Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nihilism, and the Last Dogma

The root of fanaticism is not faith, but a lack of faith. It is a lack of faith in everything but God--and ultimately, in God as well.

If someone lacks faith in humanity, in the ability of most ordinary people to do the right thing most of the time, then values must be based elsewhere than in human judgment or an innate moral sense which may or may not be well developed. To establish a moral code, these people must see it as being based upon an extra-human absolute authority. The slow, gradual accumulation and preservation of human wisdom is not enough for them; humanity is ultimately flawed, and there can be no moral system that relies upon merely human judgment.

Meanwhile, even as they reject religious dogma, there is a single article of dogma that is not questioned: Kierkegaard's Either/Or, between religious devotion and nihilism. Religious leaders argue for a false dichotomy between absolute Divine certainty and nihilism—the establishment of values must be seen to originate from Divine authority. Inherent in this argument is the premise that human beings cannot establish truth by any means, cannot discover values on their own, cannot even improve their circumstances. This last fragment of religious dogma is never questioned, never even examined--it lingers as a background premise, unstated. To reject the church is to reject objective moral standard and drift in a current of mere opinion. But if they follow a religion, the individual decision of what values they assent to must be hidden from view; the source must be external, rather than the product of their own judgment. It is they who choose the religion, the church, the minister, the interpretation, yet they must deny their own role in this choice, or lose confidence in that choice. The perfect is the enemy of the good. They demand perfect morality, or none at all.

This is a demand for absolute certainty which we as human beings can never claim. The root of this is a lack of faith in human beings, so that the human element must be removed from the mix in order for it to be considered sound. Without religion, there can be no morality. If they accept religion, they must conceal, even from themselve, their own responsibility for their choices. And yet, they continue to make these decisions, but take them to come from above. The idea that we might have evolved a fairly trustworthy sense of ethical conduct never occurs to them.

So, the problem seems to be solved. Their lack of faith in humanity is countered by their faith in God. But not so fast—if the judgment of human beings cannot be trusted, then they must be told what to do by their religious elders. This may include telling them how to vote, but really, democracy itself is flawed, because it leaves too much in the hands of poor foolish mortals. Best to do away with it entirely. The same can be said for any law established by human beings, any knowledge discovered by human beings, and even for personal private choice. All these must be brought under the aegis of God. Freedom leads to ruin. Liberty can only be surrender to God. The community is a single body with a single brain--God, as interpreted by his clerics. The body, or any part of it, when it is not subject to God, becomes a mere beast. Man is fallen, he has lost his original innocence and become tainted, and nothing he can do on his own is worth anything.

And yet, every part of religion is covered with greasy human fingerprints. God, apparently, is such a crippled, powerless, feebleminded invalid that he cannot defend himself, cannot even raise his voice enough to for us to hear him, but must be protected by his apparently fatally flawed human followers. Not only can he not punch his way out of paper bag, he can't even make a decent man. It's almost as if his followers were fighting to defend their own frail egos. Do you see a pattern here? The nihilism which underlies fanatacism eventually eats the religion itself. Ultimately, the evil that they see in humanity comes to triumph over all. God cannot save even himself, let alone his followers. The Devil is lord of this world. The cool-aid, the suicide bomb, is waiting. The nihilism presented as the alternative to faith, and which lies at the root of fanaticism, devours all.

This is the last dogma, the one that lingers long after the rest is gone, and it springs from a profound distrust of human beings, probably learned at an early age. Underlying the most fanatical form of faith is a deep and abiding lack of faith, a hard core of nihilism, and that is where this article of dogma originates. But the either/or itself is false.