Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Global Problem #1: Birthing a Religion for the Educated

Ever since modern science changed the world 200 years ago, the educated class has been thrashing around looking for a new religion.

With Newton's mechanics educated people learned that we didn't need God to run the world. All the Axial Age religions that began about 3,000 years ago propose a world in which God sets things up, physically and morally, and then leaves humans to get on with it.

Don't rag on those religions. It was a brilliant way to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, back then. But not After Newton.

In my view the best way to understand the intellectual world After Newton is to experience the educated folks of the world casting around for a new religion to tie the inconvenient ends together so that we can once again understand the meaning of life, the universe, and everything -- in the light of the modern scientific revolutions in mechanics, biology, and physics.

So when I was back in Limeyland a week ago I availed myself of the opportunity to scan the shelves in a university library. And one of the books I noticed was a naughty volume about The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement by Richard Noll. In came out 1994.

(Wouldn't you know, my pals at HalfPriceBooks had a copy: thanks fellahs!)

Well yes. In my view Freud said that all religions were rubbish, and Jung said that all religions were circling around the same truth.

Indeed, my Big Idea is that, for the last 200 years we educated people have been frantically looking for a new religion to help us understand the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Only we still haven't got there.

Socialism is merely the biggest, and most deadly, and most failed effort to fill the religious hole left by the Death of God.

The benefit, to me, of The Jung Cult is that it puts Jung and Freud in the context of all the intellectual cults that were blazing away at the end of the 19th century. A lot of people were worried about a fin de si├Ęcle, really an end of times caused by degeneration. But then there were the regenerative notions like nationalism, the Volk, Lebensphilsophie, Nietzsche, Wagner, the effort by evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel to produce a "natural religion." And then there was Spiritualism, Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy, etc.

So both Freud and Jung were trying to make sense of the world in the context of all this intellectual ferment that was sweeping around them at that time, especially in the German world.

And it is clear that both Freud and Jung inspired movements that cannot be described as other than religious cults. To me, this is not scandalous, but natural and physical. Of course charismatic people like Freud and Jung found themselves founding religious cults. They were, after all, proposing a new way to understand the mysteries and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

And, I would argue, we, the educated, are still looking for a religion that gives meaning to our lives. I think that this is Global Problem #1.

But, you may ask, why does Christianity still survive, two centuries, give or take, since the Death of God? My answer is that Christianity, and the rest of the Axial Age religions, provide the meaning of life, the universe, and everything to people just entering into the life of the city. That is why it thrives in Africa, in Latin America, in the black community. It is the religion of responsibility, appealing directly to people on the cusp between subordinate peasantry and bourgeois responsibility. In my reductive Three Peoples theory it all makes sense.

But for the People of the Creative Self, Christianity now offers nothing. It is the Marxes, the Nietzsches, the Freuds, the Jungs, that provide meaning to educated creative people.

What I would like is for my fellow creatives to plump for a religion that does not make us into demi-gods, as with Marx licensing creative activists to remake the world, and with Nietzsche proposing an aristocracy of talent -- to do what, exactly? Whatever the new religion is, I think it must soft-pedal the idea that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything should be founded on the glorious power of educated creative people to remake the world for their greater glory.

That's why I return, again and again, to Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Things are pretty good for the top 25 percent, he wrote; not too good for the middle 50 percent; and in the bottom 25 percent, the men don't work and the women don't marry.

That is what you get when you let the educated creative elite make all the rules.

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