Saturday 22 December 2018

Dawson 7, part b. Final part of my notes.

This post completes my notes on the second part of Dawson's book "Progress and Religion". In the New Year I will post giving some final comments on the text and, hopefully, listing in summary the basic elements and factors that Dawson speaks of. 
The major religions can indeed be criticised today. Intellectual absolutism, a focus on the metaphysical, and a preoccupation with the Eternal, have all tended to turn men’s minds away from the material world and to devalue natural knowledge. Today’s culture wants a religion which leads to social action and development.
Whether or not we set Christianity aside today in favour of the new movement of evolutionary vitalism, what is present in our culture is firstly, moral idealism. This is the fruit of an age of religious faith and spiritual discipline. Secondly, humanitarianism. This is the fruit of a society that has worshipped the Incarnation – the Divine humanity of Jesus Christ. But if dogmatic Christianity is rejected, this humanitarianism will be divorced from its foundation, and it will not then continue to exist in the same way.
A created, non-organic religion will be neither truly religious nor completely rational, and so it will fail. The West then, has two choices; either to abandon Christianity, and with it faith in progress and humanity, or embrace anew moral idealism and humanitarianism. Whichever takes place the religious impulse needs to be expressed openly and not in furtive ways. Yes, it is true that a religion without Revelation is still attractive, but this is also a religion without history. But one of the great characteristics of Christianity is that it is historical, and is not merely an unprogressive metaphysic, as in Eastern religions. Nor is Christianity purely rational. The discursive reason is arid ground for a dynamic religion; metaphysics is necessary if reason and religion are to meet. On the other hand, the religious impulse finds rich soil in historical reality. All religions, even Oriental ones, need something of this. In Christianity, the historical element is identified with the transcendent and gives humanity its value. Christianity is, in fact, the Religion of Progress. What flows out of Christianity is not an abstract idea, but spiritual values in history. With Christianity something new has entered into history and has created a new order of creative, spiritual progress. This is not grasped by Reason, a faculty which organises the past, but is grasped by Faith, which is the promise of the future.
Christianity is also the source of that movement which genuinely nurtures humanity. A real humanitarianism needs the support of a positive religious tradition. The desire for a just social order, which was once the vision of classical Liberalism (whose root is a religious impulse), will diminish if it is not reinforced by spiritual conviction. In the past society was given moral force by Christianity, enabling it to grapple with and dominate its circumstances. Science does not have that influence; it cannot organize and transform human existence alone. It needs a moral purpose to drive it.
Oriental religions tend to deny the importance of the material world, and thus support the view that religion is incompatible with science. Christianity is different; it does not see the material world as evil. It does not reject nature, but rather, seeks its ennoblement. The way in which Western science and law has organized nature is not alien to Christianity, but is analogous to the progressive spiritualization of human nature by Christianity. The future of humanity depends upon the harmony and co-ordination of these two processes.
Today, the West is absorbed in the task of material organization, to the detriment of moral and spiritual unity. Yet, these two elements – science and religion – have given Europe its distinctive character.
Without religion, society becomes a neutral force – for aimless material activity – which can tend towards either, militarism or economic exploitation, or towards serving humanity in a genuine way.
Without science, society becomes immobile and unprogressive.
Europe has never possessed the natural unity of the other great cultures. A spiritual foundation, rather than a political one, was the uniting factor. And in being that foundation we see that the Church was a much nobler institution than the State.
Today, we take it for granted that it is materialism that unifies society, and that religion is a source of division. However, the marginalization of religion has led to the impoverishment of our culture. The state of society today is an anomaly and is not the normal condition of humanity.
Culture is essentially a spiritual community, which transcends economic and political orders. The genuine organ of culture is the Church, not the State.

The Church is the embodiment of a spiritual tradition, resting not upon a material power (the State), but on the free adhesion of the individual. In the past, the Church co-existed with multiple States, without absorbing or being absorbed by them. This co-existence enabled both material independence and political freedom, and it gave rise to the wider unity of our civilization. This process of spiritual integration is the true goal of human progress.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Dawson 7, part a.

In every age religion has expressed man’s dominant attitude to life and to the understanding of reality. It is also the greatest dynamic in social life. The secularisation of society is a sign of social decay. In the West, religious tradition and culture are not identical but express a dualism; both seek to bring order and intelligibility into life and thought.
Today science is regarded as the true European tradition, and Christianity is seen as alien – a tradition that has temporarily deflected the normal development of our culture. But neither science nor Christianity are the result of a natural process of development.
The West was unified by Christianity and, as a consequence, it was able to assimilate Greek thought. Science was never able to be a substitute for religion. Science is an intellectual method, not a dynamic impulse from within the person.
Science and religion are distinct in origin, and so today, a new synthesis may in fact be achieved. This will happen through the integration of science and a non-rational yet naturalistic doctrine, and with the abandonment of Christianity.
Science arose from the ritual of ancient religion, and so a modern ‘religion of science’ would be perfectly in order – provided that it be recognized as belonging to the realm of religion and not to that of science. For instance, Plato regarded science as a religious discipline, and in this way he substituted astronomy for mythology.
Today, such an attitude would be out of tune, particularly with regard to bringing any element of metaphysics into the frame. Today’s religion will have to be based in the here and now.
In this analysis we can see the way that ‘faith’ is understood by the secular mind – ‘faith’ is a quality that can belong to any person, rather than to a religion. And that, as a consequence, there is a new relationship between society and ‘faith’; society welcomes people of ‘faith’, one amongst equals. Society however, will not now be formed and guided by Faith, as it was in the previous Christian age.
Today it is commonly accepted that the development of religion since classical times was a ‘blind alley’ for humanity, and that we need to return to the older attitude to nature and life, which was abandoned by developing civilisations about 3000 ago. This will allow us to have a new paganism, where we can again worship the vital forces of nature in place of having a participation in a transcendent divinity. In this new religion, scientific law will replace religious ritual. Even so, this new form of religion will not be a return to the primitive. Now that man has a certain control over his environment, the attitude of awe and wonder is no longer strong, nor can he now admit the supremacy of a non-rational power – which is just as well, because for 3000 years much of humanity has grown and developed precisely through its relationship with a transcendent divinity.

Friday 7 December 2018

Dawson 6, part d.

Liberal idealism is an unsubstantiated shadow projected from Christianity. In its wake science created an ephemeral culture. So, today’s society has no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, no social or religious tradition, only fleeting feelings.
We should not forget the cities of the Roman Empire, which lived for the amphitheater and the circus; the only future for such a civilization is social disintegration. However, in such a time, even if religions cannot find a place within social life, the religious instinct of human beings does not disappear.
We have seen how the secularization of Europe was accompanied by social unrest and upheaval. This has always happened. But never before have we seen a complete re-modeling of society be envisaged as an ideal. This movement is a religious, rather than a political type. Examples from our history are the Anabaptists and the Levellers. Behind Marx’s interpretation of history there burns an apocalyptic vision; a Nineteenth Century version of the Day of the Lord, in which the rich and the powerful should be consumed, and the poor and disinherited should reign in a regenerated universe, according to that Eternal Cycle which human will and effort are powerless to change or stop.
What lies behind social movements is a religious impulse not a political one. Once its victory is gained and the phase of destruction is ended, its inspiration fades and realism steps in. Revolution is a symptom of the divorce between religion and social life.
We can see today how the great energies of life are being consumed by the ‘social’ movements, whereas, when aligned to Christ, those energies could build a wonderfully human society.
The revolutions of Nineteenth Century Europe (anarchists, socialists, liberals) were all driven by the sense that European society was the embodiment of ‘material force’. They were not then, based upon a genuine sense of justice, nor in the pursuit of an ideal. They came instead from a dis-illusionment with the structures of society, which caught the religious impulse and then attacked society itself.
In Russia this attitude is endemic, springing perhaps from the inheritance of Byzantine religious tradition; an attitude that does not seek to reform or improve things, but to escape. “To wreck the great guilty temple, and give us Rest”, wrote Francis Adams.
The First World War expressed the failure of mechanistic civilization, but the world view that inspired it has become more common. We are still therefore, in danger, because the root problem is the separation of social life from religious impulse.
The great example of this is the Roman Empire and its vehicle, Hellenistic civilization. Once the Religious basis of this Empire became separated, nothing else could maintain the reality of that civilization, and it became hateful in the eyes of its subjects; Babylon the great fell. But from within the catastrophe a new civilization was already growing, one that appeared as weak, poor and naked.
At that time, St Augustine summed up the Roman Empire in this way: “They have reached their reward; vain men, vain reward.”
Human beings become spiritually alienated when they lose their religious foundations and focus on purely material success. The religious impulse is the cement that unifies a society and a culture. Religion is not a by-product of civilization, but its foundation. A society that loses its religion will also, one day, loose its culture.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Dawson 6, part c.

Europe has never been united by a material culture, but only by a moral and spiritual one. Christianity, which had united Europe, haunted the Eighteenth Century, suggesting that a new union was at hand. Yet the Industrial Era did not achieve what Christianity once had done. There was now no common conception of reality that could unite people and, while physical science progressed, philosophy lost its foothold.
The world, seen as a closed, material order, left no room for moral values or spiritual forces. Nonetheless, this environment gave rise to semi-theological Deism; that beyond the physical mechanism of the Universe there existed the Divine engineer.
Although a conflict existed between science and religion, the opposition between science and philosophy was greater. The mechanistic hypothesis is more easily reconcilable with faith, than it is with metaphysical system. Deism broke down precisely because of its religious and philosophical weakness, and as it did so the mechanistic hypothesis entered into every aspect of existence – man became part of the machine. Morality and spirituality were excluded, and humanitarian ideals were excluded from ordinary life. Science lost its optimism. If everything is a part of an eternal cosmic process, then everything, including human beings, must ultimately remain the same.
Luther’s notion that the human person redeemed by grace was merely ‘a manure heap covered with snow’, had entered deeply into the human psyche.
The ancient doctrine of an eternal cycle was once again part of philosophy, but now it postulated the gradual running down of the process to an absolute end. Science could never accept this repugnant world view, but instead sought to provide new justification for the theory of an eternal process. Yet the only progress that it could conceive of was the progress to an eternal death. Moreover, without a God metaphysics – the mathematics behind material substance – is vapid. Science is nothing more than the measurement of the material world; science cannot explain the cause of things. Even so, the more that the parameters of science became delineated, the more pressing became the need for metaphysics.
You can see in this history of the Enlightenment the various human movements by which man wrestled with his lot, exploring within, seeking without, struggling with his condition, in any way except the relationship of grace that was his proper call. The New Evangelisation is thus the way of calling to man in his desperate and anxious search, and helping him to trust again in grace and not in his own resourcefulness.
Science cannot replace philosophy, nor can it act as a religion, nor can it unite societies. Science is an intellectual technique, not a moral system. If you know how to use it, then it can become a tool for you. Good science has been led by a humanitarian spirit, a spirit which has been born of science but of religion.
If the Eighteenth Century could manage without dogmatic religion, could the Twentieth Century manage without Liberalism?