Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Humankind from the Age of Monologue to the Age of Global Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Humankind from the Age of Monologue to the Age of Global Dialogue

Article excerpt

I. Background (1)

When one reads general history, one finds it often said that our time is very new, that it used to be such and such, but now it is different, that our time is, usually, the worst ever. Of course, if this were really true year after year, today we would be somewhere back at the pre-stone-age level. Occasionally, it has been claimed the present age is better than all the rest--but this is rare. Of course, there are certain times that are dramatically worse or better than what went before. One might think of the first half of the twentieth century as one of those times when things got dramatically worse: the Great World Depression sandwiched between two World Wars--and all these global disasters following upon the heels of the nineteenth century's "Century of Progress," when humankind proclaimed that something like the eschaton was in the immediate offing and then proceeded like a herd of lemmings heedlessly to race off the cliff into the abyss of what was the most hideously stupid war in human history, the so-called "Great War," that is, World War I, which concluded really only with World War II.

Nevertheless, humankind today at the beginning of the Third Millennium is truly at the cusp of a huge transition in human history at least as profound--and even much more fundamental, I would argue--than even the Axial Period of 800-200 B.C.E., when the broad human consciousness was created that has persisted throughout the whole world till almost today,. This massive paradigm shift, which toward the end of the twentieth century my friend Ewert Cousins perceived and named the "Second Axial Period," is beginning to be seen now as even more profound, for there is at its very foundation a 180-degree volte face, fundamentally reversing the basic orientation of all understanding. In short, humankind at the beginning of the Third Millennium is leaving behind the from-the-beginning "Age of Monologue" and inchoatively entering the "Age of Global Dialogue."

In human history things do not change as a light switch is flipped but do so gradually, most often so incrementally that the change is not discernible except at a distance of reflection of many years or even centuries. Hence, what we in Western languages usually refer to as "Modernity" has its antecedents in the transmission to Western Europe of the treasure trove of Aristotelian reason by Muslim philosophers--think Ibn Sin (980-1037) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98)--and peaking in the Catholic lovers of reason (Abelardus [1079-1142], Albertus Magnus [1193-1280], Thomas Aquinas [1225-74]), followed by the Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the simultaneous discovery by Westerners of the New World and the fact that the world is a globe. However, historians usually mark the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, die Auflarung, as the beginning of Modernity--in German, die Neuzeit. It is clearly with the eighteenth-century Aufklarung, as well as what German scholars call die Spat-Aufklarung, running through the first third of the nineteenth century, that we from the perspective of two centuries later can discern a major paradigm shift starting in the West and subsequently spreading over the entire globe.

The eighteenth century is also often called--and with justification--the "Age of Reason," which brought with it the proclamation of liberty and human rights. (2) It must be recalled, however, that even in its midst there arose the "Sturm und Drank' with its emphasis on the imagination, emotions, and a love of history, and that the Spat-Aufklarung also saw the launching of Romanticism with its stress on the dynamic, the evolutionary, and the development of "scientific history." Here, then, we have three of the core characteristics of Modernity: freedom, reason, and dynamism/sense of history. It is also here in the Spat-Aufklarung that we find the burgeoning roots of the fourth core characteristic of Modernity: dialogue.

II. …

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