The Everlasting Man – Part 2, Chapter 5: The Escape From Paganism

Everlasting ManAbout a year ago I took a class dealing with Eastern Philosophy.  Not only was it different from the way I thought, it was different in the way of the Western thought.  Of course while the class was just an overview many of those in the class embraced the teachings of Buddha (even thought they only accepted what they liked) and others linked up with the teachings of Miyamoto Musashi.  One of the few things that has stayed with me form the class was the statement said by the professor (who I think had a Catholic background) was that the West would be just like the East if it was not for the church – who rescued and preserved the Western world during the medieval period.  The professor also taught medieval philosophy.

Overview of Chapter:

The path of man and the path of the God in this chapter are contrasted.  In the whole first part of this book Man’s path was shown to be a falling (sometimes slow, but mostly a plummet) away from God.  The start of the second half was God rescuing man – not only that but all the attempts of man from the first half of history were either shown as complete and utter falsehoods (that had to surrender) or were reconciled.  Yet the church at that time in history for the most part were in Europe, the East was left to itself.  Thus we can see the great schism, the East shows a world that believes in ‘nothing’ while the West believes in everything, but the church believes in the eternal.

Outline of Chapter:

There are many unique  things about the church, but the one I like to see is that it understands that its kingdom is not dependent on the worlds words.  We took the insult of ‘Little Christs’ as our namesake, brave missionaries march off to the unknown even to their deaths without making a dime for themselves, there are countless other example of people forsaking their lives, their dignity, and their honor for a greater life, greater honor, and a greater purpose.  The United States used to have the same perspective – we proudly sang the insult song ‘Yankee Doodle’ as the brave men fought during the birth-pains of our country.  My point is this: People who have a greater vision, a divine vision turn the insults of the world into praise.   Look at the East in contrast they live in perpetual fear, there is a shrine every two blocks … even more in the large populated cities.  That could have been us too of not for the church.

“If the Church had not entered the world then, it seems probable that Europe would be now very much what Asia is now. Something may be allowed for a real difference of race and environment, visible in the ancient as in the modem world. But after all we talk about the changeless East very largely because it has not suffered the great change. Paganism in its last phase showed considerable signs of becoming equally changeless. This would not mean that new schools or sects of philosophy would not arise; as new schools did arise in Antiquity and do arise in Asia. It does not mean that there would be no real mystics or visionaries; as there were mystics in Antiquity and are mystics in Asia. It does not mean that there would be no social codes, as there were codes in Antiquity and are codes in Asia. It does not mean that there could not be good men or happy lives, for God has given all men a conscience and conscience can give all men a kind of peace. But it does mean that the tone and proportion of all these things, and especially the proportion of good and evil things, would be in the unchanged West what they are in the changeless East. And nobody who looks at that changeless East honestly, and with a real sympathy, can believe that there is anything there remotely resembling the challenge and revolution of the Faith.  In short, if classic paganism had lingered until now, a number of things might well have lingered with it; and they would look very like what we call the religions of the East. There would still be Pythagoreans teaching reincarnation, as there are still Hindus teaching reincarnation. There would still be Stoics making a religion out of reason and virtue, as there are still Confucians making a religion out of reason and virtue.  There would still be Neo-Platonists studying transcendental truths, the meaning of which was mysterious to other people and disputed even amongst themselves; as the “Buddhists still study a transcendentalism mysterious to others and disputed among themselves. There would still be Apollonians apparently worshipping the sun-god but explaining that they were worshiping the divine principle Just as there are still intelligent Parsees apparently worshiping the sun but explaining that they are worshiping the deity. There would still be wild Dionysians dancing on the mountain as there are still wild Dervishes dancing in the desert. There would still be crowds of people attending the feasts of the gods, in pagan Europe as in pagan Asia. would still be crowds of gods, local and other, for them to worship. And there would still be a great many more people who worshiped them than people who believed in them. Finally there would still be a very large number of people who did worship gods and did believe in gods; and who believed in gods and worshiped gods simply because they were demons. There would still be Levantines secretly sacrificing to Moloch as there are still Thugs secretly sacrificing to Kalee. There would still be a great deal of magic; and a great deal of it would be black magic. There would still be a considerable admiration of Seneca and a considerable imitation of Nero; just as the exalted epigrams of Confucius could coexist with tortures of China. And over all that tangled forest of traditions growing wild or withering would brood the broad silence of a singular and even nameless mood; but the nearest name of it is nothing. All these things, good and bad, would have an indescribable air of being too old to die. None of these things occupying Europe in the absence of Christendom would bear the least likeness to Christendom.”

In the Axial Age (800 B.C. to 200 B.C. – before the end of the world) both the East and the West had the same philosophies.  Some have theorized that a trade route between the two brought the viewpoints and that the East influenced the West.  Although there is no proof of that theory the truth remains that there is an uncanny similarity between the two until the church exploded onto the scene.  The thing about the church is that it is unchanging, while the creations of Man change with the errant tides of popularity.

“If anybody says that philosophic maxims preserved through many ages, or mythological temples frequented by many people are things of the same class and category as the Church, it is enough to answer quite simply that they are not. Nobody thinks they are the same when he sees them in the old civilization of Greece and Rome; nobody would think they were the same if that civilization had lasted two thousand years longer and existed at the present day; nobody can in reason think they are the same in the parallel pagan civilization in the East, as it is at the present day.”

While man keeps changing the philosophies and religions he creates they still were sad.  I mean that there was no hope in them, no deliverance from the depression and the wounds in all people.  Like using an air freshener in a city dump, it just adds to the junk.  The church on the other hand is not an army per se but more like an organized rescue crew.  An army brings destruction but does not rebuild – the church destroys falsehoods but then also gives hope.  An image of the fighting church is much like when the Allies took back France in World War 2 – it was hard fought, many lives lost but it rescued a whole country and then went on to win the war.

“The Church Militant is thus unique because it is an army marching to effect a universal deliverance. The bondage from which the world is thus to be delivered is something that is very well symbolized by the state of Asia as by the state of pagan Europe. I do not mean merely their moral or immoral state. […] What that universal yet fighting faith brought into the world was hope. Perhaps the one thing common to mythology and philosophy was that both were really sad; in the sense that they had not this hope even if they had touches of faith or charity.  What the denouncer of dogma really means is not that dogma is bad; rather that dogma is too good to be true. That is, he means that dogma is too liberal to be likely. Dogma gives man too much freedom when it permits him to fall. Dogma gives even God too much freedom when it permits him to die. That is what the intelligent sceptics ought to say; and it is not in the least my intention to deny that there is something to be said for it. They mean that the universe is itself a universal prison; that existence itself is a limitation and a control; and it is not for nothing that they call causation a chain. In a word, they mean quite simply that they cannot believe these things; not in the least that they are unworthy of belief. We say, not lightly but very literally, that the truth has made us free.”

Christianity does not just give man the victory but also a reason to fight – a story.  None of the other man-made views have ever done this.  Not only that but the war between the myths and the philosophers raged on either side could not be satisfied until the church.

“One of the ablest agnostics of the age once asked me whether I thought mankind grew better or grew worse or remained the same. He was confident that the alternative covered all possibilities. He did not see that it only covered patterns and not pictures; processes and not stories. I asked him whether he thought that Mr. Smith of Golfer’s Green got better or worse or remained exactly the same between the age of thirty and forty. It then seemed to dawn on him that it would rather depend on Mr. Smith; and how he chose to go on. It had never occurred to him that it might depend on how mankind chose to go on; and that its course was not a straight line or upward or downward curve, but a track like that of a man across a valley, going where he liked and stopping where he chose, going into a church or falling drunk in a ditch. The life of man is a story; an adventure story; and in our vision same is true even of the story of God. […] There is such a thing as a human story; and there is such a thing as the divine story which is also a human story; but there is no such thing as a Hegelian story or a Monist story or a relativist story or a determinist story; for every story, yes, even a penny dreadful or a cheap novelette, has something in it that belongs to our universe and not theirs. Every short story does truly begin with creation and end with a last judgment. And that is the reason why the myths and the philosophers were at war until Christ came. That is why the Athenian democracy killed Socrates out of respect for the gods; and why every strolling sophist gave himself, the airs of a Socrates whenever he could talk in a superior fashion of the gods; and why the heretic Pharaoh wrecked his huge idols and temples for an abstraction and why the priests could return in triumph and trample his dynasty under foot; and why Buddhism bad to divide itself from Brahmanism, and why in every age and country outside Christendom there has been a feud forever between the philosopher and the priest. It is easy enough to say that the philosopher is generally the more rational; it is easier still to forget that the priest is always the more popular. For the priest told the people stories; and the philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories. It came into the world with the story of Christ”

Not only was the world given hope by Christ but it also was resurrected by Him.  People without purposes are dead, people without a story have no purpose – we now have both.

“To sum up: the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”

Thoughts:

Like a key only fits one lock, the church fits the lock of the world and opens the door of the prison we have trapped ourselves in.  The path of the world coming to grace (through the church) follows life and the famous lyrical work of John Newton.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

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