Friday, November 14, 2008

Renaissance

Experience is our greatest teacher, at least it should be, and it can be when we invest ourselves in becoming investigators of truth, students of history. Without the weight of truth, without the ballast of history, we can easily lose our center. Experience, alone, can be likened to a hot air balloon adrift in an unstable atmosphere filled with contrary currents and constantly changing thermal conditions.

The 14th – 16th centuries had their Renaissance when enlightenment supposedly came of age. Individualism was exalted. Art and architecture flourished. More than a few moral restraints were repressed and abandoned in the new light that caused older archaic thought and practice to pale. The social setting was ripe for someone in the religious realm to come along and oppose the Catholic Church and that is precisely what happened when Martin Luther, born into a peasant family in 1483, entered onto the scene.[1] Luther wasn’t the first. He just happened to prevail in his efforts.

The rest of that story is written indelible in history, generously defended by Protestants and as generously opposed by Catholics. It’s obvious that Luther had some legitimate undeniable concerns. These concerns, however, were not unique to Luther’s thought processes. They were already being taken into consideration by conservative Catholic reformers[2] whose views did not include undermining the interior unity of the Church. It’s also rather obvious, at least to me, that the developing social mindset of that time was Luther’s chief assistant in the reforms that he led, reforms that have not ceased, purportedly in the name of God, to perpetuate their schismatic nature over the course of these several centuries.

The existentialism of the past two centuries, a hybrid Renaissance, while more people than not elevate this body of ethical thought to higher planes than it deserves, exacerbates the moral dilemma of modern humanity. Aware of this ethical school of thought or not, name it for what it is or not, existentialism has rolled over modern society, Christendom included, like a giant breaking tsunami.

In an existential society there is no longer any such thing as immorality. Morals and virtue are no longer crowned as the most desirable human qualities. Since amorality, in the forms of individualism and individual rights reign, those who seek to live morally and virtuously are viewed as out of step with the times, put down, ridiculed. Gag-orders, new laws legislated that reflect the mindset of the social times, are written and placed into effect.

Despite the lessons of history, there is no need for moral restraints because morality is no longer an issue. Existential society becomes nothing more than disjointed and expressed individualism. It is no longer a cohesive unit formed around a core of moral values and Christian virtues. Existential reality, played out to its end, is nothing more than empty individualistic anarchy. Perhaps this is an extreme portrayal of existentialism. Perhaps, though, given the potential of humanity for good and for destruction, it is not.

[1] James H. Robinson’s History of Western Europe, first printed in 1902, does justice in telling the story in chapters 24 – 28.
[2] Ibid, Ch. 28