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This worldly life

Tuesday, 2 Jul 2013

Rene Descartes on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn First posted on Sunday, 12 August 2012 at 18:21

This worldly life appeared to be so natural that to have thought in any other way would have seemed alien, even dangerous to my rational western mind.

Even before I had read Kierkegaard, I sensed that I was afflicted with despair, even in the midst of apparent happiness, even in the midst of first religious awakening. Yet I know now that Edith Stein was right when she said that anyone who searches for truth is on the way to Christ. I may have been looking for the wrong thing in all the wrong places but, as Stein implied, the search was everything.

And was not my western rationality precious? Was it not borne of all things that are good - democracy, liberalism and education? Is it not the future of a world in which freedom and human rights are to be enjoyed byall, and for which people are sacrificing their lives today?

Fora democratic and free world will be the final flowering of a way of thinking that has its roots in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and, later, Descartes (above), amongst others; a mode of thought that is founded on a dualism of mind and body, or mind and material world. It is inculcated into us, from birth and through all the separated disciplines of the education system, that we are disembodied subjects (Augustine would extend this principle into the form of an eternal soul), observing and negotiating objects, the material world external to the mind. This historical separation of mind and body or world, this opposition of an interior life to an external world, would lead ultimately to our sense of individuality, the individualism of modern times. This is the emerging sense that Jung described as a process of individuation.

And once established, individuality is on the defensive. The conscious individual either has to protect his mind-independent integrity to survive, or allow himself to slide into the unconsciousness of gregariousness, aided and abetted by mind-dulling drugs and various forms of entertainment. This struggle for individual integrity was a doctrinal principle of the Reformation, as individuals sought salvation through sola scriptura and a direct relationship with God.

It was central to the thought of Karl Marx and anarchism in its various guises. It is central too to the economic and political liberalism of today, which is following in the wake of the relentless progress of globalisation. How noteworthy it is that the aspirations to freedom from social constraint of all these political creeds have ultimately resulted in their opposites; inhumaneness and sameness the world over.

John Dunn.

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