Christopher Hitchens, Stupid Christians, and the Sublime, pt. 3
Latin sublimis, literally, high, elevated
1 a: lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or mannerb: of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worthc: tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence
After putting myself into a secular, naturalist perspective as much as possible, I tried to conceive of a basis for the sublime (remember: Hitchens did not give one in his work). It seems necessary because it seems that human experience universally includes feelings that touch beyond biochemical explanations. Wanting something to be true does not make it so. Believing something to be true, again, does not make it so. Sensing something to be true, finally, does not make it so. But, can we really be committed to a worldview that excludes on philosophical principle 'transcendent excellence?' Or, in other words, is the worldview put forward by Hitchens and others capable of demonstrating the actual non-existence of qualities such as nobility, true beauty, and glory? No. And further, they do not seem to care to go in that direction. In fact, Hitchens briefly mentions the awe one can experience looking through the Hubble Telescope. Think about it though: can there be a naturalistic explanation that sufficiently provides the breadth and depth necessary for a world that includes that kind of beauty?
Moving beyond the merely natural to the human, I spoke in the previous post of the greatness of the evil of which man is capable. Whether you espouse religion or secularism, that point must be acknowledged. And yet, it seems to me that the secular perspective, by necessity, lessens the depth of the evil. How could it not? We are simply mammals that have evolved to a point of higher intelligence than our predecessors and are accountable to nothing other than the institutions that we ourselves create. What then is evil? What are we really to expect from ourselves and others beyond some use of the rational faculties within ourselves to the ends that seem self-justified? On what basis can we hold each other to any higher standard? And so, wickedness loses some of its edge. And that should be frightening.
This, points to the underlying motive behind every book written, every argument put forward, and every lifestyle approved within this type of thinking: I am not accountable to anyone, and in particular, I am not accountable to some divine lawgiver and judge. I have become convinced that there is no other motive for espousing views of this kind than to free oneself from the sense (to whatever extent this is even possible) of divine accountability.
And just as human evil is watered down, wherever it is not outright approved and applauded, that which is truly 'honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth of praise' is diminished. Goodness loses its force, its glory, its beauty and becomes trivial. Even when the beautiful is still praised and the honorable is still venerated, it cannot be done so in the way that it deserves. For, again, what is good? What is self-sacrifice? What is love? How can these things exist (which we all universally acclaim) if we are merely the children of primates who were merely one of the eventual products to emerge from the reproduction of single celled organisms?
The secularist perspective must be, in the end, self-contradictory for it wants to affirm that for which it has no philosophical basis.
This does not clear religion of its charges, nor does it excuse the Church, in particular, for what was brought up in the last post. That will be dealt with in what I expect to be the final post of the series.