Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Let’s Get Together and …

“They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name…’ ”

I’m going to write today as briefly, as bluntly and yet as informatively as I can.

I will do this because I feel we are dangling presently on a precipice of a major social crisis. The Christian position in this must be made clear, and made clear now, if Christian choices are to be well made.

Right now, a great feeling of “What’s going on?” is pervading our world. Things have hit the fan suddenly, it seems. Large interest groups are beginning to collide with increasing viciousness on a scale that has not been seen, in modern Western countries at least, for a long time. Some Western cities are burning. People are being labeled and hunted, not just by radical factions, but with the collusion and assistance of political parties and the mass media. Hot language is being spewed about who deserves to have power or be crushed by power, who can legitimately prosper or must be destroyed, who should be heard or silenced, and even about who gets to live and die.

George Orwell is spinning in his grave.

My Christian friends are confused. Some are a little frightened. All are saddened by what they see. And they want to know firstly, what’s going on, and secondly, what’s a Christian to do about it?

I’m going to try to answer both questions ... the first one in today’s post and the second in tomorrow’s.

With me so far?

Understanding Collectivism

Pardon me for being a bit long today. I want to move slowly, carefully and comprehensibly, in stages of thought that we all can follow and that make sense. The issues are significant, but by no means complex: and at the end, I hope you’ll find yourself much more confident about what you’re seeing in the daily news reports.

My comments today will take us a little into the territory of political philosophy, and we might even say political psychology as well. I apologize for that. Political philosophy is not — and, I suggest, probably should not be — a Christian taste. It is wordy, obscure, and often downright misleading as well, given that it is generally shaped by the perspectives of godless men. In any case, not everyone is built for it. So, I will compensate for that by being as plainspoken and straightforward as I can so as to meet the ordinary Christian where he lives.

However, there are times when a little political philosophy is necessary, especially when the political winds of the day blow strong. And today they surely do. We live in an age of radical political polarization. Terrorism still stalks the globe, and commercial corruption is rife everywhere. The great masses of the world are agog at the dancing delusions of the internet, the marvels of technological innovation and the various baubles of the commercial world. At the moment, we are coming off the world’s first pandemic in living memory, and are now suddenly submerged in a bizarre sequence of new events such as the burning and sacking of major cities for reasons that are not clear even to the participants.

It is with this goal that I am writing. It is also my conviction that this is actually a very doable task — nowhere near so hard as the news media and the various pundits of this world make it out to be. The issues in hand are actually basic, spiritual, and, I think, quite clear.

Truly, there is “nothing new under the sun”, as Solomon so rightly said.

Two Options

Let me start with a very simple distinction. There are only two ways for a human being to reckon — with God, and without God. Got it?

Either the Lord is an issue in life, and he alone establishes justice in eternity, or else you have to have some scheme to achieve your justice in this life right now, before you die. The option of just having no justice is, of course, not something most people will entertain.

With God, we look to eternity for our final answers to questions like “How shall we become happy” or “When shall we have justice” or “How will the purpose of life be fulfilled?”

Without God, the answers to those questions have to be found now, here, on earth, in life, by some solution we can make happen, before we decline and die … because otherwise, it will never happen at all.

So there are those two ways to go. And most people, at least in the modern West, are reckoning without God. That means that if they are going to experience any justice, any fulfillment, any happiness, any joy in life, even any improvement in the present situation, it’s got to be now.

They have to say, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Step 1: Become a Collectivist

But this instantly raises a very serious problem: one person alone is powerless to change anything.

We are all comparatively small, weak and insignificant by ourselves. In moments of absurd overestimation, we might imagine we’re very important; but even the strongest among us actually has limited power, knowledge, resources and time. Is there any reasonable chance that a lone person can change the world — or even his own circumstances — greatly enough to produce the better world he longs for?

God could do it; but the man who reckons without God does not have that option. So what’s left? The obvious alternative is to muster more men. What the individual lacks power to do, maybe a big enough collective of men can empower him to achieve. So he must mobilize others to remove the obstacles.

So step 1 after the rejection of God is this: the secular individualist naturally becomes a collectivist. That is, he looks to groups of people to help him achieve what he cannot achieve by himself.

Of course, does it need to be pointed out that this strategy is doomed to fail? There is nothing about adding a few more men to a project that makes the project itself any more rational, and nothing about adding a few more fallen men that makes it any less likely to fail. A few more will not produce the ideal society, social justice, personal happiness or eternal life, anymore than adding a few more muddy bricks will raise a tower from the earth to heaven. It’s not just too far; it isn’t even a practical method for that goal.

As futile as it is, however, it remains the only hope of godless men. The alternative is to try nothing at all; and to live without possibility of betterment is an alternative most of men simply will not endure.

Step 2: Adopt an Ideology

Next problem: how to mobilize men? Other people are individuals. They are not always cooperative, and don’t always like to be told what to do.

So they must be convinced.

How? Well, there will need to be a common vision — something that will unite other men in a single perspective and focus them on the objectives the individual hopes to achieve. But this is not easy: few of us are eloquent, clever and convincing enough to draw other people into our schemes. There are a few, to be sure, but most of us are not great propagandists.

Not only that, but many of us do not really have clear vision about what we actually want. We know we want to be happy, say, but we don’t really have a specific sense of what will get us there. Or we want society to be fair, but maybe we only can think of a few ways in which we want to see that play out. Or we want progress, but don’t really know what progress is going to look like.

For all these reasons, it’s easier and more automatic not to try to invent some new vision ourselves, but rather to look around for an existing vision that attracts us by some of its high points; something already created and thought-through by others can be the vehicle of our personal ambitions. And we can more easily induce others to join a program that’s already in motion and which others are already joining.

So the second step is this: to design, or more likely adopt, a collective political ideology. Become its supporter and advocate, and ride that train to its destination.

Step 3: Double Down and Try Harder

Now a new problem emerges from our secular ideology, one of which we are not perhaps even conscious: it doesn’t really work. It can’t quite deliver the goods we want. It can’t really make us happy, doesn’t really deliver justice or fairness, and as an answer to the meaning of life has an ultimately hollow ring to it. Maybe this is because we know we made it up ourselves; or maybe it’s because human productions are all so flawed and ultimately unconvincing; or maybe it’s because we still have a conscience that quietly nags us that we are lying to ourselves and missing the point of life. But for whatever reason, ideology does not satisfy, and does not deliver.

We could repent, and rethink our rejection of God. But men generally don’t. What they do instead is to double down. If our hopes are not being achieved, if our efforts so far have not been successful, and if our heaven-on-earth is not approaching as fast as we’d like, perhaps the problem, we think, is that we are not trying hard enough.

Not enough effort is being exerted. Not enough belief is being exercised. Not enough people are presently drawn in. We must push much harder, and the vision must be simplified, clarified and intensified, so as to motivate a more singular effort. Of necessity, deceptions and evasions must be introduced into the narrative to conceal its emerging flaws and inevitable failures. Doubts must be erased and enthusiasm renewed. Ideology must become dogma and propaganda.

But something else, too: we must account for why our ideology, which we believe so fervently and on the strength of so many others, has not yet yielded the goods for which we adopted it.

Present failure must be explained and cured.

Step 4: Fanaticism

Now, what’s the handy explanation? It’s quite simply this: the present situation is holding us back. There are not enough people who believe in our cause yet. Our collective has not reached the critical mass to produce its promised benefits. And why is this? It is because the status quo, the existing regime of things, is entrenched and has the resistance of inertia on its side. We have not yet exerted enough force to dislodge it.

Moreover, there are those who have created the present states of affairs and are benefiting from them, who have no stake in our revolution. And even among our ranks are those who are insufficiently committed, lazy, freeloading, or perhaps even traitorous to our cause. The collective is being let down, and it is those who are not committed to our ideology who are doing it.

What can we do? Well, we must convince them. And what if they will not be convinced? That cannot be allowed. We cannot have a small group of unimaginative nay-sayers holding us back from our happiness, from the good society, or even from a heaven-on-earth, can we?

We must create more dedication to the cause. We must ratchet up our propaganda. We must command more loyalty. We must demand more sacrifice. We must incentivize passion. And with all that, we must be more thorough in dealing with dissenters, holders-back, and the various betrayers and deniers of the cause. We must weed out the problems and redouble the push. We must use more force.

Thus, ideology is inevitably drawn to fanaticism.

Step 5: Hatred and Destruction

When human beings find their purposes frustrated the first emotion they experience is naturally anger. And we cast about for something or somebody to blame.

Secular ideology finds the object of its hate in those who have not joined the cause, and in the institutions of the status quo. It pours out its venom on them in proportion to the perceived greatness of its own ambitions. The more the secular ideology has promised, the greater the ire it directs at its opponents: how dare they stand against such an obviously great, good and just cause? They are truly vile!

Ginning up hatred is also very serviceable to the collectivist cause. Not only does it unite and focus the “faithful” on common objects of shared hatred, but it does two other handy things as well. First, it allows the program of the collective to focus on negative goals, goals of destroying or removing things and people that are near, visible, identifiable and within human scope. But secondly, it also keeps the ideology from having to articulate any comprehensive positive vision of what it will do when all the negative goals have been achieved.

Destruction is easy and building is hard, but the building work can remain unspecified so long as the enemies are many, the objects of hatred on every side, and the status quo still exists to be smashed.

Any residual deficiencies inherent in the collectivist ideology (and there are always many) can be concealed by the focused goal of hating and destroying the establishment, and put off for the indefinite future. The promise is that when our revolution has been achieved we will be able to sort out the details from there. For now, there is still only the inspiring work of overthrowing things. That is enough.

Step 6: Rhetoric and Sanctimony

Next, we must make ourselves seem holy.

The downside of smashing things, hating things, destroying and overthrowing, is that it can make us feel as if we are bad people. Our consciences can be irritated by the unpleasantness of what we have to do in order to achieve our goals. So we will need to salve that.

To anesthetize our consciences we will need high rhetoric. So the chains of conventional morality must be shed. In their place, a new language of virtue must be introduced. “Good” has got to become a synonym for “doing whatever is necessary to progress the cause” and “evil” must become a synonym for “falling short, in any way, of the fervency of devotion to the cause that will make it successful”.

In a twisted bit of logic, we must come to convince ourselves that the worse we behave, the better we are.

How does this work? Well, something like this: we shall reason that all who identify with the establishment, and all those who have benefited from it, and any who are not white-hot dedicated to our cause are, to one degree or another, simply enemies of truth, goodness, justice and humanity. After all, they hold us back from these things, in which both the good of the collective and our own future happiness obviously consist.

It follows, then, that they are very, very bad people. They are obdurate. They are selfish. They are narrow. They are conservative. They are probably also sexist, racist, fascist and any other kinds of “-ist” we can summon.

And then the thought follows, “What good people on a very good mission can do to people who are very bad is practically limitless. Really, we can legitimately denounce, demean, defeat, humiliate, incarcerate, bludgeon, pillage and even kill those who persist in having any affection for the former state of things. They are evil. And we are good when we spit on them, when we kick them, when we stone them, when we beat them to a pulp; our anger will be righteous, and their debasement and destruction will be richly deserved. We shall be virtuous in the hotness of our hatred.”

Now, all of this is done with the highest rhetoric, the greatest show of virtue that the collectivist ideologues can muster. For in order for it to be permissible to do such hideous acts as they think they must do, they must serve nothing less than the highest cause. Since we all must shatter, debase, bully, burn, shame, brutalize and kill, our purity must be white hot in order to sustain in us the conviction that all we are doing is moral and right. We must always feel we are morally superior, especially while we are necessarily drawn to do things which any conventional morality would make us feel are immoral. No visiting compunction of conscience must be allowed to break through to us and cry, “Hold, hold!”

The worse the movement, the higher the rhetoric must be.

Step 7: Rage

But it all doesn’t really work.

Utopia does not arrive. Neither does the equity and justice for which we longed. Happiness eludes us. “The Great Society” does not emerge out of the clamor and smoke of our striving. And most troublingly, the more our revolution seems to achieve, the more clear it becomes that we shall not achieve our goals before we die — and maybe, we begin to suspect — not at all.

This occasions rage. How could such a high and noble cause possibly fail? More excuses, more explanations, more objects of blame must be found … but inevitably, such are in insufficient supply. The strategies we used to salve our consciences and stave off our looming fear of failure are not working anymore. So we determine to ride our revolution flaming into the ground. Like Macbeth, we declare, “For my own good, all causes shall give way,” and to our enemies, like Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, we cry out, “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Then the tumbrils roll through the streets on the way to the guillotine, and in the market square the flames lick hungrily at the waists of the infidels. The pogroms, the purges, the gulags and the death camps open for business. No cruelty, no savagery, no brutality or insanity is left untried. Conscience is gone, reservation abandoned, all given over to immolation in the bonfire of the cause. And the promised utopia of secular collectivist hopes turns into a hell on earth.

This is the final step in the downward decline of all the godless schemes of men.

Summary So Far

Now you understand collectivism. You know why it happens and why it should not surprise us. You also know what to expect from the various collective factions that are storming across our world. What you do not perhaps yet know is where we Christians fit into the situation. And that’s for tomorrow’s post.

Fair enough?

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