Friday, August 15, 2008

Christianity and Chaotic Pantheism

Gauchet on page 203 of The Disenchantment of the World, writes, “When the gods abandon the world, when they stop coming to notify us of their otherness to it, the world itself begins to appear other, to disclose an imaginary depth that becomes the object of a special quest, containing its purpose and referring only to itself.”

If Science has abolished religion, then why hasn’t the world become populated with little Scientists? With God no longer other, the pantheistic World, nature, has become other. We are no longer theologians interested in Biblical exegesis. We now want to attune ourselves to nature, and attempt to learn its secrets by every means imaginable.

Gauchet writes, “There is a wrenching away from routine everyday life: the vertigo of the musical abyss, the poignant heights of poetry, the frantic passion of novelistic intrigue, a dreamlike absorption into the image. But there is also the open-ended attempt to evoke the other deep inside the familiar: the increasingly amazing novelty of sounds, along with their fluctuating empty evocations, the unfathomable ‘hidden world’ uncovered in the midst of a landscape seen a hundred times before, the impressionists’ magic revelation of the deeply hidden truth of an inhabited landscape. And further along we encounter the extremely disconcerting obligation to see ourselves in a surreal landscape, where radical strangeness itself surprises us and reminds us of something that we shall never know and yet are sure of. Finally, there is a representation that does not represent anything, but whose abstract interplay of lines and marks still manages to tell us about the world we live in, from outside it, and in its absence. From Balzac to Kafka, the revelation of the strange depths of a secret world lying beneath the surface of history and cities, right down to the pure evocation of an indecipherable speech and Proust’s revival of the past – all these identify those moments we traverse without experiencing in the mirror of otherness, thus bringing them to life again for us.”

How can we reconcile our scientific precision with this chaotic pantheism? Gauchet writes, “The world is to be reduced to sameness in the intelligible sphere, but revealed as other in the sensory sphere.”

Is there not room for Christianity in this mix? Science has not turned man into individuals happy with the knowledge that there is nothing beyond the laboratory. Individuals aren’t willing to stop with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus nor are they willing to follow him up his particular ladder, but they are busy erecting ladders of their own. They feel the pantheistic otherness of the world. Science fought against Christianity, so we are told, but nature has found a way. Religion albeit primitive and pantheistic will not be abolished.

Rather than hold a grudge and continue fighting absurd battles over evolution and the age of the earth, battles just about everyone else believes Science has won, let us move on and encourage the modern pagan to become reacquainted with monotheism. As long as we insist that Christianity includes a belief in Bishop-Usher-level anthropology and cosmology, we are fighting an absurd battle. This has nothing to do with the Christian message. Put all this nonsense in a package and tie it with a bow that reads, “We don’t know precisely how God did it, but we believe that he did,” and put this battle off for about 10,000 years. After we do that, we may notice the world filled with little pagans worshiping trees and forests. They wait in the desert with rapt expressions looking for supernatural beings coming in UFOs. They leap over fences in zoos to embraces grizzly bears. But they won’t turn to Christianity, because Christianity is fighting a war with Science, and they believe in Science.

Lawrence Helm

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