dimanche 21 août 2016

Dooyeweerd: Disclosure of an Apostate Culture: The Enlightenment

Photo: F.MacFhionnlaigh
The following is a short extract from Herman Dooyeweerd's book: 
“Roots of Western Culture: 
Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options”
A pdf (file 11 meg) of the book can be freely downloaded

Disclosure of an Apostate Culture

     The apostate direction of faith always reveals itself in deification and absolutization of certain aspects of creation. If apostate faith leads the opening of culture, then it breaks the norm of cultural economy, which results in a sharp disharmony in cultural life.

     Let us briefly summarize our earlier discussions dealing with the norm of cultural economy. Searching for a criterion to distinguish a healthy progressive direction from a reactionary direction in historical development, I pointed out that God placed historical development under norms and standards. These norms must be discovered in the complete coherence of the divine creation order; that is, they must be explored in the various relations that tie together the historical and the other aspects of temporal reality. We noted that in a closed and primitive condition culture displays an undifferentiated character. It is utterly closed off from fruitful cultural intercourse with nations that are included in the process of world history. Tradition is all-powerful in such cultures, and the entire communal life of primitive peoples is in the grasp of a pagan belief in nature which in its closed state makes a true opening of culture impossible.

     We also found that the first criterion for detecting a genuine opening of culture lies in the norm of differentiation. This norm consists in the creationally grounded principle of sphere sovereignty which holds that God created everything after its kind. Specifically, we found that the principle of sphere sovereignty reveals itself in its historical aspect through the norm of cultural differentiation which holds that a true opening of culture is possible only when it unfolds itself into the differentiated spheres of the state, the church, science, art, industry, commerce, and so forth. Although each differentiated sphere reveals its own inherent nature and possesses its own historical power sphere, a differentiation process, according to the order established by God, can unfold only if the norm of cultural economy is obeyed. This norm, which expresses the coherence between the historical and economic aspects of reality, implies that every excessive expansion of the power of a given differentiated sphere conflicts with harmonious cultural development and occurs at the expense of a healthy growth of other spheres. Because it incites a reaction from the threatened spheres, cultural disharmony avenges itself in the world judgment of history. At this point we can pull our argument together: the excessive expansion of power within a given cultural sphere always occurs under the guidance of an apostate faith which absolutizes and deifies such a cultural sphere.

Example: The Enlightenment

     Consider, for instance, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, when a humanistic faith in the omnipotence of the modern science of nature dominated western culture. The Enlightenment ideal was to control reality by discovering the laws of nature. It was assumed that such control was possible because natural laws determined the course of events in a closed chain of cause and effect. The method of the new science of nature was foisted on the other sciences. It consisted in analyzing complex phenomena into their "simplest parts" whose relations could be determined by mathematical equations.

     One can hardly deny that the natural sciences developed immensely under the influence of Enlightenment humanism. But behind the investigations stood a religiously dynamic force: the humanistic science ideal. It influenced even Christian scientists, although some — think of Pascal — strongly protested the overextension of natural-scientific methods.

     The historical influence of the science ideal was not limited to the cultural sphere of science. Driven by faith, the ideal reached out to every other cultural area. "Enlightenment" through advance in science was the slogan of the day. All "progress" of humanity was expected from the rational explanation of science. Every aspect of human society was viewed in terms of the "natural-scientific method." Society itself required dissection into its "simplest elements": individuals. The new method led to an individualistic view of human society that was oblivious to the inner nature of different societal relationships, such as the church, the state, and the family. Moreover, morality became thoroughly individualistic, built on the superficial ethical principle of utility. Enlightenment faith entered the churches in the form of "modernism," ruining the Christian faith wherever it gained influence. In economic life it enthroned the homo economicus, the fictitious person motivated exclusively by private economic self-interest. Even art did not escape the influence of this new faith; it was straitjacketed into the rigid, rationalistic forms of "classicism." In short, healthy, harmonious development of culture was prevented by the impact of natural science which went far beyond its limits at the expense of other spheres of western civilization.

     There is indeed another side to our assessment of the Enlightenment faith. We would be entirely amiss if we failed to recognize its great significance for the unfolding of western civilization. The Enlightenment was formative in history and active in opening culture beyond the scope of natural science and technology based on that science. With respect to economics it opened the way for developing individual initiative which, in spite of its originally individualistic emphasis, greatly advanced industrial life. With respect to the legal order it pleaded untiringly not only for the establishment of the individual rights of man, which form the foundation of today's civil law, but also for the elimination of undifferentiated juridical relations that treated parts of governmental authority as "commercial objects." The Enlightenment also laid many cornerstones for the modern constitutional state (Rechtsstaat). In the area of criminal law it contributed to the introduction of more humane treatment, to the abolishment of the rack, and to the elimination of witch trials. Without ceasing it pleaded for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In all these areas the Enlightenment could contribute to authentic historical formation because it followed the path of genuine cultural disclosure. Its revolutionary ideas, in their actualization, had to be adjusted to the divine ordinances. In its power struggle against tradition, these ideas were bent under the pressure of the norm of historical continuity, with the result that they lost their moments of subjective arbitrariness. The Enlightenment also had to adapt itself to the influence of the Reformation which, even though it played only a secondary role, still asserted itself in historical development.

     But the dark side of the Enlightenment contribution to the disclosure of western culture consists in the dissolving impact of its individualism and rationalism which resulted in a severe disharmony of western society. The "judgment" in world history was executed over the Enlightenment and quite understandably elicited the reaction of historicism with its overestimation of the human community. However, a truly biblical view of history must not, in its battle against Enlightenment ideas, seek accommodation with historicism which opposed the Enlightenment in a reactionary manner. A truly scriptural view of history cannot deny the fruitful and beneficial elements of the historical influence of the Enlightenment. Like the sound elements of the historicistic view of reality, they must be valued as the fruits of common grace.

     Every cultural movement, however inimical to God in its apostasy, must be properly acknowledged for its historical merits to the extent that it has indeed contributed to cultural disclosure — a matter that must be assessed in the light of the divinely posited norms for the development of culture. For a truly scriptural view of history cannot be bigoted and narrowminded. It shares neither the optimistic faith in a rectilinear progress of man nor the pessimistic belief in the imminent decline of the West. Behind the great process of cultural development it recognizes the battle in the root of creation between the civitas Dei and the civitas terrena, the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and the kingdom of darkness. It knows that this battle was decided at Golgotha and that the victory of the Kingdom of God is sure. It knows that the great antithesis between the ground motive of the divine revelation of the Word and the ground motive of the apostate spirit operates in the power struggle for the future of western civilization. It knows too that God uses the apostate powers in culture to further unfold the potentials which he laid in the creation.

     Through blood and tears, through revolution and reaction, the process of historical development moves on to the day of judgment. The Christian is called, in the name of Him to whom all authority in heaven and on earth was given, to take part in the great power struggle of history with the commitment of his entire personality and all his powers. The outcome is sure, and this gives the Christian, no matter what turn particular events may take, a peace and rest that befit a conqueror.

The Radical Challenge of the Word of God

     We have seen that the ground motive of the Christian religion—creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ—is a spiritual dynamic which transforms one's entire view of reality at its root as soon as it lays full claim on one's attitude to life and thought. We have also seen that the Christian ground motive moulds our view of history, for it offers us a criterion to distinguish truly progressive and disguised reactionary trends. We have recognized the all-embracive significance of the Christian ground motive for the burning issues of the "new age." We have understood how this ground motive unmasks today's dangerous community ideology and its totalitarian tendencies. We have noted that the Christian ground motive posits the unshakable firmness of God's creation order in opposition to the so-called dynamic spirit of our times which refuses to recognize firm foundations of life and thus sees everything "in change." We have come to know the divine radicality of this ground motive that touches the religious root of our lives. We have, I hope, come to realize that the Christian ground motive permits no dualistic ambiguity in our lives, no "limping with two different opinions" [cf. I Kings 18:21]

     Consider the cost of taking this radically scriptural Christianity seriously. Ask yourself which side you must join in the tense spiritual battle of our times. Compromise is not an option. A middle-of-the-road stance is not possible. Either the ground motive of the Christian religion works radically in our lives or we serve other gods. If the antithesis is too radical for you, ask yourself whether a less radical Christianity is not like salt that has lost its savour. I state the antithesis as radically as I do so that we may again experience the full double-edged sharpness and power of God's Word. You must experience the antithesis as a spiritual storm that strikes lightning into your life and that clears the sultry air. If you do not experience it as a spiritual power requiring the surrender of your whole heart, then it will bear no fruit in your life. Then you will stand apart from the great battle the antithesis always instigates. You yourself cannot wage this battle. Rather, the spiritual dynamic of the Word of God wages the struggle in us and pulls us along despite our "flesh and blood."

     My effort to impress upon us the scope of the antithesis is also directed at committed Christians. I believe that if Christianity had held fast to the ground motive of God's Word, and to it alone, we never would have witnessed the divisions and schisms that have plagued the church of Christ. The source of all fundamental schisms and dissensions is the sinful inclination of the human heart to weaken the integral and radical meaning of the divine Word. The truth is so intolerable for fallen man that when it does take hold of him he still seeks to escape its total claim in every possible way.

     The creation motive strikes this fallen world so awesomely that man sees himself in utter desolation before God, from whom he can never escape. Think of the powerful words of Psalm 139:
Whither can I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither can I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.
     Man cannot sustain one atom of his existence before the Creator as his own property. Nowhere in creation can man find a refuge which might provide a hiding place for his sinful existence independent of God. Man cannot bear this.

     The threefold ground motive of the Word is an indivisible unity. When one slights the integral character of the creation motive, the radical sense of fall and redemption becomes incomprehensible. Likewise, whoever tampers with the radical meaning of fall and redemption cannot experience the full power and scope of the creation motive. 

(Herman Dooyeweerd, "Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options", pp 105-109) NB This book has been republished (with textual revision) by Paideia Press, 2012.
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