Earlier today during lunch break I came across a discussion on a gaming forum about the increasingly polarized fanboy attitudes among gamers. The original poster was expressing frustration with gamers who refuse to accept constructive criticism of their favorite game franchise. The gist of his complaint was that all too often, gamers are refusing to accept that there are flaws in their favorite game and treat any critique as a thing to be fought at all costs.
Of course, the original poster made several comments in his post that indicated he was also refusing to accept criticism of things he believed. One being the fact that Sony has been charging a fee to allow online gaming on the PlayStation 4 since its launch in 2013, much like Microsoft has done for online gaming on the Xbox platform since the launch of the Xbox 360 back in 2005, and he believes that this is a vile practice that should be spoken out against at any opportunity and anyone who thinks it’s acceptable is a deluded fool.
I am not surprised about this polarization. It is, sadly, one more sign of the de-Christianization of Western culture that began in earnest over 600 years ago.
The visible roots of our current situation date back at least as far as William of Ockham in the 1300’s. He was one of the first people, if not the first person, to espouse what has since come to be known as the philosophical view of nominalism. Nominalism states that there are no such things as universals or abstract objects. In other words, when considering two cats, there is no real thing called “catness”, per se. There is only the name cat, which we then apply to both cats because we have decided that the word applies to those things.
To the nominalist, objective reality (ie, reality independent of our own personal view of it) does not exist. All reality is based on our subjective (ie, personal) view of existence. If we decide that a thing is A, then it is A. If we subsequently decide that A is actually B, then it is B. A thing is whatever we name it, however we describe it, however we categorize it or use it or otherwise think of it, in the present. It may have been different yesterday, and it may be different again tomorrow.
The concept of nominalism flies in the face of… well, reality.
Although not William of Ockham’s intent at the time, the increasing popularization of the idea of nominalism was at the very least a contributing factor in the Protestant Reformation, which basically boiled down to a disagreement over the nature of the Church. The Catholic Church maintained that it has been since the time of Jesus, and always will be, the Church established by and headed by Jesus Christ himself, visibly comprised of the baptized, and led/governed by the pope and the bishops in union with him.
Protestants disagreed, stating the that Church should properly be considered as nothing more than the vaguely-defined “body of believers in Christ” without the necessity of something like a hierarchy and anything that went along with it. If that was true, then the hierarchy of the pope and bishops became at best nothing more than an optional way of governance that could be dispensed with if we so chose, and at worst an evil thing that must be eradicated. And if the hierarchy could be dispensed with then so could anything directly tied to their existence, such as Sacred Tradition and the sacraments. At least all sacraments except for baptism and marriage, which are the two sacraments that do not require a member of the hierarchy. They can stick around.
Or at least they stuck around for a while. Today, baptism is now seen by most Protestant denominations as an optional ceremony. A simple statement of belief in Christ (whatever that belief means, and who exactly Christ is, aren’t defined very well, but whatever since things are only what we name them and that’s mutable) is what really saves a person and makes a person Christian. As to marriage, well, we have seen a recent redefinition of marriage that some opponents say was imposed on us by the Supreme Court. But something described as “imposition” is normally met with widespread protest and civil disobedience. This ruling was not imposed, because by the time of the ruling approximately 2/3 of the people in this country (including sizeable majorities across most Christian denominations) already believed that marriage should be redefined. So it could hardly be said to be imposed. The ruling merely made law what a large majority already believed.
Rather unsurprisingly, sin itself in a general sense is now not seen as necessary by a growing number of people who consider themselves to be Christians. Not that in their mind sin doesn’t exist, mind you. It’s that a particular act is not necessary sinful unless we decide to name it sinful. All we need to do is rename it so that sin doesn’t enter into the picture, and poof it’s now good.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it, if everything is nothing more than whatever we happen to call it today. We can make sin into not sin by simply calling it not sin.
Funny how for these folks their definition of sin never seems to include anything popular, anything accepted by the current culture. Or maybe it’s not so funny.
William of Ockham would be horrified to see what nominalism has led to today. An error in the beginning is an error indeed. Sometimes the most harmless seeming of ideas can turn out to be not so harmless after all and lead to terrible things.
Since to the nominalist everything is defined according to the perspective or opinion of the person doing the defining, rather than being whatever it is regardless of whoever may look at it, then personal opinion has become more than personal opinion. It has become reality itself. And if your personal opinion differs from my personal opinion, then we don’t have two different ideas about a particular thing. We have two different realities.
This is why people today find it difficult to disagree and seek compromise. They must fight instead, because to each person the other person is presenting a completely different reality. There is no mere disagreement at stake; reality itself is at stake.
And it gets worse. A person who disagrees with reality is not just wrong. They are insane. You can’t explain things to and reason with an insane person. If they won’t give up their insanity and accept reality, they are a threat. They must be locked away. They must be treated until they finally reject the fantasy that they currently believe, and come to accept reality.
The rhetorical talk engaged in by people who should be discussing differences of opinion but who are actually defending, at least in their minds, reality itself, is what it is because of this polarized view of reality. It’s why the person who doesn’t like your favorite movie, the person who doesn’t read the same books as you or engage in the same social activities as you, the person who doesn’t have your same religious views, is anathema. They don’t have a difference of opinion. They have a difference of reality, for some weird reason, and are completely nuts. Or worse, have deliberately chosen to accept insanity and are evil as well as insane.
I’ve said all of this before, to at least some extent. So if you’ve read some of my previous blog posts then this isn’t really anything new. But I’ve been noticing this accelerating slide, into what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism” at the beginning of his pontificate 13 years ago, and it concerns me much more today than in the past because this division is growing wider rather than closer.
I’ve also said before that I believe we’re on the cusp of a great change for the better. My usual optimistic self is still optimistic for the long run, but I’m now beginning to believe that we are going to be going through some VERY dark times before that long run gets here. Our culture not only shows no sign of turning away from our slide into darkness, but is increasing the velocity of that slide. Either a great civil war or a great oppressive dictatorship is brewing (or a worse possibility, the former followed by the latter). Prayer and repentance are the only things that can possibly prevent either at this point, and unfortunately there’s very little prayer and even less repentance happening right now.
So pray and cultivate a penitent heart. And don’t worry. No matter how many canastas and red threes evil scores today, good is still going to win in the end.