What are the ideals of Western modernity? Liberty in at least three senses: freedom of thought and method, as demonstrated paradigmatically by scientists like Galileo, Newton, and Darwin; freedom from oppressive, dogmatic institutions like the Church, as instituted, for example, by the American democracy; and freedom to pursue earthly happiness, as enabled chiefly by technological applications of science which tend to elevate living standards. Also, modernists prize the originality of a Renaissance genius such as Goethe or Leonardo da Vinci. Modernity is thus an anti-Christian affair. Breaking with the past, including the doctrines of Christianity which dominated Europe for centuries, modernists sought progress in all aspects of life. Modernists overthrew stifling traditions, encouraging skepticism of dogmas and trusting in the authority of facts as understood by each rational individual. Modernists are thus humanists in that they posit natural human rights that don’t depend on any official interpretation of a religious text. Our rights to personal freedom and to pursue happiness are inherent, not conferred by a deity. However the Church might have protected medieval Europe from chaos after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the cure became worse than the disease, according to modernists, and so progressives awakened to their curiosity and to their pride as natural creatures who share the earth with other admirable animals. The Elizabethan Chain of Being, which ranked humans above beasts and plants, was replaced by the Darwinian continuum that takes morality to be less important than biological function.
The modern cognitive ideal is enlightenment, the objectivity to see the world as it really is. Modernists are methodologically naturalistic in that they understand that supernaturalism and theism are vacuous as explanations of anything, and so they ban references to gods or to divine intentions or purposes from their theories. This leaves modernists with a monstrous pantheism, according to which natural orders form by themselves for no reason. The world is thus undead: ordered and intelligible, albeit fundamentally random and bizarre, as represented by quantum mechanics—but also comprised of impersonal forces acting on material systems. The universal energy and matter are thus as baffling as the fictional zombie that shambles on with no intelligent direction. Mind, intelligence, and consciousness are byproducts of natural processes, not their first causes. Natural systems are beheld as having only aesthetic value as amoral artworks that are mechanically assembled by impersonal forces. When we see something as just art, we see it as arbitrary since it stands by itself without the context supplied by the perceiver’s presuppositions or social agendas. We don’t think of it as being useful, but simply as being; we see it as it really is, as a physical appendage of the monstrous, decaying body of the cosmos. And the awakened mind comprehends these grim truths by the method of depersonalization. For example, the scientist subjects her pet hypotheses to the impersonal tribunal of the natural facts as these are observed by multiple fellow scientists whose personal agendas are canceled out by their variety. Personal preference counts for nothing in this enlightenment. The facts are allowed to speak more or less for themselves; logic and evidence carry the day as the modernist learns to discount the cognitive weight of her intuitions and other feelings.
Paraphrasing Nietzsche, human nature is distinguished by its ability to be overcome. The enlightened soul thus divests herself of her personality, zombifying herself to become a fitting vessel for a vision of natural reality in all its equal undeadness. Objectivity is self-zombification, and this is the only respect in which the theory of truth as correspondence is valid. Symbols don’t magically agree with facts. Instead, the knower detaches from her emotions and instincts, which tend to delude and flatter her; she renounces her ordinary personhood so she can imagine what it’s like to be merely one material object in a universe of other such objects. Instead of transcending her earthly form, acquiring a spiritual body as in traditional monotheistic religions, the enlightened individual regards her every distinguishing characteristic as a distraction if not an outright illusion. Her position in history, her hobbies and nationality, her limited experience—all such ephemera are like the myriad trees that can prevent sight of the wood that hides in plain sight. The personal self in all its particularities is a void compared to the stunning truth of nature’s original undeadness, its self-creation and direction from nothing and no one. Instead of ascending to heaven, the modern hero is submerged in the decaying plenum.