Monday, May 7, 2018

1648: Western Civilization Tips from Christian to Olympian

The civilizational tipping point in the West between Christianity and Olympianity, Christendom and Europe, technology as an expression of freedom or of power, came at the end of the Latin Christian civil war in 1648. Heralds of this change included Francis Bacon in his book, Novum Organum (New Method) (1620), Rene Descartes in Discourse on the Method (1637), Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651), and Thomas Sprat in The History of the Royal Society (1667).

The first step taken by these still Christian intellectual leaders was to displace the saint or knight, and to ignore the natural philosopher, to valorize the technician as the real hero of Western Civilization.

A society cannot maintain its social cohesion unless a decisive majority of its members hold in common a number of guiding ideas and ideals. One of the necessary social ideals is a symbolic hero to embody, in a personal form, the recognized goal of the society’s endeavors. In Medieval and Early Modern Western Christendom the West’s symbolic ideal figure was the inspired saint (with the chivalrous knight as a secondary alternative). In the Late Modern Age the West has transferred its spiritual allegiance from the inspired saint to the invincible technician, and this change in Western Man’s personal ideal has produced changes in his spirit, outlook, and aims (Arnold Toynbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion [1956], 220).

The technician, not ‘the natural philosopher’, whose theories the technician translates into practice, was the new hero whom the West adopted in the later decades of the seventeenth century (220).

If the saint, in imitation of Jesus, renounced power altogether, and if the Christian knight at least subordinated it to norms of chivalry, Western intellectuals placed no such limitations on the technician. They encouraged and expected him to extend humankind’s power over creation without limit.

Their next step, oddly enough, was to create an opening for the exaltation of Vulcan, god of technology, over God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Without waiting for God to abdicate they were proclaiming His deposition; and in thus creating a spiritual interregnum they were opening the way for the enthronement of a goddess in God’s stead. This goddess whose fortune was made by the discredit and odium that had overtaken the ancestral god of Western Christendom was…Technology; and this new divinity was effectively enthroned in Western hearts although the fathers of the seventeenth-century Western spiritual revolution had had no wish to replace the deposed god of Christianity by any alternative object of worship. Technology was deified, not be Western Man’s deliberate choice, but because Religion, like Nature, abhors a vacuum (228).

[Vulcan] could not, however, be substituted for a deposed creator as a compelling object of worship unless and until the new divinity could be invested with some appearance of the omnipotence with which God the Creator had formerly been credited…(231).

By the mid-1800s, Western technological growth had exceeded everyone's wildest expectations and continued to accelerate. Western Christians responded to this wholly unprecedented technological phenomenon with genuine religious ecstasy. Vulcan in all his glory easily cast Jesus into the twilight of medieval superstition.

A Technology that had first won temperate approval in the West as a harmless hobby in which a criminal Human Nature might safely be encouraged to indulge was now fervidly admired as a magic key which was going to unlock the door into an Earthly Paradise by solving all the problems that, in pre-Newtonian ‘Days of Ignorance’, had either baffled Man or been ignored by him (233).

In the nineteenth century the West unreservedly recognized and gloried in the vast additions that the technician was making to human power by his continuing and accelerating discoveries. At this stage of Western history it was taken for granted that all additions to human power must be good, because it was assumed that…the wheels of Western Civilization had been set on lines running forward in an endless progress… (233).

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
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