Occasionally, an unintended cross-reference surfaces in one’s reading that clarifies a hundred conversations prior. One such cross-reference recently and fortuitously played out during an evening read, leading me to conclude the following: the only substantial categories remaining for which meaning in this world can be derived—or the categories, at least, for which any stirring interest for people is held—are those of the sacramental and the secular. Both, to quote James K. A. Smith, are potent “social imaginaries” whose smoking guns have left all but each other behind.
For all who chuckle at my unfashionably late arrival to this party of realization, I can only hope that we all walk away with a day’s wages in our pocket.
The first reference came from a book recommended to me by none other than Dr. Richard Gamble of Hillsdale College over an afternoon tea. Entitled Building the Christian Academy, author Arthur Holmes gives the following definition of a sacramentally-understood universe:
“Visible things have attributes analogous to their invisible cause and the overall hierarchy of being therefore reveals the divine presence.”
If true, then analogy is grace, and the world runneth over. One need only the bent—the sanctifying bent to think analogically about invisible causes, and the significance of any given thing is unlocked. Suddenly Babylon is a whore, men are like grass, hearts are doors, and Jesus is a vine.
The second reference discovered one nightstand selection later was found in James K.A. Smith’s new book, How (Not) to be Secular, in which he defines the exclusive humanism of modern secularity as:
“…a way of constructing meaning and significance without any reference to the divine or transcendence….to imagine modes of meaning that (do) not depend on transcendence.”
Goodbye God or gods; goodbye to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Closed universes are ill-suited to such speculation.
At least we know what’s at stake. Invisible causes brushed happily aside, we are left only with a measurable object whose composition functions both as its object of study and subject of significance; its dimensions the farcical dance of atomic structures, for its philosophical and meaningful significance are flattened into a single study of constituent parts. But in this, secular insanity finds its winsome character, for the circularity of the argument plays a great stand-in cauldron of magic. Proximate causes can loom pretty large and sufficiently enchanting when final causes are deemed out of bounds, and the informal fallacies would not be studied so carefully, were they not the expedient potion so much of the time.
I’m tempted to paint this duality as the stark contrast it beckons to be, but as one sacramentally-trained in a secular culture, I fear that the last stand exists for a reason. Either one dies without the other, or one is absorbed into the power and legitimacy of the other when the final bullet of fulfillment is let fly. In my next post, I’ll explain my pause by way of illustration.