By Phillip Darrell Collins (August 1st, 2014)

Author’s note: The following is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Invoking the Beyond, which I am co-authoring with Paul David Collins.

In Romans 1:25, St. Paul pens the following comments concerning the practices of idolaters: “They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” St. Paul’s identification of the “creature” as the idolater’s surrogate for God elucidates a parallel between the ancient world and modernity. To understand this parallel, one must first examine the etymology of the term “creature.” “Creature” is derived from the Latin word creāre, which means “created thing.” The material cosmos qualifies as a “created thing” and, within the dominant cultural milieu of modernity, it is the material cosmos that tends to occupy the lofty status of divine. Today, the idolatry of the ancient world is expressed through the Weltanschauung of naturalism and enjoys pseudo-scientific sanctions with evolutionary theory.

Naturalism holds that nature brought itself into being without a Creator and continues to arrange itself through purely organic processes. Of course, structure and organization imply design, which, in turn, implies a Designer. Since the naturalist views nature as the originator of its own structure and organization, he or she is tacitly deeming nature a de facto designer. Essentially, the material world is hypostatized. Within the context of this discussion, the term “hypostasis” is being invoked to denote a fundamental, self-sufficient rational entity upon which all else is contingent. Ironically, those who advance the hypostatic depiction of the universe typically contend that their immanent surrogate for the Divine is anhypostatic. Yet, given the irreducibly teleological nature of their cosmology, such an anhypostatic characterization of the universe is not logically sustainable. Invariably, the elevation of the sensate cosmos to the status of the Divine results in the hypostatizing of the contingent universe, a reality tacitly underscored by the anthropomorphic terminology that scientific materialists tend to invoke in discussions concerning the material world. This hypostatic depiction of the universe provides the basis for the virtual apotheosis of material agencies and the enshrinement of immanentism.

Russian Orthodox theologian Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov identified two core commonalities shared by materialism and immanentism. These are “the rejection of a transcendent God and of ‘contact with other worlds’” (Valliere 185). In the absence of a transcendent God and another world, the hypostatic view of material agencies gains the semblance of sense and human reason can be elevated to the status of divine revelatory agency. The denial of contact with a world beyond this one provides the basis for the Enlightenment’s self-sufficient portrayal of nature, which is supposedly explained through an incoherent narrative involving an infinite regress of contingent agencies imbued with the causative powers of the Divine. In turn, the denial of a transcendent God provides the basis for the Enlightenment’s apotheosized portrayal of reason, which supposedly uses the hermeneutical keys of fetishized science and logic to decipher the sublime mysteries of the inexplicably eternal universe. Conrad Goeringer articulates the Enlightenment’s symbiotic portrayal of reason and nature:
Reason, then, was the faculty for comprehending nature, the second important element in the Enlightenment triad. Nature was just that – the natural, real world. It was not the realm of the supernatural, the demonic, or the godly, but the empirical or rational “stuff” of which the universe was, and is, made. Nature could be understood through reason; through logic, scientific inquiry, and open mind of free inquiry, nature would yield her secrets. (“The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, and the Illuminati”)
These elements–a self-creating, self-sustaining natural world and an apotheosized human cognitive faculty–comprise an anti-metaphysical view of the universe that echoes the schools of occultism that populated antiquity, particularly the ancient Mystery religions of Egypt and Mesopotamia. All the elements are in place for the transplantation of divinity within the ontological confines of the physical universe, an interpretation of God that pervades pantheism, immanentism, and even naturalism. In fact, Perennial Traditionalist Rene Guenon contends that all three constitute “anti-metaphysical errors,” which are “closely interrelated” (The Reign of Quantity 288). All three fetter the Divine to material agencies, albeit through a variety of different conceptual frameworks proffered by different theoreticians. As much as some may object, this is just as much the case for naturalism.

St. Paul’s description of idolatry is equally applicable to the luminaries of Enlightenment thought and all of its ideational progenies. Radical empiricist and Enlightenment theoretician David Hume admits as much in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
It were better, never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that divinity, the better. (94)
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