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The saints, through their direct experience of divine things, provided the church with a source of authority and guarantee of the truth of its teachings. This too, together with the authority that goes with an acceptance of tradition, was lost to the Reformation. The only authoritative source of information about divine things was the Bible (though, perhaps somewhat inconsistently, the mainstream Protestant churches regarded the findings of the first four ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries as authoritative). But the Bible is open to many different possible interpretations. The absence of authority within Protestantism opened the door to an unlimited array of possibilities. This open-endedness is possibly the most important thing about it historically, more important than the actual intentions or teachings of the early reformers. There is indeed something very moving about the earnestness, the anguish with which this open-ended search for truth was conducted and, like it or not, we are all products of it. We all of us, now, live in an age of private opinion, even those of us who may have chosen to adopt the more traditional forms of Christianity. We can only turn to them on what might be called a Protestant basis. Rather than a frame of mind common to a whole society, it is a personal choice, even if it is a personal choice made by large numbers of people. The frame of mind common to the whole society is the frame of mind formed (even, I suspect, in Christian countries that didn't receive the Reformation) by this Protestant open-endedness. Which essentially means a bedrock (whatever structures we might individually build on it) of nihilism, as defined by Nietzsche. Heaven is empty and the predominant human value is the Will to Power, as exemplified by the great concern we all have for technical inventiveness, for gadgetry.  

The question is posed - is this state of affairs irreversible? Is it being reversed in Russia? Is it a road that other religions, Islam for example, have managed to avoid?

I would like to finish with a brief comment on Heidegger.

I never read, nor did I ever expect to read Heidegger until John Minahane launched his Heidegger Review. I started reading him then because I thought that was an exciting project and that I would like to be involved in it. Like, I suppose, most people I found him pretty unreadable but nonetheless found myself getting drawn in. What got my attention was the notion that from the start - even before, in the mid-thirties, Heidegger went, according to his critics, 'mystical' - it seemed to me he had a coherent project of restoring a religious frame of mind more humanly satisfying than the view that consciousness is the consequence of a largely arbitrary series of chemical reactions. But he was persuaded that this could not be done by any of the churches or by any already given theological framework. The Christian cycle has come to fruition and its fruit is nihilism.

He argues that this Christian cycle was part of a larger philosophical cycle beginning in Greece, with Parmenides. The Greeks established the idea of the fundamental reality of things ('being') that enabled acceptance of Christianity. What is required now is what was done then, the radical examination of the assumptions that we think render everyday life supportable - something similar to what we find in, for example, the Platonic dialogues. One might say a plunge into nihilism to overcome nihilism, creating the necessary philosophical preconditions in the hope, perhaps, that something more radical will come along ('Only a god can save us').

I'm not sure that I go along with that. But I think it's interesting.