As promised, I want to pause before my final interview with Dr. Kevin Vost and dust off a post that has been sitting around in my drafts folder for exactly one year, which touches upon some of what Dr. Vost said in Part II.
I've used the term "liberal elite" to describe the condescending attitude of certain folks towards those whom they perceive to be less enlightened than themselves. I have even jokingly referred to myself and other faithful Catholics as "the peasants" when encountering such condescension. I enjoy the irony. But the more I talk with secularists, the less funny it's become. The left actually does see a "peasant quality" to being a devout Catholic, even an educated 21st Century Catholic.
When Stacy's blog was swarmed by atheists protesting one of her posts, I spent a lot of time commenting there. At one point, I asked if any of the atheists wanted to address the difference between the modern American goal of "happiness" (i.e., pleasure-seeking) vs. the goals of "honor, dignity, truth-seeking, and virtue" of the past. A thoughtful atheist named Matt respectfully took me on, along with one or two anonymous atheists, and here are excerpted parts of our exchange (the rest can be found here; just beware that much in that thread is offensive):
Matt: [T]he common people of 17th-century and earlier Europe weren't trying to be happy. They were largely brought up to believe that life was going to be really terrible. And it often was; peasants did not really have a lot going for them. All they had, when what little food they could raise was taxed by both the state and the Church, when they saw their lords living in comparative luxury while they struggled to survive, was the constant reassurance that if they tried to live up to a set of rules (which emphasized obedience and subservience, by the way) that were spoken by priests, things might get better after they died.
Leila: [I]t almost sounds like you are saying here that the "common people" of pre-Enlightenment days were dummies. Is that really what you are saying? You are much more intelligent than they, with more understanding and common sense? It sound rather elitist, frankly. Perhaps they weren't as dumb as you give them credit?
Of course we're more intelligent then [sic] they were.
This is what you [Leila] sound like:
“You gosh darn elitist atheists thinking you're so much better than people who burned witches at the stake and couldn't read! Maybe you could learn a thing or two from them!”
Matt: I don't consider myself to be better than the people of pre-Enlightenment times, nor more endowed with common sense. But understanding? Yes, I think I have that in greater measure, simply because I have had the great fortune to have access to far more information. If all you know is what has been told to you by people who have a strong interest in keeping you subservient to them, its not your fault if that's what you believe; you haven't been exposed to a wider world. That we were able to rise above that, that the great minds of the Enlightenment existed, shows that people of intelligence, courage, and reason were there. I'm not so different from a peasant in the 1600s, save that I was taught to question everything, and given the chance to learn that they never had.
Leila: Matt, wisdom and knowledge are two VERY different things. I think those Catholic peasants were a lot wiser than most of us moderns.
Matt, you said: "I'm not so different from a peasant in the 1600s, save that I was taught to question everything, and given the chance to learn that they never had."
I believe the same things, theologically and morally, that those "unenlightened" peasants did. Do you think I am unquestioning and unthinking? Do you know my background, or that of any devout Catholic today? How can we hold the same faith as they did, but yet be in modern America? What must you think of us. ;)
Anonymous atheist (may or not be the same atheist as above):
Leila said: "I think those Catholic peasants were a lot wiser than most of us moderns. "
HOW? In what way?
Note the use of all caps in response to my statement. Anonymous atheist cannot fathom that a Catholic peasant way back when could have more wisdom than he does. And although Matt gives a polite nod to the idea that those peasants could have common sense or be decent folks, they could never hope to rise to an enlightened level of thought or action (such as we have today?), due to the shackles imposed by the Catholic Church.
And yet when I look at where we are today, I question how much wisdom and understanding we moderns possess that previous generations did not:
Does the average modern American commit to living a life of honor and sacrifice above pleasure-seeking and comfort? I honestly don't think so.
Does the culture encourage living up to our inherent human dignity and not degrading ourselves or objectifying others? Again, I'd have to say 'no'.
Do students understand that the point of education -- heck, the very purpose of having a mind -- is to seek truth? Frankly, people seem baffled by the concept. I had one friendly and intelligent atheist admit to me: "I have to be honest and say that the idea of 'truth' isn't something I've thought about too much in my life." She is not alone!
And as far moderns having a desire and goal of living virtuously, we've already discussed the fact that virtue has been completely replaced in our culture by "values" -- which is a different concept altogether.
Bottom line, it just would never occur to me to think that I am wiser or have more understanding than simple folks living in the distant past. Do I have more information and data and scientific knowledge at my disposal than they did? Of course. But wisdom and human understanding are not about accumulating facts. I can imagine that if some 17th, or 10th, or 1st Century Catholic peasants time-traveled to my house, I would shut my laptop, sit at their feet, and soak up their wisdom, knowing that they may well have better insight into what it means to be human than I, and they may be more integrated into the True, the Good, and the Beautiful than the rest of us sitting here surrounded by all our technology.
Human nature does not change or "evolve", and wisdom is timeless and accessible to both ancient peasant and modern king. One of the first steps to wisdom is humility, a virtue which seems in short supply today.