Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The garment-rending of the post-religious

If you hover over this hyperlink, it looks like you’re being redirected to the Guardian, that bastion of free thought and liberal values. But I'm telling you, at the other end of this link is a religious person.

This “happily married” “white man” loves virtue signalling and long walks on the beach. He identifies himself by symbols and other people’s ideas, and yet I know nothing about him. But narcissism aside, I want you to notice specifically how Christian this person is.

His article is dripping with religious language. He says the “thought of racism has always been abhorrent,” and it sounds exactly like how the thought of sin makes a religious person physically ill. He talks about watching debates on YouTube being a gateway drug or the “thin edge of the wedge” as they used to say back in Christian dating propaganda. Then there’s this:

“I knew I was ashamed of what I was doing.” 
“I am ashamed to admit” 
“I’ve spent every day since feeling shameful”

He says this without irony. I wonder if he knows Christianity invented shame as the terrible currency it became today. He writes about his terrible experience with the “alt-right” as a need to repent from his sins. He wants to apologise to his wife and “tell her that I certainly don’t believe it.” Because no god-fearing progressive would want their congregation to think they’re one of those nasty heathens.

It is really important he chooses to do this online as well – especially on the Guardian website. It is, in effect, crowdsourcing the superego. Please don’t do this, it will lead to your ruin.

This generation deals with guilt by externalising it, converting it to shame and then taking comfort in support online. Everyone is famous to 15 people, and that's just enough people to help you sleep at night. Externalising the rule means you can explore the grey areas without guilt. It’s always been this way, to an extent. But the new factor is access to media, our connectivity. So it becomes impossible to completely block out the judgment of others – and if that judgment is to your benefit, you’ll desire more crowdsourcing anyway.

I'm telling you to be careful with your lives. Every time you crowdsource the superego a piece of you carves off as bad, leaving the rest of you intact as good. "I'm not a bad person, I just did a bad thing." The downside is you’re training yourself to think of all events and behaviours as happening to separate parts of yourself – you don't fully own them – which means that when something good happens you can't own that, either. Everything will come with self-doubt.

What's necessary for this dude’s “curiosity” about the Brexit/Trump voters isn't a surrounding community that supports his dive into sin, but a group of people who validate that some behaviours are shameful. In other words, someone to crowdsource the superego. "I don't condone what he did, but I understand." If he gets even one of those responses, then his identity is saved.

That’s why this article works so well. For him. It’s an archetypical religious fable with exactly the story arc understood by Guardian readers. Do you understand now why progressivism is simply Christianity without God?

Anyway, Nietzsche said "God is dead" because he knew God was no longer necessary for our morality. We killed God when science, scepticism and education led us to disbelieve miracles. But as this article shows, a consequence of this loss is that we become lost, with no goals, no aspirations and no values. God was fake, but He gave us a reason to progress. The emptiness means we’ll either despair, return to medieval religion or look deeper within to find a new source of human values. Yet, none of those things happened.

Post-modernism suggests we didn't kill God at all – we enslaved him. Rather than abandoning God or taking a leap of faith back to the "mystery" of God, He was kept as a servant to the Id. We accept a morality exists but secretly retain the right of exception: "yes, but in this case..."

Atheists do this all the time but pretend they don't believe in God. "Murder is wrong, but in this case...." Here they aren’t referring to the penal code, but to an abstract wrongness they rationalise as coming from shared collective values or humanist principles or etc. It's still God – a God behind the "God" – something bigger which preserves the individual's ability to appeal to the symbolic.

The words "...but in this case" presuppose an even higher law than "thou shalt not."  This God – which isn't a spiritual God but a voice inside your head – examines things on a case by case basis and always rules in your favour, which is why he is kept around.

But this enslaved God isn’t to justify one's behaviour or assuage the superego. Absolution could have been obtained from a traditional Christianity by saying "God, I'm sorry I committed adultery, I really enjoyed it and can't undo that, but I am sorry and I'll try not to do it again." Although, Christianity never prevented people from acting on their impulses either, and atheists invented Viagra, so...

The absence of guilt is not the result of the justification, it comes before the justification. Like a dream that incorporates a real life ringing telephone seemingly before the phone actually rings, the absence of guilt creates an explanation for its absence to preserve the symbolic morality: I don't feel any guilt...because in this case.

So the anonymous “happily married” “white man” can safely plumb the heathen depravity and come up white as snow if he recounts his trials using the internet as his confessional, the faceless readers as his fellow congregants and his wife as the priest. What does it matter if he dumps all his shame onto her? After all, she’s nothing but a means to an end, a member of the supporting cast to his leading role.

“The good news for me is that my journey toward the alt-right was mercifully brief: I never wanted to harm or abuse anybody verbally, it was all very low level – a creeping fear and bigotry that I won’t let infest me again. But I suspect you could, if you don’t catch it quickly, be guided into a much more overt and sinister hatred.”

The “good news,” indeed…

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