Thursday, 22 September 2022
Guardian-reading with added joss sticks
Jacob Phillips has an interesting piece on personal authenticity in The Critic. Sounds rather lofty but it isn't - the problems he describes are common enough.
The authenticity illusion
We all have a little LARPer inside us
On a December night, sometime between the life I used to lead and the life I lead now, whilst a friend and I were cutting through some backstreets off Oxford Street, we noticed an open church door. She suggested we go in and have a look. It made an intense impression on me. The interior was covered in deeply coloured mosaic tilework, interlaced black and white patterning. Scenes from Scripture were portrayed in dignified, pre-Raphaelite style by friezes on the walls. Incense hung in misty clouds gathered about the pillars in the nave. Around the High Altar was a seamless array of icons of saints, set against deep purple, rich crimson and darkly starlit blues. I desired to know more about this place, and resolved to come back for Midnight Mass.
The whole piece is well worth reading, not only as an interesting story of personal religious conversion, but as a wider comment on the modern search for personal authenticity. For example -
I sometimes encountered people from the old days who were treading a similar path. With one it began because his girlfriend’s uncle was a priest. He told me, in hushed tones, that open conversations with this uncle made him think that this priest was a true free-thinker, compared to so many people we knew who’d started policing pronouns and so on. Another had got involved with a cultish group and gone to live in an Ashram, before realising the values therein were not so much about spiritual wisdom as just Guardian-reading with added joss sticks. I was recently interested to see another old acquaintance write about her own experience of seeking refuge in a church.
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A very interesting piece - thanks!
This bit made me sit up and think:
"The genuinely premodern moment — or rather, the moment of faith — is not about attaining personal authenticity or integrity. Postmodernity collapses when you realise that mere belief, even sincere belief genuinely held, is nothing compared to a belief in something which is actually true. Then you realise that it remains true regardless of what one does or says, regardless of whether it feels that one is winning at life because of it. Simply finding coherence is not enough."
It somehow reminded me of the point you made in Monday's post about the universe's absolute indifference.
Sam - that quote struck me too. It was the basis of Spinoza's outlook, belief in something which is actually true is where true blessedness is to be found. We live to understand and anything less than that lessens us. It seems to be why woke culture does genuinely diminish its advocates.
What determines if it's true?
James - reality. All we need are good ways to latch onto it.
I think all that article shows is that some people cannot live without a psychological crutch to support them, be that formalised religion or pseudo-religions such as wokism or eco-babble, or indeed drug fueled hedonism (I include alcohol in that). They cannot manage without someone or something to tell them what to think, say and do on a day to day basis, and/or without some way of blotting out the morass of thoughts and emotions swirling around their brains. The world is too scary for most people to face while 100% sober and without someone to hold their hand.
Sobers - I include alcohol too, always worth remembering that it is a narcotic. I'm sure the world is too scary for many to manage without a psychological crutch and the value of the crutch lies in simplicity and social approval. What's the scary aspect though? It seems to be the fear of madness, as if questioning a consensus is akin to madness and that's too scary to contemplate.
"What's the scary aspect though?"
Having to think is a very scary prospect for many. To amass information, assess a situation, and draw conclusions, and (as you say) stand by them in the face of social disapproval (if your conclusions are contrary to agreed norms) is far too frightening for plenty of people. Far easier to just have the 'Line to Take' given to you by the authority figure/organisation, safe in the knowledge that you are then 'saved', whether thats in a religious sense or in a more secular virtue signalling way. Either way you know that if you follow 'the rules' you will be on the side of the angels and no-one will question your bona fides. Many people cannot face being disliked or considered beyond the pale, in its literal sense. I think the hedonism then comes from the dissonance this behaviour creates within people. They know deep down that they should be true to their deeper thoughts, but are ignoring them in search of the easy life, so all that internal conflict must be smoothed over somehow, and drug induced amnesia does the trick nicely.
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