Into the Mystic III: Freedom, Research Time, 16/06/2015

Continued from last post . . . Yes, I know it’s the next day, but honestly, I think I’ll just guarantee an MWF series of posts, and if I have the time, I’ll blast a T or R or weekend post on Twitter. 

Oddly enough, I was at a networking session with the International Association of Business Communicators, and one of the more experienced folks there told me how generally impressive just maintaining a regular blog was. I may even volunteer for IABC’s newsletter and blog over the next while, adapting some of my communications theory ideas to their forum. It’d be good practice in maintaining my tone of an accessible intellectual. I think I keep a good tone balance on this blog, but I could do with the challenge of a bigger, more diverse audience than I get here.

So back to prophecy, my last post in this series. This is another concept that I think I’ll use in the Utopias manuscript, but only as a metaphor. Why has to do with the limits of my own expertise. The philosophy of religion has always been pretty tangential to my own interests – what fascinated me most were ideas in political thought and trippy metaphysics that adapt progressive ideas in science to everyday life (like determinism, chance, time, relation, and selfhood). 

Vox Day and the flaming
sword of devotion to God.
But religion is one of the most important aspects of modern politics, particularly what violence people will do in the name of their devotion. The stereotypical example is Islamic terrorism, becoming a suicide bomber or waging a war across most of Iraq and Syria to live out the dictates of your devotion to your god. And that happens.

But I could just as easily mention blowing an abortion provider’s brains out in the name of Christ. You get the idea.

Ultimately, it rests on the notion that the only genuine expression of faith is following the orders of your divinity without question – faith as submission. It’s weird that a dorky little fundamentalist sci-fi editor like Vox Day could call up such a terrifying spectre behind his discussions about pretentious Naria riff novels. But there you go.

Henri Bergson wrote one of the best books of philosophy about religion that I’ve ever came across, and which I and a few others whose perspectives I trust would say that it’s among the best that’s ever been. Two Sources of Morality and Religion. It examines religion as a phenomenon in the world, particularly its social and political power.

Religion and religious belief has two modes, says Bergson. One is the institutional. This is religion as a worldly authority that uses a common moral and theological belief system to maintain the social stability of a community. We needed this method of social control in the early days of our species, when we were first beginning to speculate about the nature of the world as well as live in it.

This is the religion of Vox Day, John C. Wright, and many others who commit much more violent and horrifying acts of devotion than writing pretentious sci-fi literature and hijacking awards shows. I look at religious extremism around the world and I wish they were all satisfied with Day and Wright’s level of general dickishness.

That conception of religion as social control is a primal aspect of the totalitarian impulse. After all, few other things govern human behaviour as comprehensively as a set of religious duties. Applied in the name of control alone, to the fullest extent of its powers, and you have a totally universal form of social control. A militarized theocracy. A literal sun king who’s worshipped as a god.

Utopias will confront this drive for total, comprehensive control of an entire human personality, life, and mind as its central enemy, along with the authoritarian impulse wherever it appears. 

Another aspect of Utopias will be
exploring the complex and weird
philosophical legacy of Henri
Bergson himself, as well as his
concepts on their own.
Bergson’s second function of religion in human society is the antidote to this authoritarian drive, the mystic. Bergson has a complicated ontology, where there’s a vital force in the universe itself driving complexification and progress toward higher and higher powers of mind, a drive within matter to make itself energy again. At the end of his philosophical career,* Bergson conceived of the human as the highest articulation of this force in the universe so far, and mystic prophecy was this force’s way of progressing humanity.

* That is, near the end of his life.

Not quite where I’m going with it, of course. In my own conception, as this metaphor will play out in the Utopias manuscript, the mystic is the agent of freedom, the one who calls upon a higher power than the richest, most vile and corrupt factions of his society can summon, to end their regime of injustice. It’s the ragged, old woman who calls on a king to cower before her. 

Ezekiel against the theocracy. Jesus against Rome. Luther against Rome. Bonhoeffer against the Leader. King against Wallace. That sort of thing.

It’s interesting (in that existentially unsettling way) to see the Christian tradition Vox Day described in his interview with Phil Sandifer as mysticism that urges you to follow, submit to authority. It’s an aspect of the mystic that I’ll have to think about.

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