This is a subject I have been picking at for a while, and probably in various ways since my childhood. It is the political mantra proclaiming that mankind must be together and marching in lockstep in order to survive. Ideally, we human beings would love each other, exactly as Christ exhorts – to love and forgive our enemies. But, would we let our enemies into our house and tell them to help themselves? It is a wonderful dream to think of the abolition of differences of culture, religion, level of education, so that we would all walk around hand in hand like in Huxley’s Brave New World.
We churchmen also talk of the unity of the Church, reconciling different denominations and jurisdictions that have been in a state of schism from each other for centuries. Each party has to adopt the particular truth of the other(s) or come to some kind of compromise. That has been tried at various times. Ironically, the only ecclesial bodies that have some success with reconciliation efforts are those that have been alienated for only a short time and between which there are few differences other than personal issues. Such are usually moot when the persons in question die. It has worked between continuing Anglican Churches, but not between the Church of England and Methodism, the Roman Catholic Church and the Patriarchates of Moscow, Constantinople, Antioch and others. It is a good thing when reconciliations do happen and withstand the test of time, but at what cost?
What keeps human beings apart, whether they belong to churches, any other social group including the family or are affirmed as individual persons? It is invariably our condition of fallen humanity, sin and the tyranny we suffer under the strong and dominant of this world.
The two world wars, Nazism, Fascism and Soviet Communism marked mankind, either in the direction of affirming the person against the tyranny of collectivism, or devised new systems of collectivism to improve on the defects of the old ones. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley devised their novels respectively on the themes of the dystopia and the consumer utopia. The problem has not gone away, but the writing on the wall shows the progressive tightening of a system which will be that much more ruthless and efficient through the use of modern technology and communications.
Most human beings are conditioned to be social beings and to put “other people” before themselves. Who has not helped a person in danger without regard to one’s own safety? I have done it myself by rescuing a woman who attempted suicide by jumping into the Thames. I was praised for “bravery”, but in reality it was just my instinct and sense of duty. The woman was taken to hospital, as I was in the same ambulance. I received a shot of penicillin and a vaccination against tetanus, and the pieces of broken glass were carefully removed from my feet. She was kept in, and I never saw her again. She was probably humiliated and preached at, and she probably did the same thing again, except with no one to rescue her. Who knows?
We are conditioned from childhood to serve the community, think of others, do good, perform works of mercy. It is a part of the Gospel. What is not in the Gospel is subjecting the person to the collective. Most people we meet in life were born in their state of life and remain in it, and do all the expected things like getting a job, getting married and begetting children. Idealists are very rare persons indeed, and are frowned upon by the “realistic” collective, living as it is by the rules of reason, science and common sense. Politics is a human activity that is supposed to be conditioned by the common good. This is a constant principle of law. What is the common good? The problem is that it all too often becomes a euphemism for totalitarianism and tyranny. Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin justified their regimes through the notion of the common good. Take away freedom, and there will be no more sin or crime.
I am a convinced Germanophile, and have never known of a more cultured part of the world, even despite all the intestine problems leading to the unification of Germany from Luther to the aftermath of World War I. It was the country of Bach, Beethoven, the Jena Idealists, Göthe, Jakob Böhme, the Rhineland Mystics, so much holiness, depth of thought, art and culture. Yet, this was the country that followed Hitler almost to every last man, woman and child. Nietzsche’s rant against the “herd” proved right, and God died in that land. Ever since then, Germany has lived in shame, and the destruction of every last Nazi monument has done precious little to soothe the open wounds more than seventy years later. That people was enslaved by the idea of supremacy of the state over the person constituting the common good. From whence comes the absolute infallibility of the Führer and every person’s absolute and unquestioning duty of obedience. Until the concentration camps were known about and the war came, Hitler as seen as a kind benefactor of humanity who brought jobs and prosperity after the “treachery” of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. As with celebrities now, people disregarded his words and hung onto his image and symbolism. It is easy for us to judge in hindsight, but many did resist and gave their lives for it.
All the way through our society, we see the subtle signs of collectivism: corporate management, bureaucracy, groupthink, fear of being alienated. It is in the fabric of our civilisation, even in the Churches, in the way we are brought up and educated at school. Right the way through history, humanity has oscillated between idealism and realism, individualism (personalism) and collectivism, obedience and creative inspiration, aristocracy / nobility of the spirit and the commonplace role in the community, even “active” and “passive”. The idealist creates and stands out. He needs independence above all and does not seek power over others. He is self-employed rather than being an indentured servant of a boss in a company. The collective realist needs a Führer, a director, a manager, a set of stupid rules to motivate his work as an operative. He needs regulations and the kind of authority that takes away initiative as well as humanity. Society built for the needs of the “passive” and collectivist cog in the machine is run by the principles of socialism. More than robbing the rich to help the poor, the Welfare State saps humanity and lives like a vampire for its own sake. This is the reality of the USA, increasingly, and the European Union. The collective exists to destroy the person and all creativity. This happens in many ways, too many to be described here.
My whole ministry is geared towards extending a hand to the noble of spirit, the person who has understood something and has emerged from the “house of the blind”. This does not mean that I would not hear the confession of a man or woman in the street or minister as an ordinary priest is asked to do so. Simple and poor people can be noble of spirit and often are. It means that I have learned something from the demise of “mainstream” Christianity under the weight of its own collectivism, and that we have to be creative. My standing here in modern rural France is such that the collective person is deterred from going to some “odd” or “eccentric” church and would prefer to abstain from religious services altogether. There is no sign saying “Noble of spirit only”, but no “noble of spirit” seem to live in my neighbourhood. They are elsewhere and are reached with this technological marvel of the internet.
I am discovering a revival of philosophical Idealism, largely through quantum physics and biocentrism, and its being popularised and brought closer to some rational understanding. I am not a physicist and my knowledge of science is what I learned at school and on the internet. I am more interested in philosophy and the way man has reacted to the coldest and most godless systems of human rationalism and materialism, the very forces that led to Robespierre and the guillotine. Philosophical circles in universities are discovering the merits of Idealism from Kant to what some call Post-modernism, and that the tyranny of pragmatic realism is being challenged from its monopoly since the 1920’s. I am encouraged, but I have to spend hours reading and catching up, trying to learn things I neglected as a theological student at Fribourg. Reardon’s Religion in the Age of Romanticism is a great help as is The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy, edited by Dalia Nassar, Oxford 2014.
I am finding this book amazingly encouraging. I bought the e-book for about € 20 and it is quite challenging to read it on my mobile phone, because hard copies are exorbitantly expensive. A central theme is that Romanticism and Idealism are relevant to our present time and not discredited by developments like Existentialism, Post-structuralism and Post-modernism. I am confident that it will be a real eye-opener for me.
Idealism represents the few and pragmatic / realist / cynical collectivism pervades our society and its mass media communications. I don’t expect we will win, but probably be the first victims of a future purge by the likes of Kim Jong Un or whoever does a pact with the Devil to rule the world. Idealists generally care little for their own lives, fearful only of those who can break our spirit. Some countries are, or have been, more favourable to the idealist – the USA and England. The rights of the person are inscribed in the constitutional law of those countries, but in practice, things are now very different. In reality, there is nowhere in this world. Freedom is only within, as is the Kingdom of God.
My commitment to this worldview goes back to my childhood intuitions and even obsessions. My autism seems to present a predisposition and a potential from which I have the responsibility of bringing this vocation and calling to fruition, both through my priesthood in the Church and also as a human being on the periphery of society. There is only so much we can do for the world that is as indifferent, uncaring and mechanical as the materialistic notion of the black and forbidding rocks in the universe. This world portrays sensitivity as a weakness to be beaten out of us. Idealism is naïve and an easy catch for the con-man. Candour becomes a luxury we can dispense with. From such a point of view, the world is ready for the next Hitler or the Antichrist! On the other hand, God sanctifies the lower to raise it to himself. Idealism can all too easily become cynicism (in its modern meaning), as caricatured by Oscar Wilde: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing”. We are faced with “realism” all the time and we are brainwashed into believing that it is the reality, that the weak are food for the strong. We become distrusting and ultimately end up mad like Nietzsche. Idealism is that child-like quality of which Christ spoke, making us apt for the Kingdom of God. We must keep it at all costs. Our salvation depends on it.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.