THREE AGES OF WESTERN HISOTRY
by DAN JUSTER OCTOBER 15, 2019
Some of what we are going through in the terrible moral struggles of the Western world is due to the abandonment of the historic approaches to truth and culture. Though this is a simplistic summary, I think it is basically a true understanding. I was a student of the history of philosophy and a serious philosophy major in college and graduate school.
So this is my approach to what is happening.
Western Society as formed by the cultural elite throughout history, can be divided into three eras.
The first is what I call the faith/reason period,
second, the enlightenment empirical era, and finally
the Irrational emotive preference era. The three are the basic understandings of the nature of Truth and how Truth is accessed.
The faith/reason era basically was dominant from the time of Constantine to the Reformation and included some of the reformers in the 17th century. In the faith/reason era there was a joining of Biblical revelation with reason based on Greek philosophy, first with the influence of Platonic philosophies (stemming from philosophers who followed Plato) to Aristotle and the philosophers that followed him. Knowledge and truth could be discovered both by natural reason its reflections and deductions about reality, or natural knowledge and by revelation.
The conclusions of reason and revelation were compatible and sometimes asserted the same truth. The teaching of the Bible and the received wisdom of Greek philosophy were understood as both sources of objective Truth. Sometimes faith (revelation) was more dominant then reason (Augustine) and sometimes they were in greater equal balance (Thomas Aquinas). Thomas provides us with the height of this synthesis of Greek norms and Biblical Revelation. For Thomas and even for Thomists today, Biblical revelation has the dominant final authority, except that for Catholics that authority has to be meditated by the teaching magisterium of the Church. This orientation really on faith/reason began in the 2nd century Church Fathers, but really became strong after Constantine and then up to the Reformation which emphasized revelation in a stronger way, but not to the total rejection of reason.
The second age was the Age of Enlightenment Empiricism. This period overlapped the first during the Renaissance. The idea is that truth is the conclusion of reasoning about empirical evidence. This orientation was given expression in Francis Bacon, the father of the modern scientific method. The 18th century established Enlightenment Empiricism in the West. For Christians it produced the kind of evidential apologetic as seen in John Locke (the British philosopher whose writings were the primary influence of the framers of the U. S. Constitution). Locke also wrote a text on Christian apologetics and argued for the Resurrection of Yeshua on the basis of the empirical evidence of history. Intelligent design from nature was also important to those of this orientation. We think of the apologetics of William Paley and his argument form design and Joseph Butler’s The Analogy of Religion, a primary apologetic textbook for 150 years.
Enlightenment Christians produced an individualistic Christian faith. However, there was the sceptical side of the enlightenment. Only with the enlightenment did the problem of evil seem to undercut faith (see the writings of Voltaire). Empirical argument also produced doubt about the resurrection and the idea that God was good and loved us. Revelation would then take second place to empirical reason, though the Bible as authority was something that was argued for as a conclusion of empirical reason. One sees this inheritance in Evangelicalism today.
Both these approaches have aspects of truth and have merit, but as I have argued, in the Bible, the intuitive, and the work of the Spirit that brings inner certainty though his very own presence needed to be more credited. We see this understanding in Pascal’s great description of his experience of the fire of God and his reasons of the heart. But this is not to discard reason or the evidence of the truth of the revelation. My one view does try to carefully join aspects of both ages but with a more critical eye focusing on the work of the Spirit in revelation.
Today’s age is a new and never before seen departure from the very ideas of objective truth as argued both in the Enlightenment and the classic Faith/Reason synthesis. Today the idea of objective truth to be discovered is rejected. Either from an existential or post-modern perspective it is asserted that truth is subjective. This view has become dominant in many taken over many of the leaders in the cultural formation elite. “Truth is what is true for me.” It is a matter of “my truth.” Therefore, I am entitled to choose my own orientation to life, my morals, my sexual ethics, my own view of what is of value. Today the idea of equality among people dominates, but there is nothing objective to ground this equality orientation. In this view, one has the right to self-define, and any assertion of tradition or morals against personal self-definition is considered hateful and is to be rejected and called out as hateful to the other who in radical freedom to define oneself. God does not define me, nor his revelation, nor the history of cultural norms, neither in the West or in China or India for that matter (which had very strong definitions too).
In this view the great art, cultural works, literature and more of the West is not valued as superior to the ghetto scrawl on the subway station wall. The banal sound of rap music is equal to Beethoven. It leads to people whose capability of perception of truth and beauty is truncated. This orientation produces distortions and dangers both to politics, culture and personal life. Here are some examples.
In sexuality, one must be affirmed to self-define according to the proclivities of the moment. Heterosexual, monogamous, polygamous, promiscuous, transgender, homosexual, and polyamorous all must be affirmed by a new definition of love and tolerance. Any who disagree are to be shamed and vilified.
In politics, the norm is socialism. The idea that evidence shows that socialism always leads to massive poverty is overwhelming, but the evidence is damned. The post-modern socialists want a world of economic equality, and socialism must work and be enforced despite the overwhelming evidence against it. Those functioning still in an enlightenment empiricism orientation are aghast at the stupidity of the power assertions of the socialist left, but without addressing the philosophical roots in existentialism and postmodernism, no headway is made. The socialist politically correct elite see themselves as “woke” not as I see them as indoctrinated in a dangerous subjectivism.
We see the same in the Climate Change power assertions on the left. The minority of qualified scientists must be tarred and feathered and run out of town since the climate change dangers are too overwhelming, and the subjective left wants to save the world. Why save the world? There is no answer. The subjectivist could want to destroy the world and forever save a human race from future suffering. One writer desired an end of the human race to save the planet. The goal is that we are to produce no carbon footprint within ten years. The science is not there to accomplish this. The science be damned because we want to believe this can be done so if we imagine it can be done, and want it, it can be done.
But the science is important. It tells us that a radical end to using fossil fuels will plunge hundreds of millions into poverty and many deaths. The windmills require steel, which is made with coal-fired steel mills! The solar panels require huge levels of mining which itself is carbon polluting. Then again there is the pollution from the manufacture of the panels. Nuclear power is the best way to reduce carbon emissions, but the socialist left does not like nuclear. Natural gas is a great reducer of carbon emissions through replacing the other more polluting fossil fuels, but no interim solution can be accepted. That we even think of balancing carbon reduction with the claim to lift people out of poverty or to not plunge people back into poverty is not even an acceptable discussion.
For Russia, China, and India, there is no question that they will not go this route, but then the West must do it anyway. It is religious.
In all of this, power assertion takes the place of reason and evidence. Yet, it has no basis in TRUTH. It is a chosen orientation that is given religious zeal as if there was such a thing as absolute truth. So, the subjectivist must have an important cause though it is incoherent with his world view.
The danger of the domination of the anti-reason, anti-Biblical revelation, and anti-empirical subjectivist left is an almost apocalyptic challenge.