from my blog Board Housewife & The Cat
“The Pontiff of Humanity”
Advisory: Scary content.
The Cat enjoys scaring his friend Zack. He has urged me, therefore, to write about Positivism’s arch scion, Auguste Comte, about whom we were just reading in Dabney. Comte had the modest aspiration of becoming “Pontiff of Humanity.”
Ideas that reject sources of knowledge can get very weird, and Comte quite possibly attained the zenith of weirdness. If we owe our ideas to no sources of knowledge outside of our own experience of phenomena, we tend to become a bit obsessed with ourselves. Thus, atheism is the predictable logical consequence of positivism.
Positivism denies the supernatural, even in light of the evidence of supernatural facts. Thus, the documented miracles that Christ performed on earth before thousands of witnesses would be denied or explained naturally–an impossibility untroubling to a positivist mind.
The cosmological implication of this is, or should be, terribly frightening: self-existence without God. As Dabney puts it so well, “Thus, matter is clothed with the attributes of God” (Robert L. Dabney: The Sensualistic Philosophy, Naphtali Books, 2003, p. 81).
Comte, who lived from 1798 to 1857, was certainly not the first person to attempt to recreate God; nor was he original in his attempt to introduce worship of himself. However, there is a certain novelty to his approach of denying the existence of any god, while introducing a religious system of worship with himself as the center, and expecting liberty-enjoying people to go along with it.
To the psychotic Comte, a religion without God was a reasonable concept. His religion included the necessary element of worshipers. To ensure a prodigious number of them, he devised a congregation known as the “Great Being,” consisting of all humanity, living, dead, and those who will live. Evidently hip to the utility of liturgical worship principles, Comte devised a system of worship with 84 holy days in a year and nine sacraments (p. 83).
Comte’s system was to consist of a “spiritual order” of positivist philosophers and educators (reminiscent of Plato’s philosopher kings, but in Plato’s gnostic model, at least knowledge was understood to come from without the visible world). These people would be presumed infallible and defiance of their dicta would not be tolerated. Above the oligarchy would be the Pontiff of Humanity, with Comte, of course, to be the first to hold this office. The Pontiff, imbued with unsurpassed wisdom, would select his own successor.
Comte had a plan for the United States of America, wherein three bankers were to govern each of the States. The spiritual order would be absolute in its authority, and its authority would be absolute in its sphere of human control–social, spiritual, educational, and, economic.
Comte suffered from manic depression in addition to his obvious megalomania, and was rescued in the course of several suicide attempts. But consider the burden under which he labored–the pressure of ruling every soul that ever lived, did live, and ever would live–equipped only with the laws of nature directly sensible to him. No wonder he held such a hopeless, fatalistic world view, holding “intellectual skepticism as the most advantageous state of mind” (Dabney, p. 84). The irony was likely lost on him that he could not even trust the validity of his own “infallible” ideas.
Unchallenged deference to experts because they are experts, regardless of competence, is a current manifestation of Comte’s positivist world view. I would submit that Comte’s view is not extreme, but rather the logical outcome of positivism, and that it exists around us more than makes us comfortable to think.
Dabney said this in the 19th century, and it is as true in our day as it was in his: Positivism’s “most deplorable result is the impulse which it gives to irreligion and open atheism. Thousands of shallow persons, who have no understanding of any connected philosophy, and are too indolent and inattentive to acquire it, are emboldened to babble materialism and impiety, by hearing it said that the “˜positive philosophy’ has exploded the supernatural” (Dabney, p. 85).
Adherence to positivism and its sequelae is shallow and uncomplicated; it is a giving over to a reprobate mind. Paul presaged the philosophy long before Dabney warned America: “for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” Ro 1:25. “And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting…” Ro 1:28.
Positivists would profess that their philosophy advocates nothing specifically immoral, that nature itself is sufficient revelation of proper moral conduct. Whose nature–Auguste Comte’s? Their scheme forecloses any moral source outside of nature and sensibility; therefore, how can morality be known? But this is a rude question to ask an all-knowing Pontiff of Humanity.