Saturday, 25 June 2011

Why is Christianity incomprehensible to the modern mind?


What I find striking about the modern mind (and I speak from fairly recent experience) is how it finds meaningless the major concepts, the vocabulary, the discourse of all previous human generations.

Not wrong, but meaningless - incomprehensible. 


It is not that people explicitly deny the existence of the soul, or a super-natural world, or continued existence after death, or objective morality ('Natural Law'), or angels, or miracles, or prophecy, or sin, or God...

It is that these things are vague, feeble, incomprehensible - they lack subjective reality.

Moderns just cannot make sense of the major concerns of previous human generations.

Such matters don't feel important - not important enough to worry about.


But why do modern people think so differently from those in the past? - how do they think so differently that past categories just dissolve away without argument.

What is it that devalues, renders nonsensical, those things which used to be considered the most important things?

What traps them - traps us - inside the bubble of our own bland detachment?


I think that the root of this is the functional specialization of discourse which characterizes the modern world.

We start out as children thinking the same way as the mass of humanity. But to become a competent adult in the modern world is to have been trained in compartmentalization of discourse.

And a side effect of specialized discourse is that general discourse become impossible.


The nature of religious, Christian, metaphysical discourse cannot be captured by specialized discourse, therefore cannot be captured by modernity; therefore is either excluded or trivialized by modernity - therefore this whole domain of life has simply dissolved away.

It is not that modernity (or 'science') has discovered that there is no soul, or God, or that reality is a matter of subjective opinion, or else a social construct - rather it is that the discourse of modernity cannot make any sense of such concepts as such - but can only evaluate them sequentially, a bit at a time, using narrow and inappropriate criteria - and inevitably reject them as meaningless, unnecessary...


The process ought to be obvious. How could science disprove religion, for example, when the very first assumption of science is to exclude religious causes explanations and use only material causes and explanations? Surely that is easy to see?

But no. People learn to do science, learn think scientifically (disciplining the spontaneous human tendency to make religious explanations for phenomena), and at some point science-thinking becomes a habit - and people 'discover' that they no longer 'need' religious causes and explanations.

All that has happened is that they have developed a habit of thinking (including the habit of excluding religious explanations); and the habit has become so ingrained and socially-supported, that they have forgotten that it is just a habit - itself having no justification other than the pragmatic.


In sum, the problem of modernity is not only that it destroys our ability to understand religion and the supernatural; but that it destroys our ability to understand anything at all - or, that 'understanding' is now framed in such a narrowly specialized sense that it becomes a matter of indifference.

Because, although we habitually regard scientific truth as being the only kind of truth which is really solid, in practice almost nobody cares about scientific truth - certainly scientists do not care about scientific truth, since they do not try to discover truth nor do they speak truthfully.

So we are in the bizarre situation that our paradigm hegemonic mode of thinking, i.e. science, has become so narrow and partial that we no longer care about scientific truth; yet the habitual exclusions which led to science have prevented us from conceptualizing what has happened.  


Modernity merely evaluates one thing in terms of another, and perpetually displaces the question.

The process is eventually circular - except that people get bored and their attention wanders before the circle is completed.

In modernity, nothing is valuable in itself, but only in promoting 'something else' - that 'something else' not being valuable in itself, but only in terms of another 'something else'.

Which is to say, everything depends on everything else.

Which is to say everything is incomprehensible - including Christianity.

Which is to say that nothing feels like it matters.