“All was contingent”

The end of Modernism: The demolition of the Pruitt–Igoe housing project, 1972.

The following quotes are from Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View (1993). I have to say this is a great description of the modern “situation” and the context in which we swim. The questions I have are how much am I influenced, affected, and corrupted by these things, and how much is the Church also corrupted, etc. Do we truly live our lives as though all is contingent, or do we hold fast to permanent things?

As the twentieth century advanced, modern consciousness found itself caught up in an intensely contradictory process of simultaneous expansion and contraction. Extraordinary intellectual and psychological sophistication was accompanied by a debilitating sense of anomie and malaise. An unprecedented broadening of horizons and exposure to the experience of others coincided with a private alienation of no less extreme proportions. A stupendous quantity of information had become available about all aspects of life—the contemporary world, the historical past, other cultures, other forms of life, the subatomic world, the macrocosm, the human mind and psyche—yet there was also a less ordering vision, less coherence and comprehension, less certainty. The great overriding impulse defining Western man since the Renaissance—the question for independence, self-determination,and individualism—had indeed brought those ideals to reality in many lives; yet it had also eventuated in a world where individual spontaneity and freedom were increasingly smothered, not just in theory by a reductionist scientism, but in practice by the ubiquitous collectivity and conformism of mass societies. (p. 388)

The quality of modern life seemed ever equivocal. Spectacular empowerment was countered by a widespread sense of anxious helplessness. Profound moral and aesthetic sensitivity confronted horrific cruelty and waste. The price of technology’s acceleration advance grew ever higher. And in the background of every pleasure and every achievement loomed humanity’s unprecedented vulnerability. Under the West’s direction and impetus, modern man had burst forward and outward, with tremendous centrifugal force, complexity, variety, and speed. And yet it appeared he had driven himself into a terrestrial nightmare and a spiritual wasteland, a fierce constriction, a seemingly irresolvable predicament. (p. 388)

Man is condemned to be free. He faced the necessity of choice and thus knew the continual burden of error. He lived in constant ignorance of his future, thrown into a finite existence bounded at each end by nothingness. The infinity of human aspiration was defeated before the finitude of human possibility. Man possessed no determining essence; only his existence was given, and existence engulfed by mortality, risk, fear, ennui, contradiction, uncertainty. No transcendent Absolute guaranteed the fulfillment of human life or history. There was not eternal design or providential purpose. Things existed simply because they existed, and not for some “higher” or “deeper” reason. God was dead, and the universe was blind to human concerns, devoid of meaning or purpose. Man was abandoned, on his own. All was contingent. (p. 389)

Will our modern/postmodern Christianity crumble like the Pruitt–Igoe housing project, as a testimony to bad policy, poor planning, and ideologically driven innovations? Are we condemned to disregard the past, to live with a constant skepticism of that which came before, of that which we have been given, and imagine we can overcome it all through sheer will and rationality? Or is there a time for going back, to seeking the wisdom of others, to digging into the pre-modern soil of ideas, and searching the assumptions of a different age when all was not contingent? I think so.

One thought on ““All was contingent””

  1. Going back will only make things more complicating. We need to free our minds and in stillness. The answers that we are looking for will become more clear. We need not to forget that God exists in stillness

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