The Threnody of Modern Philosophy (The Death Throes of Secularism)
by Lawrence W. Hilliard

"Knight: "Do you hear me?"
Death: "Yes, I hear you."
Knight: "I want knowledge, not faith, not supposition, but knowledge.
I want God to stretch out his hand towards me, to reveal himself and speak to me."
Death: "But he remains silent."
Knight: "I call out to him in the dark, but no one seems to be there."
Death: "Perhaps no one is there."
Knight: "Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live it
in the face of death knowing that all is nothing."
—Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal

The Western world, having discounted any life beyond the aorist, is forced by its own empirical standard to perceive death as the ultimate cul-de-sac, the inglorious finality that rudely interrupts our ever-inventive modernity. This state of complete immersion in the secular has made the calendar, and all we can expunge from its days, the essence of life. The etymology of our English word "secular" is from the Latin "saeculem", meaning "the world." Not the world of nature or geography, but the world of time. Secularism emphasizes the momentary sequence of time, the here and now. The accent of the secular is the present time. Each nanosecond has been inflated to the exclusion of an eternal domain. The secular individual labors incessantly to expunge from the present moment meaning and ultimacy. "For secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity, must be understood in light of this present time. The secularist either flatly denies or remains utterly skeptical about the eternal. He either says there is no eternal or, if there is, we can know nothing about it. What matters is now and only now. All access to the above and the beyond is blocked. There is no exit from the confines of this present world. The secular is all that we have. We must make our decisions, live our lives, make our plans, all within the closed arena of this time-the here and now." (R. C. Sproul, Lifeviews, Understanding the Ideas that Shape Society, p. 35). The secular foci is the present world, it's focus is the experiential now.

The philosophy of secularism attempts to inject into each passing moment the reality of the transcendent. The affect to harness the hereafter and localize it in the present was termed by the philosopher Eric Voegelin, "Immanentizing the eschaton." Each fleeting nanosecond is required to bring ultimate meaning and fulfillment, but the ever-passing present is incapable of such grandiose expectations. The attempt to extract from the momentary what is immutable, stable and enduring is fruitless. It is what one philosopher calls, trying to "eternalize time." The secularist ends up in what Thomas Altizer describes as a, "… total immersion in historical time and an immersion that is totally isolated from any meaning or reality that might be beyond it." (Dialectic of the Sacred, p. 27). Secularism attempts to produce verities that have as their matrix, eternity. A constant struggle to transform the present into the consummate finalities of personal fulfillment and destiny is the albatross of secularism. For the isolated second has no endemic capacities for such transcendent expectations. The promise of a better world, a world of global change, where dreams come true, inebriates the conscience and elevates the ego of the secularist. "Secular doctrines increasingly focus attention on the centrality of earthly existence, elevating the physical human being and denigrating the spiritual dimension. Eventually, even heaven on earth came to be seen as an attainable objective, provided the revealed new truth was faithfully obeyed." (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control, p. 34).

"Man's walled mind has no access to a ladder upon which he can, on his own strength, rise to knowledge of God."
—Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 138

The epithelium of modern secularism has erected a wall, a boundary of the present moment that has encircled the individual in a prison of the "now." Twenty-First Century cosmopolitan man and woman live in a calendar prison as constricting and oppressive as the walls and bars that enclose the inmate of any maximum security prison. With each passing hour the reduction of life grows more pronounced and controlling. An ennui of spirit, soul and mind is the resultant consequence of time's illusory nature. It may promise, but can never fulfill. For the meaning of time is not inherent within its continuum. The feeling of satisfaction that briefly caresses the soul is but a momentary delusion. "And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). Having rejected any meaning or reality that might lie outside the constricted moment, man has become time's prisoner. Within this enslavement time has inflicted man with a disease from which there is no antidote. Secularism is left without hope, living from microsecond to microsecond repressing time's ultimate dominance, death. "Eater of all things lovely—Time! Upon whose watering lips the world poises a moment (futile, proud, a costly morsel of sweet tears) gesticulates and disappears." (E. E. Cummings, Puella Mea, p. 20).

"Only human individuals are time-binders, connecting the present with the remembered past and with the imaginably future."
—Mortimer Adler, article "The Nature of Man"

Encased within a world in which man principally places value upon life that can observed and expressed, he stands upon a molehill and shouts to the heavens, "There can be no eternity or God of eternity, for I cannot prove it." In arrogant ignorance man believes that hope beyond the transitory is an illusion borne of superstition. Yet, a constant remains, he can conceive of eternity, of a realm of existence that transcends the temporality of sequestered life. The conception of eternity gnaws at his conscience with a succession of aspirations, "There might be, there could be, there must be, a life beyond the swift passing of time." The aspiration-conceptional ability to conceive of life beyond the temporal is implanted within the heart of everyone by God, "He has made every appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end." (Eccles. 3:11). God has put an indefatigable provocation in the heart of man; the conceptual ability to reflect and visualize that there is eternal life transcending this limiting, circumscribed, enclosed domain. "Man; made for eternity" is inscribed on every heart. "God has placed in the inborn constitution of man the capacity of conceiving of eternity, the struggle to apprehend the everlasting, the longing after an eternal life." (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, VI, Sect. 2, p. 475). Man can think beyond his day, probe beyond the calendar years, and conceive of a life that never ends. This capacity, though repressed by man's anchorage to a passing age, never fully allows him to be completely absorbed in the fleeting "now," without an inner troubling that provokes questions regarding ultimacy in the midst of the transitory. "… we have a capacity for eternal things, are concerned about the future, want to understand 'from the beginning to the end,' and have a sense of something which transcends our immediate situation." (Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 81). The Divine intention in creating man for eternity incessantly counters the downward drag of our nature, inclining our eyes from this dying world to pierce upward into heaven. "God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity." (Wisdom of Solomon, 2:23). God has put the capacity to conceptualize of eternity in the mind and heart. "… his [man] is endowed with translucent windows that open to the beyond and if he rises to reach out to Him, it is a reflection of the divine light in him that gives him the power for such yearning." "We are endowed with the conscienceness of being involved in a history that transcends time and its specious glories. We know that no hour is the last hour, that the world is more than the world." (Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 138, 422-423).

"Elusive as it may be, it [time] is pregnant with the seeds of eternity. Significant to God and decisive for the destiny of man are the things that happen in time, in history." (Abraham Heschel, A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 206).

In a succinct declaration there is set forth the axiom of time and history, "He has made everything beautiful in its time…" (Eccles. 3:11). Solomon describes the theistic perspective of time. He utilized the Hebrew word "Yaphah" translated "beautiful" that is frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the contour of a beautiful woman. Solomon sees in history a symmetry, a harmony, a contour of interrelatedness and design. There is a beauty to time as designed and directed by God. In the words of William Blake, "Time is the mercy of eternity." It exists by God's appointing to make eternity accessible to man. Time is the created dimension into which the eternal God condescends to display His eternal nature to his creation (Gen. 2:7) with the ultimate intent to prepare those created in time for eternal communion with Him (Ps. 11:7, 73:25-26, 140:13, Jn. 17:26, II Cor. 5:8, Rev. 21:1-4). Our days are designed in the most specific manner (Ps. 139:16). As intricate as the cells, sinew and tissue of our bodies, equally specific is our fashioned days. God has so architected our days as to dislodge us from the pull of the transitory and impermanent, unto the eternal. Every moment of time eternity becomes accessible to man. Time is eternity in disguise.

"A person would have to suffer from otosclerosis-the most common cause of deafness-not to hear a familiar cry that life has become a meaningless, purposeless, obsurd, vile, intolerable. All around us we are assailed by voices full of self-pity, almost despair over the torment of having to be alive and to carry on in the world as it is today." (Mortimer Adler, article "Concerning God, Modern Man and Religion" from the Adler Archive).

We are witnessing the threnody of a dead philosophy. Secularism, with all its permutations; pragmatism, empiricism, atheism, humanism, are all in a decompositional state. No answer but one can be given to the centuries' old question that lays bare the philosophies of man, "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). Nothing profits a man, only loss, eternal loss. May the sound we hear be the regenerative voice that pierces through the detritus of a dying age and liberates us to breath the breathe of eternity. May we be awakened from the stupor of a deadening somnambulance. "A sense of contact with the ultimate dawns upon most people when their self-reliance is swept away by violent misery." (Abraham Heschel, The Philosophy of Judaism, p. 422).

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