I had a conversation yesterday with the guy who washes dishes in the kitchen at the local high school. He told me about the political philosopher Eric Voegelin. Intrigued– but not knowing much about him– I subsequently found the Eric Voegelin Institute website. If you want to hear thickly German-accented English, the website has mp3 files of cassette recordings that were made of Voegelin, in the early 1970s.
I listened for an hour. Although the recordings were made 40 years ago, Voegelin has something to say about the predicament we are in today. He characterizes the pathology of modernity as our turning away from God: not away from the god of Church or from the god of Religion, but away from God as the Ground of Being. Turned away from the Transcendent Source in this manner, we live in a state of perpetual alienation, and are cut off from our own humanity. Some people believe we are most human when we leave God out of the picture; Voegelin is precisely the opposite. We find our full humanity when connected to the Ground of Being.
I’ll say it again: for Voegelin, a pinching or narrowing of our humanity happens when we are dis-connected from God. I love this, because he’s standing Freud on his head: the by-now popular view is that God is an overdeveloped moralistic superego, a kind of prissy prude shaking an accusatory finger at the life-force alive in us all. In short, per Freud, God is the Omnipotent Killjoy. Voegelin’s theological anthropology flips this: connection to God frees us to embrace all parts of our humanity, including the shamed parts. In this theology, God is a nurturing parent/wise mentor/passionate lover– not a scold.