As I’ve often noted, Christian Mysticism isn’t a matter of content, but a way of approaching the question of religion. I dare say most of the Christian Mystics I’ve read do not at all believe in the doctrine of the Fall as I do. While I share their approach, particularly in making religion essentially personal, I don’t share their philosophical assumptions about human nature.
Along my personal journey, one of the influences that helped to shape my assumptions was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. While I’m ambivalent about the business of the Fourth Turning on which the linked article is based, I have to agree with some of Jim Quinn’s assessment of human nature at large. The primary reason I differ with him is that his analysis betrays his assumptions: that he is still a devoted fan of Western epistemology.
While it is variously labeled in the studies of Comparative Civilization, one of the key elements in how a civilization fares is the relative presence of altruism, particularly whether it extends outside the family, and how far it extends. It’s the interplay of pushy versus considerate. It’s not a question of being polite or even compassionate, but whether, and on what grounds, you’ll make room for people who are pushy. How pushy do we expect people to be and on what grounds? Where are the boundaries?
It shows up in all kinds of ways. For example, Americans and northern Europeans share a certain set of assumptions about driving automobiles. We make a big deal out of the recent rise in “road rage,” but in places like Russia, there has always been road rage. It’s not that Russians don’t show compassion to the victims of crashes; you’ll always see uninvolved people clustering around a wreck trying to help. But it’s the basic assumptions about what constitutes proper behavior while driving that causes them to have a higher rate of traffic collisions in the first place: They aren’t very forgiving and take umbrage much more quickly against very normal human mistakes.
Americans are often shocked at videos of how Russians drive. We share with northern Europeans this sense of good order in social conduct that generally extends to our driving habits. We have a different set of assumptions about what is normal for civilized behavior. Most Westerners further assume their assumptions are, or should be, the human default. Most critically, they assume it is rightly rule-based and universal, instead of protocol-based and contextual. The Bible assumes the latter. Quinn’s approach to the question of predicting human behavior at large assumes the former.
My brand of mysticism says that we are hard-wired for eastern feudalism, that it’s the form of social control God designed us for and what His revelation designed for us. Biblical social constraints rest entirely on that eastern feudal sense of what ought to be; it assumes an inescapable fallen nature. The whole system arises from God’s revelation of human instincts. The only solution offered begins with reaching outside this world, to the Maker and Master of all things. Any social structure that starts elsewhere inevitably fails. It assumes that all Creation is inherently personal in nature, that the universe is not the net result of impersonal forces.
Further, I believe that the particular kinds of human failure are predicted by such assumptions about human behavior. By the same token, I assert that Biblical assumptions about human nature focus on a wholly different value system in terms of what really matters in the first place. It’s a different set of morals entirely.
So while I acknowledge the statistical accuracy of Fourth Turning analysis, I reject the moral assumptions behind it. We are up against two major issues here. First is the Western epistemology that demands we measure and evaluate the results of moral choices in material terms. This is why the mechanics of economics are an obsession with both left and right moral arguments. Second, Western Christianity assumes this is how God operates. Western intellectual assumptions offer no room for self-doubt; they compel the worship of one’s own reason. Despite lip-service to the contrary, genuine humility is a sin in Western morality. Western assumptions insist it must be impersonal.
This is why we have Asimov propounding his “psychohistory” — it is founded on the arrogance of Western epistemology. It remains fiction because it cannot do the job; it fails before it starts. It ignores very real moral elements of human nature because they are rooted outside the material universe. Western epistemology assumes the universe is the limit of reality. I have to agree with the idea that free will manifests on the individual level, but fades into insignificance when the numbers scale upward. And I do agree with how people in power resent the implication that they are actually powerless on a wider scale. However, I don’t agree with the idea that numbers alone can explain the wars, and I wholly reject that something like psychohistory could possibly predict human behavior.
The Bible predicted human behavior-at-large a long time ago. If you can embrace that other epistemology and understand the mystical outlook underlying the prophetic assessment of humanity’s future, nothing you see now would surprise you. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid a prophetic mindset once you really understand the Bible from the perspective of those who wrote it. You’re going to see a lot of things coming before they arrive.