rule a nation with justice.
        Wage war with surprise moves.
        Become master of the universe without striving.
        How do I know that this is so?
        Because of this!
        The more laws and restrictions there are,
        The poorer people become.
        The sharper men’s weapons,
        The more trouble in the land.
        The more ingenious and clever men are,
        The more strange things happen.
        The more rules and regulations,
        The more thieves and robbers.

        Chapter 30:

        Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
        Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
        For this would only cause resistance.
        Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
        Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
        Just do what needs to be done.
        Never take advantage of power.
        Achieve results,
        But never glory in them.
        Achieve results,
        But never boast.
        Achieve results,
        But never be proud.
        Achieve results,
        Because this is the natural way.
        Achieve results,
        But not through violence.

        Force is followed by loss of strength.
        This is not the way of Tao.
        That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.

        • Well, a number of revolts in Chinese history were inspired by Daoist doctrine, Baron. There were also revolts in Chinese history inspired by the Mahayana Buddhist belief that the Maitreya (Mi-le-fo), or Buddha of the Future, was about to appear (the White Lotus society, for example).

          Also, as for Confucianism, the Tang Dynasty Confucian mandarin and essayist Han Yu once remonstrated with the throne for honoring the bone of the Buddha, who, Han Yu reminded the emperor, was born a barbarian. For this, Han Yu got exiled to the still barbarous south.

          The posting states:

          “In abandoning their Creator, Westerners were forced to worship other things, because the impulse to worship is always with us, and will not be denied. In place of the divine, humans set up the Baals of power, wealth, pleasure, and self, and bowed low to them.”

          Ever read the first chapter of Romans? It describes our post-Christian society to a t, just as it did the pre-Christian one in Paul’s day.

    • War in the last 300 years has been the direct result of religious meddling? I have to agree with you. Except for WWI. And WWII. And the Korean War. And the Falklands War. And the Vietnam War. And the 1978 war between Vietnam and Cambodia. And the Spanish Civil War. And the Russian Civil War. And the American Civil War. And the American Revolution. And the French and Indian War. And the Mexican-American War. And the Spanish-American War. And the Napoleonic Wars. And the War of 1812. And the Crimean War. And the War of the Triple Alliance. And the Austro-Prussian War. And the Franco-Prussian War. And the Boer War. And the Russo-Japanese War. And the 1st Gulf War. And the 2nd Gulf War. And the 1st and 2nd Congo Wars. Oh, and the 1st and 2nd Italian-Ethiopian Wars. So, yeah….except for these minor skirmishes, ALL wars in the last 300 years have been the direct result of religious meddling.

      • So, the Marxist-Leninist cult of the great goddess Historical Necessity isn’t an example of religious meddling?

        • So if a person has a key tenet that guides his thoughts and actions that is his godess, and what he does in life is religious meddling?

  3. The ending of your (excellent) essay brought a phrase to mind although I can’t recall its origin:

    You may not believe in God but God believes in you.

    (P.S. the check is in the mail!)

  4. Bless you Baron. The problem is the French Enlightenment…which started by overthrowing a King only to end up being ruled by an Emperor. The Continental impulse to Authoritarianism and Proto-Fascism has its roots in Rousseau and the Jacobins. This is not to be confused with the English (Scottish) Enlightenment of Locke, Hume and Adam Smith which is foundational for liberty. economic freedom and the moral sentiments promulgated by Christianity. Nothing wrong with God, the Clock Maker.
    Mozart and Coltrane…Cezanne, and Picasso might have some comments on being creative.
    The light gets diffused and bent.,,but its still the light.

    • But “God the Clock Maker” turns out not to be an apt analogy.

      I am acquainted with an Anglican theologian (yes, they really have some) who is well-educated in the sciences, but remains a devoted Christian for the same reason I do — his continuous experience of the presence of God. My discussions with him back in the early ’90s helped clarify my thinking on these matters.

      He is of the opinion that the free will granted by God to his Creation extends all the way down to the quantum level. It is there, at the level of fundamental particles where Heisenberg indeterminacy applies, that the working out of the Holy Spirit is expressed.

      I find this a useful way to think about such matters. It’s a far cry from the theology of Augustine or Aquinas, but it helps structure our understanding of reality after these past four centuries of scientific discoveries.

      Those who experience the presence of God can only understand and express that experience using terms out of their own time and milieu. The fact that faithful people from 1,000, or 2,000, or 5,000 years ago got so many facts wrong, according to our current understanding, in no way invalidates their experiences of God. No mortal can comprehend such an experience except in terms of what he already knows.

      Now that we understand so much more about the structure of Creation, a new, better-informed theological model of the Universe is possible. But unfortunately it seems that we are moving in the opposite direction, towards ever more rejection of the possibility of God and the divine in us.

      Pushed to the limit, this will all end in sorrow and ashes, and then something new will emerge from the ruins, with God never having been absent even for a nanosecond from the process.

      Such is the nature of my faith.

      • Baron, I have mixed feelings about the Enlightenment. On one hand, it was a good thing to bring our critical faculties to bear on our understanding of the world. On the other, “reason” fast became an idol, and remains to this day. People still get attacked on the internet for valuing emotion and intuition as valid ways of exploring our world, and the accusation of being “irrational” is an ad hominem of sorts.

        What we need is second Enlightenment where reason is flanked by all the other discerning faculties we were given. IMO. And where epistemological humility is something to strive for.

        • Yes, that’s exactly my point. “Reason” is one of the Baals being bowed down to.

          • It is also written that to be carnally minded is death, which in my opinion is reason without accountability. To Rome, ability granted prerogative (“Might makes Right”) regardless of the consequences to the conquered or even the Empire. Paul challenged that worldview by saying, and from the Tanakh, to consider others before yourself. It took a while for that ethos to gain traction but the arrival of gunpowder and the existential threat it conveyed to Europe that resulted in the Treaty of Westphalia gave that Biblical ethos the opportunity it needed and in my opinion made the Enlightenment possible. We are warned in the Book of Proverbs from subscribing to the ‘worship’ of these Ba’als and incorporating the worship of what they represent into our lives as ruins is the almost certain result. I look around nowadays and I see the worship played out in stark relief in the lust of power, flesh, and in the pride of life, all leading to anarchy and destruction as everyone’s hand is against his neighbor’s, though not openly as appearances are to be kept up.
            From what I have read on GoV for the past five years I would say that Islam is the purest expression of those lusts and the ruinous consequences that follow. That the font of the enlightenment is blind to this is darkly ironic indeed.
            Thank you for the opening post, it was the best news I have read anywhere on the net in a month of Mondays

  5. Thanks Baron, we both see the darkness coming, and we know it intends to swallow the earth and claim it for its own. However, we are in the Light as He is in the Light. So let us remain steadfast while it is still day, even though it feels like twilight, and look up, for our redemption is drawing near and is much nearer than we suppose.

    • A great and wise man once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” One could almost believe he was divinely inspired… 😉

      • And that candle is Christ, in Whom there is no shadow, flickering or turning.

        OK Dymphna, but the darkness here in SoCal is almost palpable. I have felt the cold breath of hate from the Liberal constituency. I still can’t understand how someone who is ostensibly open and welcoming in their worldview can be so cold and spiteful when a Christian seeks to be included along with the others they have welcomed. I simply shrug and figure that it’s their loss, not mine.

        • Yes, I too am finding the same thing in Canada. Atheists in my family and very close friends have stunned me by their level of loathing for Christians (which includes yours truly). I’m beginning to think it’s a major fracture in the cultures North America and is having a dramatic impact in the U.S. primaries. I believe most atheists would never vote for a Christian candidate even if they agreed with his/her political platform.

          • As someone raised to take pride in “enlightenment”, I have an observation or two.

            The truth claims made by the Christian faith are highly offensive to those who wish to be completely autonomous. How can one who believes in the omnicompetence of his own reason accept a divine reason to which it must bow?

            But I thank God he allowed me to consider the truth claims of Christ and showed me that my own quest for autonomy was in fact heeding the ancient serpent who told our first mother that she and her husband could be gods for themselves!

  6. Baron,
    I am interested in donating but don’t use PayPal. Do you have a mailing address to which I could send a donation? Thank you.

  7. “The flowering of reason and creativity during the Enlightenment was the result of the resurgence of the Christian faith during the preceding centuries, as Bibles printed in the vernacular became widely available.”

    True, but there is more to it than that. As a matter of fact, exact science was basically invented, or at least re-invented during the Middle Ages, by the Christian Church. It’s not only that Christianity provided a modicum of literacy (at least to the sons of the well-off) during the Middle Ages. But an astonishing number of clergymen practiced were also men of science. Bede, Egbert, Alcuin, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bacon, Grosseteste, Peter Peregrinus, Willem van Moerbeke… the list is very, very, very long. It is also often conveniently forgotten that Copernicus and Erasmus, to name but a few, were priests. Europe would simply NEVER have achieved dominance on the world stage, based in large part to its scientifical discoveries, had it not been for the men of science “embedded” in the Christian Church. Over the ages, Jesuits distinguished themselves also, particularly, it seems, in the field of seismology. The Big Bang Theory? First formulated by Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian Jesuit.

    It is about time that these truths be known.

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