The Death of Nature

The fundamental difference between the Christian classical tradition (one might call it The Western Tradition) and the modern mind (the Enlightenment and its unraveling in Romanticism and this twist on modernism that we call Postmodernism) is the concept of nature.

If you perceive this, you will see it everywhere. Here is a paragraph from Richard Weaver’s short review of Rosemund Tuve’s Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery:

The arrogance of the man who tries to expound what he can glimpse of the order imposed by God or ‘Nature’ cannot hold a candle to the arrogance of him who thinks there can be no order but that imposed by man, or by successive groups of men… The presumptuous man is still he who will not learn, not he who teaches.

The alert observer finds himself astonished by the staggering incorrigibility of the common student. But this student does not rest his case against learning on his own sufficiency, which has been a problem from the beginning of time. One finds somethng far more disturbing and sinister: the modern student resists learning because he has been taught that there is no such thing. What a thing to learn!

Knowledge was believed for thousands of years to be a relationship between the knower and the known. With Bacon, we are informed that knowledge is power. If I am in a relationship with the object of my knowledge, my goal is to know what it is I am knowing and to treat it according to its worth and nature. If knowledge is power, its worth and nature hold little importance to me. What matters is the power I can gain from my knowledge of them.

This world historical shift has altered and almost abolished education in the western world. Wisdom, which is always relational, has been replaced by a reduced form of knowledge that presumes to be objective. Virtue, which is always personal, has been replaced by power, which resists the personal as constraining.

I refer you to Out of Africa, Isaak Dineson’s autobiographical account of her life in Africa turned into a fine movie with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Denys is unable to accept the limitations that relational knowledge would place on him. Authentic relationship – commitment to another person – would restrict his power to follow his passions.

Consider also Nietzsche, that great enemy of nature and worshipper of power.

The coming year will see me thinking increasingly deeply on this matter of nature, which is to say, on everything, especially language, the arts, the works of man, and the works of God.


5 Responses

  1. Becky,

    Nicely expressed and a vital point.


  2. I would say that knowledge without relationship isn’t even knowledge – it is just information. By forcing students to memorize massive amounts of information without allowing them to build a relationship through experience we, as teachers, keep them from owning true knowledge, robbing them of a fuller understanding of themselves and of God, and unintentionally (I hope) keeping them from grasping Wisdom.

  3. Do you think that an authentic relationship requires full disclosure in addition to commitment?

  4. The question that begs to be answered is:
    what happens when we tag the Christian classical tradition onto the postmodern mind?

    Are our students closer to the pre-Enlightenment ideal or perhaps are they even fraught with more hubris than their ignorant peers?

    This is the piece of the puzzle we must address if our efforts are going to result in producing real thinkers and learners. So far I am afraid we are falling short.

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