Scriptures of the secular age

Scriptures has always held an important role in human culture and society. Scriptures, sacred texts of various religions, promoted a set of non-negotiable principles on which to construct a worldview. Our collective history shows us that we are peculiarly dogmatic creatures. So much so that G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.”

Scriptures or dogmas (among many other things) fulfill 2 important functions in human society. It provides a set of common precepts or beliefs which serves as a framework upon which a culture is developed. To paraphrase, it provides a set of non-negotiable, self-evident, absolute truths which become the foundation on which human societies, cultures and nations are formed. Scriptures provided eternal truths to its subscribers.

Furthermore, no scripture was ever written simply as a list. The truth that it represented was always communicated as a part of a story. A narrative. A myth. It may be a complete fabrication as it was the case with Greek mythology or it may be based on a historical narrative as it is the case with Judaism and Christianity. Whatever the case may be, scriptures were generally not communicated as mere lists of absolute truths. The truths were always communicated in the context of a story. And they can only be interpreted and understood in the context of that story. And when interpreted in the context of that story, the truths fused the story with a meaning. The truth gave meaning to the lives of people in that story. This is the second function of scriptures. To provide meaning. And isn’t that the eternal human quest? To find the meaning of life? If it is so, then the fundamental longings of the human hearts are eternally linked with scriptures.

It is no secret that our post-modern, post-truth society has rejected the notion of absolute truth. It is a widely held belief that truth, and especially moral truth is only subjective and relative. That what’s true for you may not be true for me and vice versa. What this means is that dogmas or principles as laid out in scriptures no longer provide the framework on which to build the cultural values (or the melting “pot”) of the society. And advocating universal moral values based on a certain religion has become the intellectual equivalent of committing a political suicide. As a consequence of the absence of commonly held dogmas within a culture, the ideal of pluralism has become the driver of sectarianism instead of liberty. By the minute, the secular society is becoming ever so fragmented.

In this context, I want to draw your attention to a very peculiar phenomena that is being experienced around the world. In olden days, what was shown on screen was judged based on scriptures. Now, what is shown on the screen judges the scriptures. In days past, the content of any movie or TV serials was judged by the scriptures of a culture to be moral or immoral. Now the roles have been reversed and it is interesting to see how whole worldviews are being re-interpreted and re-aligned to comply with what is shown on the screen. The rise of Trump, the sexual revolution of the west, even the rise of suicide rates around the world can reasonably be traced back to the power of the screen. But I must ask, why does the screen hold such power?

Historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens: A Brief history of Humankind promotes the idea that the secret glue that is binds the human culture and society is a myth, a story. When people believe the same story or a myth they come together and work towards a world that the myth promotes. Even Nietzsche in his Parable of the Madman where he declared the death of God asks, “What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?” Having declared the death of God, Nietzsche immediately asks what new myths will need to be invented to take the place of God? Both of these great thinker seem to suggest that without a unifying myth, Human civilization will break down.

Earlier I pointed out that the scriptures provide 1) common absolute truths and 2) context within which the meaning of life can be found. But the scriptures are nothing more than the container for the myth. Religious texts are prime examples of such myths and we can see it’s power throughout history. But as the dogmas and myths of the old are being driven out of the mental landscape of culture, it has created a want of meaning. People are quite content making up their own truths but these truths without the context of a narrative have no way to provide meaning. Recently in a TED talk, Chris Anderson, the prime curator of TED asked, “What are humans for?” as a question that’s been haunting him in recent years.

Today, media houses around the world are churning out myths at an unprecedented scale. Even elections around the world are being won or lost based on who’s myth is more appealing to the masses. The myth doesn’t need to be true to gain momentum, it only has to be appealing. Because “the need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning.” as Hannah Arendt pointed out. Truth and Meaning are two different entities. And humans at an existential level are more concerned about meaning than truth. Having abolished the traditional myths, the hunger for meaning has become a cultural phenomena rather than an individual crisis. Is it any wonder that facts and truth holds less weight in public discourse? Today, we have amassed more knowledge than any point in human history and still the metaphysical question of meaning continues to haunt the masses.

Having denied the “True Myth” people continue to look for other myths that may provide meaning to their lives. The screen provides myths in abundance. And thus the masses turn towards the screen as if it is the oracle of God. Peering intently into it as it narrates the myth of the secular dogma. Because the scriptures of our secular age are not written on pages. They are shown on the screen.

The Fallacy of Social Evolution

First of all, let me define my terms. What do I mean by social evolution? Well, it’s a close companion to the theory of evolution. It basically states that all of our social behaviors have evolved for millions of years and are still evolving. You should note that this evolution has no direction. It doesn’t understand if it’s going up or down or left or right or if it’s going round and round. It is basically a balloon full of hot air which goes wherever the wind blows.

But, according to this particular theory, a few thousand years ago, someone tied a rope to that balloon. Then someone tied another and another and then they kept tying ropes for a few thousand years. Now, the balloon couldn’t go wherever it wanted to. Rather, it is controlled by the people that tie and cut the ropes. Generally, the system that handles tying and cutting the ropes is known as the government.

Now, the government in the 21st century is largely influenced by the people that are governed. If the people don’t like the government, they stage a coup d’etat and overthrow whoever is governing. Egypt is a recent example. And then, the people have the power to bind and loosen the ropes that lets the balloon float.

That is a quite convenient arrangement. What it means is, now we have the power to shape tomorrow’s world. Now, there is a social organism which controls it’s own social evolution. That is quite interesting. It is also quite intoxicating. It feels good to be in power.

Now let me get to the point. The world I see around me fits the last description. Humans do have the power to shape tomorrow. But what I don’t agree with is the beginning. The Darwinian theory of evolution. Because the Darwinian theory of evolution and social evolution are quite contradictory. I don’t mean to say that a thing such as a contradiction exists in the world of Darwinian evolution, however, it does exist in the world where I live.

Where is this contradiction? I’ll tell you. We all know that humans have an inherent desire to do good. Even the bad things that people do must have some element of goodness in it. So, when we try to shape the tomorrow by forming laws, we desire to make the world better. Not worse. But good and bad don’t exist in the naturalistic world. So then, what the heck is Joe doing forming laws?

But since I am feeling generous today, let’s grant a morality to naturalistic philosophy. Suppose that good and bad is the product of evolution. So, we have a set of standards defined by a blind process of which one we don’t like and one we strive for. Alright. But if that’s the case then we are actually being controlled by the process of evolution and we aren’t actually shaping the world of tomorrow. We are just playing out a script that has been written by a blind process which in all probability does not exist. We are the puppets and the universe is pulling the strings. You know, there is a word for it. Fatalism. Where Dr. Fate decides everything and you don’t have the freedom to choose anything.

So, any way you look at it, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating through and through. BUT, (and it’s a big but) it seems that it is true. We just need to look at our history to know that mankind has actually shaped the world we see around us today. So, maybe it is true. If you have read so far, you must be wondering what does it mean? Why is it important?

It is important because we are shaping the world of tomorrow. With each action, we are changing the world. However, it is more important today that it was before because of the prevalence of the scientific methodology in the modern thought. I don’t mean to say that the scientific methodology is wrong. It is perfect. But I’m not sure if that is the right methodology to apply in the regards of social or cultural reform.

The reason is, science helps you determine a certain category of truth. Namely about the physical world. However, there are certain things that science can not tell you. It can’t tell you the meaning of love (or meaning of anything for that matter). It can only help you gather information. Nothing else. The scientific methodology consists of trial and error. In layman’s terms, it is about gathering data from experiments and then refining those experiments to reach the truth.

However, this particular method itself is problem for social evolution. Because it means experimenting with society. With people. Testing on human subjects without their informed consent is considered a crime. Still it’s ok to do so under the label of social evolution. In social matters, it is better to find the right way without experimenting. Otherwise, humanity will incur a great loss.

Supposing that any civilization tries to go by the literal meaning of social evolution and tries to find the ideal government or society. If a society goes in the search of utopia, who guarantees that it will ever get there? Who’s to say that they will not fall into the thousand pitfalls of all the modern and ancient philosophies and become just another casualty? Just a tragic tale telling others to not go by a certain route? Just another case study at a community college?

Who can by certainty say that such a system even exists? And who is to say that with our finite knowledge and understanding we will ever find it if it exists? Who is to say that we will not keep trying the wrong way until every single one of us ceases to exist? Modern thinkers say, “Our morality is constantly evolving. What is good today might not be good tomorrow!” All I can say to them is, “Nonsense! You were a good thinker yesterday but today you are not!”

This is the problem with our generation. We don’t know the truth and we don’t know what is truth. I wrote a story to illustrate what I have said in this post. There can be a thousand wrong ways in which humans may try to evolve the society into. However, there can be only one right way. There are many angles at which one can fall but only one angle at which one can stand.

This is one basic property of truth. Truth is exclusive and it eliminate all falsehood. Once you know the truth, you can tell what is false. A single truth can eliminate a thousand lies however a thousand lies can not point towards a single truth. The scientific method is not a reasonable method for social reform. For it assumes nothingness in the beginning, it will lead to nothingness in the end.

What then, can be the solution? Should we just settle for things just as they are? By no means. I said, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating. Not in the theistic framework. In theistic framework, social reform is possible. However, it is not evolution. For one, unlike evolution, it has definite goal. It is reformation rather than evolution. I told you that I wrote a story. Go read that if you haven’t.

Read it? No? Go read that. I’ll wait.

Waiting…

At this time, we do not need to figure out the thousands of ways in which the civilization can fall. We need one way where it can stand. Since the theories like the one that I have just discussed makes it crystal clear that we do not know which way we should be going, it’s obvious that we should take advice from someone who does know.

Did you notice the description of the stranger in that story? A stranger that fell from the sky an instant before! Someone who knew the way and was willing enough to help him. Someone who cared enough to come down to earth to help him.

Well that story never ever took place, however something similar took place in our world. Check your history books. About 2000 years ago, you will find a figure in history that has changed the whole world. His legacy is unparalleled. In 3 and a half years of public ministry, he turned all the philosophies of the world upside down. He showed us a model to live by. Philosophers searched for truth. He claimed to be the truth. The atheistic thinkers of the 21st century talk about a world constantly changing, evolving in God knows what! But for past 2000 years, his figure, his message and his impact has stayed constant.

Only in what he says, I see hope for our world. Only in him I see the remedy for our society. Only in his teachings I see a way to change our corrupt nation. Let the darkness be pierced by the shining light of his glory. Let the nation be conquered by his love. Let his body prepare for the coming battle. Let the church arise!