Allow me to wrap this up.
Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back. The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans. Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline. In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost. The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it. They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome. In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective. Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?
Christianity did not create this problem. Christianity is one proposed solution, the most adequate on offer, in my opinion.
What is the other solution? Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible. His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments. In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that. How can he live with such a spiritual wound? The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this: how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?
The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense. The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism. And here is the solution! His group is the one to have discovered universalism. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves. Quite the opposite! They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness. This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group: to spread universalism. A group dedicated to the abolition of groups. A universal, a propositional people. So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty. His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.