It's been an interesting past few weeks.
Although my life has been the usual obstacle course of pain and discomfort, I've been feeling a strange kind of power rising, a power of a distinct spiritual nature. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels very much like the kind of thing I became aware of in the mid to late 80s. Whether it proves to be fleeting I can't say yet, but I'm doing my best to keep the antennae up despite all the usual challenges and obligations. It's actually been rather potent at times- what exactly it is I can't say yet.
We'll get back to that (sort of), but let's get this unpleasantness out of the way first.
Ironically, I've also spent a lot of this past month researching the New Atheist ascendancy, which I detailed here and here. The more I looked at it the more dismal and bankrupt it seemed to be, and how it seemed less like some brave march to a (sterile) new future, but the lancing of a boil.
The more the public sees of these people the less they will like them and maybe one day the New Atheists will realize people don't care for them because they spend most of their time attacking and insulting other people's beliefs (Dawkins on how to talk to religious people: "Mock them, ridicule them in public.").
The more you see a Richard Dawkins or a PZ Myers the more loathsome they become; shrill, bitter harpies who seem haunted by personal demons they will never come to terms with. Dawkins in particular is a Freudian basketcase, but how much time I want to spend wading through those fetid bilgewaters is an open question right now. The little research I've done on his warped psyche is making me physically ill.
The next theatre of battle in the atheist war on theistic religion took place in Australia, and Dawkins debated the Archbishop of Sydney there. I wonder if Dawkins quoted the 19th Century Australian Atheist leader Joseph Symes, who had revealed what the ultimate goal of the atheist movement was:
‘The strong, the cunning, the swift … must survive, while the weak, the slow, the dull and those with no artificial advantage must of necessity go to the wall — yes, the brutal truth bids me say, they must be stamped out.’Ah, the Atheists and the skeletons in their closets. And the skeletons in the mass graves and under the rice paddies and...
I have no doubt that if Dawkins were given the reigns of power he'd be a secular Torquemada --if not an outright Hitler-- and re-education camps would become deathcamps in short order. For the good of the genepool, you understand. Because that's what all religious dictators do.
But as we've seen, the Atheist ascendancy has a major problem in keeping those selfish genes propagating. For all of Dawkins' bluster of humans being nothing but carriers for DNA, he has sired only one child in his seven decades (!). You would think he'd want to repopulate the Earth with little Dicks and Dawks, but unless he's been making donations at the sperm bank it looks as if the Dawkins line might die out.
As much as I loathe these people, I hate loathing them since it's not only a waste of my energy but it puts me in company I don't necessarily care for (see Santorum, Rick and Buchanan, Pat).
This is dumbed-down binary America circa 2012, where semi-literate assistant producers on news programs dictate the national discourse through default. You're either an atheist or a snakehandling Fundamentalist. Why?
Because the idiots who book the guest slots on Fox News or MSNBC don't understand anything else. Their bosses want arguments because arguments mean ratings and nuance is for those sissies over at PBS.
The center of gravity in this new America is brutal, and if you don't have nerves of steel you will be eaten alive. Which brings me to my next bizarre detour. I'm in a weird mood tonight.
The New Atheist movement is essentially the project of the cultural Left; it's their religious project. Don't fall for the old trope that religion has to be theistic. A religion is simply a system of belief that is used to bind a community together. Communism and Nazism were religions- in fact they were consciously designed to be as much.
You had your icons, your saints, your holy texts, your angels, your demons, it's just that the supernatural was taken out of the equation. And so it is with the New Atheist movement. Spend enough time reading atheist message boards and you'll see the same figureheads (Dawkins, Sagan) and holy texts (God Delusion, Demon Haunted World) mentioned again and again
The cultural Left tried for years to co-opt the old mainline Protestant denominations, in fact they did more than try. They were actually rather successful in seizing power in the various hierarchies of the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian denominations. The only problem was that as they instituted more and more explicit leftist reforms in the canon bylaws, the parishoners abandoned the churches in droves.
So we had a classic Pyhrric victory-- the cultural Left seized power but found themselves ruling over an empty kingdom. And so what we saw was the radical polarization of American religion, with Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Pentecostals on one side and secularists, agnostics and atheists (committed atheists are a tiny minority, no matter what they say otherwise) on the other.
In between are a handful of freaks and weirdos like us.
Now here we are in the Maelstrom, with these violent forces tearing the social fabric apart at these opposing poles. If you are to survive and keep your identity- and sanity- in this clash of the titans, what is the best course of action? Well, let me get back to the detours.
In the early 90s I was working in New York, the Empire State Building to be precise. I was also going through a big Christian Mystic/Gnostic phase and reading all kinds of what my wife called my "Jesus books."
I have to admit that I really didn't feel that potent spiritual power at this time that I felt in the 80s when I was more eclectic in my leanings, but I think submitting myself to that kind of discipline was an important step in my development. It was also the last days of my innocence, since I'd get online and have the misfortune of seeing just how incredibly ugly American Fundamentalism had become. That particular misfortune would end my church-going days forever.
My friends and I would have our lunch (we were partial to a kebab stand on the corner of 30th Street) on the shady grounds of The Church of the Transfiguration, a lovely little Anglo-Catholic Church off of Fifth Avenue and from time to time I'd pop in for Mass.
The ritual was as old-school as it gets; smells, bells, the priest facing the altar and the whole bit. I probably started reading books like Fingerprints of the Gods at this point and I was probably getting ASCII flashes like "THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB WILL SLAUGHTER THE BACKSLIDERS!" in my head from my online experiences, but there was something touching about a ritual that was nearly identical to that practiced a thousand years before in Europe.
Of course at the same time a different kind of ritual was filling my head since Killing Joke released their Pandemonium album, with the ever-mercurial Jaz in his New Age mode, trading in all the Nietzsche and Crowley and Lovecraft for who the hell knows what gurus he was meeting in Sedona and Findhorn.
But this being Killing Joke, the joke was that the New Age remodel of the band was a lot heavier and more metallic than ever before. The album was also their biggest seller in their career, peaking at #16 in the UK Charts. They'd follow Pandemonium with Democracy, less successful commercially, but richer and longer-lasting in my view. Jaz also refused to tour for the record because he was so disgusted by Britpop, which was all the rage in 1996.
Britpop is long gone, but Killing Joke is still around, still eating Britpop fops alive. And I'm pretty sure they just released their best-ever album, called MMXII (2012). It's in the David Icke Killing Joke mold of their 2003 self-titled comeback (which features Dave Grohl on drums), but is a lot richer and lusher. More Episcopal, let's say.
Sticking to your guns can pay off. The reviews have been stellar, and it's been their highest-charting album in the UK since Pandemonium. They probably won't tour here since America only likes recycled Killing Joke (Ministry, NIN, Marilyn Manson, Faith No More, etc etc etc), but it doesn't matter. I needed this album to trap this rising spirit I'm sensing in a more tangible form and they provided one for me.
Killing Joke are still around and are still making great records because aside from a couple lame tracks back in the 80s, they stuck to their guns. Most of their contemporaries did not and most of their contemporaries are either long gone or exist only as nostalgia bands. The bands that tried to reinvent the wheel to get on the radio fell apart. Out of embarassment, mostly.
Killing Joke haven't tried to reinvent their wheel- it works just fine. They have a simple but versatile formula that they've followed for 30 years. The innovation in my view comes between the notes, as it were.
Their 2006 album Hosannas from the Basements of Hell (a reference to the dingy Prague studio in which it was recorded)is a perfect example of this-- I used to take that album out on my hikes and it seemed to open up doorways that I could sense but couldn't see. Either way, I'd come home radically invigorated and inspired- inspired in a literal sense, mind you.
ON THE OTHER HAND
The decline in church membership overall is a big story these days, though the media is missing the fact that a lot of Evangelicals who left their churches (many out of disgust with the fact that their ministers are essentially GOP shills in clerical drag) are forming home churches and private prayer groups.
The same can't be said for the mainline churches. I was not raised as an Episcopalian (it seemed like a somewhat alien thing to me as a kid, trapped in a netherworld between Catholicism and Protestantism) but I'm fascinated by its travails since its collapse has been the most dramatic.
Its clergy have embraced every innovation you can imagine; gay priests are practically the conservatives in the Episcopal Church. You've had Wiccan priests, Muslim priests, atheist priests, a druid archbishop- it's been a free-for-all.
Not that there's anything wrong with Wiccans, Muslims or atheists who aren't Dawkinites, but all of this "diversity" has ravaged the denomination (decimation is too mild), and it now stands on the brink of total collapse.
For all its talk of "inclusion", Epicopalians are almost exclusively white and old (sounds like CSICOP) and its membership is at its lowest level since the 1930s (especially stunning, since every church exaggerates its membership numbers).
Parishes are closing all across the country and directors are dipping into their endowments to keep the lights on. A lot of the blame for this is placed on the 2003 ordination of gay priest Gene Robinson as bishop (who since retired), but I think what it really going on is A., the continuing polarization of the religious environment in this country, and B., the mind-numbing boredom and dreariness of your average Episcopal Mass.
I don't know who's running the seminaries and my sample rate is admittedly small, but it seems that only the dullest speakers are allowed to be ordained in the Church.
There has been a breakaway movement-- a high-church schism that has split primarily over the gay issue but also over doctrinal and liturgical issues that seem meaningless to people outside the church, but of vital importance to people within it.
The result is the "Anglican Church in North America" which seems to be growing at the same rate the Episcopal Church is imploding. This is a smells-and-bells liturgy church, and is "right wing" only in relation to the ultra-ultra-left Episcopals (the Baptists probably think it's San Francisco with incense).
Of little interest or use to me personally, outside of the simple fact that they're growing when the Mother Church is dying. I study these things, which is why I'm poor.
Though the issue has gotten all the press, I do have to say if anyone believes that there aren't gay clergy in these new conservative churches - or any religious body you can name- then I have a Bridge to Nowhere I think you might be interested in investing in (I've always believed that the gay controversy is really about keeping it on the downlow with conservatives- an avalanche of news reports thereto have not dissuaded me).
The media may not want to hear it but I don't think the gay issue by itself would not have caused the schism in these churches-- the real issue was 50 years of arbitrary and often quite ridiculous changes to doctrine, liturgy and the rest. It was the constant reinvention of a wheel that most of the people thought worked just fine the way it was.
As with the zero-growth atheist birthrates, you can hurl all the invective you like. But if at the end of the day you can't pay to keep the lights on, all of the radical theological innovations in the world won't matter much outside the seminary dorm-room.
THE WAY OF THE WEIRD
I could have stayed in the Church and tried to inflict my weird ideas on it but I have too much respect for the institution to do so. I'd rather make my own way then try to force others to accept my bizarre and idiosyncratic notions. I don't understand why the Episcopal radicals didn't do the same when they had the money and power at their disposal to do. As it is they dragged the entire organization down with them.
I left the Church physically because I left it spiritually- it no longer spoke to me. I'm not sure how much it ever did-- I loved church as a kid but I loved the families and the fellowship and the beautiful old building and the places to explore and the history of it all. But one of my most profound spiritual experiences in church was having this visionary experience where I was a Norse god, trudging through a blizzard (I was listening to "No Quarter" a lot at the time). The second was on a particularly beautiful Christmas Eve when Nina Hagen's "UFO" kept going through my head and the votive candles hypnotized me to the point of tears.
Don't look now, but the Episcopal Church is calling; they want me to be their Bishop.
UPDATE: It turns out the New Atheist junta is being bankrolled by a shadowy millionaire (as these things always are), who sold his family business to Glaxo. Given that the Reason Rally and now the Rock Beyond Belief Rally were both rained-out flops, I'd suggest Daddy Glaxobucks take some of those millions and offer up some donations to the sun god of his choosing.
UPDATE: It took me a while, but I finally realized that this big push is all part of the Obama re-election strategy, hence all of the big rallies (even if they turn out to be flops). They can't get liberals fired up over his record, so one of the last cards to play is whipping up anti-religious sentiment (all protestations aside, every atheist site I've seen is essentially a hate site, no different than their fundamentalist opposites) and hope that is channeled against the Republicans. It was Daddy Glaxobucks that put the pieces into place for me.