We find a great chasm between naming in the scientific realm and naming in the ancient world. To this day, people are inclined to vest great significance in what they name things, from their children, to their pets, to their cars and boats. On the other hand, the naturalist revolution has diminished the power of naming.
In the Bible, naming is the first act of mankind’s priesthood, his first husbanding of the creation. Alexander Schmemann expresses this truth clearly and concisely in his must-read, For the Life of the World. “In the Bible,” he says, “a name is infinitely more than a means to distinguish one thing from another.”
There you have the heights to which a naturalist can reach. He can distinguish things from each other, categorizing them by genus and differentia. This is a great thing and reveals the Divine commission given to mankind. However, it is nowhere near what naming something Biblically means.
Schmemann continues: “It [a name] reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.”
Between the blessing contained in this second option and the purely utilitarian understanding of the naturalist is a gulf as great as that between Abraham’s bosom and the rich man of the parable.
It is the gulf between the Christian “worldview” or “metaphysic” or “theology” or “vision of being” (or whatever you want to call it) and that of the naturalist/utilitarian/post-human.
It is the gulf between Adam as created and Adam as fallen, between the first Adam and the last Adam.
For it is in the Bible that we learn that things are what they are by creation, that they are intended to be what they are and not something else. We learn that things are of a “kind” after which they are instructed to reproduce.
We learn that things have a meaning and a value and that our duty is to grasp that meaning and to appreciate that value. Not, please note, to appreciate sentimentally, but essentially, actively, thoroughly, in an integrated practical-philosophical way.
We learn that everything has a place and a function in God’s created cosmos and our task is to honor the place of each thing and to use it according to its function.
Perhaps this is a good summary of why, as Plato and St. Paul told us, the love of money is the root of every evil. It is why we have lost our way as a people.
We need to turn around. The beginning of that turning around from the deep darkness into which “Enlightenment” has led us is to accept that we have done unspeakable damage to communities and to the world in which communities grow by forgetting two things:
- Our own vast ignorance
- The fact that there is a God-given meaning, value, place, and function to all things