A life is made up of moments and events but it’s not merely the sum of the moments and events in the way that a universe isn’t just the sum of the matter and energy and other specific things it contains and a community isn’t just the sum of its members and their individual to individual relationships. A life has properties beyond and different from those moments and those events it contains and the same can be said for a universe and a community. All of these complex entities, a human being’s life and his communities and the universe—in fact, all of Creation, are intertwined.
In the strangely limited discourse of modern human beings—even modern Christians, a life or a universe or a community is made greater by `purpose’. True enough but not enough. Purpose is typically seen as outside of us or our communities or our universe, something not at all directly perceptible and something we strive toward; modern empirical knowledge tells us this is the problem with such worldviews as that of Creation science. A true enough criticism, but not enough of a criticism. Creation scientists are trying to do something proper but they don’t do it well enough. Purpose is in the entirety of complex entities which means it is found in some way, if only partially so, in the individual entities which make up those complex entities—especially if those individuals retain their identity in a strong sense. But purpose is outside us in the sense that it is in our communal being—we belong to communities which are purpose-driven perhaps more than most individual human beings; purpose is also outside us in the sense that God’s world—indeed, all of His Creation—is ordered to the purpose of the Almighty. Purpose is outside of us but also inside of us because it flows through all of our human being and also provides a dynamic structure to all of our human being..
Nearly all people living in coherent, well-ordered communities will internalize that coherence and that order, taking in the purpose of their communities in some form they tailor, or sometimes butcher, to their own perceived needs and status. For all but a small percentage, this communal coherence and order will supply what is needed for purpose, along with some understanding of the world and of that community’s place in the world. This sort of communal purpose, which has to be personalized to truly be embedded in a human being, is part of a larger package—a worldview at the largest scale.
With such a package, a worldview as true as possible given Christian revelation and also the current state of human knowledge about God’s acts as Creator, communities at all scales and individuals can adopt the higher order of that worldview into their communal and individual human being.
Without such a package, a worldview or even some lesser version corresponding to a culture rather than a more complete civilization, most human beings seem incapable of engaging in much coherent thought about the world outside of their direct experience, their day-to-day lives. More generally, not just the thoughts (part of mind) and purpose (part of heart) but also moral habits (part of hands) are formed for all to some extent and for most to a great extent by community standards. Or it could be that, in the event of a decay in the coherence and order of communities, all are left somewhat formless by lack of community standards and most are left largely blind in terms of road-maps through a confusing world. Some who are more creative and more capable of dealing with abstractions might find a good way (Augustine of Hippo) or a bad way (Karl Marx) through a world in decay, even a world in which the processes of decay are working but haven’t done much damage yet. Yet, as bad as some of the thoughts of Marx are, it’s likely that more damage has been done to Western Civilization by the more ordinary exploiters, such as corporations selling entertainment products which disrupt the intentional (growth) processes of young children learning how to concentrate. And so on.
This much is clear to me: even many of those human beings who are the “good stuff” are not capable of properly forming that good stuff or of finding new ways through the vast expanses of a decaying civilization. During periods of civilizational or even local decay, it becomes difficult and sometimes nearly impossible for most citizens to even see clearly any possibility of major forms of good, purposeful lives; and, in fact, it might truly be nearly impossible to realize those sorts of lives. So it is that, in particular, the possibilities of Christian forms of life have become nearly impossible for parents or pastors to even see, let alone realize, in a West which is the ruins of a Christian Civilization taken over by secularists who are at least sneeringly indifferent to any religious institutions or practices which are not subordinate to secularist forms of liberalism. It’s quite sad that this sort of a takeover of the Christian West by secular liberalism was made possible by Christians who collaborated with their enemies and paid little attention to the damage done to their own human being or that of their children.
In fact, all forms of liberalism, including seemingly conservative forms of classical liberalism, are bound to find themselves working against any form of traditionalism since all liberals—whether serving the markets or some sort of collectivist dream—are in conflict with communities which always have some sort of traditionalist inclinations. There are reasons that the better sorts of classical liberals, such as Hayek and Friedman, denied being conservatives by any definition. In their ways of thought, human beings were mobile workers or perhaps members of a cosmopolitan intellectual and artistic elite. Arguably, anti-traditionalism defines liberalism even better than the original liberal program of turning individuals into freestanding, contract-making entities of a vague sort; after all, some newer branches of liberalism free individuals from traditions to entrap them in various schemes of highly engineered collectivism.
To be sure, the world changes and sometimes too fast for most communities in a region to survive, though it remains true that a period of resting in traditionalist communities—even rigidly authoritarian traditionalist communities—is less damaging to most human being than is a radical destruction of traditionalism and all it carries, including the possibilities of necessary change from a stable starting point. Letting intentional (growth) processes work at the level of individual human beings and at all scales of communal human being gives us progress which might be truly such. And those processes will interact—in theory—with the evolutionary and developmental processes of God’s Creation.
In my recently posted and freely downloadable book, The Shape of Reality, I made some progress in supporting a claim I’d been making for a few years: modern mathematics and some of the sciences have concepts and tools for addressing many problems of being which are at the root of a lack of understanding of the complex entities of God’s Creation. In particular, I’m concerned with the development of words and concepts, largely abstracted from mathematics, which allow us to think clearly about communities as being real and not just voluntary gatherings of radically freestanding human beings. I made some steps in that direction in the book referenced above.
The modern ideologues, especially liberals of all sorts, have taken away our sense of community, our beliefs that our individual selves and our communal selves are real and interact without one overwhelming the other. In a similar way, they have taken away our sense of a meaningful life, our beliefs that the moments and events of our lives are real and so is the totality of our lives. To elaborate on a claim I made above: the illiberal ideologues of the modern world, such as Karl Marx, made inroads in the former Christian West only because of the seemingly gentler and more gradual ideas of extreme free-marketers and a variety of activists thinking of themselves as being social reformers.
Much of the damage to individual human beings comes by way of the destruction of communal human being. As I claimed above: all human beings to some extent and some human beings to a nearly full extent are dependent upon their communities to help them “engag[e] in much coherent thought about the world outside of their direct experience, their day-to-day lives.” It is this coherent thought, and the related feelings and behaviors, which shape moral character—among other good things.