235. Abundance (V)
It is often said that our contemporary problems stem from a lack of belief; if people still had absolute religious beliefs then the Western countries would not be beset by nihilism, generalised anarchy, and so on. On the contrary, I think belief is vigorous today and our world is filled with believers—and this is a problem. The propositions: Black Lives Matter, George Floyd was a saint; climate change is an existential problem, wise Greta tells the truth; women are systematically abused at work, we believe all women and support #MeToo; respect pronouns, stop hate crimes against trans people…It is possible to go on at length; and what do these propositions amount to other than statements of belief? Taken together—it is a cliché to say—these constellate into a secular religion. And people really, really do believe in it.
These beliefs are quite absolute and, contrary to what conservative liberals fear, not remotely “relative”. The beliefs stem from a common contention: all humans are equal, any inequalities that appear are caused by the malicious activities of those with the greatest material wealth—within this demonology, the demon-in-chief is the straight white male; he who denies all bounties to the oppressed.
And so the right plays the role of “pagans”: the people who were left behind, left with the old gods—Jesus, in this case—when the new religion rolled into the imperial capital. There are people who dislike the new religion and want to go back to the old religion; but they cannot because, unlike the new religion—a belief system without supernatural elements—the old religion seems incredible to them; and yet they know they cannot live, nor can society exist, in a state of consistent autistic scepticism—and so they try to believe in Christianity, as a social corrective and not as a real faith.
The path back is not to try to believe in Christianity or Islam or whatever. The answer is to give up belief; people have far too many beliefs today—and most, from George Floyd to Greta, are nonsense. Give up belief and be loyal to observation. Tell it how it is: this is art, an engagement with the world that is objective in a non-scientific way.
I see people like Jordan Peterson locked in a struggle to believe in Christianity, because their reason and scientific knowledge tells them it is nonsense. The solution is to give up “try”: “I can’t believe this! It’s the most childish and ridiculous nonsense I’ve ever seen! There is no good evidence for it at all!” Only when they have done this will the door open to the mystery. When they force belief—because they think it is what “good” people do, or because Christianity will save them from the woke—it is all moralism and politics. If they give up belief, then when they meet a gentle carpenter with a hippy-like beard who tells them to go to church they will laugh and say: “Jesus just told me to go to church. Jesus is with us now.”
To give up belief about the world is to give up the attempt to impose a framework on reality; once this happens you will be open to let reality speak to you: signs and portents will appear. The man with beliefs knows everything; he can see nothing. But Jesus and the Buddha did not come with beliefs; they came with observations, some of their observations caused a shock to believers. To observe is to be aware; it does not mean to live without structure: it is to allow an organic structure to assert itself from your observations, rather than to impose a dead and static belief on reality. This is the mystery, a word that originally meant “initiation”, we become aware that there are not answers for everything, not in Wikipedia or academic journals or in the Bible—and we move into the mystery; but we can only do so once we give up belief.