Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mental Vacua

     As with an increasing number of useful quotes and aphorisms, I’m unsure where this one originated, though it has a Chestertonian flavor to it:

     “He who believes in nothing will believe in anything.”

     Or alternately, from Fyodor Dostoevsky:

     “Without God, all things are possible.”

     ...which is a satiric equivalent to the previous quote: that the rejection of God implies and entails the rejection of natural law. That opens one’s mind to explicitly contradictory ideas: contradictory of one another and of observable reality. One or more of those ideas will take root in the secular mind, for as I wrote in Shadow Of A Sword, the human psyche requires a faith for emotional health and stability.

     The need for some sort of faith, the grander the better, is so demonstrably human, with so many examples scattered throughout human history, that an argument for it is unnecessary. It’s propelled all the worst ideas in the world to levels of power undreamed of by Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun. Fascism, National Socialism, Peronism, Soviet Communism, Maoist Communism, the Edenic lunacies of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge...all these Big Ideas were eagerly accommodated by millions who had made room for them by rejecting God.

     Lack of a faith is intolerable. It’s a vacuum that must and will be filled by something...and the “something,” however horrible, will be exalted to the pinnacle of existence

     Today, Bret Stephens explores the sociopolitical consequences of Leftist secularism:

     [W]hat explains the fatal attraction of the secular mind to the politics of impending apocalypse?

     As an example of the Left’s tropism for visions of catastrophe, Stephens presents Paul Ehrlich’s anti-natal hysteria of the Seventies, which he inaugurated with his fatuous manifesto The Population Bomb. Ehrlich’s notions plainly reflect a passion for total power over all Mankind. Nothing else would suffice to prevent human reproduction, nor to limit human productivity to “approved” levels. Anyone with three functioning brain cells would have needed only a moment to realize that under such an iron-fisted regime, there would be a small governing cadre with absolute power. The rest of humanity would be reduced to absolute bondage. Yet Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, and other eco-doomsayers garnered millions of followers, including many who could rationally evaluate virtually any other proposition.

     The total subjugation of Mankind, proposed by the Seventies’ prophets of catastrophe for the sake of “zero population growth,” would result just as surely from the fascism urged upon us by today’s doom-shriekers of “climate change.”

     Why would anyone endorse and promote a scheme guaranteed to eventuate in his own enslavement? No doubt some aspired to be commissars and believed, foolishly or not, that they would rise to become such, but surely not everyone imagined himself in such a position. Yet millions have flocked to the banner of some Big Idea, every one of them easily refuted by recourse to generally available knowledge, despite the implications for their futures. Stephens posits that the critical factor is the need for a faith, any faith:

     What matters, rather, is the strength of the longing. Modern liberalism is best understood as a movement of would-be believers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th century it was faith in History, especially in its Marxist interpretation. Now it’s faith in the environment. Each is a comprehensive belief system, an instruction sheet on how to live, eat and reproduce, a story of how man fell and how he might be redeemed, a tale of impending crisis that’s also a moral crucible.

     In short, a religion without God.

     It hardly matters that doom-shriekers are almost all perfectly candid about the consequences of their proposed “remedies.” The Big Idea is what possesses their followers: the lure of a crusade, a glimpse of transcendent Meaning for their otherwise meaningless lives:

     Ah, fill the Cup: -- what boots it to repeat
     How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
     Unborn Tomorrow, and dead Yesterday,
     Why fret about them if Today be sweet!

     A Moment’s Halt—a momentary taste
     Of Being, the Well amid the Waste—
     And Lo!—the phantom Caravan has reach’d
     The Nothing it set out from—Oh, make haste!

     (If Omar Khayyam had made the acquaintance of a contemporary left-liberal, he might not have been so dismissive of religious faith.)

     “Today” is made “sweet” by an injection of Meaning: something to fill the yawning void created by their abandonment of God and the hope of individual salvation. For Man is the Project Pursuer, the Engineer: he who must have a goal to advance toward and a plausible means for approaching it. His consciousness of time and his own mortality will not abide an empty, hedonistic existence. Without the hope of salvation in an afterlife, the requirements for which really are quite straightforward:

     Now a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matthew 19:16-19]

     ...Man will commit himself to some other absorbing Idea, some Cause to which he can dedicate himself. For we all desire immortality, and the variety derivable from the notion that one’s Cause will live after one’s own flesh has returned to dust is, if not wholly fulfilling, at least better than nothing.

     I hadn’t intended to write a religiously themed piece this morning, but Stephens’s casting of left-liberal Big Idea tropism as a form of religious affiliation was too compelling to resist. It captures perfectly the furious, Inquisitorial passion of contemporary leftist activists. Tomas de Torquemada would have hired any of them on the spot.

     What remains to those of us who love freedom is to formulate a reply to such persons’ the-end-is-near proclamations as an attack on a refutable faith. We shall see.


PolyKahr said...

Francis, a good explanation. It fills the gaps others have noted, namely why a faith in obviously fallible and non enduring things seems to satisfy. I have lately been exposed to many who, abused by fallible people, transferred their abuse to God. They have turned their backs toward God, and find therefore meaning in fallible things. Knowing this, we must convince them of his great love.


RichJ said...

In a "war is peace" sort of way, Dostoevsky has it wrong I think:

Matthew 19:24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard that, they were greatly astounded, saying: “Who really can be saved?” 26 Looking at them intently, Jesus said to them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Francis W. Porretto said...

You did see the word satiric up there, didn't you, Rich?

WalkingHorse said...

"..Left’s tropism for visions of catastrophe" is explained best as a tactic:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
-- H. L. Mencken