Pico Ultraorientalis

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for July, 2016

Christian Anthropology Pt. 5 The Anthropological basis of knowledge

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 30, 2016

A Recapitulation

To summarize what has be said in the discussion, let’s pose the same content in the form of questions and answers.   First, do we live in an impersonal universe?  No, we live in a personal universe.  Next, do we live in a persistent chaos inhabited by multiple personalities?  No, we live in a created order authored by a creating Personality.  If so, can we know this creating Personality directly?  No, we can only know this Personality analogically using categories immanent to our own being and applying them to the Creator Being.

If one accepts these assertions then a number of important correlative theses obtain.  First of all ethics is the key to metaphysics, not the other way around.  Second, anthropology is the master science, on the one hand, in preference to physics, and on the other, in preference to theology, or more precisely theosophy.  This latter proposition requires some elaboration, since it might scandalize religious minds who are only looking at the proposition superficially.  If we state that anthropology precedes theology and perhaps excludes theosophy altogether, are we not setting up Man as a higher object of devotion than God?  Bear in mind that that purpose of this series of essays is to distinguish Christian Anthropology from Humanism, which entails disentangling what we know from what we worship.  Therefore, the analogical knowledge of God via anthropology is being distinguished from heretical forms of gnosis.  In other words, we are comparing different methods of knowledge rather than different kinds of being.  Paul called the royal road to knowledge which travels through Christ the “epignosis” which is Greek for “full knowledge.”  This orthodox, mediated, gnosis contrasts sharply with the unmediated gnosis of the heretics.

To “Grock” or not to “Grock

A contemporary reader confronted with a phrase like “the unmediated gnosis of the heretics” is probably wary of getting dragged into a discussion of the Manacheans, Valentinians, Basilideans and other exotic species of ancient philosophers.   On the other hand, readers of Eric Voegelin are apt to be prejudiced (either for or against) a usage of “Gnostic” which is only too broad and contemporary.  Yet, heretical gnosis, in the sense intended here is both perennial and specific.  There was a huge influx of this kind of thought in the third quarter of the last century (typically referred to as “the sixties”) and its influence persists into the present day.

If we want knowledge of God without availing ourselves of a mediator, then we are in a severe predicament.  We must “break through” into a plane of Being which is altogether superior to our own level of existence.  This is the task which the advocate of “unmediated gnosis” feels to be almost, but not quite, beyond the capacity of human endeavor.  This “not quite” qualification on the otherwise total impossibility of transcendental knowledge, is usually claimed on the basis of some secret path which leads to heaven’s back door.  In “the sixties” this kind of a path typically either involved drugs or yoga or some combination of both.  In one specimen from the period’s literature an Earth man who had been raised on Mars by aliens was capable of breaking through at will onto the level of ultimate reality.  The experience was called “grock” or “grocking.”  Even in a period when it was thought that intelligent alien life was likely to be living on Mars, a human being raised by Martians was clearly a rare breed, an exception that proved the rule that transcendental knowledge is impossible for all but a few…an elite.

Being an elite project, unmediated gnosis always begins with great conviction and sincerity.  There is nothing feigned about it, yet is has a short shelf life and is quickly replaced by cheap imitations.  During and after the sixties, the entheogens (literally “god-engendering pharmaceuticals”) of the drug researchers were gradually transformed into recreational drugs, and the yoga of the sages was adulterated and marketed as a physical fitness program.  Few ever “grocked” and those who claimed success as often as not returned from their altered state with tales of nightmares rather than paradise.  The pioneers continued to market their enlightenment experience, but of course they were advocates in their own cause.  For the rank and file “ecstasy” gradually lost its original meaning of transcendence and came to mean the optimization of pleasure through peak experiences.

Posted in Anthropology, Charismata, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Philosophy, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Christian Anthropology Pt. 4: A Quadrature of possible Ethical Anthropologies

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 21, 2016

Ahumanism vs. Anthropology

In the first of these essays, out of respect for the American poet Robinson Jeffers, I called the view that there is no species central to the drama of Creation “Inhumanism.”  A less emotionally toned characterization of this view would be “ahumanism” since from a purely naturalistic view the population that is conventionally isolated as “homo sapiens” is simply a cluster of attributes within  the continuum of living organisms.  This is the mainstream point of view of that natural science called “Anthropology” which is diametrically opposed to the minority report filed by Christian Anthropology which these essays are trying to establish.  Thus, paradoxically, what is conventionally termed “Anthropology” denies that its subject matter has any defining characteristic, although it certainly has a content, albeit this content is rather eclectically distributed among various research programs associated with archeology, paleontology, ethnography, linguistics, social anthropology, human genetics, and so forth and so on, not to mention various allied applied and forensic studies.

Indeed, it would appear that Christian Anthropology is quite the inverse of naturalistic “anthropology.”  First of all, in contrast to naturalism, Christianity has a very precise doctrine of Man, or, if you will, the human species-being.  Thanks to its grounding in theism, for Christian Anthropology, humanity as a category stands out clearly in contrast to both God and the rest of creation. Against its theological background, humanity, like a “Gestalt” diagram, has a clear form and sharply defined boundaries.  On the other hand, it might be supposed that Christian Anthropology, having once secured the existence of its subject matter, restricts itself to grand generalities, abandoning substantive discussion of human particulars to naturalistic anthropology.

I maintain that this is not the case, that Christian Anthropology is both precise in the definition of its subject matter and capable of plenary description of all aspects of human life, either through deduction from first principles of doctrine or through a selective “baptizing” of empirical studies whenever they can be devolved from the context of higher axioms.  Later it will be shown in great detail how the various particulars of the human species-being can be enumerated and explained.  However, in keeping with the axiomatic character of the doctrine, it is necessary to arive at particulars by passing first through an ethical examination.  As stated in the previous essay, ethics is the very marrow of Christian  Anthropology, and this fact alone gives it both precise and plenary understanding of the human species.  For without a primordial relationship to the Creator, Humanism would be scarcely any better off than Ahumanism, since the entire cosmos would be “in Man” and hence the latter would not be ethically determinable, since ethics necessitates some sort of relationship, either among individuals or species.

The Quadrature of Ethical Anthropologies

However the theistic background permits us a four-fold ethical analysis of possible anthropologies, as follows,

  1. Optimistic Anthropology  “humans are good” (a.k.a. “Humanism”)
  2. Selective Depravity, “some humans are wrong” (conversely, “all humans are partially wrong”)
  3. Total Depravity, “all humans are wrong” (or, “all humans are essentially wrong”)
  4. Anti-Anthropology “humans are evil” (or, “the human essence is wrong”)

The first view is that of Humanism.  Little needs to be said of this, since it has been the official view of the modern, Western world, at least since the time of this “Pico’s” namesake, the famous Mirandola (late 15th c., NB Pico repented of Humanism to become a revivalist in Savonarola’s party) .  The human species is said to dominate the cosmos by right of being the supreme active intelligence, under the assumption that God is either remote, disinterested, or non-existent.

The second view is rather involved and will require subsequent elaboration.  I am using the term “Selective Depravity” as a catch-all for a vast assortment of views which assert that human beings are a mixture of good and evil.  All versions assert that there is a good part of humanity and a bad part of humanity.  Moreover there are realist and nominalist versions of this view.  In terms of realism, where it is granted that “Man” is a real species, evil is assigned to some faculty or aspect of human nature.  Famously, the various Platonic schools consider the carnal aspect of human existence to be evil and the spiritual aspect to be good, however there are other ways of partitioning human nature and stigmatizing one part in order to explain evil.

The nominalist versions of Selective Depravity divide the human population into discrete classes and and scapegoat one or the other of these classes as the bearers of evil.  This is the world view which meets us every morning when we read the newspaper, or whatever media may be current at the time.  These classes may be based on racial, national, gender, economic, or other criteria.  The potential perfection of the human species is held to have been marred by the presence of some group or groups which have dragged the entirety of humanity down to destruction.

We shall return to the knotty problems of Selective Depravity shortly, for  we ought not be detained longer than necessary, as Total Depravity is the most important of the four views under consideration.  This is the view of Christianity, if by that term we are referring to orthodoxy in its Augustinian form.  Those who subject our faith to calumny (accusations which go back at least to Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd c.) consider this view, namely “all human beings are wrong” to be the epitome of misanthropy.   Conversely, Christians who fear calumny may balk at marching under the banner of Anti-Humanism, preferring the hybrid label, Christian Humanism.  However our purpose in these essays has been to distinguish Christian anti-Humanism from misanthropy.

In actuality, Humanism, not Christianity, is the font of misanthropy.  We can see this in operation today, when technology and modern politics have rendered to Man a seeming supremacy over the Earth, while concurrently human self-loathing has reached a fevered pitch.  As the crown of creation (or rather “evolution”) a lonely humanity must, and indeed ought to, take the brunt of any disappointment with the affairs of this world.  The same individuals and groups who are most strident in their optimism about human potential are liable to be the very ones who “flip” into malaise and misanthropy when confronted by the ill-starred results of human endeavor.  This “flip” in the official ideology of erstwhile Humanists, from Optimistic Anthropology to Anti-Anthropology, is well instantiated in the thoughts and attitudes of the deep ecologists.  Reacting against the dreams of the technological frontier, they openly welcome prospect of human species-extinction.  Note that here “Nihilism” so far from being a bugbear of orthodox critics of modernity, is actually the concrete and explicit policy of a well publicized movement.

However the outlook from the point of view of Christianity is not nearly so bad, since the gospel rests on theological, not anthropological, optimism.  Christian Anthropology, set against the background of theism, is able to make a distinction of which pure humanism is incapable.  Since the primary ethical relationship is that between God and the human species, the souring of this relationship, as an event in time, involves the choice of humanity rather than the nature of humanity.  Thus we are able to make a subtle, but all important, distinction between the “wrongness” of humanity and the “evil” of humanity.  If humanity were totally evil, it would have been beyond redemption.  However since humanity became depraved by choice, sullying the initial goodness of human nature, restorative divine action was possible.  On this point all which is salient in Christian Anthropology rests.

It must be born in mind that it is Divine Action, not human action, which is at the core of Christianity.   None the less, all our cognition is worked out on the basis of human self-understanding.  Most importantly, scripture itself is written in human language, and almost entirely describes human scenes and events, not scenes and events in the heavens.  Admittedly, this predicament leaves the human appetite for theosophy unsatisfied, and many a tome has been forged to make up the supposed deficiency of Scripture.  However to the extent that we can get sound knowledge about God, it must be mediated by human concepts applied analogically.  Thus we are dependent, in a general way, on the written Word, and more especially on His Living Word.  The atheist is half-right who says “the proper study of humanity is mankind”…the desideratum is to learn to reckon with the Second, not just the first, Man.

Theologically speaking, that is all that needs to be said, for the main theme belongs to God and to God alone.  However I have promised to elaborate on the particulars of human nature as revealed through Christian Anthropology.  This is likely to require several more installments, since as the expression goes, “the devil is in the details,” and whatever is said of the devil is likely to apply with equal force to his willing dupe, the first man.

Posted in Anthropology, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Christian Anthropology pt. 3: The Primacy of Ethics

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 16, 2016

The Metaphysical Consequences of Personalism

In the first installment of these essays, it was maintained that while Christianity is not “Humanism” in the conventional sense, it is centered on persons, in contrast to mere “Being” in the abstract.  Furthermore, while there may be other persons in creation (angelic, demonic, animate) the primary drama of creation is an interaction between Divine persons and the human race.  Hence theology and anthropology are the highest sciences, the forms of wisdom which underpin the foundation of all other understanding.  Moreover, since God is totally transcendent, we can only understand Divine persons analogically, using the type of the human personality.  Thus the Humanist who professes that “the proper study of mankind is man” is objectively wrong but methodologically on the path to a true science, since anthropology is nothing but theology written in a lower key.  None the less, this is a sufficient “key” to understand everything, for as the Lord said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father!”

If the substance of science is anthropology, the substance of anthropology is ethics.  This contrasts with the common sense view of naturalism where physics is regarded as the fundamental basis of all understanding.  From the point of view of naturalism, such attributes of personality as consciousness, will, reason and memory are mere epiphenomena which require explanation on the basis of material causes.  For naturalism, the law of sufficient reason works from simple to complex, from bare matter to organisms to consciousness.  However for Christian anthropology this is a mistake and a transposition of the true law of sufficient reason, wherein persons are primary and their thoughts/acts/artifacts are secondary.  Thus God creates nature and the human race creates technology, and hence our proper understanding of creation must be based on an analogy of divine action with our own.  The problem with the sinful human mind is that its drive towards autonomy forces it to stop halfway in the process of understanding and to idolize the works of its own hands.  We know that our own works don’t just “pop up” of their own accord, yet we loath to think that we are in turn the production of a higher Person,  thus sin drives us to the far deeper humiliation of a conjectural origin out of inanimate matter.  Notice here how an ethical fact (our sin nature) determines our world view, rather than our world view determining our ethics.

How to Distinguish Christianity from Humanism

Let us summarize what has been mentioned previously.  Reasoning ontologically, Christianity might be considered a kind of “humanism” in contrast to naturalism, materialism, nihilism and sundry “inhumanist” thinking.   However, having once affirmed that we live primarily in a world of persons and not things, we must reason ethically rather than ontologically.  Once we find that we are dwelling within a personal universe, the fact that God and human beings are alike “persons” becomes a trivial statement.  The salient questions become those which deal with the ethical relationship among persons, notably the relationship between God and the human race.  It is here where world-views, and their corresponding emotional sentiments, will diverge radically.  While there might be innumerable variations on these world-views, they can all be reduced to a four-cell schematic intersection of the following doublets: God/Man//good/evil.

To reduce things to absurdity, take the example of the militant atheist.  Such a person pictures God as evil and the human race as good.  However since the atheist doesn’t actually believe in God, what he or she actually intends is that the “idea of God” is evil, and (since few atheists are philosophical idealists) especially that the class of people who believe in God are evil.  Really the atheist has refused to enter into the lists of ethical combat by making an ethical accusation against an alleged pseudo-person, and this insincere allegation serves no purpose except to mask hatred towards a class of acknowledged persons, the theistic believers.  Incidentally, this is a signal example of the doctrine of “selective depravity” which I hope to elaborate on in future installments.  However what I want to point to here is the ethical double-think that masquerades as ontological argumentation.

Now theologically speaking (not practically, of course!) the Satanist is on surer ground than the militant atheist.  The Satanist glories in the notion that his god is evil.  However lamentable this statement might be, it is a coherently ethical proposition since it connects a person (i.e., a “god”) with an attribute (evil).  The difficulty with this terminology is that even the Satanist thinks his god is good, albeit that what is good for the Satanist is liable to be a transvaluation of what would more commonly be called evil.

Objectively speaking, it is very hard for anyone to coherently maintain that God is evil.  Whenever such a sentiment is uttered, it is likely to be no more than a displaced ontological claim (i.e., the atheists)  or a transvaluation of the term “evil” (i.e., the Satanists) or a non-cognitive outburst in the face of the tragedies of life (possibly anyone at any time).  However, be this as it may, it is not possible for the Christian, or anyone who believes in the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, to believe that the God of creation is evil.  Therefore since ethical judgement of God is a moot point, and indeed human evaluations on this subject are not science but sin, the only candidate for a science of sciences is anthropology.  Furthermore the central question in anthropology is always the ethical question.

Looked at from a complementary perspective, if human beings were  the only persons in the the universe, any ethical inquiry into human nature would be impossible, since the plenary nature of “Humanity” would exclude any external criteria which would allow us to pose the question, “is the human race good or evil?”  However the existence of God renders the question not only possible but inescapable.  Now, having shown that Christianity is “humanistic” in some notional sense, we are at last ready to attack the more significant differences between what is normally termed “humanism” and the anthropology of Christian doctrine.  Furthermore, within the doublet God/Man, we have already excluded the possibility that the former person can be evil.  Therefore, “what of Man?”  It is the various answers to this question which determine our general outlook on life, and whether what we profess is essentially Christian or humanistic.

In the previous essay we already mentioned the most comfortable answer to this question, albeit not the truest: God is good and so is Man.  Many thinkers have striven valiantly to uphold this pleasing conjunction of divinity and humanity.  A signal example was Max Scheler, the philosophical anthropologist who sought to rigorously and conscientiously defend the eternal in human nature.  Indeed, he was rigorous and honest enough to admit that his attempt failed, that he could not exorcise the dimension of evil from intelligent and personal creatures and still retain a belief in the Christian God.  Although the future is always open to more brilliant compromisers, Scheler’s attempt is a strong indication that Humanism, if by that we mean an optimistic anthropology, will always drive out Christianity in the minds of its holders.

Does this mean that, if we wish to be staunch Christians, we must embrace the opposite proposition, that God is good and Man is evil?  Before proceeding on to such a conclusion it will be necessary to make some further inquiries which exhaust other possible answers to our question.  After all, we seem to be spending a lot of words and energy chasing a phantom.  Surely it has not escaped the reader’s attention that there are very few self-professing and consistent Humanists around?  Furthermore, the odd Humanist that one may happen to encounter is likely to be a genial and intelligent person.  Might it not be that this whole line of inquiry is, at best, a straw man argument, or worse, gratuitous slander?

No it is not, for we are proceeding methodically to establish a framework for thought which normally eludes the denizens of secular society.  Readers who have followed the argument so far will now have a clear definition of “Humanism” which may come in very handy, since that term often serves as a monkey-wrench thrown into philosophical and apologetic argumentation.  If we allow “humanism” to become a portmanteau term which stands for a congeries of good and bad things, Christian apologists will be like combatants at night firing from different angels and liable to be injured by friendly fire.  However if we define Humanism as “optimistic anthropology” and nothing more than “optimistic anthropology” we have a good handle for grasping what will ensue.  We will now agree on what we are disagreeing on, which is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, with the dawn of clarity comes alarm, for the battlefield situation is likely revealed to be worse than one might have supposed.  For a large and influential proportion of those who profess Christianity hold to the doctrine of “optimistic anthropology”…albeit with various degrees of enthusiasm and clarity.  Furthermore, the great majority of people in the modern world are not even Humanists according to our definition, let alone Christians.  But we must defer this “sub-Humanism” what it is and whence it arises, to a future installment.

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Christian Anthropology Pt. 2: The Temptation to Compromise

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 13, 2016

Must there be a specifically “Christian” Anthropology?

In the first installment of this series, the sense in which a Christian Anthropology is, or is not, human-centered was discussed.  In the most fundamental sense, Christianity is human-centered since its great theme is the alienation, and subsequent reconciliation, of God with Man.  It is not a philosophy of the totality of Being, or of how this universal Being has become tired or painful or frustrating.  Buddhism or existentialism might commerce in such profundities, but Christianity from its outset is anthropological.  The Creation, the Fall, and the Redemption are all dramas in which the lead characters are persons, and these persons are authentic persons with mind, will, feelings, memory, responsibility, and fidelity.  These qualities, plenary in the case of God, make Christianity anthropological, while their human impediment puts Christian doctrine at odds with any secular philosophy which elevates humanity as its own standard.

Now we must consider whether Christianity, as the anthropological religion par excellance, has inherited a particular doctrine of the human species as part of its doctrine of faith?  Conversely, may we not freely inquire into what it might be that constitutes human nature, and publish our conclusions as a new scientific understanding?  This latter is the procedure of philosophical anthropology.

The Eternal In Man

Max Scheler is a good example of someone who started off on the right foot and then stumbled into into a anthropology which, if not nihilistic, was at least vulnerable to nihilist attack.  The title of an early collection of works, “The Eternal in Man” is suggestive of where Scheler got seriously off the track.  It is not that there is something eternal “in man” so much as that Man (NB representing both males and females) is an eternal type, indeed the image of God.  It is not that there is a “soul” which represents eternity in the human body, but rather that the human archetype, like God himself, is outside of time and space, at least if one goes by Christian doctrine.  A God who is not only a Creator but a Redeemer must transcend both the categories of universal and concrete, in effect being a “concrete universal.”  Both Adam and Christ share the same archetype, but they manifested this archetype in diametrically different expressions.  Even Jung, for all his gnostic weirdness seems to have had a better grasp on this than Scheler.

Scheler felt, justifiably, that Immanuel Kant was the founder of modern philosophical anthropology, but that Kant’s ethics were too formal.  In response, Scheler tried to develop a substantive doctrine of Man, where ethics were based on “heart” and virtue.  He tried to free anthropology from “the law” but he did not deliver it “into grace” because humanity for Scheler was a special nature with its own virtues and defects independent of its relationship to God.  God appears on the scene as a kind of repair man, but neither the origin nor the fall nor the redemption are linked to any essential definition of humanity.  Scheler is a Christian Humanist in the sense that he sees personality as the highest expression of Being.  Of course this is a much more attractive philosophy than that of the Inhumanists.   For Scheler there are grades of perfection among personalities.  A courageous and strong leader such as Napoleon is morally satisfying on the level of bare heroism, but Scheler assures that there are even higher levels of personality such as sainthood, culminating in the perfect sainthood of Jesus.  The small goods of little personalities are ultimately eclipsed by the summa bonnim of perfect personality.  This is an attractive Humanism since it provides us with a god, with an alternative to nihilism, and it comforts us with an optimistic world-view.  But will it hold water?

Scheler himself was forced to abandon his initial philosophy for a greatly revised version.  Part of the revision involved eliminating God, at least the Christian God.  If we are kind enough to abstract Scheler’s thought from personal problems in his life and with his church, we are still left with some salient reasons why Scheler’s first system turned out the be an unworkable hybrid between Humanism and Christianity.  The continuum nature of the first system, with its small and weak personalities seamlessly grading into the great souls and exemplars of humanity did scant justice to the problem of radical evil running amok on planet Earth, and the misfortune that had Scheler publishing around the time of the First World War made this a difficult issue to ignore.  The well-meaning Scheler had to sacrifice his initial theistic inclinations to an ontological dualism of Mind and Urge.  Significantly this was not an ethical dualism, such as those found in ancient Iranian religion or Gnosticism.  Scheler didn’t want a conflict between good and evil, but an evolutionary collaboration among morally neutral forces.  In this respect he resembles the moral consensus of our contemporary New Age thinkers, except that he was much more clear and analytical than your typical New Ager.

Few people have found Scheler’s second system very satisfying.  The hard-core nihilists were weaned away from his influence through the philosophical ascendancy of Martin Heidegger, which occurred roughly around the time of Scheler’s death (1928).  The crucial deficiency in both of Scheler’s systems was his unwillingness to see how personality could be combined with evil.  If personality is the sum of all goods, then there shouldn’t be such things as intentional malice or intelligent deception.  However the Christian doctrine of sin does a very good job of accounting for such phenomena.  None the less, many balk at giving assent to this doctrine, which is not only an offense to human pride but also necessitates a sober world-view where both evil and the diabolical play a part.  Of course the Christian doctrine is supremely optimistic…but only in the “last act.”

The notion that an anthropology can be formulated by excluding (as per Kant), or (as in Scheler’s case) holding Christian doctrine at arm’s length, is an understandable temptation.  Ultimately anthropology must be worked exclusively out of Christian doctrine, not a through combination of Christian doctrine and some exogenous, autonomous, principle, even a principle as benevolent as Scheler’s “non-formal ethics of personality.”  Inevitably  future “geniuses” will continue to try to square this particular circle.  They will have their work cut out for them if they try to outdo Scheler’s elaborate but tragic attempt at combining Christianity and Humanism.

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Christian Anthropology Pt. 1: Between Humanism and Inhumanism

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 7, 2016

Christian anti-Humanism, what it is, and what it is not

It is of the greatest importance to understand the sense in which the Christian doctrine of humanity is anti-Humanistic.  On the rhetorical level, to suggest that one holds to doctrines antithetical to Humanism, is to conjure up the specter of cruel and misanthropic disregard of all those values which humanity cherishes.  So the very first task of any Christian critique of Humanism is to distinguish Christian doctrine from Inhumanism, and as indeed the only fully consistent objection to Inhumanism.

If anti-Humanism seems vicious at the outset, anti-Inhumanism appears to set up a straw man (or a straw anti-man) with no correspondence to anything in the real world.  Would that such were the case!  However if we allow this bold term to stand as a generic label for a wide variety of attitudes which have gained currency in the modern and post-modern worlds, their self-descriptors ranging from nihilism to naturalism, then the straw man dissolves not, assuredly into flesh, but into a redoubtable stone colossus which has tyrannized over the majority of human souls for only too long.

If we were to take modern cosmology as the significant datum of our world view, then the conclusion that human existence is epiphenomenal seems inescapable.  This is a commonplace of natural science, and is seldom expressed by literary humanists for obvious reasons.  Yet seldom is not the same as never, and America was blessed with a sensitive poet who was both imaginative enough and perverse enough to to give expression to a world view in which neither language, thought, or anything else human was primary.  Indeed, it was Robinson Jeffers who coined the term “Inhumanism” for an ethos which dethroned human qualities in favor of instinct and unconscious extended matter as not only the primary but the most significant aspects of reality.

Part of the appeal of Jeffers’ poetry is the paradox of witnessing the human mind denounce itself in eloquent words, as in the following famous instance,

Carmel Point
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rock-heads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
—Robinson Jeffers


Superficially this seems to be a poetic expression of eco-friendly platitudes, however they were not platitudes at the time that Jeffers (d. 1962) was writing.  Rather, they are a logically deduced emotional response to the marginalization of human history by materialism and evolutionism.   When Jeffers writes,

We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

He does not declare that there is some sort of pantheistic super-mind which we must see ourselves as part of, but rather he is suggesting that we project ourselves imaginatively into the pure unconsciousness of the insentient world, an unconsciousness which is at the root of all things.

This world-view (Inhumanism) is, on the one hand, a reasonable induction from the data provided by mainstream science, and on the other hand completely antithetical to Christian doctrine, the latter being, in this context, justly describable as “humanistic.”  Of course Jeffers, son of a Presbyterian minister, was explicitly aware of this antithesis.  The substance of the antithetical doctrines are simply results of different epistemological principles, Inhumanism being founded on naturalistic induction, while Christianity is based on deduction from axioms contained in Scripture.  Everything hangs on the principle that Christians live “by faith” and not “by sight” (a.k.a. induction).

Robinson Jeffers was evidently a man with a complex and creative personality, yet in the world view that he articulated there was no room for his personality (or anyone else’s) to have metaphysical significance.  He passed across the hard exterior of his postulated reality as a kind of ghost, a vapor which expressed itself with great eloquence and then dissipated with the sunlight of critical realism.

In contrast, personality is the salient characteristic of Christian witness and doctrine.  A personal God has created a personal humanity, together with much else.  The “much else” has intrinsic worth, but relative to the human race these are largely relegated to the status of props within the drama of human history.  That these “props” have suffered violence from the human race, rather than being lifted up as a precious inheritance from the Creator, is not an argument against humanism of the Christian variety, so much as a witness to the sinful misappropriation of creation.

For those of us who take revelation to be the enscripturated witness of the Holy Spirit, the following is a most important hermenutic principle: The Bible is not a theology book written by human beings, but an anthropology book written by God.  In this sense, if in no other, we must consent to being called “humanists.”  Yet it is a humanism of a bittersweet character, since the first act of the drama is a tragedy, in which Adam leads the hapless world of nature headlong into disaster.  That nature could be lead “headlong” implies the existence of a head with dominion powers, albeit that he turns into a villain.  The dawn must wait the second and concluding act, with the arrival of the Second Man.  It is this duplex quality of Christian anthropology which makes it stand out among all possible anthropologies as uniquely robust and just in its encapsulation of human history.

We will deal with these secular anthropologies at greater length elsewhere, but first it has been necessary to strip down to the bare minimum and wage a preemptive war against those who see the very notion of a human race as illusory.  Such thinkers are legion, and have tended to grow in strength as modernity has progressed.  Robinson Jeffers was atypical of their ilk, since he was able to draw out the emotional consequences of sojourning in a world where neither emotions, nor consciousness, nor personality, nor truth, nor justice had any significance.  The Christian will instantly recognize that each of these attributes (and many more) are qualities of God.  Moreover, they are qualities which God has deigned to share with us.

Few have understood the consequences of rejecting God with the clarity of Robinson Jeffers.  With poetic candor he advocated “give your heart to the hawks!”  Indeed, for Inhumanism, even the anguished instincts of predators must surrender at last to the insentient void of cosmic night.  Ultimately, what Jeffers concluded was that we must give our hearts to the stones, or what the Apostle Paul called “the beggerly elements.”

In contrast, Christianity is unabashedly anthropological.  This is not an anthropology which can be arrived at through induction, but it can be attained when hearts of stone are circumcised and made into flesh.


Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »