The Medieval Man had God and Religion at the center of all things. Kings were baptized and whole kingdoms across Europe became Christian before the individuals that make up that Kingdom ever heard the gospel of Christ. On the surface this is neither encouraging or something to boast about as a Christian. But what does the gesture imply for the future of that nation. Again, your answer may be that the implications lend toward a Christian culture in name while remain ignorant to what God has done and desires to do in the world through the church. This may be true as well. Wow! I’m really digging myself a hole here. 🙂 However disastrous we may think these types of things to be that happened throughout the middles ages they do say something of the place of God and religion in a culture. And that is to say that God and Religion were right at the forefront of things. Kings and other rulers were baptized and whole kingdoms “became” Christian. Over time this had an extraordinary effect. At some point individuals hearing the gospel caught up a little bit and the presence of Popes, local Bishops, perish priests, and enclaves of hermits and monks brought something of the essence of real Christianity to Europe. Though not thoroughly and as we might wish. And from an early time God and Religion were understood to be essential to the life and culture of the West. Though I am dealing primarily with the West there was a similar emphasis with Christians in the East and in Africa. Placing God at the center had an extraordinary effect. Great advances in technology and science culminated around the 1400-1500’s to spark the Scientific Revolution with great contributions coming from Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, from some Persians in the East, and a handful of Africans. It was however primary an endeavor of European Christians. In other words the scientific revolution was an outgrowth not of recovered Greek learning but of Christian doctrine. There is so much upheaval then taking place at this point in history. The protestant reformations, the secular revolutions, and the so called enlightenment. I believe the enlightenment term to be useful in explaining that what many experienced as a result of reformations, and revolutions, was that having God and religion at the center no longer seemed valid. Philosophers such as Edward Gibbon, Voltaire, and Rousseau to name a few were a large reason for the violent dismantling of matters of faith from matters of real life and philosophy. It is by understanding the work of enlightenment figures and their influence that we can approach the Modern era clear headed about the nature of it. Of course I believe it helps to have a realistic honest look at the Middle Ages if we want to look critically at these “Enlightenment” figures and what the propose to be true about life and faith.
The Modern man is now a man who has removed God from the center. He may not have removed God completely but like many of those original figures mentioned above, God was banished to the clouds. He no longer belonged anywhere near this reality and what we mean we speak about reality in the universe. It has been throughout this Modern era that man removed God from Science. Once you arrive at the current time, science has become something seemingly incompatible with God and matters of faith. This took place over a period of time. Two great leaps forward from God happened with the enlightenment figures of 1600-1700 and with one particular individual during the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin. The first leap was to place God off in the distant, and the second leap to banish God completely from reality. Before the turn of Darwin’s century a man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche said that “God is Dead” and in the coming century men would no longer speak of him. So confident men became in a Science that is free from God and religious talk that eventually we make our way to the horrors of the 20th century. It is only here in the first 50 years of the 20th century that man begins to have sensible doubt regarding the unchecked positivism in human endeavors. But what could one do with God out of the picture, and now man out of the picture? Where can we turn. For Americans at least there was turning back to God, and a putting your hand to the work of rebuilding your life with God and family at the center. But another war dragged on stirring up doubt and mistrust in “the man” at the center. Young people sought an escape, sought a revolution, clung to ideologies, experimented with drugs, sex, thrills, and rock n’ roll.
The Modern man is now a Post-modern man. Uncertain of anything he tries everything and hesitantly agrees with everyone unless someone believes in absolute claims about truth, meaning, morality, origins, and destination. Man is no longer certain about placing any one thing at the center. So he places many things at the center and is unsure what he believes and why, and where it is taking him. If he is sure of anything it is that he can not be sure of anything, that he is broken, frustrated, confused. Yet he constantly seeks validation and does not wish to be corrected. He is looking for someone who will agree with him and feels obligated to agree with everyone else. Unsure of what is up and what is down the post-modern man is tempted simply to take a step back, to place himself, his endeavors, and his own gain at the center of everything. What you then have is a post-modern man being reborn as a Modern drone-man without a soul. A man who hesitantly placed something specific in the center only for the sake of getting on with life. Even though he embraced some of the ideals of the modern life he is still a post-modern man. The original Modern man still had God in view and could not completely push him out. It is these lifeless zombies of post-modernism that lack God and eventually hopelessly leap into the dark for meaning.
Conclusion: Post-Modern youth have grown up and eventually and hesitantly re-embraced the modern ideal. If you want to have a job and get on in life then you need to re-embrace those ideals. But again, that does not make you modern. There is a real transition we have undergone. The answer to understanding post-modern man actually lies in our knowledge of Modern man, and the Medieval man. If your are a christian trying to learn to communicate you need to be able to paint the picture as I have. To see the ways in which the church engaged and came under the influence of each era and to what degree did Christians resist and maintain a biblical worldview and way of looking at reality. In other words though the Middles ages were rife with problems, corruptions, and tares among the wheat, it was a time in which God was placed at the center. Men like Martin Luther saw the corruption and error of the time piling up to something intolerable and sought to preserve the centrality of God, scripture, and faith at the center. It was the middle ages that gave us men like Luther, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi. Though God may be given a high place in culture it takes the work of devoted men and women of God to make that a lasting thing with depth. Without such men, their is such a high level of hypocrisy that people will get tired of it and seek to remove religious folk and their ‘god’ along with them from the center place. I’m crazy enough to believe that good people seeking to place God at the center and not man or even the church in the center will bring about a great healing. God at the center is the answer. I’m not advocating that we need a replica of the Medieval Christian world, what I am really aiming at is the principle at play in that era which culminated in more freedom, more churches, more education, more science, more human potential, and more progress. That the idea of human progress can not sustain itself without God, without morality, without meaning, without truth, without origins and destination.
For more on the middles ages. A personal favorite area of research and study for me check out these posts.
The Myth of the Dark Ages
Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1
Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 2
Reńe Descartes: Foundations for Modern Science