Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hope in the context of modernity


In the pre-modern era there were civilizations that lived upon the mere hope of hope - the varieties of paganism, the Ancient Hebrews of the Old Testament and many others.

They did not have grounds for hope, nor anything specific to hope for; but they hoped that such grounds and actualities might nonetheless exist.

This was possible, was natural, in a world where everyone believed that the soul or spirit survived death.


The noble pagans (of which many are recorded) always implicitly operated on the basis that there were permanent standards of human behaviour, and that humans were meant to live by them; and that if humans did not live by these permanent standards then there were genuinely-bad consequences which extended beyond their personal death.

Although unarticulated, this perspective necessarily means that the universe somehow has a very long-lasting and personal interest in the doings of each person.


But modernity disbelieves in post-mortal existence, and therefore insists that hope be this-worldly.

For modernity, hope must be located in this world, because there is nowhere else for it to be located.

However, it turns-out that there are no this-worldly grounds for hope - so disbelieving in the next world, there are no grounds for hope.

It turns-out that modernity systematically eliminates all grounds for hope; and insists that this is merely realistic, and that all previous human generations were grossly deluded.  


We live in the most hope-less world ever.

Somehow, modernity has persuaded almost everybody that 'science has discovered' that death is extinction (sorry, somehow I missed that research paper so I can't give a reference). 

What has really happened is that the metaphysical understanding of reality has changed - modernity operates on a different set of assumptions than any society in human history: that there is no human spirit or soul, that death is extinction, that the purpose of mortal life must be contained within mortal life, that there is no god/ God of any kind - and so on.

These modernist metaphysical assumptions were not discovered - they were invented; they have not been proven - they have simply become habitual to the point that people cannot imagine anything otherwise.


Under modern conditions, therefore, paganism is hope-less - and many types of society which used to work on the basis merely of hoping-for-hope, will not work any longer: hoping for hope will not cut the mustard under the pervasive nihilism of modernity.

Thus, under modernity, the human race has gone mad with despair - and instead of hope there are only negative energizing motivations: pleasure seeking distraction and hate-fuelled destruction.

Under such conditions, the only ones with hope that is strong enough to combat the all invading and aggressive despair, are those whose hope is correctly-located in the life-to-come, and whose belief in that hopeful life-to-come is strong and secure.


The challenge for any religion in the modern world is that it must provide hope in a hopeless world - in a world whose habitual and publicly-enforced thinking eliminates any possible grounds for hope.

(And - even worse - a world which stupidly, carelessly and lying-ly denies that this is what it is doing.)

This is very, very difficult; and many, many religions that used-to 'work', do not work any longer; they were destroyed, they have gone - leaving only shells.

They simply could not withstand the unprecedented hope-destroying power of modernity.


Modernity is a hurricane of skeptical assumptions.

Lots of religions, ideologies, world views which were functional in the past, have withered under the blast of modernity because they were undercut by modernist metaphysical assumptions.

Religion now must be far stronger than ever it was before - and the metaphysical basis of religion, the structuring frame of interpretation which shapes all experience and reasoning - must, nowadays, stand apart from the mainstream of public discourse (and will therefore seem stupid or crazy by prevailing standards) - and yet this religious frame must be believed in a way strong enough to withstand continuous and unrelenting attack from modern institutions and from the mass media. 


We have now 'done the experiment' with this-worldly hope and the results are in - our public culture has, for several generations, insisted that hope be located in this world and within mortality; and that hope located beyond death is dumb, evil, crazy nonsense.

We have done the experiment, and we can see the results: nihilism, paralysis, lies, deliberate ugliness, strategic vice, decadent addiction to comfort, clamouring egotism, cowardice, craving of stimulation... in one word - ignobility.


The modern pagan stands in the starkest possible contrast to the bleak, stoic dignity of an ancient pagan!

There is no modern Socrates.

No wonder that there are so few religions that 'make a difference' under modernity! - existence is harder for real religion than ever before, anywhere.


The lessons:

We must have hope.

Hope must be located beyond mortal life. 


And all this is a matter of habitual metaphysical assumptions - a matter of how we, personally, at the deepest level, interpret life.

And this we can choose - and indeed must and do choose; because nobody and nothing can prevent us from choosing.

And, having chosen, we will experience the consequences of our choice.