Chronological Snobbery

While Republicans and Democrats point fingers in a dysfunctional capital…North Korea opens a ski resort while the country starves…another Middle Eastern thug leader is under assault by even worse anti-Christian fundamentalists…the Nashville crayfish is protected by the government but human babies are not….

People who are paying attention may be forgiven if they think the world has reached an irrational tipping point.  Others don’t realize that their disdain for natural law means that they have also inverted gravity; their attempt to scale the heights of human achievement is really a climb downward toward an upside-down “summit” of faux equality using the bones of dead babies for handholds.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who are not really concerned with the world, except for how it affects the endless pursuit of self-gratification.  “…those who have no experience of reason or virtue…they always look down at the ground like cattle, and, with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed, fatten and fornicate” (The Republic, Plato).

What is one commonality between these groups?  Whether we are intensely knowledgeable about and engaged with an often chaotic and irrational world, or whether we are concerned only with ignorantly grunting after our basest appetites, there is in most of us an innate feeling of superiority over our ancestors; a smug sense that we are smarter and more capable than long ago humans simply by virtue of having been born later.  This is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery.  The fact that it is so easily disproven is the irony.  People need only glance superficially at the headlines today to see that man is neither more intelligent nor disciplined that he has ever been.  The idea of modern man as homo superior I believe is partly infused simply through the advance of technology, which is wrongly taken as an advance in the character of the human person.  Another dangerous illusion is the secular humanist idea that human “progress” is in fact capable of elevating human nature.

It is sadly humorous to see a person who cares little for learning and does not know something as basic as, say, the difference between the frequency and amplitude of a wave, feeling superior to his ancestors by virtue of owning an iPhone (which depends on waves to function).  Yet scientific knowledge is one area in which we can credibly enjoy the fruits of others’ labors with no moral guilt.  We have no such luxury with the rampant ignorance surrounding ethical issues, which have both objective and deeply personal aspects.  At least we have the comfort of knowing that in the history of mankind it has always been difficult to see the obvious.  “As the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all”  (Metaphysics, Aristotle).  And so there is always hope that even with misplaced confidence in our own wonderfulness, our egregious blindness to human nature can be remedied (beginning with all aspects of human sexuality and moving on from there).  We need only the courage to point our reason at the “blaze of day” and squint until we can see.  The best aid to this is simply the recognition that we are all born defective.  As G.K. Chesterton observed, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

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