Let’s consider one historically important central power: the Papacy. The history of the Papacy was actually quite complicated but we can pass over those complications for my current purposes.
I choose the Papacy for several reasons. Firstly, I entered the Catholic Church as an adult and am currently an (excessively?) active Catholic parishioner. I hold an orthodox version of the Western Catholic Christian faith, including a largely Orthodox view about the history and true nature of the Christian Church and its hierarchy, sacraments, relationship to God, and so on. Secondly, the Western Church—mostly biased too strongly to Roman ways—was one of the central communities in the very formation of `the West’ in all of the strands of human being: political and cultural and economic and moral and so on. Thirdly, though not really separate from the prior claim, the inability of Western Christianity to deal with modern understandings of very important realms of God’s Creation is perhaps the major reason for the current decline of the West—that decline seeming to be irreversible at this point. Fourthly, the Church Herself (a `female’ organ of the Body of Christ) seems to have a `revolutionary’ or `progressive’ leader who is trying hard to bring the Church and its leadership into synch with the Progressive communities of the modern West—which communities I have labeled as parasitical, living off the resources nurtured by the traditional (not stagnant) communities of the West. To be sure, many of the traditional thinkers of the West in this time of decay do advocate a stagnant way of thinking and of structuring our human communities; this is true in political as well as in ecclesiastical communities.
The Papacy, the institution itself strongly centered on the Pope and sometimes even being his prison, is also useful as an intellectual organizing point for another reason: it is the only institution which has existed for the entirety of West’s existence, where the West can be understood as a vaguely defined human community drawing upon Rome (after the collapse of Roman political authority in the West) and Jerusalem and developing over the years C300AD to C1800AD when the Enlightenment had clearly gone wrong after the incompetence of Christians in dealing with the great opportunities of modern science and other endeavors to explore this wonderful world God gave us. These endeavors include such fields as textual analysis and physical anthropology as well as physics and mathematics as well as the explorations of the physical world and the development of modern technology and industry.
And, of course, it’s always useful in the search for larger-scale or abstract understandings to have something concrete to focus on. So, I’ll turn to a quick schematic of papal authority. We have:
- the Pope in the context of:
- the Western Church in the context of:
- the entirety of Christianity in the context of:
- the entirety of the Body of Christ (not just the Church) in the context of:
- the universe in which we are pilgrims in the context of:
- the entirety of Creation in the context of:
- God’s purposes for Creation and all it contains.
If the Catholic Church, especially the Roman Catholic church, has played a passive but essential role in the death-throes of Western Civilization, that passive attitude—defend but don’t adapt in an intelligent and tradition-respecting way, has led to this danger of the Church being corrupted inside by the same forces the Churchmen and other churchmen (Protestants and others) refused to engage in a healthy and productive and creative way. One good example of mindless defense was Pope Pius X’s Pascendi dominici gregis (“Feeding the Lord’s Flock”) which was a relentless condemnation of a certain (not all that common at the time) form of Modernism without a hint of Christian responses to the problems and opportunities which the so-called Modernists were responding to. There were no ideas of such responses, only ghetto-walls for the minds of most Catholics—likely it was that some who tried to stay outside those walls for all the right reasons ended up leaving the Catholic Church. And many who stayed began to nurture the suspicion that Christianity had no positive ideas, only brutal criticisms of the ideas and attitudes and behaviors growing up in a world increasingly beyond the comprehension of the Catholic Churchmen.
It seems to me that the all-too common understanding of the spiritual descendant of Peter as being the ruler of the Apostles is wrong because it conflicts with God’s effects in His Work of Creation. The Pope is the head of the college of the Apostolic successors (all legitimate bishops, Catholic and others). He is not any sort of despotic ruler, though even good Popes have had to take on that role for the good—if it had been possible to shed such wrongful authority when no longer needed for God’s purposes. Nor do the members of the college of Apostolic successors have the full authority they gained during the years when most educated men were priests and monks and those men, often against their own desires, were sucked up into a vacuum in the courts of kings and counts and in all departments of research and teaching institutions.
We live in a world in which evolution and development dominate. We rarely even suspect what the ideal is until it begins to show itself in the world; Hume and the other empiricists were wrong in thinking empirical reality to be the whole show but they were right in denying that empirical reality is just a curtain in front of some `real-world’, `real’ in the sense of Plato, `ideal’ in the sense of what this world is moving toward—so to speak. Looking at matters on the longer-term, we never know what the `ideal’ is since the human brain evolved in response to this physical world and the human mind has developed, upon that brain, in response to those realms and other realms of God’s Creation which men could reach at any given time—such as the abstract realms of mathematics and metaphysics. There is, in fact, strong truth in claims that the human mind and the world are evolving and developing in synch.
We live in a world where the insides to physical creatures, living and nonliving, are as dynamic as the outside. Neither Aristotle nor Thomas Aquinas could quite figure out how much of human thought could proceed—they knew the brain to be the center of thought and thought the brain to be a static entity and so they considered and somewhat endorsed the idea of a mind or soul as made of different `stuff’ than physical matter. They shouldn’t be blamed for living before modern chemistry and biochemistry and all the instrumentation, microscopes and MRIs and cellular dyes and so on. But they made that mistake and it’s embedded in Western thought in various ways, some of which I largely grasp and others I grasp but not well enough for clear expression and others that befuddle me. It’s all a confusing mess largely because of the entanglement of the human mind (think relationships largely mediated on our end by our brains) and all else we can perceive or validly conceive.
I’m in the same position I was in ten years ago or so regarding ways of thinking of communities as being real in this world seen in reductionistic terms. In my previous series of three posts, I moved forward in stating my confusion about the dynamic nature of God’s Creation using our own human being as a focus:
- What is the Totality of a Human Life?: Individuals and Communities.
- What is the Totality of a Human Life?: Individual and Communal Intent.
- What is the Totality of a Human Life?: Unity, Coherence, and Completeness.
Though I can’t claim to have cleared up even the `structural’ issues of human being, I have made some progress in at least defining what needs to be done by those younger than me—see The Shape of Reality.
Sticking to just human being: how do we discuss and understand these dynamic relationships of human being which exist at so many levels? There are individual human beings and various communities, starting from the more or less biologically mandated communities of families and `tribes’ and then ranging from card clubs through ethnic clubs to local political communities and through many others up to the entirety of the human race. To me, the ultimate community is one which is essentially a unified and coherent and complete civilization with the Christian Church as its primary and central organ.
But there is no centrally imposed order on all of this, this sheer mess in strong opposition to the human desire for simplicity and for static forms of order. Order does come to an entity partly from the greater realm in which it is embedded but also from inside of the entity—even inside the brute matter of that entity—and from other surrounding entities of various degrees of influence in either direction. And it’s all rapidly changing, evolving and developing as well as decaying and dying.
Our desire for that simplicity and static forms of order conflicts with the way this world works, with the way that all of Creation works. The world is such that power and authority can’t be truly centralized: the Creator Himself has not chosen to work in such a way, to exercise His power as a despot.
Order isn’t to be enforced upon this world from a central region, or from above—if you prefer.
Yet, order is being established—though there seems to be a large devolution or setback occurring in the West because of greedy and overly-ambitious leaders who aren’t even very competent. Order is growing, despite the current setbacks. Human communities are generally growing and becoming better-ordered, though growth in recent centuries has sometimes overwhelmed any processes establishing order; many huge human communities have passed through or are passing through periods of partial chaos. Libertarians can be credited with seeing that stable and long-lasting order can’t be imposed by central authorities. They fail to see that large and well-ordered human communities are, over the long-run, ordering themselves as-if there was some sort of central authority, or Invisible Hand, directing the process; this is more or less known to be true in economic realms, but it’s also true in other realms: political and cultural and so on.
Order grows from inside of entities and communities of entities; it is also impressed upon entities and communities of entities from the outside. Order comes bubbling up and comes raining down. Any of these growth and development processes can be gentle or harsh.
For now, lacking much of a program for making sense of this, for providing some way of properly enrichening and complexifying my worldview, I’m going to describe my intentions a way entangled with more traditional spiritual terms—which remain valid but aren’t likely to produce the basic tools and concepts we need to move forward in better understanding Creation including human nature. Again, as we learn more and as our human communities grow and become more complex, Creation itself grows richer and more complex—we are creating new forms of being, most especially human being.
A pagan God rules from above or outside, rules as if being a more powerful version of a human king or aristocracy. That pagan God rules by command and by force imposed from above. And so it is that we have the ultimate sort of centralized power.
The Christian God (or the Jewish God) is the source of being, supreme but not needing to exercise powers in the way of a human king—though we should remember the Almighty can do so if He wishes. Since the God of Jesus Christ is the source of being, He is everywhere and is not a pagan God or god sitting on a throne on a mountaintop though that image seems to be the best that many believers can manage when thinking about the Almighty. And it becomes the false ideal for the Church regarded as the (entire) Body of Christ. We need ways to think about God and our relationships with Him which transcend the traps of our natural pagan ways of thought as well as the modern philosophical and scientific tendencies to push God off to the distance until He no longer even exists. You can see such a process of distancing in the family of John Adams who came from Calvinist stock, was himself a Deist who yet respected versions of Christianity with strong beliefs and whose descendants were increasingly Deistic until God was of no importance at all in their lives. When God is so far away and so little involved with His own Creation, He ceases to exit.
My current way of looking at matters, an expansion of my views as expressed in The Shape of Reality, isn’t something that came to me from some sort of contemplations of immaterial realms of being. Rather did it come to me from interactions of Christian teachings with modern knowledge of concrete realms of being and also modern knowledge of certain abstract realms of being—mostly mathematics but also creative writings and other human fields of endeavor. It is those abstract realms of being which have led my thoughts and feelings and acts in directions at least somewhat parallel to the thoughts of those known as spiritual masters.
Elijah couldn’t find God in all the great forces of nature but did find Him, and heard His commandment and encouragement, in a whisper (or “gentle blowing” or similar words in various translations). (See 1 Kings: 19.)
To me, this means that Elijah found God inside, not just inside of his own mortal self but also inside of the atmosphere so that the Almighty could be heard more easily in a gentle breeze which didn’t distract and frighten the senses of a human animal as did the winds of a great storm. God could have been found just as easily in the ground itself: to the modern mind in the wonders of the soils and rocks and waters and all the remarkable relationships that underly their properties, starting at the level of subatomic particles and all their relationships described by quantum physics.
Somewhere in his great pile of writings, Augustine of Hippo stated that God is deeper inside of us than we can reach. He is also higher than astronomers can see with their telescopes and more deeply inside matter than the physicists can see with their accelerators. He is more abstract than the category theory of mathematics, larger than the greatest of transfinite numbers. He is more concrete than a granite slab.
Again: the Almighty doesn’t seem to run things in the way of a king, nor is He merely a kindly grandfather doting on His young ones. Let God be God, meaning that we have to be openminded about God in His transcendence and also in His freely chosen role as Creator of a particular Creation. We have a few abstract descriptions of God which are binding: all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving. He has also revealed to us a few aspects of His `concrete’ transcendence, mostly His triune nature. We know much about God’s acts as Creator and Shaper of His Creation. That latter knowledge doesn’t yet show much in Christian thought. We think yet of God in the Neo-Platonic terms of many of the early Fathers of the Church.
Much of modern knowledge points to relationships, participation in being and in shaping being at all levels—from subatomic particles through blue whales and on to galactic clusters, and self-organization which feeds into the self-organization at smaller and greater scales of being. God is the driving force in all of this, absolutely powerful and all-knowing but still seemingly managing to give us some freedom—at all scales of being. When it comes to human being, at all scales from individuals through small communities and on to the Body of Christ or ultimate human civilization, we have a mind-boggling complexity of relationships with each other, with other animals, with all the physical universe, with all Creation, and with God. Our relationships with God and with creatures or all of Creation are internal as well as external, though human animals—of all known creatures—have brains capable of generating minds (certain sorts of relationships) which can respond to Creation in such a way as to encapsulate it. And we can encapsulate whatever God tells us, whether He gives us hints about the true nature of Creation or hints about His own nature. This is inside of us though Judaism and then Christianity mulled over bodies of private revelation and turned them into authoritative public revelation. Even the truly public revelations of Christianity came from those whispers inside of prophet or king or priest, of carpenter or tentmaker or fisherman. Jesus of Nazareth spoke softly when announcing that He was the Son of God and those who heard were often uncertain that those whispers were truly in God’s voice.
God Himself leads and leads as well as creating and shaping. In human terms, a leader such John Paul II and a teacher such as Benedict XVI take on some of the true nature of the God they served. Moreover, the nature of this world of evolution and development tells us—at least those of us who have studied some history and some evolutionary biology—that brute matter and animals of limited intelligence (including human beings emerging from darkness to a greater knowledge of God and Creation) sometimes need to be forced. William the Conqueror, Henry II, Henry VIII, and other brutal English kings played a role in establishing the order which became—almost miraculously—a political system which moved by some sort of internally generated forces toward an expanded franchise, approaching a state of inclusive self-government before the Enlightenment (British as well as Continental) went out of control and, more recently, turned developments back toward some sort of elitist rule—elitist in the sense of aristocratic and not in the sense of any sort of earned or displayed merit.
After the tradition-respecting reforms of various modern Bishops of Rome, we’re seeing the Papacy and the Curia of the Roman Catholic Church being returned to that same sort of elitist rule. In both cases, the rhetoric of the so-called progressives who are returning the institutions of the West to more primitive forms of organization forces them to pretend to be moving forward, and this is true of Pope Francis and his various packs of attack-dogs who pretend to be Christian intellectuals. Any forward movement is intended to destroy the structures of human communities and even those of healthy human individuals, to destroy in the interest of reshaping the political and ecclesiastical and other human communities of the West, reshaping them to be under the control of a small number of power-hungry leaders of Western Christianity and Western political systems, of bankers and generals and corporate executives and morally degenerate intellectuals in the mold of Zbignew Brzezinski as well as priests who seem to have moved beyond their Christianity. They themselves can’t control in a centralized or hierarchical way—God didn’t create a world in which such is possible. Yet, the power of convergent interests (think: Invisible Hand) moves them in this direction in which they’ll destroy much that is good in a hubristic and impossible campaign to control a world in a way more like that of Satan than that of God. Our modern elites have little positive power but much destructive power.
I can’t describe how it is that human being, individuals and communities, will operate when they are reborn in Heaven. We can see some hints by paying attention to the way that God works in this (mostly or most obviously) concrete world and in the entirety of Creation. We can get more hints by studying modern science in the light of the Johannine (St John the Evangelist’s school) claim that relationships are primary and stuff is secondary. We can study such fields of thought as self-organization in the mathematical and biological domains or evolutionary and developmental fields of thought in general. We can study history and see the real trends—they aren’t in the direction favored by American progressivist politicians and intellectuals and favored also by certain types of Christian leaders including Pope Francis. Modern progressivism is so 19th century, relying on outmoded theories of determinism, including forms of political and economic and moral determinism which lead to the the false possibilities of centralized control of at least the human realms of God’s Creation.
So, I’ll conclude that God’s Creation isn’t compatible with anything approaching complete centralization of power and authority, though centers of power and authority do exist and have their own role, often more thrilling and chilling than the roles of more modest human communities but not really more important and certainly far more dangerous when the leaders in those centers of power and authority wish to impose themselves and their thoughts and feelings and behaviors upon all the human communities they touch.
In my next post, I’ll display my deep confusion a little more explicitly by arguing that God’s Creation also isn’t compatible with any sort of radical decentralization.
Something else is happening, the development of order by way of processes working from the inside and from the outside, from the lowest levels and from the highest levels. Somehow, things seem to work out, order is being slowly established, though it can be beaten back by those blind to what is going on around them—including the leaders of the West in the 20th and 21st centuries.