Darkness: The practical result of our contemporary mythology

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 25, 2016

My primary goal was theoretical when I explored the modern mythology of “knowing” in a three-part series beginning with “Our mental prison: The myth of “objective” knowledge”. I wished to lay bare the intellectual root of contemporary misconceptions about how the human person apprehends reality. But something more might be gained by citing specific examples of the sort of contemporary blindness which masquerades as truth in modern Western culture.

I admit that it is not entirely fair to single out one intellectual culture for condemnation. Clearly it is as impossible for any culture to free itself from every preconceived notion as it is for any single person to do so. But some cultures are more open to the wide variety of methods that can be used to penetrate reality than others, and it is these cultures which tend to be the most self-correcting. In contrast, some cultures are, in effect, ideologically closed to the truth-value of whole classes of perceptions, and this always results in a progressive cultural darkening.

For example, a culture dominated by the belief that everything we experience is to be explained by evil spirits will be shockingly blind to the light which can be shed on reality by the careful observation of natural things. In exactly the same way, a culture dominated by the belief that everything we experience is to be explained by material processes will be equally (and just as shockingly) blind to the truth-content of ordinary human perceptions of purpose, morality, free will and God.

The affluent and highly-educated culture of the modern West has gradually adopted materialist preconceptions in its quest for “objective knowledge”. Or perhaps it is just as true to say that our culture has gradually adopted the myth of “objective knowledge” in its quest for materialist preconceptions. Indeed, our prevailing cultural blindness may result either from its confusion about true knowledge or its proud rejection of God, or both at once. However the guilt is apportioned, the light in our culture is rapidly diminishing, and so our mental horizons are rapidly contracting.

One example is the framework for contemporary thought known as “political correctness”. At one level, political correctness is the butt of jokes, but at a deeper level it is the name we use for the dominant cultural beliefs derived from the prejudices of our contemporary elites, nearly all of whom assume that their ideas represent “objective knowledge”. In reality, they are primarily gratuitous adumbrations of the prevailing mythology, which excludes as legitimate contributions to knowledge both ordinary human perceptions and the moral values infused into our culture by other ways of thinking, including classical philosophy and Christianity.

These dominant cultural beliefs reveal themselves in all sorts of specific ways, perhaps most obviously in academia, which typically represents the pin-like apex of our culture’s closed system of thought. As a first case in point, I recently alluded to what Christopher Alexander suffered when he tried to apply something like authentic human values to architecture (On Gardening and Architecture...and the awareness of God). This is a good working example of my larger point.

Viewed more broadly, the prevailing obtuseness was captured rather neatly five years ago when Jay Schalin of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy wrote a column enumerating the ten most obvious “Myths of the Ivory Tower”. (The blindness behind the myths was very effectively illustrated by an academician’s response, entitled “The Myths of an Ivory Tower Watcher”, and the telling response by Schalin in “Back to the Dark Ages”.) One hint: Many faculties whose members uniformly hold the regnant secular-liberal positions on everything actually regard themselves as “moderate”.

Or to take a theological example, we need only recall the Modernist reinterpretation of the New Testament which afflicted us not so many years ago. Modernists have decided in advance that what we call “truth” is merely a cultural construct, and that true enlightenment comes from recognizing this inescapable fact. Thus, for example, they dismiss eye-witness testimony to the Resurrection in the Gospel in favor of their certainty that these accounts are later symbolic constructions of the community of faith, in praise of their new way of life. The problem, once again, is the modern penchant for dismissing all prior modes of thought as historically conditioned, while insisting that the miracle of modernity ensures that our own dominant ideas are “objective”.

To the victor belongs the history

Of course each succeeding dominant culture rewrites just about everything, including history, to satisfy the demands of its own preconceptions. This accounts for the Black Legend invented by English Protestant historians, who could see nothing but evil in Catholic initiatives such as the inquisition and, earlier, the Crusades. Our contemporary secularism was able to borrow many preconceptions from Protestantism, making it even easier to dismiss the truth-values of the Catholic worldview. This dismissal has become a universally acknowledged way of becoming a member of the illuminati today.

One very particular case in point is what Darío Fernández-Morera calls The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, which is actually the title of a significant book soon to be released from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The “Andalusian Paradise” refers to a period of Muslim rule in Spain which was characterized by enlightened tolerance, freedom, and cultural diversity for all, regardless of religion. The problem is that this so-called paradise is a complete myth. It is almost universally accepted as true in academic circles simply because it buttresses our contemporary cultural mythology, which must continue to discredit Christianity as so much narrow-minded bigotry.

Thus the Andalusian paradise is frequently referenced today as a kind of proof that a new Muslim world order is nothing for secularists to fear, while Christianity is the very devil. It reminds one precisely of the academic infatuation with Communism between about 1930 and 1980. Since it is almost impossible (as Fernández-Morera clearly demonstrates) for dissenting scholars to be published by their universities, we are fortunate to have organizations like the ISI to take up at least a little of the slack.

Fernández-Morera identifies the grip of the myth in his introduction, and then offers seven highly-researched chapters to demolish it. He covers: the debilitating civilizational effects of Jihad; the daily realities of life in that time and place; the myth of tolerance (think denunciation, beheading, impaling and crucifixion); the condition of women under Islam; the condition of the Jews; and of course the condition of Christians (this chapter’s subtitle is “From Dhimmis to Extinction”—exactly what we are seeing under Islam now).

But one must ask how much influence such counter-cultural studies can have in academia today, or how much they can affect a reform of political correctness. It is exceedingly difficult to argue against a prejudice, and the need to do so is just one more proof of the closing of the modern mind. Again, I raise the question of whether that mind is darkened by confusion about how we know (which results in abandonment of the spiritual) or by rebellion against God (which results in confusion about how we know). Either way or both ways, sadly, the result is darkness.

It may be a long night.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Jan. 26, 2016 11:47 PM ET USA

    I am afraid you are right. It has already been a long gathering dark. Relativism and objectivism have been ruling the roost for a long time. Unfortunately "Catholic" and "Christian" institutions have been leading the way.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 26, 2016 5:51 PM ET USA

    I vote for No. 2: "...the myth of 'objective knowledge' in its quest for materialist preconceptions." As evidence, I cite the measurement of electric, magnetic, gravitation, and acoustic fields. Every measurement of the intensity of any of these fields influences the field itself. Thus in order to make an accurate measurement, the way the sensor influences the field must be known and accounted for. Every measurement is to some degree uncertain, and this limits "objective" confidence.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jan. 26, 2016 4:23 PM ET USA

    Didn't Allan Bloom attempt to warn us of this "mythology" in his "Closing of the American Mind?" I recently encountered this darkness when trying to explain the sound and intelligent and truly beneficial and fruitful and freeing for society in following God's universal natural laws and was called "bigot" and "hateful" and "judgmental." "A long night," indeed. It is imperative for souls for God that this battle be waged.