Monday, April 3, 2017

In Between Stories

We are in disarray. Confused. The barbarians are at the borders; so build up the walls! Morality has fallen; so construct more prisons; Thieves from ghettoes and banks have taken our livelihoods; lock them up! Aux armes citoyens!  Our social order crumbles.

Behind every social order is a story, a founding account that all members accept in one form or another.  It is the myth that unites. Sometimes it is passed down orally from generation to generation. Sometimes it is written out in a holy scripture. Often it is just acted out in rituals and holidays.

When 12 tribes (or more) came together and shared their stories, they put themselves together into one nation. When cities came together to compete in the games of their shared gods, they became a people. Or when one city as seat of the nation drew in and included many others, it became one civilization.

While the Story is seen in other times and places as a fiction or myth, for its place and time it is a link to the sacred outside of space and time that confers meaning and legitimacy for the community, or nation, or civilization. As Jean-Pierre Dupuy says: it is the "mark of the sacred."  The Sacred founds the People including its way of life or economy, its way of governance or politics, its way of knowing or culture. The Story accrues, revises, purges details and otherwise changes. But the Sacred, to which the Story points, is eternal.

Those of us who have entered the modern age, which is just about all of us, have a problem. We have rejected the sacred in our common story.  Modernity, built on the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, industrialization, capitalism, information technology, has discarded the gods. We all have our specialized religions or anti-religions, many of them, but they belong to our private sector. If we worship divinities, we do it in private.

We moderns value reason over divine revelation. We reject ghosts as superstitious projections including separable souls or spirits. We accept that nature and life are evolved, not created by some supernatural entity. We prefer scientific knowledge to religious dogma. We see religion as either quaint or destructive. Those who take religious expressions literally we judge as uneducated fundamentalists, members of remnant cults.

And yet we are still intrigued with the preternatural. We entertain ourselves with stories of ghosts, vampires, good and bad angels, witches and wizards, goblins and zombies, and gods. Although we allow ourselves to be spooked for awhile, we know the difference between fiction and history, between make-believe and reality.

But here is our problem. When we reject a sacred, i.e. one exterior to us, one that is not make-believe or a projection of our wants and needs, we have no firm base for our lives, behaviors, and actions. The earth, as Max Weber has noted, becomes "disenchanted," no longer a matter for wonder and care, but for exploitation. Without a Father/Mother Creator, we are no longer brothers and sisters in solidarity but are commodities. Without a Savior God, we have no hope for divine fellowship and eternal life; and so we live and die without meaning.

In this period of late modernity, we have rational self-interest, ethnic nationalism, and twitter prose to express our economy, politics, and culture. And they flounder. We have woken from the dream of the city on the hill, of new frontiers, of unending progress, and of liberty, equality, fraternity. Anger and resentment have erupted and are covering us with destructive burning blackness.

We stand in this last stage of modernity facing choices as to what comes after. Indulge the anger and resentment; let insanity reign towards unmitigated disruption and disorder; and imbibe the suicide of nihilism. Or rewrite the story that gives us meaning; renew the dream that invites us forward; rediscover the sacred that originates our common space and time.

Do we go back to the ancient nature Gods or to the main Gods of civilization or to the Being of philosophers or to Mind or Reason or History or Future? We are in between stories? How do we write the new one?

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