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The Devil Is in the Denial

The religious, who possess only tacit knowledge of the pragmatic truths inhering in religion, should be forgiven their occasional intellectual backwardness, for the same reason we forgive the idiocy of someone who recently suffered brain damage in a car accident. The religious today are still in a state of cognitive whiplash from the scientific revolution.

A great deal of what the devout feel is no longer expressible in terms they can justify, but this is because science updates fast and wisdom updates slowly. Wisdom is a crystal leftover from that which goes fast and fails. The scientific revolution is a supernova that is still exploding; religion, as encoded wisdom, will never "keep up with" what is explosive, even if — for all we know — it turns out to be vindicated after the dust has settled.

In their whiplash, those who insist on the truth of religion despite modernity are often guilty of misdirection. Rather than give science all of its due and admit the consequences, the religious often insist despite their rational conscience (telling themselves this is the meaning of "faith"). It seems to me that if, despite everything, there remain honest religious people today, then they would have to admit that the epistemic character of their own religiosity is itself an utter mystery. Obviously, it was never justified by science but now it no longer even enjoys the social conditions for its traditional functioning as an extra-rational social-pyschological structure. It's hard for me to see how religious experience today could be something other than the experience of making no sense, which does not mean there do not still exist real religious people or that one should not be religious—it only means that if a religious person today makes too much sense, I doubt them. One may believe in God, but this belief is weak indeed if one cannot also admit that God is dead. These cognitively aligned religious types, these blessed souls who make good sense to themselves, it is as if they have closed their eyes to the empirical phenomena that can be summarized as the murder of God, which would mean their faith is little more than willfully out of date information.

Mary punching the devil in the face (13th century). Credit: ChurchPop, Public Domain via the British Library.

Insisting that God is not dead in a world in which God has been killed, tends to manifest as a neurotic dissimulation of unstated instrumental motives (and it often is). The religious are correct to be religious, I believe, but they tend to dissimulate on the grounds that only the human folly of overzealous science has made them wrong, and so it is just and true for them to ignore human follies as if they have not occurred, even if those follies have in fact taken over many national majorities the world over. The stubborn dedication of the devout is impressive but unfortunate, because it contributes to the impression that science is "right" and religion is "wrong," at best a dubious symbolic game that's not exactly up front about its real cognitive-emotional character, probably serving some ulterior purposes. Faith that does not confront the death of God is a signal that falls beneath the noise-gates of all modern communication.

The devil is winning, and the religious are failing to update, because the religious are too devout to let themselves be as wrong as they truly are. Allowing oneself to be wrong is a necessary precondition for updating; coming to terms with the degree to which science has rendered religion wrong, is a precondition for religion to determine how its truth might once again be correctly expressed.

Early Christian Communism with Roman Montero

Roman Montero (@PantaKoina) is the author of "All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians." We had a long conversation about religion and communism (duh), Christianity, Protestantism, Catholicism, rationality, love, and marriage.

Roman's book can be found on Amazon here. Roman also wrote a short synopsis of the book available on Libcom.org. You can also find a video recording of our conversation here.

Religion is an extra-rational condition for the possibility of rationality

G.K. Chesterton happily understood in advance what the Frankfurt School theorists only observed with great horror after the fact. Namely, that without an authority such as the Catholic Church, placed above the orbit of merely rational calculation and willing to enforce ethical standards over its head, human reason will not last very long. This is because the freedom of human beings to think is itself extra-rational; if you want to install and protect the capacity for humans to think freely and rationally, you cannot avoid taking recourse to extra-rational measures, or dark defences.

The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify: these were all only dark defences erected round one central authority, more undemonstrable, more supernatural than all — the authority of a man to think. (Orthodoxy)

At times, Chesterton sounds exacty like the Frankfurt School, e.g. “There is a thought that stops thought.” But unlike secular critiques of capitalist culture, Chesterton is willing to make the ethical inference that we are rationally compelled to endorse extra-rational measures in order to forestall the collapse of the world.

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. (Orthodoxy)

Of course, nearly all secular social justice activists believe in the necessity of dark defences, which explains why there is so much motivated reasoning and bad faith alongside so much public moralizing. The various forms of subtle dishonesty intrinsic to modern social justice discourses are merely the paltry, diluted, late-stage Protestant version of Catholic authority: the right to enforce extra-rational measures, in the service of some greater good. What postmodern political culture teaches us, today, is that true non-religious secular culture is essentially impossible. The choice is only between varieties of disingenuous Protestantism — implicitly dissimulated, various, and competing — or one true Church, true only in the tautological sense that it is invested with the authority to define what is True beneath and beyond all that is true.

Utilitarianism incentivizes suffering, or victim culture as a child of rationalism

Insofar as people live according to its suggestions, Utilitarianism strangely incentivizes suffering. In a society where utilitarianism operates as the governing philosophy, the accommodation you receive from others will be a function of your propensity to suffer. If a society is maximizing its net utility, then it will effectively care more about solving the problems of those who suffer the most. Does this not select for people who suffer more? Does it not make extreme suffering a viable pathway to survival? Especially if technological change makes it impossible to survive through economic competition, the propensity to suffer could become increasingly adaptive for some groups.

I am not referring to merely strategic exaggerations of suffering (although there will be plenty of that, too, of course). More deeply, individuals who genuinely suffer more from one unit of negative stimuli, would fare better than those who genuinely suffer less from that unit, at least within one of multiple equilibria, in one pocket of society. Everyone can exaggerate, but the truly sensitive would exaggerate more convincingly. Moderate sufferers wither away from redistributive neglect while lacking the steeliness necessary for productivity, dying young and having no kids, while only the super-sufferers have what it takes to win a basic income and other survival-support, living longer and having more kids. Victim culture is a child of modern rationalism, a perverse but inevitable life-path within an economic system that finds its chief ethical defenses in utilitarian or consequentialist frameworks.

A Talk on "Immediate Collective Liberation"

This is the audio from a talk I gave to Plan C London on January 19, 2016. You can find the slides for this talk at the following links: PDF or HTML.

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