Smaller Pieces (Kind Of)
Cyber-pal and bible teacher extraordinaire, Frank Bellizzi, suggested the topic of yesterday's conversation was too big and that I should break it up into smaller pieces. Now, Frank is no dummy. He's a Yale-y and all. He has initials after his name, so when he says it's too big...it's too big! So, here goes. I'm going to attempt to break up the history of western philosophy into smaller pieces -- but not by that much, I'm afraid. At the risk of oversimplifying things, you could view the story of western philosophy to this point as five 500-year-long acts -- which would be long even for Shakespeare.
The 500 years before Jesus was born recognized lots of big questions and offered many possible answers. None of those answers was universally accepted, and most of them had short shelf lives. But, the point is that by the time Jesus lived there was a pretty broad spectrum of philosophies (aka worldviews) by which to live. In other words, pluralism and relativism aren't really new inventions; they've been around for a while.
The main difference between the kinds of pluralism and relativism folks encountered back then and what we experience today is that they didn't see relativism as exhaustive. In other words, people may have disagreed over how to define things like meaning and virtue, but everyone believed that things like meaning and virtue actually existed. You may debate whose truth was more accurate, but you didn't debate whether there is such a thing as truth.
Now, the next 500 years saw the rise of Christianity as the dominant worldview. Christians led the way in defining things like goodness, truth, meaning, value and purpose. There were other worldviews, to be sure, and they got into fights like we'd expect them to. Christianity was attacked philosophically and physically, but Christianity would not go away. In fact, Christianity became -- for better or worse -- the foundation upon which the next two 500-year-long acts of the story were based.
Just about everything that happened in the western world from 500AD to 1500AD happened as a result of the Christian underpinnings in society. Again, this isn't to say that everything was wonderful; there were terrible things that happened as well. And Christianity was often misunderstood and/or misapplied in the realms of politics and statesmanship. But still...it is undeniable that Christianity was integral, vital and necessary to the formation of western civilization.
Then we arrived at the fifth act: the era of modernism from which we have recently emerged. The fifth act completely undid the previous three acts, destroying the united foundation upon which our civilization had been built. Interestingly, it didn't do this by showing how false the Christian worldview is per se. It simply pushed the Christian worldview aside in favor of a new approach. What might happen, the question was asked, if we built everything upon the foundation of human reasoning? What if, instead of God, people were at the center of everything?
Thus have we arrived at the beginning of the sixth act. And we are confronted with the failure of the last 500 years. To quote philosopher Peter Hicks, "Modernism has drawn a blank". Instead of offering a worldview that allowed us to understand and live properly in this world, the current philosophical landscape is littered with irrationalism, deconstruction and despair.
Tomorrow, I hope to take up the question: Where do we go from here?
But today I'm interested in your opinion on this: Why do you think the Christian worldview was so successful for so long?