The Gospels, part 10: The Gospel of John (1)
Historicism, poetry, and preliminaries
Anyone seeking to know – in the most intimate, experimental sense of that word – the depths of any spiritual tradition should be wary of “historicism.” The term “historicism” is not to be confused with “history”; rather, it is the modern idea that all phenomena and all beliefs and convictions can be explained by studying the history behind them (as Benedetto Croce put it, historicism is “the affirmation that life and reality are history alone”). This idea (I’m tempted to call it a prejudice) developed in Europe during the 19th century, with Germany at the forefront. Historicism, then, is the sibling of “scientism,” the notion that all phenomena can be explained by (philosophically materialist and mechanistic) science. Taken for granted by both is the denial of any transcendent reality; there can be no “spirit,” unless we mean by that word the metaphorical zeitgeist or “spirit of an age.” Needless to say, such a view of history or science is not only a “category error” (the question of God or the Tao or Brahman or Buddha-nature or the Over-soul or whatever other term has been used to indicate the transcendent-imminent reality human beings have experienced universally cannot be addressed strictly in terms of history or science), but it’s a soul-killer, and inimical to spirituality if overly indulged. History and science are immeasurably beneficial; historicism and scientism, however, diminish us, drain us, and lead us in the direction of nihilism. They work as corrosives in the life of the spirit. What, then, should we make of Jesus, who has been a favorite subject of historicists since the dawn of historicism?