The Hidden Spring

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There was once a powerful dictator who ruled his country with an iron will. Every aspect of life was thought through and worked out according to a rational system. Nothing was left to chance.

The dictator noticed that the water sources around the country were erratic and in some cases dangerous. There were thousands of springs of water, often in the middle of towns and cities. They could be useful, but sometimes they caused floods, sometimes they got polluted, and often they burst out in new places and damaged roads, fields, and houses.

The dictator decided on a sensible, rational policy. The whole country, or at least every part where there was any suggestion of water, would be paved over with concrete so thick that no spring of water could ever penetrate it. The water that people needed would be brought to them by a complex system of pipes. Furthermore, the dictator decided, he would use the opportunity, while he was at it, to put into the water various chemicals that would make the people healthy. With the dictator controlling the supply, everyone would have what he decided they needed, and there wouldn’t be any more nuisance from unregulated springs.

For many years the plan worked just fine. People got used to their water coming from the new system. It sometimes tasted a bit strange, and from time to time they would look back wistfully to the bubbling streams and fresh springs they used to enjoy. Some of the problems that people had formerly blamed on unregulated water hadn’t gone away. It turned out that the air was just as polluted as the water had sometimes been, but the dictator couldn’t, or didn’t, do much about that. But mostly the new system seemed efficient. People praised the dictator for his forward-looking wisdom.

_67297997_watermain4A generation passed. All seemed to be well. Then, without warning, the springs that had gone on bubbling and sparkling beneath the solid concrete could no longer be contained. In a sudden explosion – a cross between a volcano and an earthquake – they burst through the concrete that people had come to take for granted. Muddy, dirty water shot into the air and rushed through the streets and into houses, shops, and factories. Roads were torn up; whole cities were in chaos. Some people were delighted: at last they could get water again without depending on The System. But the people who ran the official water pipes were at a loss: suddenly everyone had more than enough water, but it wasn’t pure and couldn’t be controlled.

We in the Western world are the citizens of that country. The dictator is the philosophy that has shaped our world for the past two or more centuries, making most people materialists by default. And the water is what we today call “spirituality,” the hidden spring that bubbles up within human hearts and human societies.

Many people today hear the very word “spirituality” like travelers in a desert hearing news of an oasis. This isn’t surprising. The skepticism that we’ve been taught for the last two hundred years has paved our world with concrete, making people ashamed to admit that they have had profound and powerful “religious” experiences. Where before they would have gone to church, said their prayers, worshiped in this way or that, and understood what they were doing as part of the warp and woof of the rest of life, the mood of the Western world from roughly the 1780s through to the 1980s was very different. We will pipe you (said the prevailing philosophy) the water you need; we will arrange for “religion” to become a small subdepartment of ordinary life; it will be quite safe—harmless in fact—with church life carefully separated off from everything else in the world, whether politics, art, sex, economics, or whatever. Those who want it can have enough to keep them going. Those who don’t want their life, and their way of life, disrupted by anything “religious” can enjoy driving along concrete roads, visiting concrete-based shopping malls, living in concrete-floored houses. Live as if the rumor of God had never existed! We are, after all, in charge of our own fate! We are the captains of our own souls (whatever they may be)! That is the philosophy which has dominated our culture. From this point of view, spirituality is a private hobby, an up-market version of daydreaming for those who like that kind of thing.

shutterstock_97397987-800x430Millions in the Western world have enjoyed the temporary separation from “religious” interference that this philosophy has brought. Millions more, aware of the deep subterranean bubblings and yearnings of the water systems we call “spirituality,” which can no more ultimately be denied than can endless springs of water under thick concrete, have done their best secretly to tap into it, using the official channels (the churches), but aware that there’s more water available than most churches have let on. Many more again have been aware of an indefinable thirst, a longing for springs of living, refreshing water that they can bathe in, delight in, and drink to the full.

–N. T. Wright,
Simply Christian

When God is Absent—Power is God

oppression11So long as the Self is temporal in space and time, nothing preceding birth, nothing beyond the grave, it follows quite necessarily that the perpetuation of the best possible state of being is the only end worthy of pursuit in an otherwise brief and brutish existence. And this ultimate purpose consists, unequivocally, of a fourfold pursuit:

1. To prolong existence
2. To maximize pleasure;
3. To minimize pain; and finally
4. To ensure by any means necessary that nothing may compromise the pursuit.

It is only too easy to see why the pursuit of power is logically inexorable to this purpose. Power is, by definition, the means by which one’s interests are secured, which applies as much to the Self as it does to the State. And if Ultimate Power does not reside in the Kingdom of Heaven, it falls upon the Self to claim it on Earth, which is the very drive of self-deification . . . the first crime in Eden. In God’s absence, the only pursuit worthy of existence is power. In a word; God is power, or power is God…

The conclusion I would like to draw from this thesis [is this]: that without the Law of Heaven, the Law of Earth is but the Law of Power, and that consequently the Secular State will always be characterized by the oppression of its own people and war with every other people.

It would not be amiss to begin by pointing out that the logical outworking of this has been played out time and again in history, culminating only recently in the two most militant and genocidal regimes ever known to the human race… substantiating that long-maintained theory of the theologians; that those who scoff the notion of Hell are usually the first to institute a Hell on Earth.

–Bo Jinn,
Utopia, The Secular Delusion

When Self-Sacrifice is Stupidity

kolbe-2One need only consider the highest Christian ethic of “Greater love hath no man” and thereafter ask oneself what conceivable secular rationale could justify the death of St. Kolbe [a Polish Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp of Auschwitz]. True, such tales of self-sacrifice cannot but impose themselves on the sensitive human heart. But if there is truth to the secular doctrine that the ephemeral life — this eye-blink in the history of the universe that we call Self — is the only thing that any living being will ever possess, then the ultimate act of love really turns out to be the ultimate act of stupidity. And since one can just as easily be desensitized to love, we can hardly rely with any confidence on the sensitive human heart.

From the Christian perspective, self-sacrifice is of course an act of love in the sense that it is an act of faith, which also happens to be the theological justification for the very virtue of faith, namely that if the existence of God and the full consequence of any act (both finite and eternal) were obvious to us, it would render altruism impossible. But any act from which the Self cannot possibly profit simply has no rational justification in the secular, even in the sense of one’s deeds reverberating through the future of humanity, which at any rate is just as doomed to die as the Self (and these days possibly not long afterward). I may therefore assume with confidence that if we are indeed living in the secular world, the only thing of ultimate importance is incontrovertibly the precious thing that is me — my thoughts, my feelings, my determinations — my experience of reality… It would be quite superfluous . . . to demonstrate that the secularist is inclined to egotism, though it is quite demonstrable that it would be quite illogical for her to be inclined to anything else, so long as she is unable to afford sufficient reason for placing ultimate value elsewhere…

–Bo Jinn, 
Utopia, The Secular Delusion

The Devout Faith of Skeptics

skepticSecularism is not neutral, though it often claims to be. In relation to the biblical God, secularists may be skeptics. But in relation to their own god substitutes, they are true believers. To adapt an observation from C. S. Lewis, their skepticism is only on the surface. It is for use on other people’s beliefs. “They are not nearly skeptical enough” about their own beliefs. And when they enforce secular views in the realm of law, education, sexuality, and health care, they are imposing their own beliefs on everyone else across an entire society. The consequence of those secular views is inevitably dehumanizing. The reason is that secularism in all its forms is reductionistic.

A worldview that does not start with God must start with something less than God—something within creation—which then becomes the category to explain all of reality… Empiricism puts everything in the box of the senses. Rationalism puts everything into the box of human reason. Anything that does not fit into the box is denied, denigrated, or declared to be unreal. The diverse and multi-faceted world God created is reduced to a single category.

― Nancy Pearcey,
Saving Leonardo

The Faith of the Secularist

faith_cardFor the secularist, the belief that everything that exists is physical is based on faith in part; it cannot be fully proven by rational argument or by appeal to the evidence. In particular, the secularist has not proved that the human mind (consciousness, thoughts, ideas, etc.) is physical. Of course, he might believe that it is physical or hope to prove it one day (a misguided hope, I hold), but right now he believes this on faith. He might claim that it is a rational faith; whatever about this point, it is still a belief based partly on faith.

—Brendan Sweetman