“Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!” (Rocky Balboa, 2006)
Man’s true nature is known only by the light of Death and Resurrection. It is redemption down to the bottom and up to the top. Fr John Behr’s words once again call us to the central fight against sin and death, and on to resurrected life.
Behr, like Beck and others we have heard from, makes it clear that we need Christ for victory over sin, death and the devil. We must stay the fight to become fully human. The perishable muscles, mind or heart of mortal Man cannot go the distance alone. He proclaims the good news for Man facing down his foe:
“What it is to be God and what it is to be human remain the same, but the miracle is that each is now revealed together in one and, therefore, also through each other: mortality is not a property of God, creating life is not a property of humans, but Christ has brought both together, conquering death by His death and in this very act conferring life immortal…’’ (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
Behr echoes Metropolitan Bloom’s deep insight that we will be given a new name and reiterates that we are becoming more than we are or ever were in sin.
‘’Behr’s assertion here that “we have yet to become human” is grounded in the patristic and Orthodox distinction between the image and likeness of God. We are made in the image but made to grow in the likeness. Though human by nature, we “become human” through continually dying and rising with Christ in the sacraments and asceticism, ever passing “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) in the likeness of Jesus Christ.’’ (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
Behr brings us back to our spiritual roots, at a time when the weak branches of modern deception are breaking under the weight of our stagnant self-obsessions.
‘’Paradoxically, in order to truly “become human,” we must become by grace what God is by nature. What this thesis amounts to is that the Gospel offers to us a new perspective on life and death, a new way—the only real way—to be “a living human being.”
“In fact,” writes Behr, “death is the only unavoidable part of life. It is the only thing which I can be sure of, and, thus, the only thing which I must contemplate.” (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
The Fight against Death
Only by wrestling with death and false selves can we emerge victorious. This is an infinitely better life than those of our ‘Present Age’ where we never emerge at all. Dylan Pahman describes Behr’s help in this battle:
‘’Certainly, the desert fathers, Philokalia authors, and other great luminaries of the spiritual life would wholeheartedly agree. “Just as bread is the most necessary of all foods,” writes St. John Climacus, “so the thought of death is the most essential of all works.” And what does this contemplation reveal?
Among other answers, Behr writes, now … in the light of Christ’s victory over death, death is revealed to be “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). We can now understand that men and women don’t simply die as a neutral biological fact; they die by having turned away from their Creator, their only source of life. Our turning away, our apostasy, our falling into death is not simply something that happened at the beginning of time—someone else’s fault! It is something that each of us struggles with constantly in this life.’’ (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
We have seen how these struggles with resentment plague us throughout this essay. This idolatrous egoism defeats us if we let it.
‘’Egoism, then, understood as the belief that “we are actually sufficient unto ourselves, that we have life in ourselves,” proves to be the way of death and a manifestation of death in the present. When we turn away from God and towards ourselves, we turn away from the source of all life, embracing an existential emptiness.’’
Need we quit on our stool? Or shall we see the fight out in hope of victory, which we know will come one way or another?
“…in Christ a new “use” of death is revealed: “Turned inside-out, death now becomes the means whereby the creature returns to God, and, in fact, is fashioned by God as a living human being.” When we die to ourselves, to our egoism and fictitious self-sufficiency, to our blindness to our own and others’ mortality, then death becomes the path to life.’’ (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
Here is the way of the J-Curve:
“It was by His death—” writes Behr, That most human of actions, and the only thing that we have in common from the beginning of the world onwards, and an action which expresses all the weakness and the impotence of our created nature—by this, and nothing less, has Christ shown himself to be God.
And it is this to which Jesus calls each and every human being, to the extent that one is able, to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).” (Dylan Pahman, Book Review: Becoming Human, 2014)
This whole way of being in the world and becoming more than we are is what we really want:
“Eastern thought does not regard the Fall as hurling humanity into “a substantially new condition.” Rather, sin’s consequences imposed an “infinite distance between the created and uncreated, the natural separation of [humankind] from God which ought to have been overcome by deification…”
Instead, “an impassable abyss” opposed sin and physical death, making deification impossible. All persons by birth would inherit the nature corrupted by Adam and Eve, which would set in motion a disorder in the entire created world in need of re-creation. The sin of the first ancestors is the result of their refusal to receive the created world as “the sacrament of communion with God.” (Janet Puppo, Sacrament of Deification: The Eucharistic Vision of Alexander Schmemann in Light of the Doctrine of Theosis, 2007)
There is no body without spirit, and as we have seen we are dead without spirit. The creation itself is only redeemed in spirit.
“Viewing the world as material, they failed to transform it into a means of communion with God. To restore humanity’s capacity for union with Him and their fulfilment as deified, God provides for the renewal and redemption of fallen creation.
Christ, the New Adam, unites divinity to humanity so that humanity is once again on the path to deification. The Son of God takes on human flesh, deifies it, and by His death, resurrection and ascension, He prepares the way for the final elevation of all creation.” (Janet Puppo, Sacrament of Deification: The Eucharistic Vision of Alexander Schmemann in Light of the Doctrine of Theosis, 2007)
We have spoken over and again of redemption. However, redemption means more than we’ve been long used to, and involves the low to high road less travelled.
Elevation: More Than Redemption
“The term “elevation,” the second and final act of the Eastern model, indicates the influence that the doctrine of theosis exerts on Eastern soteriology.
In the Western model, the third and final act of salvation, ‘redemption’ describes “God’s actions to redeem, to save and to restore humanity to a state resembling the original created condition.” This schema demonstrates that salvation is “a restoration to the original beatitude, the state that had been lost with the Fall.” (Janet Puppo, Sacrament of Deification: The Eucharistic Vision of Alexander Schmemann in Light of the Doctrine of Theosis, 2007)
As we’ve seen with the J-curve, this is not the whole story. The end is to be greater than before.
“The Eastern model displays a strikingly different design in its approach to soteriology. It is an “elevation to a new level of beatitude, something never before experienced by humanity.” In this act, the Eastern vision of theosis finds fulfilment.
Humanity is raised to a level of total union with God as partakers in divine life …In Eastern Christian thought, salvation is not strictly limited to the saving work of the Person of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but includes the realization of theosis as given in the Incarnation: the transfiguration of the entire created cosmos through the economy of the Son and the economy of the Holy Spirit” (Janet Puppo, Sacrament of Deification: The Eucharistic Vision of Alexander Schmemann in Light of the Doctrine of Theosis, 2007)
Creation is Redemptive
Cosmologist George FR Ellis serves to remind us, even from the position of science, that redemptive direction and purpose is built into the universe itself. He speaks of the moral nature of the universe. This insight is not obvious, especially in a time of rampant reductionism, but is ultimately correct. (Ultimate Questions of Reality – Dr George Ellis, Closer to Truth Interview, 2017)
This is a point, properly understood, that we orthodox Christians welcome: “Grace, therefore, is God loving His human creation and deifying it through His activity.’’ (Fr George Maloney, Uncreated Energy, 1987)
This is no new-age notion or mere man-made projection. To conjecture that we have only ‘projected onto the universe’ would be to miss the point here, and ‘make us strangers to the universe’. Peter Kreeft makes this point succinctly, describing the problem of the unaffected cosmic spectator during the Catholic Church’s Humanum documentary. (Peter Kreeft, Humanum, 2014)
Ellis’s, surprisingly rare, scientific appreciation of the free action and direction of real life is echoed by the awesome Edward Feser, Richard Cocks and late Arthur Young. Each resist what Huston Smith has labelled ‘promethean’ science, whose limits have been too tightly bound and drawn according to crude, mainly positivist, philosophical beliefs. (Huston Smith, Beyond the Postmodern Mind, 1982)
In his book on the metaphysical foundations of physical and biological science, Edward Feser combats reductive small mindedness with hard philosophical punching power. He restores science to its end, or ultimate point, by reaching down to the foundations first.
He begins, “The central argument of this book is that Aristotelian metaphysics is not only compatible with modern science but is implicitly presupposed by modern science. Many readers will be relieved to hear some immediate clarifications and qualifications. (Edward Feser, Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science, 2019)
Before separating the wheat from the chaff: First, I am not talking about Aristotle’s ideas in physics, as that discipline is understood today. For example, I am not going to be defending the claim that the sublunary and superlunary realms are governed by different laws, or the doctrine of natural place. (Edward Feser, Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science, 2019)
Feser is not seeking a return to a ‘pre-scientific age’, but offering a more comprehensive philosophy of science: I am talking about the philosophical ideas that can be disentangled from this outdated scientific framework, such as the theory of actuality and potentiality and the doctrine of the four causes. These are, again, metaphysical ideas rather than scientific ones…’’ (Edward Feser, Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science, 2019)
Feser brings us back to purpose and leads us to an elevated station by commending a full understanding of nature that requires us to include Aristotelian purpose, or teleology, and essences as well. Finally, Feser suggests that this leads us toward evidence for a divine mind behind it all.
Richard Cocks, in a review of a book by Perry Marshall, strikes several blows against Neo-Darwinist ideologues, who block hard scientific evidence of active directional evolution. He refers to “five different processes (have been) identified in which evolution takes place in real time, not over millions of years, and they do not involve natural selection.’’
This places micro and macro evolution on a more balanced scale. Cocks also informs the uninitiated that “they certainly have little to do with random mutations.’’ (Richard Cocks, Evolution 2.0?, 2020)
The specific processes mentioned in that instance are: Transposition, Epigenetics, Horizontal gene transfer, Symbiogenesis and Hybridization, also known as Genome Duplication. Each undermines ideologically blind Neo-Darwinism.
Cocks and Marshall are joined in this fight for verity by several top scholars who place Man in continuity with creation, reminding us that intelligent Man has arisen within an intelligent universe. Marshall even describes how elements within the cosmos, like cells, act intelligently and argues that they deserve the label intelligent based on their fruits.
Here, he complements the great movements in Systems Thinking which move in different directions to the various reductionist models we have been combatting: Fractal patterns, emergence, etc. (Systems Innovation, Systems Thinking: Course Introduction, 2015)
Fritjof Capra and Denis Noble are two champions in the fight against simplistic scientistic ideology. Each revealing more comprehensive philosophies, ‘The Systems View of Life’ (Fritjof Capra, The Systems View of Life, 2014) and ‘Biological Relativity’. (Denis Noble, Dance to the Tune of Life, Biological Relativity, 2016)
Noble’s 2006 book The Music of Life examines some of the basic aspects of systems biology, and is critical of the ideas of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. He points out that there are many examples of feedback loops and “downward causation” in biology, and that it is not reasonable to privilege one level of understanding over all others.
He also explains that genes in fact work in groups and systems, so that the genome is more like a set of organ pipes than a “blueprint for life”. His 2016 book Dance to the Tune of Life sets these ideas out in a broad sweep from the general principle of relativity applied to biology, through to the role of purpose in evolution and to the relativity of epistemology.
Noble contrasts Dawkins’s naïve statement in The Selfish Gene, “Now they [genes] swarm … safe inside gigantic lumbering robots … they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence”, with a more honest and apt description:
“Now they (genes) are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges.
They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.” (Denis Noble, Dance to the Tune of Life, 2016)
He even suggests that there is no obvious empirical difference between these statements and says that they differ in “metaphor” and “sociological or polemical viewpoint”. Noble shows a refreshing respect for emergence and non-linear systems here and elsewhere. Dawkins’s descriptive imagination has been dulled by ideology and injures more strenuous enquiry, but sadly he is not alone.
Denis argues that “the paradigms for genetic causality in biological systems are seriously confused” and that “The metaphors that served us well during the molecular biological phase of recent decades have limited or even misleading impacts in the multilevel world of systems biology. New paradigms are needed if we are to succeed in unravelling multifactorial genetic causation at higher levels of physiological function and so to explain the phenomena that genetics was originally about.” (Denis Noble, Dance to the Tune of Life, 2016)
William Lane Craig and JP Moreland have been training Christian minds in Philosophy to dive beyond Dawkins’s shallow Philosophy, motivated by their existential trust in revelation and history: “In Scripture, faith involves placing trust in what you have reason to believe is true. Faith is not a blind, irrational leap into the dark. So, faith and reason cooperate on a biblical view of faith. They are not intrinsically hostile.” (William Lane Craig and JP Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2017)
In a recent video on the ‘death of god’ by my countryman UberBoyo, he reveals that the cosmos presents certain moral notes to us which we can hit in our fight for redemption. The moral notes of the universe are like great music, which offer harmony to the moral musician. (Uberboyo, What Nietzsche Thought Caused The “Death of God”. And What He Actually Thought Was the Solution, 2020)
Brilliant Pastor and Peterson-commentator Paul Vander Klay preaches in harmony with this symphony of moral singers. He acknowledges that different cultures have their own uncriticised assumptions and taboos, but that a moral pull on Man is built into human nature. Man lives within an intelligent and moral universe. This is true even as some have closed their eyes and wished to fight against life blinded by reductionism.
UberBoyo and Paul Vander Klay both highlight the complex structure and genealogy of morals, without tearing up our moral and musical notes (UberBoyo, Shall We Become Beautiful or Comfortable, 2019). Paul does this by contrasting Anglo-Saxon warriors in the middle ages with modern businessmen but does not collapse to the reductive moral relativist canvas. (Paul Vander Klay, Beyond the Good Place’s Initial Moral Assumptionism, 2020)
You are not your ‘authentic self’, cut off from Man and God, as many like to imagine in our present age. (Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, 1846) One of the two examples in Paul’s example was told that their ‘self’ was a warrior and that their feelings should be honour if they fought, or ‘shame’ if they did not. Plus, they should not express themselves in certain sexual ways.
The other example is Man of today, told that our sexual expression is ‘who we are’ and that we must not ‘repress’ our sexuality. Yet, we are told that we must not fight, or we commit the unpardonable postmodern sin of ‘toxic masculinity’.
This contrast reveals the part relativist nature of so many man-made norms, which must be measured by something or someone outside the system. We can approach God’s revelation and involvement here in different ways, and Orthodox theology is rich in insights. (Paul Ladouceur, Modern Orthodox Theology) However, Jordan Peterson’s Jungian analysis can also help to put modern science at our service. He recognises that the highest ideal over time judges Man and provides direction, rather than time and random mutations alone. (The Rubin Report, Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro: Religion, Trans Activism, and Censorship, 2019)
We trust that the highest ideal is God, and that He calls us to make beautiful moral music. We imitate the Person of God, in Girard’s mimetic sense and try and hit the right moral notes for a good life, making beautiful music. James Alison has brought this to our ears. (James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes, 1998)
This musical cosmic fractal pattern was described by UberBoyo in the ‘death of god’ video and is also evident in Vishal Mangalwadi’s marvellous book on The Bible. Particularly his chapter on Bach and his music. (Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, 2012)
We see these purposeful fractal and non-linear patterns throughout creation, in Perry Marshall’s book mentioned before and at the apex in human relationships such as Holy Matrimony. (David C Ford, Glory and Honour, 2017)
The Christian way composes a different score, far from the point-scoring moralism of ‘moral therapeutic deism’, other world religions or forms of secularism. As Bob Dylan sang “…you gotta serve somebody.’’ (Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody, 2019)
This might help us appreciate the sweet science of life in the existential ring. Again, the brilliant Christian Mangalwadi from India, has struck down our pretensions with his seminal book on The Bible and its permanent influence on civilisation. In the first chapter of his terrific tome, he places the fruits of the Christian way against a number of alternative worldviews and ‘secular liturgies’ (James KA Smith, You are What You Love, 2016).
We discover how and why Bach, his music and milieu, differs from modern and postmodern musicians like Kurt Cobain. Drawing on his knowledge of Buddhism, Sanatana Dharma and philosophy, Mangalwadi critiques the nihilist assumptions of Cobain and the parasitic civilisation to which he belonged. Without God, he reminds us that there is no self.
Mangalwadi commends a certain suicidal sincerity in Cobain that others lack and calls us back from the brink. Sadly, it is not surprising that we have such a fight on our hands with mental health problems. As we have seen with Fury and the sport of boxing however, redemption is at the heart of the story of Man.
My friend has written a short piece about Irish boxer Michael Conlan and his fight against suicide in our country. Since the Good Friday Agreement in the small region of Ulster, there have been more suicides than persons killed during the dreadful Troubles conflict. (Conor Donnan, Belfast Boxer Michael Conlan Calls for Action over Suicide Epidemic, 2020)
Whilst the past in Ireland’s north was far from ideal, the experiments in nihilism which have now replaced it provide no remedy. The fight has moved. Man needs a healthy community, that goes beyond the state or ethnic identities and must fight against the deception that would lead to death as an answer to the primal questions of life. We were not made to quit and can go the distance. But we must be trained.
Moreover, we should lament the lack of civilisational health which would serve to place us in a living communal body, proffering healthy nourishment for the whole Man. Instead, we are offered little more than tribal political crumbs, financial illness and resentful individualism. As we saw at one level in the difference between centring our story on Rocky and on Paulie, there is a world of difference between civilisations centred on resentment and a civilisation with redemption at its heart.
Again, we attend to the universe in which Man is no mere ‘cosmic fluke’, as Alan Watts used to say.
In Arthur Young’s book, The Reflexive Universe, the late inventor records his own selections of redemptive evidence for meaning and purpose throughout the earth and cosmos. He highlights at length the elevated structure that is built into creation itself. This is a creation within which Man fits organically and within which he has his place as ‘microcosm’. (Dimitru Staniloae, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The Experience of God v. 1, 2000)
We add to Young’s term ‘reflexive’, that the universe is redemptive, in line with the repeated elevated ascents mentioned throughout this essay and implicit in his own scientific work. (Arthur M Young, The Reflexive Universe, 1984)
With Grace and ascesis there are no ultimate limits to redemption, and there are places for micro and macro evolution that don’t assume a reductionist ideological vision. Man’s movements matter. We see this clearly in human beliefs and actions but have poisoned our senses towards the universe we live in, assuming we are ‘projecting’.
“…So, we could say both the world of Being and the world of Becoming include aspects that don’t exist. Eddington asks if a bank overdraft exists. I would prefer to place the bank account, whether overdrawn or not, in the world of Becoming and perhaps replace the word becoming by having. This makes it easy to see that not having has a positive aspect in that it creates need, and need is the human equivalent of a force.’’ (Arthur M Young, The Reflexive Universe, 1984)
We commend Systems Thinking and outlier scientists like Young or Rupert Sheldrake for calling out deadening reductionism, whether we follow their atypical conclusions fully or not. Sheldrake has even written about the ‘delusion’ of one-dimensional scientism. Young also ascends the ‘emergent’ mountain (Systems Innovation, Emergence, 2015):
‘’In science the photon’s creation of the first so-called particles, or protons (called pair creation) also creates an enormous force 1039 times gravity. This force is so great that nothing can exist until it neutralizes itself in the joining of positive and negative “particles” (proton and electron) in atoms that do exist.
Translated as having, we can define force or desire as “not having,” and just as important as having, because it and Being (both of which don’t exist) supply the dynamic that makes the universe evolve, not only making it go but creating it in the first place.’’ (Arthur M Young, The Reflexive Universe, 1984)
In other words, nature follows the J-Curve in patterns of death and new life. With such descriptions, Young undermines the idolatry of our modern scientism, which assumes itself to be all knowing whilst being open only to whatever fits its comatose positivist presuppositions. This is despite the well-documented nature and historical limitations of science, so defined, and its questionable lasting western ‘enlightenment’ foundations. (Paulos Mar Gregorios, A Light Too Bright: The Enlightenment Today, 1992)
Young calls out the same unwarranted secularist assumptions of ‘objectivity’ and ‘understanding’ as Metropolitan Gregorios in his writings. (Paulos Mar Gregorios, Certainty and the Secular, Which do we Want?, 2017)
Everyone has a story to tell, but the old reductionist stories are not good enough. Our knowledge is nested within communities, relationships and hierarchies and are not self-evident by any means. Man needs more than reductionist crumbs for a healthy life. (Jonathan Pageau, The Supreme Irony of Science as Overarching Truth, 2020)
The Battle Against Small Minds
Huston Smith has spent a full life undermining the reductionist mind slouching in the present age but dealt his most severe blows in his book Beyond the Postmodern Mind. The great scholar of world religions assists us further up the mountain of our excited elevation by attacking the small-minded assumptions of the cavernous modern and postmodern eras. (Huston Smith, Beyond the Postmodern Mind, 2013)
If we are still unclear about the meaning behind these claims of a purposeful universe moving in a moral direction, or Man’s place in history, let’s reconsider a moving quote from MLK Jr, who famously preached that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. (James M. Washington, Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., 1991) We might agree here with Dr King, but in a fresh orthodox perspective. In an excerpt cited by Fr Alexander Men, Max Planck highlights the link between a free-living man and the moral law:
“Our deliberations bring us to the conclusion that causal considerations are inadequate exactly at the point that seems most important in our lives. Enter ethics dressed as a vital complement to science. These ethics bind the causal “it can be’’ with the moral “it must be’’; alongside pure knowledge they put value judgements to which causal scientific examination is essentially alien.’’ (Fr Alexander Men, The Wellsprings of Religion, 2017)
We speak here of history, Man as a genuine actor and moral creature with direction. We will not bow to serve indentured determinism. An absolutist determinism would make moral and scientific idiots of us all:
“Physical determinism is the notion that all events, including thoughts and actions, are the result of cause and effect. Each effect is the result of a prior cause. Each effect is also the cause of some new effect, creating an endless causal chain…
However, if physical determinism is true then the person arguing for it has no choice as to whether he believes in physical determinism or not, nor whether he argues for determinism or not. He is in the grip of physical forces beyond his control.
It is as though someone pushed the cosmic “play” button and the arguer starts arguing for something he never had any choice but to believe and to argue for. He is the victim of circumstance. Why should any attention be paid to such a victim – to such a mindless and compulsive machine – to such an idiot?’’ (Richard Cocks, The Illogicality of Determinism, 2019)
Cocks continues his assault on his bloodied opponent:
“Some events are not predictable. Therefore, a mechanistic pre-programmed, rule-governed response will not work. Chaos theory, for instance, purports to demonstrate why some phenomena will always be unpredictable. The halting problem too proves with no shadow of a doubt whatsoever that given an arbitrary computer program and a given input there is no way of knowing for sure whether the program will finish running or not.’’ (Richard Cocks, The Illogicality of Determinism – Further Consideration, 2019)
Once we kill such simple scientism, we open to redemption in history and the chance of new life.
History is His Story
“History cannot be a predictive science, because historical truth is personal’’, John Lukacs once prophesied, before bringing our minds back to a seminal time in The Second World War:
“On 22 June 1941, everything depended on two men, Hitler and Stalin. This in itself refutes the social-scientific . . . opinion according to which history . . . is ruled by vast economic and material forces and not by individual persons.
The Second World War was . . . decided by personalities, by the inclinations and decisions of men such as Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt.”
In the example Lukacs often gives (like Aristotle and Aquinas, he never uses an example once), science can predict when a man’s finger will break, but not when or whether he will defy his interrogators.
The unpredictable quality is not simply the person’s “moral code” but that “Different people who experience the same things may think about them differently; and this thinking influences not only the consequences but the experience of the event itself.”
What happens is not what moves us, but how we interpret what happens. These interpretations are the key historical causes:
“History may be characterized by the absence of laws and by the multiplicity of causes.” (A Lukacs Symposium, John Lukacs: Biblical Historical Thinking, 2011)
History is more than the sum of its parts, and points beyond itself for those with eyes to see. This philosophy, even theology, of history is driven by our “Hope’’ and has been displayed by scholars like Lukacs, N.T Wright (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 2011) and Dr Evgeny Lampert.
The latter, and least well known of this terrific trio, fleshed out this philosophy of history by pointing towards its true end, The Kingdom of God, the ultimate telos that fulfils the echoed sounds of Aristotle, Young and others discussed before. Lampert calls this “The apocalypse of History.’’ (Dr Evgeny Lampert, The Apocalypse of History, 1948)
Once one places their trust in The Living God’s revelation to ancient Israel, and later the Christian church then we can see the fullness of history lay itself out. History is understood in the context of eschatology, when the final bell rings. (N.T. Wright, History and Eschatology, 2019) We believe Christ, his apostles and their descendants are telling the truth about God, Man and History. By virtue of “The Bible and The Church’’, our tradition includes scientists, philosophers, sportsmen, etc but transcends them all. (Fr George Florovsky, Bible, Church and Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, 1987)
My friend Matt has looked for a long time at what philosophers call the ‘hermeneutic circle’. It is here that this circle of meaning finds its end. (Logos Made Flesh, Memento’s Hidden Meaning of Life, 2019)
In his magnum opus, The Divine Realm, Lampert preached, “Concerning the doomed cycle of dualism and atheistic or cosmic monism…There is no intellectual issue out of this dilemma.
This can only be found by taking the whole question on to another level from the static to the dynamic, from the abstract to the concrete. The world is related to God not as His objectified equal as a form of being as its own co-ordinated with Him, but as His living self-revelation, as His ‘other one’.
It is created by God; it is God’s creation. Its existence is a witness to the divine-human, theandric nature of divine being… The eternal image of man and of the world in man, the microcosm and the macrocosm, abides in the very heart of the hidden, triune life of God, and his inner life is revealed in the eternal image of the world and man. Such is the mystery of eternal God-manhood, the divine-human, theandric mystery of being human.’’ (Dr Evgeny Lampert, The Divine Realm, 1944)
His Russian Orthodox brethren, Fr Men, expresses the same spirit, “The aim of my work is to sketch out, in an accessible way, the drama of spiritual history…in the light of a holistic Christian worldview…and so the series (The Wellsprings of Religion) as a whole can be seen as an attempt at a synthesis of religion, philosophy, and history…[that will] help readers see in the history of religion, not a host of delusions, but streams flowing and carried onwards, as in rivers and brooks, into the ocean of the New Testament.” (Father Alexander Men, The Wellsprings of Religion, 2018)
We do not have faith in seamless ‘progress’ (Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics, 1994) but do acknowledge that the arc of the moral universe does truly bend towards justice, when based on redemptive action and rightly interpreted, bending along the J-curve. The universe has its central actors and they move the universe directly. Yet, all of this would come to nought if not for Christ, His resurrection and the promise of the coming Kingdom.
At the Top of the World
Gracefully, Redemption book-ends our story, from beginning to end and is what we are made for: “Even after Adam is cast out and down east of Eden, ascension is still the destiny of the human race. The rest of the Bible is full of ascensions. The flood lifts the ark above the mountaintops, and Noah, the first postdiluvian Adam, rebuilds humanity from Mount Ararat, where he plants a vineyard. Abraham’s great test takes place on Mount Moriah.” (Dr Peter Leithart, Ascent, Descent and Human Destiny, 2016)
We see the action in sacred history and step inside it in church. The church is to fight the powers of the world and has been promised victory. The Lord affirms us that “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’’ (Matthew 16:18)
The temple is built on that same mountain, and all the idol shrines in Israel are built on “high places.” Priests go up into the inner sanctuary, as worshipers “go up” to Jerusalem singing “Psalms of ascent.”
David is taken from the sheepfold and given a name among the great ones, while Solomon builds an ivory throne that sits atop a seven-step, stylized mountain. Each of these is a reminiscence, each a small, sometimes symbolic, and always partial recovery of Adam’s original elevation. (Dr Peter Leithart, Ascent, Descent and Human Destiny, 2016)
Before redemption is fulfilled: And each is an anticipation, pointing ahead to the Last Adam who is elevated beyond the garden, beyond even the peak of Eden, beyond the clouds and the firmament, all the way to the right hand of the Father in the highest heaven. Jesus ascends as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a king who takes a throne higher than Solomon’s. Jesus’s ascension isn’t a “religious” event with a “spiritual” significance. It fulfils the human vocation to become God’s prince ruling God’s universe. It’s the foundation for a profoundly humanistic Christianity.’’ (Dr Peter Leithart, Ascent, Descent and Human Destiny, 2016)
We were made for ultimate ascent, to marry the loving descent of the living God and actions of self-sacrificial love. The path to redemption is indeed long, winding and not without weary days but finally takes us home.
What we have shared here is by no means the sum of the Christian story, but we have drawn a brief outline of the Christian warrior, our need for elevated redemption and the need to fight against outright lies and lesser truths which stand in the way of our ascent to the throne. We fight that we might have life beyond lesser deaths.
Boxing serves as one small way to incarnate the Christian story in action, and expresses its immortal power in rocky steps, but life offers many roads to the top of the mountain. If we follow Christ through death and trust His redemptive patterns to new life.
“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can. That’s what makes all the difference in your life.” (Rocky IV)
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