R. Joseph Hoffman has opined, in the fine old tradition of legitimate hyperbole, that
Complacency is what killed European Christianity. The fruits and comforts of the industrial revolution killed it. Not education and science; not curiosity; not Darwin’s dangerous idea. Just the creeping rot of not really giving a damn about anything.Hoffman, who is writing as a non-Christian (albeit a scholar of early Christianity), has the good sense to be on the right side of the "accommodationist" debate ("Can religion and science be compatible, ever, ever, ever?") His point in his admirable post is that the negative answer to this question arises from the excesses of an over-reaching intellectual ambition; and he sees this excess as the equal and opposite cultural reaction to the aforementioned complacency, a complacency which, I might add, was widely diagnosed in the 19th century (read Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard, for instance, though I take my lead here from Baudelaire, whose opening poem in the Fleurs du Mal famously names it Ennui). Hoffman's answer to this complacency is simple and has a venerable philosophical lineage:
The opposite of complacency is not excess. It is moderation.What's important here is not just that the back-&-forth we are enduring now over this question--the stupid tug-of-war between a superstitious Bibliolatry which was already withering away, and a hubristic scientism that has allowed itself to be distracted from "the business of finding things out" into a tar-pit of unwinnable polemics--that this tension is essentially the spasms of one excess answering another, over the abyss of a fundamental apathy:
American culture is not hardwired to evoke curiosity about science, religion, or anything else. It’s designed to breed complacency. If Theodore Roethke had lived today, he would write about the inexorable sadness of shopping malls and gated communities and universities where nothing happens and a society where conscience dies daily in the onslaught of the latest economic data.One can quibble, if one likes, with Hoffman's diagnosis, or try to resist the cynicism one detects here, but despite the brief signs of life one glimpses in the #Occupy movement, it is hard for me to dispute the gist of this. As I have said before, there is an oscillation between fear and boredom at work in us. (I don't think this is unique to post-Christian or late-capitalist society; the ancient ascetic spiritual struggle has always been against the Midday Demon-- melancholia and panic).
As regards saving both religion and science from their own excesses: this temper-tantrum-with-two-backs has an answer in the tradition of common sense and ordinary wisdom. As Hoffman points out, it goes by the venerable name "Moderation", the ratio between extremes, the key to virtue in Confucius, the Buddha, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Spinoza. (Not to mention Jane Austen, which really ought to be enough.) Does moderation sometimes look like timidity? Certainly; and vice-versa--timidity sometimes styles itself "moderation." After all, moderation, as pursuit of a mean, will partake of the extremes it attempts to balance. And who said keeping one's balance was easy--especially when everyone at either end is pulling you back and forth?
Point is, all that energy that goes into the pulling, is being generated by something. The "Accommodationism" argument is a symptom of a deeper malaise in our culture--I would say a spiritual malaise, if the word wasn't so loaded. But then, that loadedness is the problem, isn't it?