I am Not Usually a Fan
... of Ross Douthat. Mostly because he just annoys me. But I do read him occasionally.
Anyway, I read this pre-Christmas Op-Ed of his:
PAUSE for a moment, in the last leg of your holiday shopping, to glance at one of the manger scenes you pass along the way. Cast your eyes across the shepherds and animals, the infant and the kings. Then try to see the scene this way: not just as a pious set-piece, but as a complete world picture — intimate, miniature and comprehensive.
Because that’s what the Christmas story really is — an entire worldview in a compact narrative, a depiction of how human beings relate to the universe and to one another. It’s about the vertical link between God and man — the angels, the star, the creator stooping to enter his creation. But it’s also about the horizontal relationships of society, because it locates transcendence in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.
It’s easy in our own democratic era to forget how revolutionary the latter idea was. But the biblical narrative, the great critic Erich Auerbach wrote, depicted “something which neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity ever set out to portray: the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life.”
All of this strikes me as dead on - especially the first sentence of the second paragraph. He goes on to discuss how that world view comes into conflict with the increasingly secular world view of the intelligentsia. And he follows up with this:
The secular picture, meanwhile, seems to have the rigor of the scientific method behind it. But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence than either of its rivals, because its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture.
In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory. And yet it then continues to insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th-century New England preacher. . .
The second is whether the intelligentsia’s fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism — the crèche without the star, the shepherds’ importance without the angels’ blessing — will eventually crack up and give way to something new.
He doesn't push the point, but my guess is that he wants a return to the old Mythology, where God serves as moral arbiter and ultimate policeman. He isn't the first to have such thoughts, of course. Benjamin Franklin gave us the Deism of his youth in favor of a sort of vague religiosity that thought any religion was good as well as it led to good behavior.
We humans are highly dependent on what Professor Harari calls our "imagined realities". Whether we can generate one that both gets the facts right and proves a suitable framework for human society is still an open question.