Belmont Club

Terminal Depression

One of strongest contenders for the prize for the most ironic headline this Easter week is Deutsche Welle’s “Brussels ‘March Against Fear’ cancelled over security concerns.”  In close second is the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s announcement of women’s only German trains as an answer to the perceived rape epidemic in Europe.

Europe has a religion problem, and it’s not necessarily Islam.  The most important religious question in the West today is “what in is still worth dying for?”  For many, the answer is “nothing”.  Despite the constant use of the word “coward” to describe suicide attackers it is abundantly is that many Muslims are willing to sacrifice their lives for strongly held beliefs while Belgium’s March Against Fear cannot proceed due to fear. By contrast some Europeans think huddling in single gender trains and other safe spaces is preferable to being politically incorrect.

The stark difference between the brave the “cowards” was if anything increased by the report of Mr. Asad Shah, a Glasgow newsagent, who “was murdered by a fellow Muslim after he wished his Christian friends a peaceful Easter.”

Asad Shah, who was stabbed up to 30 times at his shop, had praised both the life of Jesus and ‘his beloved Christian nation’. Left lying in a pool of blood, the 40-year-old died in hospital. …  Mohammad Faisal, a family friend, said a bearded Muslim wearing a long religious robe entered Mr Shah’s shop and spoke to him in his native language before stabbing him in the head with a kitchen knife.”

There was a time in the West when Shah’s behavior would at have been widely admired.  It would certainly have been comprehensible. Many would have recalled without hesitation Christ’s words on the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” A century ago people, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, habitually lived in two worlds: this world and, for want of a better term, some other one in which their lives, sacrifices and memory took on a transcendent meaning.  You died, but you never really died in vain.

Then in the second half of the 20th century the Western cultural leaders largely concluded that there no “other world”, only the present one.  That present one was itself filthy and meaningless. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg put it bluntly. “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” It ain’t worth a damn though Weinberg suggests that as a practical matter we should pretend to give it meaning with a little harmless self-deception.

If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that—in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we’re starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That’s not an entirely despicable role for us to play.

But that “meaning” is obviously only in a manner of speaking.  It’s not real; just a psychological trick. Objectively this “little island of warmth and love and science” is something we sell ourselves to make it easier to get through an absurd situation.  In actuality nobody should risk his life for nothing.  The entire tenor of official quasi-Marxist culture accepts this; teaches this and emphasizes hoarding the years, awaiting death as comfortably as possible and avoiding all unnecessary risk.

Civilization has become all about health and safety, avoiding competition, eliminating all causes of microaggression, establishing fat-free, gun-free, Trump-free zones.  Teachers no longer recommend smiting the sounding furrows or sailing beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars; at least not if they want to keep their jobs.

So when it comes to the sticking point — actually risking dismemberment and grave physical injury facing Islamic extremism for example — Weinberg’s self deception collapses. Our “little island of warmth and love and science and art” when confronted with obliteration by a few material pounds of C4 yields to threat; for we can ill afford to trade away our precious necks to preserve illusory things like honor, God or country.  The logical thing is do what the Belgians did: cancel the march against fear and admonish people like Asad Shah to shut up and quit making waves.

The West’s real religion problem according to astrophysicist Bernard Haisch is with the contradictions engendered by the real official faith, reductionist materialism. That creed which long ago supplanted Christianity as the de facto religion of the West, holds there is nothing objective to fight for, something which the Marxist Bertrand Russell long ago understood.

Writing in 1958 about the ongoing confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union, Russell advised the West to surrender.  “I do hold however, that if all negotiations prove futile and no alternatives remain except Communist domination or extinction of the human race, the former alternative is the lesser of the two evils.” What Haisch points out is that Russell’s admonition that it was better to be Red than Dead follows directly from reductionist materialism.

This dogmatic view of science is dangerous because it leads inevitably to the conclusion that there cannot be any purpose behind the existence of the universe or its tenants. In this reductionist point of view, the life of any human being must ultimately be devoid of any meaning greater than perhaps a transient psychological satisfaction in there here-and-now, by a job well do, be it sending the kids through college or firing up the kind of Sunday barbecue that makes friends and family salivate.

Indeed, the scientific world is full of vocal luminaries who take a kind of stoic pride in drawing precisely this conclusion … The logical consequence of a pointless universe is ugliness and destruction. No matter how you try to hide such a philosophy under a mantle of stoic nobility, it remains no fountain of hope, but rather a poison brew of pessimism. In the language of its nihilist proponents, a pointless universe has no conceivable outcome except the grim maximization of entropy. Such a view cannot, via any tinkering or contortion, be made life enhancing.

If “the logical consequence of a pointless universe is ugliness and destruction”, why not accept Osama bin Laden? John Boorman  took the idea of reductionist materialism to its logical conclusion in his 1974 film Zardoz where First World-like, bored Eternals (depicted as Britons living in a country house) finally decide to seek release from long life by letting the Exterminators kill them.  Life was a joke which had gone on too long. The Eternals climbed the ladder of scientific discovery only intentionally fall to their deaths upon reaching the top, leaving nothing behind to the remaining brutals but the illusion of hope.

While the struggle between Western political correctness and radical Islam has many aspects, at least one of them is the contradiction between materialist reductionism and the Jihad on the one hand, and materialist reductionism with itself on the other. To the modern Western intelligensia Islam is  simply a superstition just like Christianity; if no worse than certainly no better. From that point of view replacing one with the other should be an inconsequential detail.

It is militant Islam’s insistence on taking itself seriously that is so insolubly problematic to reductionist materialism.  Why won’t they be bought off?  Why don’t they take the public housing and welfare and watch Miley Cyrus? Islam does not behave according to their model and so, does not compute.

The UK treats radical Islam, but in principle all militant religious belief except reductionist materialism like a mental illness. It has no operating framework for dealing with populations that take their faith seriously, who mentally regard themselves as living in two worlds. In retrospect the West’s earlier triumph in the Cold War can be regarded as failure to convince Ronald Reagan (who only completed Eureka College) to accept the teachings of the infinitely more intelligent Bertrand Russell (Trinity College, Cambridge). Maybe this time they’ll get it right.

If Darwin’s test by natural selection has any validity, what would we make of a result where Islam defeats the secular West?  Can reductionist materialism still be right and yet dead under Islam?  In two worlds perhaps.  But in the one world only, it’s just dead.

I am Arthur Frayn, and I am Zardoz. I have lived three hundred years, and I long to die. But death is no longer possible. I am immortal. I present now my story, full of mystery and intrigue – rich in irony, and most satirical. It is set deep in a possible future, so none of these events have yet occurred, but they *may.* Be warned, lest you end as I. In this tale, I am a fake god by occupation – and a magician, by inclination. Merlin is *my* hero! I am the puppet master. I manipulate many of the characters and events you will see. But *I* am invented, too, for your entertainment – and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured *you* out of the clay? Is God in show business too?

Follow Wretchard on Twitter.


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