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Time, Truth and Value: An essay on the fundamental metaphysics of revelation

Posted by nouspraktikon on October 15, 2018

The false foundation of the Modernist movement

“There is a way which looks right to a man, but its end is in death.”–Proverbs

Modernism is the desire for a new religion, a new and more accurate understanding of truth and goodness.  In one sense this is laudable, and in another sense it is impossible.  As finite beings living in the stream of time, we want to see a tomorrow which is better than today.  We want to reform, repent, innovate, exceed, and improve.  This desire for betterment, whether it is the betterment of ourselves or others, is deeply ingrained in our minds, and we ought to thank God that it is.  In the absence of adequate reflection it would seem as if the Modernist movement, and especially its late-stage manifestation as “the Progressive movement” were the very flower and acme of all benevolent aspirations for human betterment.  Alas, this is an illusion, and more than an illusion, it is the very gate through which evil pours into our lives.

There are very precise reasons why this is so.  Granted, a Christian, accepting revelation through the golden path of faith, need not labor through a proof of her world view.    Conversely, philosophers have always insisted on the silver path of reasoning before accepting what is manifest to both the physical senses and common sense.  Today, since the doctrine of progress and especially the transvaluation of values have pushed our civilization to the brink of madness, it behooves both our contemporary Platos as well as our brothers and sisters in faith to have a sound understanding of the metaphysics of theism, and most especially the theism behind the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  Bad metaphysics lies deep down at the root of Modernism.  It is easy enough to see the destructive tendencies of Cultural Marxism, the Frankfort School, Progressive Education, and Statism.   However, behind all these more recent movements is bad metaphysics and bad Christian theology in particular.  Erick Voeglin referred to all of these off-base Christian theologies as “gnosticism” while other critics have used different nomenclature.  In all the elaborate studies of Gnosticism/Modernity as a collection of social movements, the simplicity of the Modernist mistake is often overlooked.  Here I will try, with as much economy as I can, to outline the essential error behind what Voeglin calls “gnosticism.”  False revelation will be shown to be intrinsically relativistic, while true revelation will be shown in harmony with good metaphysics.

Progress vs. Revelation

The triumph of the modern enlightenment is frequently depicted as an epistemological struggle between revelation and empiricism.  While there is something to be said for this way of thinking, it seems rather shallow to me.  Ultimately all human cognition is based on revelation, even empiricism being itself a species of revelation.  What differentiates different forms of revelation is the proximity of one’s epistemological horizon.  Expert knowledge and social propaganda are the forms of revelation which are accessible to the greatest number of people under conditions of modernity.  However there are eccentrics, people who sometimes call themselves “zetetics” who will not accept the truth-claim of any scientific doctrine unless they have observed it experimentally with their own senses, or with equipment which they have either acquired or constructed by themselves.  An even more proximate epistemological horizon would be that of classical skepticism (Pyrronism) in which even one’s own senses are considered  a dubious revelation.  Yet even the classical skeptic would allow that their reasoning reveals truth to them, if only the truth that truth is undiscoverable.

Historically, the dispute over the nature of the world has been a dispute over where to locate the horizon of revelation.  In contrast with the subjectivism of modernity, primitive thought began with an objective idea of the cosmos which was revealed to the ancestors and then handed down through tradition.  The concept of a “discovery process” was absent.  This is not to say that people didn’t make discoveries, for example a tribe wandering into a new climactic region would certainly discover new species of plants and animals and incorporate them into their catalogue of knowledge.   However the idea of a world-view built up from scratch through a discovery process was absent from the minds of primitive humanity.  To maintain otherwise is to anachronistically transpose the disputes of the 17th/18th century Western enlightenment thinking onto other ages.

When disputes did occur (and they soon did) over world-views, these disputes had nothing to do with the discovery of facts which invalidated previous knowledge.  Rather these disputes arose over the how proximate revelation was to those receiving it.  Do we go by the received revelation, or should we switch over to a new oracle?  Whatever the “Babel event” might have been, it seems reasonable to infer that at some such time, in addition to separate languages and novel ethnicities, new mythologies where instituted, whether through signs in the heavens or through communication with “daemones” good, bad, or indifferent.  If, as all people of sound moral instincts agree, the human race had a single origin, there was also a single wisdom held in common prior to Babel.  When the new revelations of Babel were received, the dominant tendency was to drop the old universal wisdom, and to embrace the new, national, wisdoms.  Yet the primitive wisdom survived in fragments, not only among the family of Abraham, but also admixed with the new mythologies of the nations after the Babel event.  This foreshortening of the horizon of revelation went hand in hand with a replacement theology, as the name of the High God was eclipsed by the intermediary pantheons of the nations.

If anyone had a right to a replacement theology it would have been Moses:  Moses the public revelator to an assembled nation, in contrast to the single, isolated, household of Terah’s children; Moses the sophisticated Egyptian prince, compared to Abraham the wandering shepherd.  Yet what emerged from the Sinai event was not a Tetratibibilos of Moses set up against a book of Abraham.  Rather, what emerged was an integral Torah, otherwise known as the Pentateuch.   Multidimentional to be sure, but a single teaching none the less.

Here the salient point is that the teaching of Moses was not an abrogation of Abraham’s faith.  Rather it was an elaboration and restatement of the original doctrines, applied to conditions appropriate to an entire nation.  It was a supplemental teaching, not a new teaching.  From here on, let’s call the notion of a new teaching which abrogates on older teaching by the name of “progressive revelation.”

Progressive Revelation

In excising the Torah from the Gospel, the sectarian leader Marcion (Rome, 2nd c. AD) did to Moses what Moses had refrained from doing to Abraham.  Granted, revelation had not stopped, it had continued after Moses with the latter prophets and writers.  For the Christians, it had further continued with the writings of the evangelists and the apostles.  Were these later writings supplements or replacements?

Marcion not only considered the New Testament a completely different Bible from the Torah, he went to the extreme of expurgating all apostolic writings which were too closely associated with earlier revelation.  This left Marcion’s followers with a very slender Bible indeed, which was evidently his intention.  After a few centuries, Marcionism died out, but the history of the movement retains more than arcane interest, since much Christian theology has retained the spirit, if not the letter, of Marcion’s reforms.  Among many Christians today,  only the New Testament is considered the “real” Bible, and Torah (together with its associated writings) is relegated to the status of an archive of lore useful for interpreting the Gospel.

Islam is even more consistent in rejecting earlier revelation, not simply editing (as per Marcion) but entirely replacing both the Old and New Testaments of Christianity.  Voeglin and kindred thinkers would include Islam within their portmanteau word “gnosticism.”  Once the trolley of progressive revelation starts to accelerate, it is impossible to stop the car and alight at one’s preferred destination.  Rather the whole of the human species is increasingly drawn into a series of new movements:  Islam, Medieval Chiliasm, the the Radical Enlightenment, Marxism, Fascism, etc. each of which took on the characteristics of superceding revelations, each with their own sacred text, rituals and practices.

 

So, what’s wrong with that?

I have gone through a brief excursion into the history of revelation in order to show how disputes over the horizon of revelation are the most bitter and consequential of epistemological contentions.  If, as I have tried to indicate, all epistemological differences express faith in different revelations, it becomes very hard to judge the truth-claims of various revelations on any basis other than faith.  It would appear that we are forced back into a position of relativism, or at best making our judgement of revelatory texts dependent on secondary considerations, such as which text seems to be expressed in language indicative of transcendent origin.

From the outset I have been hinting that false revelation engenders chaos, while true revelation is grounded in reality and engenders reason and order.  Now, as we switch the weight of our argument from its epistemological left leg to its metaphysical right leg, we can turn from the impossible task of judging different historical species to a different procedure, one which promises a definitive conclusion.  All relativism is based on the notion that there can be “new truth” while absolutism is based on the premise that truth is outside of time.  Construing alternative epistemological systems as variations on “discovery processes” begs the question as to whether truth is, or is not, something outside of time.  If we accept such a starting point to our investigations, then the category “truth” will always be subordinated to the category “time.”  Therefore I have been at pains to define epistemology from the standpoint of revelation rather than inquiry.  If we accept this as our starting point, we retain the possibility of two alternative conclusions, either truth changes or it does not.  If the first case holds, then we live in a world governed by progressive revelation, if the second case holds, we live in a world governed by an original and integral revelation.

 

The world of Time and the world of Truth

In order to secure the claims of revelation, we must briefly absent ourselves from the Portico of Solomon and take up residence in the Grove of the Philosophers, since we have to rid ourselves of the sloppy understanding of the moderns and return to the strict reasoning of the ancients.  Emotionalism is a keynote of modernity, especially since the Enlightenment, and a strong hint that all is not well in the predominant secular world view.  Yet we must refrain from using it as anything but a hint, since if anti-Modernists were to use the emotionalism of our opponents as a substantive argument we would fall into the same ad hominum trap as they have.  We will not be able to deal with human thinking, let alone emotion, before we have dealt with time.

Unless we can assume that there is something which is outside of time, then nothing, not even time itself, can exist.  Aristotle’s notion of an Unmoved Mover, though predicated on currently unacceptable notions about celestial spheres, is an apt parable concerning a metaphysical reality.  Without a point of reference there can be no movement, and in the broadest sense this applies to time, which only is rendered actual if there is movement.  There is a something, we might even call it a place, which forms the background of our cosmos yet which is its qualitative opposite.  In religious language we can call this Eternity.

Humanity, as a natural species, lives inside of time.  All the things that human beings can sense are inside time.  We experience time and space, good and evil, truth and falsehood.  Using only these three pairs of opposed qualities, we can begin to evaluate the rival claims of original and progressive revelation.  For the benefit of our imaginations, we can look at Eternity as a circle.  Inside the circle we can draw a line which represents time.  The line is entirely inside the circle, and stops far short of touching any part of the circle’s imaginary circumference.  The line could be thick, drawn with a marker rather than a pen, since it really represents space-time rather than time in itself.

We are carried along the line much like a lily pad is swept down a river.  We want our journey to be happy and not sad, pleasant and not painful.  Hence we look at the prospect downstream and hope that it will be as good, or better than where we have come from.  This is our desire-nature, and at root it is a good and necessary thing.  We want things to get better, not to deteriorate.  However what we consider good and bad are based on subjective evaluations.  It is impossible for human beings to evaluate objectively.  There are individual evaluations, and there are the aggregated evaluations of groups, but the latter are just as subjective as the former.

Now let’s alter the diagram.  In this second version, which might be called the gnostic version, we will eliminate the circle surrounding the thick line.  There is now no longer an Eternity surrounding the cosmos.  In the original diagram we wanted to make the circle as large as possible in relation to the interior line.  Ideally, though impractical for purposes of illustration, the circle should have been infinite in diameter.  Erasing that huge circle, even one which we have scaled down for purposes of comparison, will naturally leave us with a sense of claustrophobia.  Since in this version the cosmos of the time-space world is all-there-is, we will need more room.  We will want to stretch the time line out as far as possible into geological or mythological time.  Also, we will want to thicken the line to get more land area, even if most of our land turns out to be empty space.  Eventually we will get an oblong universe which, at least from our own perspective, looks nearly as big as the “time-space world plus Eternity” of the original version.

Do these diagrams allow us to compare the transcendental and the immanent ( a.k.a. gnostic) world-views?  Yes, but they aren’t really decisive enough to let us pick one over the other.  They illustrate some interesting points of gnostic-immanent psychology, like the desire to inflate time and space to compensate for the loss of eternity.  Since these are only illustrative diagrams, for all we know, the immanent position might be right.  Unless we can adduce better reasons, we are forced to entertain the possibility that nothing exists outside of the time-space cosmos.  All the transcendent version has going for it, as a purely cosmological illustration, is something similar to Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover.”  Hence our diagrams are liable to be criticized as bloodless abstractions.  After all, that’s exactly what they are.

 

Good, evil, time, desire

When we plug ethics and value into our diagrams, they become more than bloodless illustrations.  They become bloody illustrations.  As terrible as that may sound (and its working out in the concrete world is indeed terrible) such diagrams will be much more informative.  In the transcendent diagram the circle of eternity now doubles as a moral compass.  Movement along the time line now becomes movement towards or away from an outside standard.  Human will and desire remain subjective, but they are measurable according to criteria external to either individual or collective evaluation.

In the immanent-gnostic diagram, where the circle of eternity does not exist, value and morality coincide.  If not individually, at least collectively, whatever is valued is moral, and whatever is moral is valued.  In the immanent-gnostic system there can be no such thing as hypocrisy and no such thing as desire which is frustrated by moral sanctions.  In this system, collectives, if not individuals, are able to attain moral autonomy.  Whatever they will is good and the good is what they will.  There is no failure, and more ominously, there is no freedom to fail.

The transcendent system is heteronomous.  There is often a clash between individual, or even collective, desires and an outside criteria.  What is valued may not be good, and the good may not be valued.  At first sight, the system of  moral heteronomy seems more stressful and conflicted than the system of moral autonomy.

We can call the gnostic-immanent system by other names.  One of them is the secular system.  This is particularly apt since the root meaning of “secular” refers to time.   The gods of this system live inside time, compete with each other, and engage in subjective evaluation of ends.  They may, or may not, be human beings.  If they are human beings they are identical to human beings in the other system in that they desire improvement in their future outcomes in relation to their present state.  They want change for the better.  We all do.

However the gods within the immanent system (whether they are the majority, elite conspirators, or others) have the power to change the criteria of what is good and what is bad in accordance with their desires.  This is called “transvaluation” in accordance with the nomenclature popularized by Nietzsche.  Hence progress along the line of time does not resemble a football game where the ball is moved towards or away from the goal line.  Rather, progress resembles a game in which the ball and the goal posts move in tandem with one another.  In such a game losing is impossible.  However one wonders if winning has any meaning either.

In the immanent-gnostic system humanity attains its desires through transformation, which entails a loss of identity.   In the transcendent system human beings attain their subjective goals by conforming them to objective criteria external to individual and collective desires.   In the transcendent system these desires are frustrated but the species and the individuals who comprise it have a chance to retain their identity.  Time devours its children, while Eternity preserves its own.  From a human point of view, this is the primary benefit of a double decker universe, with Eternity wrapped around time.

 

Revelation, Progress, and Originalism

By the end of the Enlightenment, the oracular though-forms of immanent gnosis had lost their conscious identity as revelation.  Even the ponderous pronouncements of G. F. W. Hegel were considered “secular” in the common sense of non-religious.  However Marcion, Joaquin of Florence, and Hegel were all “secular” in the broader sense of immanent time-worship…they were all revelators of an ongoing time-space continuum, processed through the prophetic faculties of the human brain.   Today, with Cultural Marxism unchained, we are experiencing a new revelation, a new gnosis, with every generation, if not every decade.  Time, at least eschatological time, seems to be accelerating.

The solution will not be returning to whatever shreds of truth the last generation, or even some past century, was hanging on to.  Will you stand your ground defending the virtues exemplified by John Travolta’s Grease, or even the Greece of Werner Jaeger’s Paedia?  The solution must be sought far back beyond the obvious distortions of pagan myth.  Indeed, it must go behind the numerous contortions and confusions of Christian theology, back to the original revelation where Time met Eternity.

When one has returned to the original bedrock of revelation, a point of origin where, admittedly, many things, including soterology, remain tacit…only at that point has one found solid ground.   And only there can one stand one’s ground.

 

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