Continued from last post . . . I wasn’t raised in what most people would call a Christian environment, so when I call myself an atheist – Well, I actually don’t call myself an atheist in most public forums. Unless it’s this blog, and I’m always able to attach all my qualifiers to it without being interrupted.
New Atheism ruined skepticism and non-authoritarian ways of thinking about God and divinity for everyone. Atheism has historically been about challenging authority and institutions. It’s a form of heresy, the rejection that there is a God whose divine will – sorry, Will – we must follow.
|The Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel, a radical anti-authoritarian|
revolutionary who denounced the corruption of his
Rebellion against voices of authority, whether they’re priests, kings, wealthy elites, militaries, or bureaucracies, is a process of liberating people. It’s a process because, as it keeps rolling along, generation to generation, each one should be more free in their thinking and actions than their predecessors.
Here’s a personal story to illustrate. I wasn't raised in a particularly Christian household. My mother’s generation was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic schools. But she and her brothers and sisters largely turned against the Church itself for principled reasons: they rejected its authoritarian way of treating its members, the corruption of the institutions, and the ongoing conspiracy to hide decades of constant sexual violence against children that happened at Mt Cashel, the major Church-run orphanage in Newfoundland.
I was raised in an a-religious environment as a result of their rejection. When I talk to my mother’s generation in my family, I still detect their simmering rage at the institution that betrayed the faith they put in it, and that the entire people of Newfoundland put in the Church. But I never had any faith to betray.
So when I look at the horrors of institutionalized and authoritarian religion (which played a significant role in Canada’s officially-recognized genocide, the residential schools for indigenous children), I see organizations that harm a lot of people, and moral beliefs that condition cultural schizophrenias of all sorts – patriarchies, racism, economic oppression, slavery in all but name, the suppression of queer sexualities and gender identities.
But I also see valuable ideas in religious beliefs, like some of what I find attractive in Judaism. I was talking Saturday morning about the Jewish conception of hell, which isn’t a place of Bosch-like punishments and theatrical beasts (though I do love the artistic traditions that began with Hieronymus Bosch and found recent expressions in H. R. Giger and Alejandro Jodorowski).
Instead, the Jewish concept of hell is much more existentially terrifying. Hell is an insight of perfect systemic knowledge of your entire life: you immediately perceive and understand everything you ever did in your life, all the benefits and harms your actions directly caused, indirectly precipitated, or systematically conditioned. Your life’s affects throughout the full network of causality.
|The site of Newfoundland's highest concentration of|
institutionalized child rape is now a shopping mall
and townhouse subdivision.
It’s also a very enlightened idea, because it understands the highest knowledge as worldly knowledge, understanding the entire system of existence and how you affected that system as a part. What you did, the possibilities you opened and closed, the cascading processes that you contributed to. The highest knowledge is systematic knowledge.
It’s utterly opposed, in that sense, to the type of knowledge that Vox Day and other Christians of his and John C. Wright’s sort hold as highest: prophetic knowledge. This is the direct, entirely private, subjective in the worst possible sense of the term, knowledge of prophecy. God has spoken to me, has revealed to me how the world truly is. I know it and you don’t.
This is also different from the prophets in the Jewish tradition. During the time of prophecy, when Jewish thought considers that God did talk to people directly, it was to rebels and outsiders: people who were marginalized in the current political and economic order, who would use their prophetic knowledge to mobilize their community to organize against corrupt institutions.
This was true whether those institutions were pagan Egyptian monarchs, as in the prophecies of Moses, or Daniel’s prophecies at the end of the era just before 100 BC, when Rome began to conquer the Persian and Aramaic-speaking empires of the region. Prophecy is the voice of God inspiring people to fight material injustice of political and social oppression.
So a powerful chain of corruption in the Christian tradition has been to encourage people to understand the voice of prophecy as calling for total devotion to the decrees and will of their religious authorities, even if they're called to commit the most terrible violence. The story of Abraham and Isaac, as in the account of Kierkegaard,* becomes about following the orders of God no matter how terrifying. Freedom here lies in enslaving yourself to an authority.
* Who is taught in undergraduate courses as an existentialist, but is actually a dangerously radical Christian.
The energy of prophecy becomes chains that bind instead of hammers that shatter shackles. The individual submits himself to a vast social machine that expresses God’s will in all aspects of life without exception, a totalitarian maintenance of an eternally perfect, ideal order for humanity.
Whether or not it’s given religious justification, this is the utopian impulse to perfect society, but in its authoritarian guise. The perfect society is an unchanging and unchangeable diagram, from which deviation or rebellion is recidivism. Socialist visions of a perfect society were corrupted by the totalitarian management required to suppress dissent and authoritatively organize everyone for collective action. Liberal visions were corrupted by entrenched colonial and oligarchical interests and institutions that twisted ideas of individual freedom to justify their own mass robbery.
One of the major goals of my Utopias project will be figuring out how to adapt the utopian power of rebellion against injustice and authority to a political tradition that has given in to these corruptions of authority for too long. To be continued . . .