Religious ground motive

Religious ground motive

Religious ground motive (RGM) is a conceptual construct of the reformational philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd. Dooyeweerd saw four great distinct value-systems that contested the general formative power over Western culture and civilization for within - in comparison, say, to an Islamic RGM. Also, there are minority RGMs that never gained the formative role over a vast population and cultural zone, but which produced remarkable achievements in smaller zones and diasporas. Among these, Judaism and Gnosticism could be cited.

However, regarding the main RGMs in the West, according to this conceptual construct that seeks to amass and interpret in embracive yet empirical terms, there are only four such dominant RGMs over time in the Western tradition that set the tone for all minorities seeking to maintain their distinctive RGM in the surrounding context. The four are: (1) the Form/Matter RGM of the Greeks; (2) the Synthetist RGM of the slowly Christianizing Roman Empire leading up to Emperor Constantine the Great's official toleration and then establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Imperial State and its aftermath; (3) the Nature/Grace RGM of the Western Middle Ages; and (4) the Nature/Freedom RGM of the Enlightenment.

The Form/Matter RGM of the Greeks

The Form/Matter motif is not entirely original with Dooyeweerd, but his treatment is exceptional. Nietzsche argued that Greek values from the time of Homer to that of Plato and Aristotle were in a constant state of tension between a volarization of a Dionysian natural orgiastic devotion to the life force, celebrated in the annual Baccanal at Delphi, presided over by that Temple's Oracle through whom Dionysios would communicate in riddles and puzzles of a prophetic but obscure kind. The other Greek volorization turned on the order of the city and its justice achieved by calm thought in accord with an Apollonian devotion situated in the Temple of Athena. Perhaps the best articulation of this side of the bipolar tension of values can be seen in the tragic drama where the Furies are constrained and given a place below the Temple's altar where they can no longer unleash themselves in the historic form of a blood revenge.

The Synthetist RGM of the slowly Christianizing Age

As the Form/Matter RGM continued from Ancient Greek times (Homer, Hesiod, Musaios) through Classical times (Heraclitus, Parmenides, the Sophists and Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) and then into the times of the Cynics, Skeptics, and Stoics; another RGM arose slowly and spread by winning converts and generating a system of internal self-governance. That self-governance was always subordinate in the public arena to the state power of the Roman Empire, but as the Christian Church grew and its churches and dioceses arose in ever more areas, the Emperor Constantine the Great, born and raised by a Christian mother Helen, granted the Christians toleration. That meant more and more people underwent conversion, although Constantine himself did not become a Christian until on his death bed. Prior to that, however, he decided that the pagan religious system of temples supported by the Roman Imperial state, were not adequate to their task. So, he called together the leaders of the Christian Church/es to a council in the city of Nicaea to decide what the official teachings of the Church would be, and thereby established a consistent uniform doctrine - on his part, as a necessity of state. In the meantime, over the three hundred or so years between the life of Jesus regarded as the Messiah become the Christ, and the establishment of the Christian Church as the official religion of the Empire, the religious ground motive of Christianity contested the hold of the Greek Form/Matter motif, in many respects blended with it, and on this view produced a synthesis of the two RGMs. The Christian RGM, according to Dooyeweerd's conceptual construct, may be schematized in terms of Creation, Fall, and Redemption (especially some Anglicans have suggested revising this to Creation, Fall, Incarnation, and Redemption). However, this RGM never really gained uncontested power, and gained formative influence only in a form synthesized deeply with the older Form/Matter RGM.

The Nature/Grace RGM of the Latin Middle Ages

According to Dooyeweerd, the great sweep of Christianization in the Latin West beginning from St Augustine onwards came under sway of a new synthesis that was torn by the opposing values of Nature and Grace, in a situation where the State backed the Church in prioritizing Grace as dominant over the approved limited valorization of Nature. Through the Renaissance of the twelfth century and also of the fifteenth century and the Reformations (both Protestant and Catholic) of the sixteenth, the Nature under Grace dualism was held in place, only to collapse in the wake of the oncoming next RGM.

The Nature/Freedom RGM of the Enlightenment

The spiritual warfare to displace a pock-marked Christianity from its formative power over society and daily life, also individual consciences, was an RGM called "the Enlightenment." From early on and throughout its development, the Enlightenment was itself torn within by two contending devotions. One was the devotion to Nature, conceived as a deterministic universe a Nature-only earthly existence and a mundane life often struggling to overcome a sense of banality and ennui; the other was the parallel and antagonistic devotion to an absolutized quest from Freedom. In Dooyeweerd's view, this internal struggle has tossed European, and then Western thought more widely conceived, back and forth, as though it were on a swinging pendulum that first favoured one of the two absolute values, then devolving along its trajectory to a bottom-most point, only to climb again to the opposite highpoint of the ever-recurring swing between Nature and Freedom. Dooyeweerd held that all prominent philosophers attempted to account for both sides of this dualistic RGM, but usually have explained one of the options in a minor key in terms of the other which then would constitute the major key for the given philosopher. The shifts of the internal dynamics of the Enlightenment RGM, however, are not philosophical shifts alone. Philosophy only gives a certain formal theoretical expression to the cultural tension of its three-hundred-or-so years as the hegemonic religious ground motive of Western culture, to the present. In this situation, Jews and Christians have had to find their ways of surviving within the continuously expanding Enlightenment culture that brought both Hitler and Stalin to power in the most devastating ways.


Herman Dooyeweerd, "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought"

Herman Dooyeweerd, "In the Twilight of Western Thought"

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