These Are The Dark Ages

David Cowles

Aug 4, 2021

A cursory reading of ethnographic surveys (Frazer, Spengler, Toynbee, et al.) shows that almost every human culture includes the recognition of a ‘transcendent’ dimension to reality. Sometimes this dimension is called “God”; other times it is better described as a “force” or as a “layer of eternal values”. What is not found are cultures that embrace WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) aka ‘naïve realism’…with one glaring exception: the culture of contemporary Western Europe and North America.

A cursory reading of ethnographic surveys (Frazer, Spengler, Toynbee, et al.) shows that almost every human culture includes the recognition of a ‘transcendent’ dimension to reality. Sometimes this dimension is called “God”; other times it is better described as a “force” or as a “layer of eternal values”. What is not found are cultures that embrace WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) aka ‘naïve realism’…with one glaring exception: the culture of contemporary Western Europe and North America.


Perhaps Nietzsche best expressed the ethic of our era: “One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole…But nothing exists apart from the whole!”


Ever since the dawn of the so-called “Enlightenment” (c. 1700), we have been desperate to model a universe that is sui generis. No matter what the cost we are determined to make homo sapiens the apex of reality and to exclude any possibility of a “higher power”. Our quest has led to an explosion of scientific progress to the point where we can now talk about “creation” in terms of Big Bang, Virtual Particles and negative vacuum pressure. But we cannot overcome the ultimate obstacle: despite our overarching hubris, we cannot believably derive something from nothing.


It is no longer politically correct to describe the period from 500 AD to 800 AD in Europe as the ‘Dark Ages’…and rightly so! These centuries hosted enormous advances in social organization, philosophy, theology, music, art and architecture. They formed the basis for the Carolingian Renaissance (800 AD) and the 13th century confluence of Islamic, Judaic and Christian thought.

But it would be a mistake to retire the concept of “Dark Ages” prematurely; we are living in just such a period right now. These are the Dark Ages!

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