As I have mentioned in certain comments on various blogs over the past year or so, I have gradually come to the conclusion that the current “struggles” we face concerning the “culture” — whether we are discussing the impact of the sexual revolution, the decline of religion in the public square, the increase of all kinds of license, the coarsening of society, the decline of family life, etc. — are primarily not cultural struggles at all. And neither are they political struggles, although certain aspects of these elements have been aided and abetted by political action and legislation.
By contrast, it strikes me that the cultural and political elements we are seeing are merely manifestations of a broader spiritual struggle — a larger element which underlies these other manifestations, and unites them into a larger, cohesive, and more dangerous, whole.
This seems an odd charge to make, given that the loudest and most enthusiastic proponents on the “other side” tend to be either atheists or agnostics.
The key, however, is understanding that while these people are not “theistic believers”, they nevertheless are following what is essentially a system of moral “good” vs. moral “evil”, with the “prime moral directive” being not following the will of God, but rather removing all obstacles to the not-directly-harmful-to-others exercise of the personal volitional will. That is, human will, or, rather, the autonomous freedom of the individual to act in accordance with his or her individual will (provided not directly harmful to others — let’s call that the “legitimate exercise of the individual will”) has become the supreme moral principle — the “god” of a non-theistic moral system, if you will. Because of this, actions or inactions are viewed primarily through the lens of whether they promote this legitimate exercise of the human will or whether they restrict it (again, other than in ways that are necessary to prevent harm to others — which would be cases where the exercise of the human will would be considered “illegitimate”), and assigning “moral” to the first category and “immoral” to the second. This has given birth to a new kind of “pseudo-religion” — a religion without God, centered on the individual will.
From the traditional Christian perspective, of course, this seems to be upside-down (i.e., personal will elevated to that of a pseudo-god in place of the Divine will of the actual God), but also perhaps the inevitable result of removing a supernatural God from the equation.
There is, however, a bit more to the story.
Joseph Bottum has written a new book entitled “An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America“. An interesting review of the book by Spengler can be found here.
Bottum, formerly an editor at First Things and a longtime writer of columns in various publications, advances the thesis that contemporary progressive secularism is simply the current manifestation of mainline protestantism, albeit this time without God in the picture. This will sound somewhat familiar to those acquainted with Moldbug’s ideas (Bottum describes, for example, the continued influence of Puritanism on the intolerant and fanatical mindsets of many in this secular progressive camp), but it also goes beyond them in asserting that the driving force in this movement is spiritual — that is, the desire to be among the “good” in some kind of transcendent way, and identifying this “good” with the public “goods” of non-discrimination, wealth distribution and the like. That is, there is a desire to support and help achieve the “good”, for moral reasons, and thereby to become or at least be considered to be “good”, again in moral terms, by means of social activism, social progressivism and the like — all quite apart from anything relating to a transcendent, supernatural God and what His own rules might hold for personal behavior regarding things such as, eh, sex. In effect, it is replacing those “old moral rules” with the more “enlightened”, more “evolved” morality which emphasizes personal volitional freedom (as noted above) plus these social “goods”, which are seen as moral in and of themselves. I would add this to my own notions described above about the moral priority of the legitimate self-will, and say that the new pseudo-faith emphasizes both that *and* the furthering of social goods (many of which tend, at the same time, to further the exercise of the legitimate self-will, but which are also seen as moral ends in and of themselves).
I have not finished the book yet (more on that when I do so), but it’s highly recommended reading for anyone who really wants to understand the struggle currently taking place, and what it really is about. It’s a spiritual struggle, a religious war, much more than a cultural or political one. I think that this is also why the culture war and the political war have been so generally unsuccessful. The underlying issue — the underlying morality, the underlying war about what is moral and what is the basis for that — is a spiritual and/or religious conflict, and one being waged with all kinds of weapons as well: artistic, cultural, political, educational, bureaucratic/corporate, etc. I think this is often missed by many on “our side” of this conflict, because we tend to see the other side as “Godless narcissists”, when in fact they view themselves as the truly moral people who have progressed beyond the morality we have, which they consider to be primitive, obsolete and practically Neanderthal in nature. In other words, far from perceiving themselves as Godless narcissists, they instead see themselves as morally more advanced, and see our side as being retrograde, backwards, and obstinate in both of these, in moral terms, and therefore, by their own moral standards, fundamentally immoral and evil.
That is the nature of the fight. It’s why the fight has been, and continues to be, so uncivil. Religious wars are generally not very civil for the precise reason that the enemy is not merely wrong, but morally wrong and therefore not only personally evil but furthering the cause of evil in the world at large — something that therefore cannot be tolerated in the least, but which must be totally defeated and preferably annihilated from the face of the earth, for the earth’s own good and the good of everyone everywhere. This is precisely the kind of “totalism” that characterizes this struggle, and which has done so for some time. It will continue to do so in the years ahead, as the new pseudo-religion — which is rampant among the rising millenial generation — becomes more brazen, hegemonic and increasingly aggressively intolerant of the moral evil (in its view) posed by traditional Christians.
More to come in subsequent posts once I have finished the book.