Two Grand Naratives

Written By:  Wendell Krossa

Another element of interest in the old narrative has been its claim that divine intervention will bring about an instant utopia after a violent overthrow of all that has come before.

The new Enlightenment narrative of progress introduced a significant shift from the divine intervention claim. This was an important shift from a sacred orientation to a secular orientation. There would be no divine intervention to save, to bring about something better such as a future Golden Age. In the new secular humanist view humanity would save itself aside from divine intervention. Humanity by secular means (science, technology, democracy, etc.) would save the world by steadily creating something better, a better civilization. Along with this humanity would conquer nature (ameliorate the devastating impacts of untamed natural forces such as earthquakes). This has been happening through a slow and steady process of change.

And we are bringing something better into existence more and more through nonviolence. There need not be a violent overthrow of all that went before, a purging of the world by fire. We are learning to achieve something better through peaceful cooperation. But this depends on a shift in public consciousness away from vengeful payback thinking.

Nisbet misses this in his treatment of the history of the idea of progress. He continues to argue that Christianity has been a leading proponent of the idea of progress over history (the hope of a utopian millennium after the violent ending of the present world). But the Christian vision of progress is still couched in an overall narrative of decline (decline of this present world). It is a Salvationist vision. And this is not to deny that many Christians worked for progress in many areas (anti-slavery, hospitals, schools). But it was too often life boat progress- save an elect from a sinking world heading for disaster and hoping for that millennium up ahead to emerge out of destruction. Is this really a vision of progress?

But I don’t want to dismiss entirely  Nisbet’s point. People are complex creatures and their views and beliefs are often not contained in this or that category entirely. And over history people were opening themselves to new ways of understanding and making progress in new directions of thought; Christians too.

At the core of the new narrative it appears that most critical to the development of public consciousness is this shift away from the darkness of payback thinking toward the light of unconditional love. This influences all else going on in human thought, behaviour and society.

Two perspectives on a world without religion. De Sousa, as many do, conflates religious mythology that is indefensible with varied beliefs that are in fact quite defensible, such as the primacy of consciousness and its existence aside from the material medium that it employs for its expression.

Peterson poses some interesting thoughts on what as a minimum defines the human person and the potential dangers of the sacred.

How about the fact that all people possess basic impulses that inspire them to seek something better (the impulse to love for instance). Such people do not need the childish control of inherited institutions and belief systems to guide their actions. Such people continually create new ‘institutional’ contexts and belief systems through which to express their own creative expression of such things as love. They don’t need some inherited institutional form for that expression. Look at John Lennon as an example- as Paul McCartney said, “I am proud of our music…it was all about love and peace”. Where was the institutional religion or the ultimate sacred in that expression of love? Was it necessary to prevent all hell breaking loose?