Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Great Lie

Believing Your Own Press . . . Or Not

What did the Enlightenment gurus really believe about human nature?  Remember that the philosophes of the period had faces set like flint against religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Virtually all that was evil in the world, they argued, could be traced back to religious superstition.  "Enlightenment" meant casting off the darkness inflicted upon to the West by the Church.  

But what would replace the Ten Commandments?  No problems at all.  Get rid of religion and mankind would return to his natural state of moral, spiritual, and intellectual innocence.  J. H. Huizinga summarises the Enlightenment world view:

Its first tenet was that, Original Sin being a wicked myth invented to oppress men and Nature being wholly good, man could follow his inclinations without any prejudice to his virtue which, as Montesquieu had said, "was not something that should cost us an effort".
All was for the best in the best of the world because, according to the doctrine's second tenet, society had nothing to fear from legitimization of man's passions as nothing came more naturally to him, no stronger passion stirred in his bosom than the love of his neighbour.  It was in this optimistic spirit that Diderot could exclaim: "Enjoy without fear . . . be happy . . . . Dare to liberate yourself from the yoke of religion . . . . Return to nature, she will comfort you, dispel from your heart all those fears th at weigh upon you."  [J. H. Huizinga, Rousseau: The Self Made Saint  (New York: Grossman/The Viking Press, 1976)  p.66.]
Since virtue and sinlessness were man's original state, all one needed to become virtuous and without sin was to cast off society's constraints and any suggestion of personal depravity and "be yourself".  What came naturally would be virtuous--by definition, since you were by Nature was perfect.  It was only the superstitions of mankind which betrayed Nature and kept its purity from shining forth.

Vestiges of this self-deceiving nonsense still dominate Western society.  If man is born sinless then whenever a man does wrong it can only be that some external influence has corrupted him.  Huizinga again:
. . . if, as nearly all [Rousseau's] fellow-intellectuals had been arguing for thirty years, man was not born sinful, it followed that Jean-Jacques could not possibly be anything but good at heart and that somebody or something else must be at fault when, like all men, he added his mite to the wickedness of the world.  .  . . And so, giving the matter further thought, he decided that the real, the ultimate and the original corrupter was society itself; the noble savage had become ignoble . . . . The ever-growing interdependence of men was what had made them wicked.  [Ibid., p. 67.]
Where does evil reside?  The dominant consensus of our age is that it is externalities, human society, which corrupt individuals and "force" them to sin.  Sin comes from the environment, not from within, not from an original, personal, internal corruption.  The grand presumption of our age--which comes directly from the philosophes of the Enlightenment--is that man is born morally perfect, but society corrupts.  Evil in my heart is, thus, always somebody or something else's fault.

Here we have the two religious beliefs of mankind starkly contrasted.  The Enlightenment (and our modern Age) teach that the strongest passion that resides in every human heart is love of one's fellow man.  When that passion loses its control and dominance of the human spirit, someone or something else is to blame.

Christianity teaches that the first man, Adam was originally perfect and without sin, but he fell into disobedience of God.  From that point onwards, all human beings descending from him were, and are, morally corrupt.  The fundamental problem with human society is us, and all others born like us.

The ancient prophecy indicts us all:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds. [Jeremiah 17: 9-10]
No, no, no, say the gurus of the Enlightenment.  No, no, no, choruses modern man.  It is society which is wicked.  My sins are the fault of other men, of the social environment.

Choose you, then, whom you will serve.  You will either believe and serve God, or you will believe you own press about yourself.  

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