Wednesday, May 15, 2024

To Stand Against

The truth is that we are a people who are simply inclined to set ourselves against things. And in a post-faith world, we kind of have to. 

This is about to get profoundly psychological, so I hope you can stay with me; I'll do my best to try to make this accessible to everyone (but also know I am totally nerding out - I love psychology). 

Humans have always had some degree of finitude. We are limited by things that are often out of our control. We cannot, for example, control our health, whether we get something so relatively common as asthma or potentially devastating as cancer. We can take vitamins, wash our hands, eat a balanced diet, and get vaccinated, but the truth is that there are factors in our health over which we have no control. And we know it. 

The same with the weather. We've always been a species that depends upon weather. Hunters needed favorable winds to track their prey without being tracked themselves, or even to go out hunting at all. Gatherers needed favorable growing conditions for the wild edibles they were seeking. Agrarian societies needed good weather for growing. Even recently, we have seen how one bad season can devastate an entire industry - like the citrus industry experienced a couple of years ago. The winter wasn't cold enough; the spring wasn't consistent enough; the rains were scarce. All of a sudden, we've got nothing. 

For thousands of years, man's response to these things that are out of our control has been faith. It has been trust in a god of some sort. Most of the world's gods have always been thought to have power over things like weather and fertility, the things we simply do not control and know that we don't. People have turned to the gods for favor when life has been unfavorable. 

Even the Judeo-Christian tradition has this in its history, to some degree. Ancient Israel understood good seasons and prosperity as God's blessing; they understood famine and disease as God's curse or displeasure. When Jesus walked the streets and came upon the afflicted, they believed their sin was the cause of their affliction. Favor and dis-favor have always been matters of faith. 

Then, we entered what we called "enlightenment," when we started to believe that we knew best and that we could figure everything out. We started investing ourselves more deeply in what we call "science," investigating the world and learning to control it. And all of a sudden, unfavorable conditions became indicators of our own failings. If there was something in the world we couldn't control or couldn't engineer our way out of, it was because our knowledge was not yet sufficient to conquer it. 

And that is the key to our antagonism - we have become conquerors of all things rather than petitioners of favor. 

It used to be that we would pray and we would worship and we would humble ourselves, confess our finitude, and petition the gods (in our case, the Lord) for favor. But in a world in which we are in control of all things, or at least seeking to be in control of all things, the only way we achieve a new victory, the only way we acquire favor, is by conquering. By setting ourselves against our problem and overcoming it by our own power. 

Thus, we are a people whose entire lives are built on standing against something, not for something. You can see it even in the language that we use to talk about it. When we cure an illness, we have "beaten cancer," not "restored health." We developed advanced irrigation systems to "prevail even in times of drought," not to "consistently nourish our crops." Everywhere we turn, our language reminds us that we are conquerors, and if we are conquerors, we must pit ourselves against something to be conquered. 

Thus, we are an anti-people. In a post-faith age in which we do not simply humble ourselves and seek the Lord's favor, we have to be. 

No comments:

Post a Comment