DESPAIR | a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality
Has modern man lost the middle ground? Is that why despair abounds, and the sense of meaninglessness which leads to alienation and suicide? Can a spiritual being survive long in the abyss, the drabness, the cold of “a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality”?
The theologian Paul Tillich wrote,
“One of the unfortunate consequences of the intellectualization of man’s spiritual life was that the word “spirit” was lost and replaced by mind or intellect, and that the element of vitality which is present in “spirit” was separated and interpreted as an independent biological force. Man was divided into a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality. The middle ground between them, the spiritual soul, in which vitality and intentionality are united, was dropped. The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God.”
Demons through the back door
In our eagerness to expel God from our lives, have we in the West made a fatal error, the abandonment of “the middle ground” which affirmed and underpinned our own humanity?
Karl Jung observed darkly that Western man, who arrogantly ejects his own gods and spiritual inheritance, and thinks himself an awfully clever fellow for doing so, seems blind to the fact that the unconscious reality of his life means that the demonic re-enters through the back door and may manifest in ways he is unable to control or even recognise. The megadeath of 20th century conflicts and atheistic ideologies were in no small measure the manifestation of this very arrogance.
(Are not the two world wars, the dropping of the A-bomb and nuclear proliferation, the Industrial Animal Complex and animal experimentation, examples of the demonic entering through the back door under the guise of science and the autonomy of man?)
The Enlightenment saw, for better or for worse, the gradual overthrow of a God gradually regarded as an inconvenience; unnecessary and illegitimate. Of course this was a part of a long process reaching back through the Renaissance to Spinoza. Man came to view “God” as an unwelcome external agent, a distant and stern Pantocrator sitting outside his creation in a sort of tyrannical heaven, and soon enough western man came to view his rule as illegitimate, and deicide ensued. Rationalism, utilitarianism, man-as-consumer, man-as-object, man-as-nothing are a result of this desecration of the Temple.
The “militant New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are hardly original in their atheism, laughing at the dust of our fallen gods. Nietzche got there long before them, though he wept rather than smirked: the new atheists, fundamentalists of a tawdry materialism, simply popularized the banal. At least the atheist Bertrand Russell whose rejection of religion was so pragmatic and ‘sensible’, was not like the New Atheists who seem suspiciously like modern-day Savanarolas.
But in the ruins of fallen gods, what have we become?
As we burn the sacred in the public square, what have we placed on the altars of our lives?
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
A Hitchins, a Dawkins, is sufficiently emboldened by his hubris to ignore the emptiness at the core of his new anti-religion.
Man cannot live long in emptiness.
Ironically, the intolerant fundamentalism of the New Atheists mirrors the parody of religion they despise.
Poetry, song, myth, dance, metaphor, love, music, art, storytelling: are these now relegated to a back room of meaninglessness? The soul dies in the arid landscapes bulldozed by the New Atheists. There is an insightful article by (the atheist) Jeff Sparrow at The Guardian: “We can save atheism from the New Atheists” http://bit.ly/2iKCSEk
“If you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels. In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.
You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential nor silly.”
(As I write this, Africans in green, white and blue robes gather at the river for a baptism. Why are their faces full of joy, their song and dance vital and authentic, when Dawkin’s words are dusty and acrid, his old white face as ashen and uninspiring as something from Eliot’s The Waste Land or Choruses from the Rock?
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
The dangers of deicide
The Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev understood that to kill God is to kill man. A Russian who lived through the Bolshevik revolution, he witnessed this impoverishment in atheistic communism and dialectical materialism. He understood that the mystical union of man and the divine means the one affirms the other.
The atheist disagrees of course: this is mumbojumbo to him.
Perhaps the Pantocrator had to fall in order to reveal God’s humanity?
But in the revolt, the ground of being was deserted too.
A chaotic trajectory
Did we not see that to kill God would be to violate the ground of our being, to switch off the gravity which holds our little spaceship in orbit? Now it tumbles wildly through space and we have no idea why it’s course is so unstable; quite the contrary – the crew congratulate themselves on their chaotic trajectory.
The word Pantocrator is of Greek origin meaning “ruler of all”. Merriam-Webster:
The omnipotent lord of the universe : almighty ruler —used especially of Christ
“the typical Byzantine icon presents Jesus as the Pantocrator … on his heavenly throne” – F. B. Artz
Berdyaev’s mystical conception of man in God and God in man:
Mythology and Freedom: Nicholas Berdyaev’s Uses of Jacob Boehme’s Ungrund Myth
By McLachlan, James:
“Berdyaev developed some of the most original and unorthodox solutions to traditional problems in philosophical theology of any twentieth century thinker. He created a conception of ultimate reality in which the polar opposites of immanence and transcendence, unity and multiplicity, identity and difference, activity and passivity, positivity and negativity, Being and nothingness etc., are all present in an undifferentiated state called the Ungrund, which is prior to Being and thus also prior to both irrationality and rationality. There is no ontological difference between human beings and God, or Necessary Being and dependent being as there are in traditional Christian theology; all of reality is contained in the primal unity of the Ungrund. The “ontological difference” is rather between existent Being coupled with its antinomy negation, and the source from which both being and negation flow.Quite early in his philosophical career Berdyaev was attracted to Jacob Boehme’s myth of the Ungrund because through this myth Boehme formulated questions about the relation of the divine and the human, freedom and determinism, creation and destruction, in a radically different manner than had occurred heretofore in the West.”
“Dark matter? Non-locality? An infinity of universes? In my experience contemplative prayer delivers. It is as inescapably compelling to the emotions as mathematics is to the intellect. Poor old Richard thinks that prayer means asking God to suspend the laws of the universe to stop it raining on the day of the church fete. I love Dawkins. I think he’s great. In the hot air balloon trial I would flee the burning city with him rather than with Benedict XVI any day (“a leering old scoundrel in a long white frock”, how Galileo would have enjoyed that). But he’s wrong about religion.”