Cultural Na´vetÚ. Not too surprisingly we Americans find it very difficult to understand the way of thinking of other cultures, supposing (very wrongly) that most ‘reasonable’ people in the world think like us ... or at least want to be able to think like us. If they don't there is something terribly wrong about their social situation. And it is our duty to change them in their thinking. We think of this as a policy of Enlightenment – bringing people out of the darkness of foolish or dangerous thinking into the bright light of our own thought processes.
Thus it is that we head off into the world to bring ‘democracy’ (such as we think we understand the term) to the rest of the world. We expect others to be very thankful for our intrusion into their world in order to bring them cultural ‘salvation.’ When they don't react that way it simply certifies to us the urgency of our mission – something like administering very strong medicine to a very resistant child. Not surprisingly, what our efforts ultimately do produce is massive cultural confusion – and a great deal of resentment against us for acting on what we see as our good intentions.
American social policy in Iraq. A perfect example of this naivetÚ would be the American ‘neo-con’ effort of President George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to bring ‘democracy’ to Iraq by overthrowing the government of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The neo-con presumption was that Americas moral responsibility was simply to rid the world of the dictator, allowing the Iraqis then to move ahead in securing for themselves the blessings of democracy. This is why no American plans were made for how Iraq was to function as a society after Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the supposition being that the Iraqis would simply come together in a new spirit of democracy to design ‘freely’ their own new government. No provisions were made for the policing of the streets as Saddam-enforced ‘law and order’ dissolved away, resulting in an outbreak of petty theft, then serious theft (such as the prized antiquities of the Iraqi Museum), then vengeance killing as ancient sectarian and ethnic hostilities were allowed to explode over the country. America, not surprisingly, was caught off guard by all the chaos that descended on Iraq. Then to make matters worse, in order to ‘purify’ Iraq of its former corruptions, all who had been part of the former regime (including doctors and school teachers) were barred from further public service, and the Iraqi army (which at the time was helping American troops keep some semblance of order in the country) was disbanded, leaving hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis with guns and no jobs to contend with the Iraqi future. It was a disaster: one mistake following another because of the incredible cultural naivetÚ of the Bush cabinet that had planned a fairy-tale remake of Iraq, without even the slightest understanding of the fragile mix of Iraqi culture and the long-established expectations of the Iraqis as to how life was to be governed. Such ignorance created a huge human disaster (as well as a huge economic burden for both Iraq and America) – which, needless to say earned America no gratitude from the Iraqis but instead deep resentment for American efforts to be ‘helpful.’ Indeed, American actions simply drove Iraq closer to the neighboring Shi'ite nation of Iran, which has clearly announced itself as the center of a great Islamic mission to rid the world of evil secular culture – and especially the most secular nation of all, America: the Great Satan.
Cultural confusion at home as well. This problem of cultural naivetÚ affects not only Americas understanding and actions with respect to the surrounding world – but just as tragically, its own cultural self-understanding and domestic political actions. America is at war with itself culturally (not for the first time however) over what its own cultural foundations happen to be. Long-standing Christian ideals that for several centuries made America morally and culturally something of a ‘Christian nation’ have since the 1960s been gradually jettisoned – to be replaced by a new untried and untested secular culture. Deep social divisions have subsequently afflicted America and the country, reaching a height of power and prominence in the 1950s and early 1960s, has been on the defensive politically and economically ever since.
A changing world around us. The failure of the Soviet system in Russia gave the impression to Americans that our nation had won a place of eternal prominence in the global scheme of things. But Soviet failure did not automatically translated itself into American success. It meant only that the long-standing challenge of Soviet Communism was no longer a concern. But there were other problems rising on the horizon to replace the Soviet-American ‘Cold War’ as our greatest challenge. The world around us had been changing while we were not paying close attention – so fixed on the dispute with the Soviets were we. Now those challenges loom large over us: over-population and consequent economic decline in the ‘Third World,’ which breeds economic radicalism and hostility of the ‘have-nots ‘against the ‘haves’; Islamist opposition to the West, bred to a great extent by this economic frustration over the failure of ‘Western’ ways to bring the Middle East prosperity and security; a fast-rising China which is gaining considerable financial muscle and an increasingly active foreign policy to match its new financial muscle; India which is quietly gaining economic and political momentum and as potentially the world's most populous society a presence in the scheme of things that will follow its greatly heightened social potential. Indeed, as America struggles to not get itself caught in fiscal foolishness and something akin to state bankruptcy (which has destroyed more than one society in the past) even ‘maintaining’ a place of distinction in the international status quo will become increasingly difficult.
The tragedy of failure. And how much of all this do we Americans truly understand? Like failed societies before us, we simply suppose that we are entitled perpetually to our place of privilege in the grand scheme of things. We have become self-blinded to the reality of the changing world around us – and to the dire need of cultural-social reform within ourselves if we are to continue to play a successful role amidst a very changed world. If we do not wake up to the cultural-social challenges facing us within and without we will soon find ourselves, as so many tragic societies of the past have, dreaming wistfully of the days of glory gone by, days that will never, never return.
The quest for ‘Realism.’ So what we are proposing to do here in this course of study is to gain some much needed ‘Realism’ about the world, both our American world and the world around us. We are going to search for perspective, perspective not about a day that once existed, but perspective on the day we live in – and hopefully some kind of perspective on the world that seems to be unfolding before us. Then we can make some choices, social choices, as to how to respond to our world. Then will our choices possess an important element of wisdom – rather than fantasy and folly. Then can we think about being a society that serves the world as ‘The City on a Hill,’ a beacon of light to the rest of the world. Then can we say that we are living as God intended us to live, in glory as a people of light.
A Crude Summarization of the World's Major Cultural Trends
First of all, about ourselves. For various reasons which we will explore closely, in the 1960s America underwent something of a cultural revolution, violently rejecting the long-standing political, social, economic and spiritual foundations that had long served our country in its development from the status of English colonies to a world superpower. We might sum this whole cultural tradition as our ‘Yankee’ heritage. It is not that there were no challenges prior to the sixties. One of these had led to a fierce civil war a century earlier and there were strains of the same problems afflicting American culture in the 1960s back a couple of generations earlier in the 1920s. But by the 1960s it appeared that the old Yankee spirit, founded on very deep Protestant Christian (even Puritan) spiritual roots came out the loser in the contest. The victor was a culture of hedonistic secularism which derided the patriotic, law-abiding, socially committed and God-reverencing culture of Yankee or ‘Middle Class’ America. The high popularity of the TV series ‘All in the Family,’ the most-watched TV program of the 1970s, points to the fact that it was very chic to ridicule these older cultural instincts of Yankee America. They were now classed as the source of intense racial bigotry (forgetting that it was Yankee outrage that finally put an end to the greedy and insensitive practice of slavery), contempt for the poor and downcast (replacing the idea of America as the land of opportunity for those willing to work hard to make a living, with the idea that everyone was entitled to basic social benefits regardless of their contributions to society), intolerance of those who did not think intellectually and spiritually as they did (forgetting that the idea of religious freedom came from the Yankee willingness to give room to other faiths, regardless of how much they contradicted their own ideas of right and proper).
Americas own precious story (a story such as those from which all societies draw their collective sense of self) was rewritten in a process proudly presented as ‘historical revisionism’ in which the heroes of the past who led the country trough times of crisis were recast as ‘Dead White Males’ (DWM) and ignored in favor of the stories of the little people, highly romanticized praise of the lower social orders that quietly tolerated the tyranny of the DWM. Historical revisionism even recast the story of the generations of Christians who tried to set out in America a new society in which the common person, drawing their sovereign rights from God rather than from kings and their governments. They revised the story (focusing on a single event which occurred in the late 1600s supposedly characteristic of the entire Yankee Christian culture, then and now) to read as if these same people were simply a group of superstitious, bigoted individuals given to the fear of witches and possessing a horrible a blood lust for cruel death sentences handed down to those accused of witchcraft – overlooking the facts that this was a common fear shaking all of Western civilization at about the same time (not just simply a Puritan phenomenon) and that this was not the general disposition of the Puritans at all. The events of the Salem witch scare were relatively brief in duration, located in only one small portion of Puritan America and not only not supported by the Puritan authorities in Boston, but put to an end by them. Historical revisionism overlooks such details – in order to recast the story along strongly secular or anti-Christian lines. Sadly these half-truths as have been put forward about the Puritans have served the purpose well of those seeking to end this long, and quite noble Yankee Heritage.
What the new cultural elite has to offer as a replacement to the old Yankee-Christian tradition has been the moral remaking of American society such that any ideas that undercut the old traditions have been held up as ‘liberating’ and therefore not only justified but to be pursued as the nobler path. Greed and self-indulgence has become a lauded social norm – something that Christian America once convincingly demonstrated was a sign of the kind of social decadence that precedes the fall of a great society – of which history has countless examples. And indeed, a widening income gap separating the worker and the business executives and professionals (notably health professionals) afflicts the society, undercutting the egalitarian instincts that made Yankee America so very different from the societies of the rest of the world. Sexual impulses have been given license to go wherever they wanted – so that the traditional family is no longer the respected preserver of American sexual behavior. Indeed, since the 1960s the breakdown of the American family, the most fundamentally important of all social institutions, has been of crisis proportions. The State is looked to increasingly to provide the social benefits that family and local business once offered Americans – with the new generations unwilling to pay the cost for such governmental indulgence, but to leave the burden to future generations to cope with. Hero worship of extravant, publicity-seeking celebrities has replaced the noble honoring of those who have truly proven themselves to be worthy of the title of hero. We expect little of our ‘leaders’ except that they be interesting and even entertaining. In short, the dumping of the Yankee ethic has lead America to the brink of moral and social disaster.
But we no longer produce leaders able to do anything except follow this trend in the hope that it will advance their personal careers. Few are those who really know how to think on behalf of the good of the whole society. In fact it is very difficult any more to be sure of what that ‘good’ even might be. Personal freedom (actually just self-indulgence posing as ‘democracy’) has become the happy national slogan. But it offers nothing of true substance to a society trying to cope with an increasingly uncooperative social environment. And we continue on blissfully as we head deeper into economic, political, moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Secularism has not served us (or anyone else) well.
Then, concerning the world around us. Understandably, the world around us is either deeply concerned about what is happening to us – or worse, gladdened to see us mired down in the mess we have made for ourselves. In any case, we no longer inspire the respect of the rest of the world. The world is moving on, and we are becoming less relevant to the way the future is shaping up. We haven't gone the way of the other superpower, Russia, which not too long ago collapsed under such economic, political, moral and spiritual bankruptcy (but which has been making something of a comeback under the disciplining hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin). But many are beginning to suspect it will soon be our turn – and are planning accordingly.
Man and God
At the heart of this study is the central idea that human history is a story of man's relationship with his world ... and, even more importantly, with the Maker of his world. Sometimes man walks closely with the Creator and Sustainer of life. Other times man attempts to organize his world on his own ... without the help of anything beyond his own human powers to manipulate and control life.
But man is not nearly as clever as he himself believes. Ultimately man brings himself, through his own 'cleverness,' to self-inflicted catastrophe – usually involving the loss of his personal freedom – as he gets caught up in his own political-economic maneuverings. And a compassionate (and disappointed!) God once again comes to man's rescue.
The cyclical nature of this relationship
This pattern has been repeated many times over the long run of human history (the Jewish scriptures describe this historical dynamic perfectly).
It is, unfortunately, a pattern likely to be repeated in the future – as long as man walks the earth. His hybris (as the Greeks termed it) or sin (as the Jews termed it) will always bring man to self-inflicted disaster ... which will require another redemptive intervention of God to straighten out man's mess.
For a while, after just such a rescue, man will 'get the point' and live life as God created him to live it. But new generations will eventually arise, ones who will know of this Divine partnership not personally but only through the narration of older generations. They will believe that they are cleverer than the older generations and therefore not susceptibe to such folly ... and thus proceed to commit just such folly themselves. And so it goes.
God’s instructions ought never to be ignored
It's not that man is working blindly through life. God has, on many occasions, made it very clear to man what the 'deal' is. So man is actually without excuse. God has sent prophets and teachers to remind man what succeeds – and what does not – here on earth. Most importantly he sent Jesus to make the point absolutely clear as to how we are to live in relationship with God ... and with fellow man. This was not mere religious or moral instruction. Jesus was sent by God to clear the way to a perfect understanding of what life – now and eternally – is all about, how it works, how man is to attain the very best life has to offer, in this life and the one to come. Such is the good news (the 'gospel') God has presented us in Jesus Christ, good news designed to help us live a glorious life ... eternally.
This gospel presentation of Jesus' was not intended to be the exclusive right of a small group of privileged people ... but was intended for all of mankind. It is usually, however, only a small group of people who 'get it.' Yet 'getting it' is not just a special privilege for the few, but a huge responsibility of the few to carry Jesus' 'good news' to the larger world ... not just verbally as a message but even more importantly through the very way we go about living life ... as a clear, living model to others of how the 'deal' actually works.
From time to time we have taken up this divine calling, this key responsibility. And thus is God justly glorified ... and thus also is human life on this planet glorified. And other times (mostly when we again become self-absorbed and self-deluded about our personal powers) we have not. And thus we slip into cataswtrophe. And so history cycles onward ... the pattern repeating itself endlessly.
And it is thus exactly just this pattern of life we want to look at more closely. There are broad trends we will examine ... and also smaller details of this general pattern.
(1000 - mid 1500s)
(mid 1500s - late 1600s)
|Cosmological vision||hierarchical (the Great Chain of Being) from God - down through ruling priests/kings to peasants below - everyone in their place||God - present in the
community of the faithful
or "chosen" - all coequal before God together forming a witness to His greatness
and writings (Biblical/traditional)
given authoritative interpretation and enforcement by God-ordained bishops and kings
|God’s mighty and mysterious Word expressed in human form as Jesus Christ, revealed in prayer and Biblical study through the work of the Holy Spirit|
|Good||The will of God expressed in the Holy Christian Order||The outflow of God’s will found both in scripture and in the natural witness of creation|
|Evil||Results from trying to work outside this Christian Order||Results from the speculations of the human heart and mind (human depravity)|
|Salvation||Offered through the offices of the Holy Mother Church||Asssigned through the
irresistible grace of God
alone - neither gained nor lost by human action (Synod of Dort: 1618-1619)
|God||The foundation of all that truly is / ever will be||The foundation of all that truly is / ever will be|
|Jesus Christ||Head of the Divine Order ... and special friend of popes, emperors and kings chiefly responsible for this Order on earth||God’s living Word among us; Savior of God’s elect or chosen people|
|Virgin Mary||Consolation of the little people||'Adoration' of Mary is idolatrous|
|Holy Spirit||Love-partner of the mystics||God’s counsel and power among believers|
|Prayer||The duty of the obedient||The way of aligning ourselves to God’s will|
|Miracles||The sign of God’s special favor with saints||The sign or reminder of God’s powerful presence|
The placement (by God’s will indicated by birth) of the individual in the hierarchical social order determines completely the identity and value of the individual;
To please God he/she must play out his/her prescribed role in life
Each member of the community stands equally
before God and is equally valued by God;
Each has been given a particular call (vocation) – and sufficient talents to fulfill that call;
All vocations are necessary to the life of the community – and are therefore relatively equal in importance;
Showy signs of status (housing, clothing, titles, etc.) are deeply insulting to the rest of the community – and thus considered sinful
(early 1600s - late 1600s)
(late 1600s - late 1700s)
|Cosmological vision||Two worlds:
The higher world of God
(Mysterious and moving under grace alone)
The lower world of nature
(God-created but under self-operating laws)
The world of nature (holding center-stage)
operating like a precise machine
The realm of God (relegated to heaven)
a distant place of judgment and reward
|Truth||Of two natures:
Revelation truth - “higher” truths of God
revealed through prayer and Biblical study
Empirical truth - “factual” truths of the world
found through man’s “natural philosophy”
|Essentially self-standing 'fact' revealed through the work of the human mind in scientific study, expressed in mathematical formulae and scientific law.|
|Good||The outflow of God’s original will - discoverable in nature itself through an enlightened mind||The outflow of God’s original will - discoverable in nature itself through an enlightened mind|
|Evil||Results from a misinformed (heretical) human mind||Results from an unenlightened
(ignorance and superstition)
... and corrupt societies built on failed ideas
|Salvation / Prfogress||Salvation
- Through the grace of God
met by free human choice to follow God
(Jacob Arminius: Arminianism)
|Progress - Through enlightened human action|
|God||The foundation of all that truly is / ever will be||(Deism)
The "original architect" of all that is;
though not really necessary to today’s world
|Jesus Christ||God’s Word among us; savior of the world||The teacher/model of proper moral behavior|
|Holy Spirit||God’s counsel and power among us||???|
|Prayer||The way of aligning ourselves to God’s will||A perhaps useless human enterprise; human reason or logic is all that is needed for success|
|Miracles||The sign or reminder of God’s presence||Merely events not yet explained by science|
Kings and officers of the state have the responsibility of nurturing and protecting the community and its members
|Elitist / Utopian:
A corrupt social order inherited from medieval times must be overthrown and replaced by a republic led by an enlightened elite group
(late-1700s - today)
(emerging in late 20th century)
|Cosmological vision||A universe operating under fixed rules of operation/behavior ... which awards success to the "winners" in the competitive struggle for existence||An unbounded universe that takes on existence and meaning only as we enter into conscious relationship with it|
Revealed through the work of the human mind in scientific study, expressed in mathematical formulae and scientific law.
Something is "out there" ... but takes on meaning for us as "Truth" or "Fact" or "Value"
only according to our particular context
|Good||The outflow of the will of "natural" Man||A moral outflow of our sense of "Truth"|
an unenlightened human mind
(ignorance and superstition)
and corrupt societies built on failed ideas
but also: the untamed natural environment
(producing hunger, poverty, disease)
|Not clearly articulated as such ... But some dark sense of the capabilities of human consciousness to contemplate and plan the destruction of all earthly life|
human action. May be
'Revolutionary' or very violent if need be
(Jacobins, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Khmer Rouge)
|A somewhat nonsensical concept for there seems to be a constant trade-off for every choice in life|
fantasy dreamed up to frighten weak minds into social obedience (Marx:
‘the opiate of the masses’)
... or merely a desperate refuge of weak minds
unable to cope with reality (Freud: ‘neurosis’)
to explore this concept
... though already sensing that "God" sums up all consciousness not only in our 4-dimensional human world but in a realm vastly beyond it
|Jesus Christ||A teacher/model
of proper moral behavior
– though dangerously connected to religion
|not yet well explored
as a concept
... but a sense that he touches on much deeper insights into life than what Western religion has often made of him
|Holy Spirit||A nonsensical concept||Holy Spirit / Prayer
/ Miracles -
Not yet well explored
But here too - a sense that Western religion
has only "scratched the surface" of the meaning and power of these items
|Prayer||the last resort of a superstitious mind|
|Miracles||the perceptions of a superstitious mind|
Emphasis is placed on the sovereign individual
seeking self-acquired happiness ...
Leaving community life to be directed by an all-powerful ‘state’ governed by enlightened leaders whose job is to protect and nurture the rest of society's members in their quest of enhanced personal fortune and status
The individual and community take on meaning and purpose only as they interact and shape each other
The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to the different ways that major world cultures have addressed the ‘cosmological’ issue of why and how man and society exist in relation to the larger cosmos – and why Jesus stands at the center of that issue.
The course is a broad survey of
the rise of civilization from primitive origins,
Part One (1st Quarter) - Primitive and Ancient Cultures
Biblical insights into man's ongoing relationship with GodPrimitive paleolithic and neolithic societies / cultures
The paleolithic world view or 'cosmology': ‘animism’The rise of ancient civilization
The discovery of the imperial principle of class and social hierarchyAncient Mesopotamia and Egypt
The city-states of ancient SumerThe ancient Eastern Mediterranean
Ancient PhoeniciaAncient China and India
The first dynasties of ChinaPre-Columbian America
The Axial Age: An overview
The simultaneous appearance (500s BC) of teachers across the worldThe Asian teachers
ZoroasterConfucianist and Buddhist society
The Confucianist Mandarin bureaucracy of ChinaHindu Manusmriti and the Bhakti movement
Manusmriti: The defining of the caste/jati systemThe Persian Empire
Part Three (3rd Quarter) - The Axial Age in the West
The Greek materialist and transcendentalist philosophers
The rise of the GreeksHellenism
Alexander and the development of Hellenistic cultureThe Roman Republic and Empire
The political rise of RomeJesus, Paul and the Early Church Fathers
Jesus – the consummation of the Axial AgeChristendom (an adaptation of the Christian faith to the Roman Imperium)
Constantine and the Nicene Fathers relate the faith to RomeIslam
Muhammad and his timesMedieval Christendom, the Renaissance and Reformation
The brief Carolingian revival
Part Four (4th Quarter) - Secularism and Spirituality in Conflict
The rise of Western secularism
The quest for ‘scientific’ Truth as an alternative to religious dogmaThe 1800s: The beginning of the 'Age of Progress'
The American and French Revolutions in contrastWestern dominance
The moral motif of Western global imperialismOur changing world
The struggles to maintain a largely America-founded international orderRediscovering the Spirit of Jesus Christ
Science is not by necessity atheistic
Essay 1: Idealism versus Realism in American Politics
due Monday October 30th
1. What were the key
elements that went into making 1950s American middle class
democracy? How did middle-class America understand its
responsibilities abroad as a new ‘superpower’ during the 1950s?
What were the challenges that middle-class America perceived in meeting