Are we living in a disenchanted world where secularists invite us to eat from a tasting plate of feel-free delights? Others tell us to peck around scraps left at the jagged edges of reality and some offer us the discomfort of darkness… and to only seek answers in the clear light of reason.
Plenty of rocks are thrown in life, we all get stoned and have scars to show for it, even in this age of individualism but rather than seeking guidance through a system of belief (in a traditional sense), the quest for good feelings and happiness is now chemical and the Holy Grail of psychiatry – euphoria along neuronal pathways. Are substances going to get you and I out of existential despair though, get us over the line to happiness? What’s it to be, a prescription for a bowlful of chemical soup thickened with pointless self-serving morality, or a materialist sandwich of hopelessness filled with a spread of mushy sentimentalism to make you sick?
Now soul maintenance comes vis-à-vis the compassion of chemistry, the flat clarity of reason and oodles of data… and while some of the latter is useful, often it leads to you being categorised and put into a treatment box. In the end it’s your lack of self-realization that puts you there in the first place and you’re supposed to get that (so therapists will tell you). But you may be on your own here too and not necessarily supported by a community – religious or otherwise. Today people often say life is lonely and one feels as though their dangling and clinging to a rock-face knowing no one will come to the rescue.
So when you live through troubled times the secular script runs like this…
Fear not friends, there is an alternative that is only accessible if you abandon your beliefs – that is any belief system that contains an ounce of transcendence because that’s just imaginary nonsense. For me, it’s a bit like saying, your favourite breakfast cereal will taste better without sugar if don’t belief it. Befuddled? I am, very, because it doesn’t make sense, yet it’s often expressed in common graphic memes you see passed around (retweets and Face Book posts) in the shallow environment of social media.
Here we are then, left with cardboard cut-out truths and you’re left with the certainty that all you have is uncertainty. Why? Because with this current wave of secularism, you are nothing special, you have no purpose, you live in a meaningless universe and your place in this dark cold void of emptiness means you can neither claim nor dismiss anything. This is well reflected by Richard Tarnas in his brilliant book Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of A New World View, where he writes that there is a
… deep sense of alienation that effects the modern self… not only the personal isolation of the individual in modern mass society but also the spiritual estrangement of the modern psyche in a disenchanted universe, as well as, at the species level, the subjective schism separating the modern human being from the rest of nature and the cosmos. (Source: Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of A New World View. R. Tarnas pxiv.)
Disenchantment: Some of the Key Turning Points…
It was Copernicus (1473-1543) who drove a Revolution named after him that turned heads (after considerable resistance from religious and secularists at the time) towards the heavens with a new view of the universe as heliocentric, a reversed view of our position in the cosmos which put us whirling through space clinging to the earth as it revolved around the sun – a new centre point that dislodged our belief of a fixed centrality in the universe. Galileo (1564-1642) would soon follow in support of the Copernican Revolution by reducing reality to numbers and pure physicalism.
Darwin (1809-1882) then concluded from his observations of barnacles that it’s likely we crawled from primordial slime to eventually emerge through natural selection (no matter how improbable it seems) within biologically adaptive systems – further evolving and descending from a strand of apes (our common ancestor). Evolutionary theorists claim that during the last seven million years many human-like species have evolved; some examples include Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis. All of these went extinct at different times, leaving just us to share the planet with a handful of other primates. Despite its enormous consensus, Evolutionary Theory does have its critics from some well-respected quarters who argue it amounts to nothing but technics – systems from the biological to the social and economic, made up of machine assemblages, complex foldings and movements ‘deterritorilsation’ that serves to cut across and change their stratification. (Source: Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Felix Guattari (1930-1992) in Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition 1997 Keith Ansell Pearson p125). Nietzsche (1844-1900) described Darwinism as a biological theory over-pumped with assumptions about society and morality – a translation of reality into morality – nature through the lens of “anthropomorphic sentimentalism.” Natural selection then acts solely for the good of each being, endeavouring to strike a “fair balance between good and evil caused by each organ.” (Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition 1997 Keith Ansell Pearson p130)
It was Nietzsche too, who either in a moment of depression or ecstasy (who knows), maybe around the time he descended from the mountain dancing in his imagination with Zarathustra, that he announced GOD IS DEAD. This has become a popular chant that resonates with great passion among the new atheists as they hand wave and champion Nietzsche as one of their own. But is he really? The problem of course is that they have completely misunderstood what their adopted hero meant when he said God is dead. What he was expressing was hardly celebratory in fact, it was a deep concern and sadness for humanity because we have killed God off and now must face the eternal darkness of nihilism in place of religion which has given meaning to humanity. Nietzsche, writes…
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe his blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (source: The Gay Science: Section 125 The Madman)
But the dehumanising doesn’t finish with Darwin or Nietzsche, because according to the current wave of “intellectual imperialists” you’re just a biological moist machine, not as smart as a computer and that one day you’ll probably be transhuman, a cyborg, or worse nothing because the machines are going to take over anyway.
The American Atheist Philosopher Daniel Dennett seems to agree if we are to take his remarks seriously in an interview when questioned about his views on consciousness and the problem of subjectivity. Dennett let’s his audience know that even a robot has a point of view. But Dennett (all biology as he is) who is one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse along with fellow atheists and imperialist intellectuals the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins has further insights into human happiness to add: Grief for the death of a loved one is a major task of cognitive updating revising all our habits of thought to fit a world with one less intentional system in it.” Dennett says. So what’s the message being conveyed here? Don’t seek out we materialists during those dark and needy times in life, “we cannot fortify you say, after the funeral of a familiar intentional system.” (source: The God Genome by Leon Wieseltier, NY Times 2006 Book Review).
Carl Sagan (1934-1996) has also made some useful contributions in celebration of the human spirit too with this fine example: Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint the help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves… But my award for making what I consider is the most dehumanizing statement I’ve ever heard has to goes to Physicist and Molecular Biologist Francis Crick (1916-2004) when he said “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (source: taken from Mary Roach Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife). What a treasure this is from Crick, who sees no real purpose in life and posits humans as nothing other biological robots living in a meaningless universe… machines. Objective morality? Belief in the power of transcendence or divine illuminations? No sorry, that’s off the menu with every other avenue of transcendental possibility or divine illumination. Well that’s what those of the new tough-love class tell us, those of us who perpetuate the sceptical modern myth, which smoothers modern Western Culture with a strange biased value-system that nurtures an emotional and irrational need to deny all meaning and purpose in nature. Philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973) saw this as a reflection of nineteenth century ethos under which the values of contemporary science congealed. He wrote:
The world-conquering West of the nineteenth century needed a philosophy of life in which realpolitik – victory for the tough people who face the bleak facts – was the guiding principle. Thus the bleaker the facts you face, the tougher you seem to be. So we vied with each other to make the Fully Automatic Model of the universe as bleak as possible. (source: in More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth and Belief. Bernardo Kastrup. P25-26)
In other words, science, as the exclusive domain of men in the nineteenth century, incorporated in its very fabric the adolescent male’s need to look tough. When listening to the spokespeople of science and neo-atheism today, one wonders whether much has changed. (source: More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth and Belief. Bernardo Kastrup. P25-26)
What needs to be understood about the earlier scientific revolutionaries – Copernicus, Rheticus, Giese, Digges, Bruno, Maestlin, Kepler, Galileo is that they perceived their scientific breakthroughs as divine illuminations, spiritual awakening to the true structural grandeur and intellectual beauty of the cosmic order. They were not merely abstract conceptual findings of purely empirical interest. These discoveries at the time were triumphant fulfilment of a sacred quest (Source: Cosmos and Psyche. Intimations Of A New World View, Richard Tarnas, p5)