The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand. --W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
Surely some revelation is at hand. --W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
In the 19th Century, Christendom was rocked to its foundations by the stunning breakthroughs in science and technology, largely financed and enabled by the deep pockets of the plunderous Imperial Age (Darwin-loving liberals always tend to overlook how deeply invested he and his compadres were in the blood-thirsty ruling elite of the British Empire).
The once-placid and serene order of the Universe was called into question, and no longer could respectable middle-class intellectuals claim to believe in biblical inerrancy, or geocentrism or any number of comforting beliefs that had given meaning and certainty to Western peoples' lives since Constantine.
I've detailed how a small vanguard turned to occultism and mysticism to negotiate these treacherous new waters in Our Gods Wear Spandex and elsewhere, but for the greater mass of people there was a two-pronged approach.
The middle classes tended to ignore all the pointy -headed tumult going on in the universities and carry on as before. This position became increasingly untenable with the rise of the mass electronic media. But you also had-- for lack of better terms-- a liberal reaction and a reactionary reaction.
The liberals embraced the new advances in science and politics and argued that the basic moral teachings of the Bible were intact, that these stories were never meant to be taken literally but were in fact allegories and parables. They'd point to the Gospels to bolster this argument. At first this was a bold move- a radical reinterpretation of the historical faith.
But over time this approach gave way to a kind of lame hair-splitting and evasiveness, a wishy-washiness and conflict-avoidance that came to characterize the so-called Mainline Protestant denominations.
And of course, you also had the Fundamentalists. The militantly literalist interpretation of Scripture was usually the province of backwoods Bible bangers, semi-literate Holiness rabble-rousers who acted as entertainers as much as pastors.
But the director of the oil monopoly Unocal decided backwoods literalism-- with its reflexive worship of authority and hatred of anything remotely Socialist-- might be good for business, so he secretly published a 12-volume set of tracts that literally launched the Fundamentalist movement in America, appropriately called The Fundamentals. The rest is a very sad and sordid history.
So you had one contingent that lost its nerve and another that lost its mind.
I saw that post-Darwin split play out in real time. I didn't realize it at the time. When I was a kid I took it for granted that pews would be filled every Sunday. But I didn't realize it was because we had a rock star preacher and a kickass youth program.
In 1980 our pastor left to accept a post at a bigger church in Boston and the bishop sent in a more typical product of the seminaries; a milquetoast little bureaucrat who brought in all the latest hairsplitting innovations that the Rockefeller-funded World Council of Churches were cooking up. Almost immediately attendance plummeted and the youth group was down to a handful. It was over.
And so it goes with liberal Protestantism in general; it's circling the drain.
I'm sure you had a similar situation at the end of the Pagan Age. The Roman Emperors throwing Christians to the lions (actual periods of persecution were usually brief and sporadic and paled into inconsequence compared to the carnage committed by the Church, but still occurred) did so not out of some cynical calculation-- they did so because they were genuinely offended by what they saw as the Christians' impiety.
Plenty of other cults-- Isis, the Syrian Goddess, Bacchus-- got as bad, if not worse, in earlier times. And the conservatives of the time were squarely behind the persecutions.
On the other side you had a host of philosophic cults who could argue against the reality of everything, except the alms they would so very philosophically coax out of your wallet. Many of these cults may have had more interesting ideas but like Protestant reformers of the late 19th Century, many of them were almost predisposed against fighting their own corners with any conviction.
The same could be said of the (extinct) Liberal Establishment of the 1960s-- they were so concerned with seeing every side of an issue they never bothered to argue their own. Of course, things are a lot different-- and obviously more polarized-- today.
The same patterns continue, outside of politics and religion. Often people who are the most interesting thinkers never get around to learning how to argue their positions, and are often raised in environments where fighting your corner is seen as déclassé. But that's just a one way ticket to suicide, particularly in this environment.
And so we have an environment where simple-minded loudmouths like Glenn Beck, James Randi and Alex Jones-- all three of whom and more like them are cut from the same exact cloth-- command the attention of millions while interesting and creative thinkers are ignored.
And this is exactly why America is falling apart to shit, with the rest of the world not far behind. The media is engineered to make superstars of the loudest, most hectoring, most simplistic messengers, and the educational system is creating a permanent audience for them. The only hope is that the machine will break down so spectacularly that it will create a innate sense of revulsion in people for decades to come.
Now, one thing we're also seeing is the rise of a new, engineered geekdom. The old geekdom was more interesting and creative and I'm pretty certain that this simulacrum will self-destruct because it seems unable to sustain itself with new ideas (the rise of organized skepdickism in fandom is another surefire death-knell for creativity). Nearly everything viable is an artifact of the old geekdom.
And one of the interesting aspects of the old geekdom is that it's where old subcultures went to un-die. So at Dragon*Con you could see neopagans cheek by jowl with goths, punks, cyberpunks, and on and on-- it's like an old Sears catalog of discarded youth cultures, kept forever undead in a geek context.
And so it is in a parallel fashion with whatever corner of the culture we're occupying here.
There's a dead, useless and obsolete kind of meme that is still hanging around. This old notion really needs to be shot in the forehead and sent to the glue factory, and that's this old Mainline Protestant hairsplitting tendency, this tendency to argue against your own (or worse, your friend's) position in some pointless quest for objectivity.
You see, I don't see it as mature and unbiased, I see it as self-defeating, myopic and to be perfectly blunt; cowardly.
It's also rather egotistical, in that the hairsplitter sets himself up as the arbiter, the ultimate judge deciding whether an idea or a story is valid. Of course, as with the old liberals, normality bias is always upheld in the end. Which only makes me wonder if the judge has any real insight on the Mysteries at all, or is simply a tourist.
Those with true experience seldom judge; they might not buy into everything they hear (they seldom do, actually), but neither do they decide they have to intervene on our behalf and reassure us that consensus reality rules unchallenged. I've met enough of these people to know the difference.
I've been around long enough to see how the judges eventually evolve into born-again skeptics. Almost always. I'm always surprised how shallow and literal their understanding of the Mysteries reveals itself to be. And that simply shows me that all the hairsplitting and all the "let's not get too carried away now" was nothing but chickenshit cowardice all along, a fear of finding themselves in over their heads, discussing something they have no understanding of or experience with.
Any kind of movement or subculture that gives people a reason to get up in the morning is about passion, it's about intensity. It's about fighting to get your point of view across. It's about wanting to replace someone else's ideas with yours, come hell or high water. In this day and age if you aren't passionate and committed about what you are trying to tell people, you won't even be ignored. You won't even get that far.
You either believe in the mysteries-- in synchronicity, in parapsychology, the paranormal and the rest of it-- or you don't. You're either passionate about pursuing alternate modes of thinking and consciousness or you're not. Period. There's plenty of room for argument and for debate that borders on near blood-letting-- in fact, that's half the fun of it. But I have I no time for the hairsplitters anymore. I know how that song ends.
This is a process that every person needs to undergo for themselves; it's been that way for thousands of years. But If people are constantly struggling to agree on the vaguest baselines-- or dealing with closet skepdicks who hang around only to sow dissension and distrust-- then nothing can ever be accomplished and everyone will just retreat their sanctums like a bunch of bitter old alchemists. And believe me, none of those guys died happy.
No matter how depressing and discouraging things may seem now, that does not mean they will remain so. History is nonlinear, and the fact that the current modalities are so intimately identified with the misery and fear people feel today lays the groundwork for their own extinction. Most of all, this know-nothing, knee-jerk, reductionist denialism that passes for educated enlightenment.
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want my personal philosophy to be identified with the world as it stands in 2012. And that philosophy will, mark my words.
There are other forces at work in this world. If there's one message you've gotten from reading this blog, that should be it. If not, you haven't read enough. I've lived the things I write about. I've used Synchronicity and the rest of it again and again in my life in a very practical way, and I'm always astounded by the results when I tally them up.
So I say this to you all: Be brave.
Make a commitment to a path of inquiry and stick to it. Have the courage of your convictions. Accept that you'll have to accept evidence in lieu of proof and interesting questions instead of simple answers. Otherwise, you're just wasting everyone's time, most of all your own.