Returning to our three “rough” universal “principals”, I think that we can see the desire to reach all of these three goals in all ages of human history, particularly as they are manifested in those who have been leaders of the race of men (since I am focusing on thinking and philosophy here). Roughly speaking I think that we can also discern that there is a shuffling of the order of these things that has taken place throughout time. In addition, I note that it does seem that where the “West” leads, others follow:
Ancient world: 1. Primary principle – 2. Happiness principle – 3. Behavior principle*
Medieval world: 1. Primary principle – 2. Behavior principle – 3. Happiness principle
Modern world: 1. Behavior principle – 2. Primary principle – 3. Happiness principle
Post-modern world: 1. Happiness principle – 2. Behavior principle – 3. Primary principle
The next stop on our itinerary would be a return to the order of the Ancient world (while holding onto the blessings of the modern age), but with bigger and more powerful guns.
Again, for the non-Christian, in whatever the age, everything ultimately comes down to man’s own powers – his own strength – by which he seeks to obtain these goals. Now all of this will inevitably relate to what he believes – where the confession and promulgation of such beliefs follow (and of course men who of their own free will decide to stand on the “shoulders of giants” – receiving from their “treasury of merits” – deserve credit, reward, and even salvation for making this choice). Note the key fact that even the most sophisticated among us who deny we can know Truth (with a big “T”) still believe that we can have enough real knowledge of the cosmos to insist that at least some ways of life that we become familiar with (complete with understanding and action) are superior or preferable to at least some others that we become familiar with – and that some power or program – internal or external – can help the ignorant see this – or make them comply. Despite the fact that doubts accompany all belief, all should nevertheless bow and worship the “Truth” we come to know, however understood.
Here, concern for, and some devotion to, all personal beings without exception – especially a Tri-Personal Creator – is relegated to the back seat (especially note that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, has had relatively little influence among the leaders of men – even in the past times mentioned above). All this in spite of the fact that even fallen man, by nature, knows at the very least that a Divine Mind must be responsible for what they see – though they certainly may suppress this with notions of impersonal pantheism/materialistic atheism, for example (see here). Again, in every age – “Christian” or not – when it comes to being put right with this Power, it is man’s free powers that are in charge. Now, in cultures with relatively more limited technological know-how, it is true that man’s perceived relationship with the Divine at least may seem to retain a highly personal element – meaning that it mirrors human relationships that function according to what we recognize as “quid-pro-quo” (but not according to any sort of persistent and free reciprocal gift-giving)
However, with an increase in functional knowledge and earthly power, man’s free powers tend to combine with devotion towards certain unbending principles and “cause-and-effect” laws (like a vending machine: ultimately manipulative “if-then” moralism), and the temptation is for this to take over completely, squelching out the last vestiges of an actual person who is God. In other words, this “highest of men”, rich in the knowledge and wisdom of the world, seeks to harness not only what have come to be known as the “laws of nature”** and “natural law”, but any “laws of the [increasingly depersonalized] supernatural” as well (whether more or less “systematically”). This is accomplished with the help of its magicians/scientists and priests as “salvation” comes through the mighty accomplishments of the appropriate “technologies”, dealing with both the material and the “spiritual”. Here, we find that the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, for whatever its beneficial uses, has actually been of some assistance in banishing the biblical God. Therefore, writ large, as unchecked Old Adam more successfully harnesses the order inhering in the creation, in practice he makes the Creator his impersonal creation and himself salvation.***
As a result of this, the human person – not considered in light of the Divine person of Jesus Christ and His love for all – is inevitably trodden underfoot, as at least some persons inevitably become means to other ends**** (always the case when God and the creation become one due to temptations posed by technological prowess, but especially as the “Happiness Principle” takes center stage and P.A. [not personal affection, but Personal Autonomy] gains in ascendency). In this “game”, all who “succeed” among those in their circles inevitably believe they are “good persons” who don’t need a Physician – however they articulate their Primary principle, be it connected with types of moralism, mysticism, rationalism, pragmatism (or utilitarianism, for that matter), prosperity (me: mammon-ism), change (me: progress-ism), or lawlessness (me: freedom-ism) (these track with Fisk’s categories to some degree). These are all simply idols from the idol factory of man’s mind – as is all our own power, and wicked pride, which pursues them.
Luther’s words to them all – to all of us, in fact?:
“This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.
But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise….”
Image credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Picard_as_Locutus.jpg
*-I list H.P. over B.P. here because B.P. has a more “objective” and universalizing aspect to it – in the ancient world the fight for survival and security was first and foremost, not universal ideas of what made for any wider harmony and blessing. In addition, most all ancient gods were very much like any other person – and hence the efforts to appease them not so much in accordance with B.P. but with H.P.
**-I suggest we would be better off using language like “hard and soft regularities which we observe happening in Creation” here. Otherwise, the activity of “nature” is rendered “thinkable” apart from the moment-by-moment involvement of the Personal Creator, who comes to be seen as either the “banish-able” deist clock-maker or Spinoza’s mind in nature (see here and here)
***- Insofar as the new man has influence in the disintegrating creation, I look to persons like the Roman Catholic Peter Maurin, who said a good society is a society that makes it easier to choose to be good. Here, the influence of the Christian faith is of great help, both in defining the good and providing the power to will and do. Of course, in the “Kingdom of the left”, Christians need not strive to make the government exclusively Christian, even if it should allow for Christians to preach and practice their faith, whatever its structure. Here, of course, choosing to be good (by the Spirit) in the ultimate sense would include full devotion to the 10 commandments, which Jesus summed up as the two greatest.
****-For an extreme example, see here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2174562