Eric Voegelin "In Search of the Ground"

Some of my students in A World without God asked for an outline of my class presentation on Eric Voegelin's essay "In Search of the Ground".  Here it is ...





I. THE GROUND (Greek: αἴτιον) is the source of our being and our particularity (THE GROUND is GOD, viewed as a philosophical concept and not as a Person.)


There the quest of the ground has been formulated in two principal questions of metaphysics. The first question is, “Why is there something; why not nothing?” And the second is, “Why is that something as it is, and not different?”

II. Man’s nature is to seek this Ground, which is also the Final Cause, the Purpose, through an open dialogue of questioning and answering, pulled by God.  In fact, this is what Reason is.



In this questioning one keeps open one’s human condition and is not tempted to find cheap answers.  ... That is reason: openness toward the ground.

III. How do we go about being Open toward the Ground?  Through a basic TENSION between our lives and the “transcendent” - a reaching out in this imperfect and muddled life for something greater which is Beyond.  This TENSION is expressed by the words FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.  It is not settling comfortably on a dogmatic answer, even if the dogma expresses a truth; it is a continued tensional questing toward God, for the Dogmas (though true) are signposts or objectified expressions of a truth that is not, itself, a "thing" to be comfortably conceptualized and mentally appropriated, but a form of being, a relationship marked by desire and an uncertainty on man's part, overcome by trust.  That is what Faith is - a reaching out in hope with love (Eros).  Faith, Hope and Love are first grouped together hundreds of years before St. Paul.


Already Heraclitus knew three variants or nuances of the tension: love, hope, and faith.  

IV.  As the ear is for hearing and as the eye is for seeing, so the PSYCHE (soul) is for desiring God.  We are built for this.  In the same way we are built for seeing and hearing, so we are built for seeking God.  And the Psyche is the "organ" that enables this.


V.  This common goal of seeking God (the Ground) unites us in friendship and like-mindedness: homonoia.


... since every man participates in love of the transcendent Being and is aware of such a ground—Ground, Reason, or Nous—out of which he exists, every man can, by virtue of this noetic self, have love for other men. … “If I did not love other men because they also are an image of God, I would have no particular reason to love them because they are just horrible.” - Nietzsche

VI. But what happens to all of this in A WORLD WITHOUT GOD???


We still have of course, the quest of the ground; we want to know where things come from. But since God (in revelatory language) or transcendent divine Being (in philosophical language) is prohibited for agnostics, they must put their ground elsewhere. And now we can see, beginning about the middle of the eighteenth century, in the Enlightenment, a whole series of misplacements of the ground. The transcendent Ground is misplaced somewhere in an immanent hierarchy of being.

TRANSLATION: God and the Purpose of Life is no longer seen as being something that is Beyond us, but as something that we can make and manipulate in the here and now.  Voegelin calls this IDEOLOGY.  I call it UNREALITY.  If the Open Existence is a life lived seeking the Divine Ground of our Being, the Closed Existence is shutting ourselves off to the Ground: it is Spiritual Contraception (found among some Devout Catholics, I would say, as among all agnostics).  And this Closed Existence takes the form of IDEOLOGIES that assert the Final Cause (the Ground, the Purpose of life) as anything but transcendent; it is not beyond our reach: power is God, money is God, sex is God, tolerance is God, gender fluidity is God, etc.


VII. Aspects of Ideology ...

       1. IDEOLOGIES (worlds without God) are APOCALYPTIC.  They believe a better world will follow this one.

2. IDEOLOGIES are GNOSTIC.  Only the ideologue and his party know the recipe to produce this perfect world, which must be attained through a brutal rejection of this one; or through a meaningless use and abuse of this one: for this world and human nature itself are but the contemptible stuff that must be overcome to attain the Utopia.
3. IDEOLOGIES are IMMANENT: the apocalyptic heaven is man-made and of this world; not produced by grace and ultimately fully embodied in the world to come, but arbitrarily and forcefully produced by those in power.


IX. HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF against the Bad Thinkers, the Agnostics and the Ideologues?



E.V.: Oh, by reading the classics, of course. That’s the purpose of education—you must have the masters at your fingertips.

X.  And finally …


Nobody is obliged to participate in the crisis of his time. He can do something else. … No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order. 

... And order is discerned in the Ground, the source and end of our existence.