SEKHMET ATTENDS LOW MASS IN THE CHURCH OF PROGRESS
We left Sekhmet, in Sekhmet Speaks 2, looking into the question: Is the Church of Progress really a church? She had concluded that the Church qualified as a Church on the philosophical level.
To recapitulate: If, as a starting point, we concentrate on religion's primary metaphysical function and call it, 'a system of undemonstrable beliefs held without reference to physical evidence,' theologians might not like it very much but we think it unlikely that Rationalists would object. Yet they subscribe to just such a system of undemonstrable beliefs --the Credo of meaningless described earlier (There is a vast literature, much of it written by eminent, if marginally heretical, scientists and philosophers proving this point from many different angles.)
This Credo has dispensed with the usual reliance upon a Divine, transcendent, indivisible, undemonstrable god and substituted no less undemonstrable, indivisible but untranscendent Coincidence as creator -- the whole doctrine patched together with the Krazy Glue of Neo-Darwinian evolution. But there is nothing rational or scientific about that either.
Rationalists claim that the inability to prove Divine intention proves the lack of intention; that the inability to prove purpose, proves purposelessness. This is obvious sophistry. If you cannot prove you have been faithful to your wife, does this mean you have been unfaithful?
We cannot physically prove intention or purpose on the human level, much less the Divine, yet we would have precious little science without it.
Moreover, to qualify as science, following the Rationalists' own precepts, that very lack of intention and purposelessness must itself be demonstrable, measurable, predictable and replicable. Of course it is not, nor can it be, for the simple reason that these criteria are value judgments, by definition beyond the pale of both experimental and theoretical science. So the insistence upon accident and purposelessness, and upon reason in turn is metaphysics in its own right, a set of unprovable assumptions, no more and no less metaphysical than the acknowledged metaphysical systems of other religions, differing from them only in that the assumption are wholly nihilistic.
Demonstrability, replicability, etc. represent decisions; decisions made by the priesthood to distinguish between what deserves inclusion in the 'real world' and what does not. But following definitions laid down by Church atheologians themselves, a decision, any decision, cannot help but be a value judgment. Since values are purely subjective, (according to the Church of Progress but not according to most other religions) they have no objective reality, and therefore play no part in the 'real world'. Thus, ironically, according to its own standards, this Church is as subjectively based as those it disavows. And therefore it, like the others, is rooted irrevocably in physical unreality. The Credo is neither science not reason; it is merely what most scientists happen to believe.
So, seen as a system of undemonstrable belief Rationalism stands exposed as a religion. However, when Rationalism is commonly criticized as a religion, its critics are often referring to a corrupt and tyrannical institution set up to preserve those beliefs from heresy or other forms of attack rather than a metaphysical doctrine. In other words, these critics are drawing parallels to the political rather than the philosophical aspects of the church. This accusation is equally valid, and it has been leveled often, even from within its own priesthood. The parallels between this modern day Church of Progress and the organized Church of Rome at its worst are legion but both diffused and concealed. The relatively clear-cut roles played by the Pope and College of Cardinals in deciding upon what is dogma and in enforcing those decisions no longer exist. There is no formal hierarchical structure to lay down the law. The Church of Progress (usually but not always) eschews bulls, edicts and encyclicals and its unspoken agenda -to enforce belief- is never acknowledged. Though no less pervasive and invasive to society as a whole, the C. of P. extends its influence on a tacit, consensual basis through its three separate but complementary orders of Jesuits: Science, Education and the Press.
For two centuries, these have been the forces or institutions that have shaped Western society, and consequently the rest of the world. While their power is universally recognized, they are seldom examined within their rightful religious context: as guardians and proselytizers of the Church of Progress. In a nutshell: Science calls the tune, Education plays it, the Press gives it rave reviews. For over two centuries the three have worked closely hand in hand. But that spirit of cooperation is not quite what it used to be.
THE JESUIT ORDER OF SCIENCE
Though the Church of Progress insists its dogma is based upon science, this is not true, and has not been true for almost a century. The energetic rather than material nature of matter contravenes the Church's simple-minded materialism while its fundamental premise of a mechanical, accidental universe has been challenged from within its own ranks by at least a few of its own most eminent physicists and biologists. As bookstores add metaphysical sections to cater to the exponentially growing interest, there is often a separate shelf devoted to titles exploring the relationships between metaphysics and the expanding frontiers of science.
The important point to make here is that the latest findings of science not only fail to support the basic materialist dogma of the Church of Progress, but in many instances, particularly in physics and biology, they appear to contravene it. Most of these ideas have not yet made significant inroads into education or the press. They are too complex, too remote and too philosophically abstruse to unsettle the rank and file of Church unfaithful. On the other hand, the hero worship science enjoyed through all of the 19th and most of the 20th Century is no longer unconditional. Over the past several decades, a number of heavily funded glossy magazines intended to make the wonders of science intelligible to the educated lay reader have foundered. Editorials in those that survive repeatedly stress the difficulty of attracting high level students to science. The authors imagine it is the science programs that are to blame, but actually it is science itself, this secular, earth-bound science that even on its highest and purest level, concerns itself with practically nothing that matters to human life.
Science still commands considerable popular respect, but some of the glamor has gone, and much of the trust. As the dire ecological and environmental consequences of two hundred years of unrestrained science-based technology come home to roost, science is saddled with a measure of the blame. Its authority is on the wane. So even though the general public has been hoodwinked into thinking that science still backs up Church of Progress dogma, that support does not mean what it once did. As far as the Church is concerned, Science today is almost as much figurehead as formulator. It therefore falls largely upon Education and the Press to inculcate, foster and maintain the unfaith among the general public.
THE JESUIT ORDER OF EDUCATION
What is called Education is not education in any meaningful sense of the word (derived from educere, to lead forth.) In reality it is no more than a vast seminary program, designed to select and develop candidates for the Church of Progress priesthood, while producing a docile, unquestioning laity. The original Jesuits used to boast, 'Give us the child until he's seven years old and he'll be ours for life,' (or words to that effect). In principle, the Jesuits of today's Church of Progress educational programs would seem to wield even more decisive influence. They have us in their power for at least twelve years, often for sixteen or more, and during the first twelve we have the various elements of the church Credo drummed into our heads without respite. Neo- Darwinian evolution (evolution as a chance process) is taught as though it were fact. Progress is taught as though it were manifest destiny. All past civilizations are presented as though they were but misconceived dry runs for the technological age that superceded them. All that is not science is presented as superstition, with the possible exception of Western secular art and literature --which enjoy a certain status as harmless diversions from the ongoing serious business of science/technology. (In The New York Times the section devoted to the arts is called Arts and Leisure. Imagine the ruckus if the section devoted to science were called Science and Tinkering.) No hint is ever given that other points of view exist, and may be held even within the Church itself.
While Progress is supposed to be furthered through the free interchange of ideas, our extended introduction to Progress, through education, is as thorough a form of brainwashing as anything devised by those earlier Jesuits, or for that matter anything existing under oppressive ideological political systems that make no pretense of open- mindedness. Even so, the advantage enjoyed by modern educators over these others is more apparent than real.
Like all religious institutions, this Church is viable only insofar as its truths appear immutable, and the philosophy based upon its truths coincides with real or perceived human needs. To survive and prosper the Church (any church) must inspire allegiance, devotion, faith --coercion will take it only so far. But there are psychological as well as logical problems confronting a Church forced by its own atheology to demand a fervent belief in disbelief (in everything save Reason of course, and the various elements of the Credo).
As is so often the case with this religion that calls itself 'Rationalism', a deceptive nomenclature confuses what would otherwise be much clearer. A belief in something is called 'credulity'. Credulity retains its hold through 'faith' which must play no part in the life of the rational human being. On the other hand, the no less passionate and equally undemonstrable belief in nothing is called Reason. Reason is sustained through the diligent exercise of skepticism But the role skepticism plays in a society dominated by the Church of Progress is rarely recognized for what it is: a euphemism for negative credulity, or cynicism, which manifests invariably in shrill debunkery -- as anyone who has looked into the evidence for such diverse topics as astrology, the paranormal, UFO'S, crop circles, lost civilizations and alternative medicine knows full well. (Later, Sekhmet will take a skeptical look at skepticism itself)
This attitude has nothing whatever to do with a keen critical sense --perhaps the last quality the Jesuits of Education care to inculcate. For a keen critical sense along with knowledge of the metaphysical and historical alternatives to the Church of Progress Credo would lead swiftly to mass defections. As it stands, cynicism and the need to debunk what cannot be incorporated into the Credo is certainly a frequent corollary of a modern upbringing.
But it is far from universal. That renaissance of interest in spiritual matters gathers strength in direct defiance to Church indoctrination. This amounts to heresy, and is treated accordingly. But meanwhile, even the ongoing campaign carried out by Education, designed to inculcate negative credulity produces wide-scale unexpected effects, effects that are not specifically heretical but nevertheless counterproductive to Church goals.
The intellectually incurious respond to the Church in any case only on its bread-and- circuses level: the cheap thrill of technology. For this majority, church allegiance is maintained only through perpetually re-stimulated enthusiasm (the space program, for example, is the psychological equivalent of selling indulgences and the easy remission of sins that the corrupt Church of Rome resorted to when it was losing its grip -- though the discovery of what appear to be artificial structures on Mars puts a whole different spin on what would otherwise be bread and circuses and of course is treated accordingly: with abuse and/or calculated neglect, a form of consensus censorship). Yet widespread public enthusiasm and interest in space exploration is accompanied by little passionate unfaith. Indeed, many at this level of comprehension accept material C. of P. benefits and, ingrates that they are, violently reject its metaphysics and embrace the mindless evangelical religion that is the other side of the same counterfeit coin.
Most of the intellectually better-equipped also resist deep educational indoctrination. Some vestige of good sense, or perhaps merely an instinct for self preservation combined with insensitivity, allows them to direct their energies toward ambition or success. They live out their lives, perhaps aware that something is awry but yet not sufficiently disturbed to track it to its spiritual source. It is perhaps this that Thoreau had in mind when he said 'most men lead lives of quiet desperation'. By more contemporary thinkers, and especially by politicians, a life lived according to such values is often called 'the pursuit of the American Dream.'
The chief victims of an education that deifies skepticism are, of course, the sensitive. For the only legitimate emotional response to the negative metaphysics of Rationalism is despair (the Existentialists were quite right on this point, wrong chiefly in the direction they took to find a solution). Despair takes many forms among the young, not all of them commonly recognized as despair. The rapid increase in teenage suicide is the most dramatic; drugs are the most obvious; with apathy, rebellion, violence, and an aimless, frenetic hedonism close behind. All happen because of, not in spite of, modern education.
If proof of this sweeping assertion is required, you need only look at what happens when the Church of Progress converts a tribal, or so-called 'primitive' society to its values, or even when it supersedes a highly sophisticated and intellectual but non- technological society. The results are invariable: suicide, drugs, apathy, violence, rebellion and an aimless, frenetic hedonism. (See the telling indictment in anthropologist John H. Bodley's VICTIMS OF PROGRESS, Benjamin Cummings, 1982)
Modern education is to the mind what AIDS is to the immune system. Prolonged, repeated exposure enhances the danger. And all of us, without exception, are called to skepticism (who can avoid going to school?). Yet, miraculously, not that many are chosen. Susceptibility varies widely, and seems mainly restricted to a certain psychological type. Happily for the future of humanity, skeptics cannot be produced at will through education; not in the kind of numbers that ensure the continued hegemony of the Church. While none escape unscathed, many escape. The creative, the courageous and the lucky do not cave in under the strain. They zero in, more or less swiftly, more or less accurately on the problem, locate its source and look elsewhere --often into the past-- for those true, spiritual values that alone can produce and sustain normal functioning human beings. The restoration and restatement of those values in acceptable contemporary form is the real challenge facing humanity. The various catastrophes threatening our planet are all, without exception, results, not causes. All follow naturally, inescapably from adherence to the debased, joyless, negative metaphysics espoused by the Church of Progress in the name of Reason. When and if different values prevail, different results will follow from them... whoops! Sekhmet sees she is running out of room. She will deal with the Jesuits of the Press, with skepticism and self-styled skeptics and with the C. of P.'s Unholy Office, or Chamber of the Inquisition in upcoming essays.
©2002 - 2016 John Anthony West