Despite much of MasterSelf being inherently built on the opposition to Nihilism, I don’t think I’ve directly touched on the concept until The Burden of Existence, II. Beyond all other issues, the black and bleeding heart of the ills of the world is rooted in the philosophy of Nihilism. This belief (or perhaps unbelief) system is so widespread and commonplace that most people are wholly unaware that their own lives are ruled, or at the very least, influenced by it. Today, we explore the Desert of Nihilism and the Throne of God to understand the horror and responsibility that it represents.
For most of human history, the circumstances of our existence made a belief in the supernatural something of a necessity. The average man 3000 years ago didn’t possess the requisite information about electron movements and atmospheric conditions to discern the fact that lightning is produced by electrostatic discharge. The vast base of knowledge required to produce such an analysis simply didn’t exist. Now, if you’re familiar at all with the human animal, you’ll know that humans are, at their core, wired for meaning-seeking. The basis of intelligence is pattern recognition, and our nebulous concept of meaning is something like the dramatization of these patterns.
Narrative, in this regard, is a phenomenal example of the ability to encode semantic information into a simplified meaning, with the Monomyth as a prime example. Nearly the entirety of the human experience can be expressed with the twelve stages of the Monomyth, which is evidenced by its ubiquitous usage in modern films. Yes, Marvel, this means you.
Since man could not understand the science behind the production of lightning, we instead default to a lower-resolution explanation- say hello to Zeus, Thor, Indra, Perkunas, or, if you have a preferential storm-deity, feel free to substitute. What’s notable here is that these deities are often evocative of humans. As I said before, we can only understand others in the manner and to the depth that we understand ourselves. Because of the fundamental limitation that our own self-understanding places on us, when we seek to understand the environment, we apply our own style of thinking to it. Thus, we get a pantheon of gods who are, more or less, emotional, whim-based people with superpowers, and they throw down lightning bolts when they’re mad. Wouldn’t you?
Now, I’m going to propose a mechanism that I touched on briefly before, but haven’t explicitly dissected yet- this concept is called ritualization.
Let’s imagine the first humans to possess self-awareness (Myth and Meaning I may be beneficial to read here). I’ll argue that the point at which Man became distinctly different from other animals is with the invention of language. From the moment language is invented, there is created an internal, separate egoic identity (both the petty ego and the Ego Proper, as this would be the undifferentiated self). As soon as the first person had an internal monologue arise, there is forever a part of the identity that is never going to be able to be expressed.
The privacy of thought births the mind-body dichotomy.
This, in many traditions, is what the “Fall of Man” represents- the horror of separateness that the private self creates. A person without an internal, private identity cannot lie- the lie is predicated on the ability to speak, and as a result, conceal or mislead. The new self is born as a child, innocent and yet guilty, and learns both that death is possible and that God is something to fear- because if there was no ego before, there was no I that could die.
Man is born the instant he attains the knowledge of his inevitable death.
Now, this First Man, fearing his demise, realizes that there are certain things he will have to do to put his fears to rest, if only temporary. He begins to plant and toil, working the ground to ensure food for his future, just as the First Woman learns of her curse to bear children in agony. Because the underlying processes that govern these facts of reality are concealed, they are obviously commands given by God himself. These are the rules of reality, and in the limited understanding of cause and effect that the First Man possesses, it is perceived as a punishment decreed by God.
When Man first develops a mental concept via observation, he does not understand the mechanisms by which it operates. As a result of this and the overall lack of understanding of causality (karma, cause and effect), his locus of control, as it pertains to the phenomenon, is externalized. However, because of his fundamental pattern recognition ability, he perceives that the phenomenon is governed by some sort of rules. Because his ability to understand things external to himself is mediated by his understanding of his own self, he imagines that the cause of the effects must be conducted by something like himself.
God, then, must have made Man in his image.
This is the process of ritualization. Man, from his anthropocentric position, imagines that God must, more or less, make decisions and act like he would, because he cannot imagine any other ways of operation. Humans are generally fairly bad at imagining the thoughts of others, and this limitation also extends (emphasis on generally) to the workings of reality. Because of the isolation of the ego, we’re limited to our own inner world, and it’s wholly centered around our own self-concept. Thus, when Zeus throws a lightning bolt, it’s because Man made him angry. When it rains, it’s because Man made God cry.
What is so absolutely to essential to understand about this process is that all concepts begin with the attribution of a supernatural or divine element. Animism, the belief that all things have a spirit or soul, makes perfect sense in the light of both ritualization and the associated anthropocentrism:
“I have a spirit, so these other things (newly developed concepts) must have the same kind of spirit as me.”
The progressive evolution of religion then represents not simply a change in belief systems. New religions actually represent more and more advanced conceptualizations of how the world works. The move from animism, which emerged as early as 100,000 BCE, to the proto-Indo-European polytheism around 5,500 BCE represents the emergence of a more complex and higher resolution conception of the world. As man identifies natural processes, the pantheon of gods emerges. The lightning becomes a distinct conceptual system, just as the earthquake, volcano, and harvest become representative of separate deities.
Things get interesting when we move into the monotheistic religions. Whereas in the pantheon, there is often a king of the gods like Zeus or Odin (because of the anthropocentric application of human hierarchies), the monotheistic God actually represents the very beginning of the Theory of Everything– the belief that there is a reason for all causes and effects, the concept that there could be one underlying rule that brings all things together. God is the ritualized concept of the superordinate principle, but at the lowest possible resolution. The notions of God being unknowable and mysterious in the more exoteric variants of monotheism are a testament to that.
The appearance of prophets seems to coincide with this conception of the superordinate principle. If there is one God, one rule that governs the universe, then a person who brings themself into alignment with said rule is, in the perspective of the ritualizing mind, either a messenger of said deity or an avatar of the deity itself. Doing the work of God is simply acting in accordance with the superordinate principle, then.
Christ is a particularly interesting example of this because he explicitly defines a conception of the superordinate principle: “God is Love.” I have a number of competing and complementary theories (that will take many, many articles to clarify) as far as the philosophy of the Gospels go, however, so I won’t go too deep into Jesus here. There are a few important takeaways, as they pertain to this article and the concept of ritualization go.
First, Christ represents the divinity of the individual- the ritualization of the concept that “the body is the temple,” meaning the move from an external deity (world-concepts) to the internal deity (self-reflection and the emergence of metaconsciousness). The Buddha is a very, very similar concept here, and came earlier because the East was quite a bit better at self-reflection than the West. Hinduism and Buddhism are much more complex analyses of the Self than most people realize, and much of what psychology is claiming to have discovered only recently can be found in the Vedas and Upanishads, albeit cloaked in religious language (ritualized). Look into the history of Yogis, Gurus, and Sages for more on that.
The primary controversy of the Christ, beyond his apparent disregard for the rules of the Pharisees, is from this move towards an interior deity. In some (potentially memetic) sense:
When Christ died on the cross, he killed the external God of the Jews.
“No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” takes on a very different connotation if we’re examining it through this lens. To conceptualize it accurately, we have to understand that Jesus isn’t referring to himself (the Son of Man), he’s referring to the archetypal expression of the superordinate principle that he is embodying (the Son of God). What this means, so far as I can discern, is that the process that Jesus the person acted out (death and rebirth) is a ritualization of the inner concept of the death of our limited conception of ego that births an understanding of Self.
This, of course, was widely misunderstood, and Man ritualized the teachings of Jesus into yet another exoteric religion, venerating the Son of Man and missing the Son of God almost entirely. This is the nature of the process of conceptual evolution that ritualization is the primary tool of, however. One person makes a discovery, people misunderstand it, play with it and alter it over time, and eventually it becomes second nature and taken for granted- internalized as self-evident.
The exoteric religions that worship the external, anthropomorphic God all began to develop mystic, esoteric components. Kabbalah, Christian mysticism (exemplified by St. John of the Cross), Sufi Islam, various schools of Hinduism and Buddhism, and so on, all represent the actualization (and internalization) of the conception of individuality. Rather than worshipping the external deity, these schools looked inward and sought to find the divine within.
This brings us, finally, to the emergence of Nihilism.
The emergence of the scientific revolution began the end of ritualization (via obsolescence) as a viable system for understanding the world. Because Man now had built, over thousands of years of development, a sufficiently complex enough system for understanding the world, the direct observation of causes and effects became possible. To use the Eastern ritualized terminology- the Veil of Maya had finally begun to be lifted. What proceeded from the emergence of science was the Age of Enlightenment, and Man began to realize the true nature of the world he was in.
As Nietzsche (infamously) noted in his 1882 book, The Gay Science:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
Most people fundamentally misunderstand this quote due to their lingering ritualized concept of the external deity. What Nietzsche is really attempting to convey here is the circumstances from which the maw of the Abyss that is Nihilism emerges: the knowledge acquired during the Age of Enlightenment rules out the possibility of an external deity existing in the manner in which Man had worshipped previously. Whereas a more primitive man could accept Thor and his hammer because he had no better explanation, in the modern age, to cling to the ritualized explanations for the world is only able to be accomplished by denying the rational faculty entirety.
Genuine belief became impossible without internalizing contradictions. However, more importantly than this, the Death of God represented the loss of a superordinate principle by which Man could direct his life-
and so, with the Throne of God empty, the Abyss stares back.
After the Enlightenment, Man began to realize the new Curse- this time, not inflicted by God, but by his absence. Conservatism and religious “fundamentalism” (which here really means a return to ritualization) arises as an attempt to re-enter Eden– the pre-Enlightenment religion, the desire to resurrect the “slain” deity. Marx and his ilk attempted to enshrine the collective in the place of God, in a misguided attempt to deny the very individuality that the God-killing Christ represented. Scientism tried to put the pursuit of knowledge on the throne, but knowledge is worthless as an end-in-itself, and the cosmology it created cannot deal with the subjective experience of Man and his subjective experience of being. Fascism was the attempt to raise a human to sit on the throne, which inevitably resulted in said humans losing their minds to power and destroying the societies that enthroned them.
The closest that anyone had yet come to filling the void seemed to be the United States. America put the individual on the Throne. However, without a higher meaning and a context by which the individual could place himself in the grand story of Life, Man was lost. The true individualism attained by discovering the nature of Self, the individualism that Christ espoused, became replaced with cheap imitations.
Consumerism, the bastard child of an ignorant version of Capitalism, took the throne. Individuality was reduced something you could buy. Morality, which lacked the metaphysical basis necessary for it to exist in a compelling, coherent way, was slowly abandoned as Man discovered that you can’t sell morals to people without any. As abundance and a comfortable lifestyle became the norm, Man has sadly begun to realize that the (not so) cheap thrills produced by consumeristic hedonism could not fill the empty Throne.
All explanations that Man has yet come up with, all the false idols that he has placed on the Throne, have proved to be insufficient. Because of the fundamental human Will to Order, Man seeks meaning in all things. None of these systems have produced adequate meaning to direct the race of Man, and thus, we discover the Desert.
As the Exodus of the Israelites led them from the external dominion of the Pharaoh to the Desert of Paran, so has the Age of Enlightenment led Man from the worldview of the external deity to the Desert of Nihilism. This is the place where we learn that idols are insufficient, and our worship of these false deities has begun to incur upon ourselves the Wrath. However, if God is dead, from whence does the Wrath come?
Where the Israelites had Moses to guide them, we lack a prophet. However, if we understand the true nature of ritualization, we can come to find that the Path through the desert has already been laid out before us- we must only remove the scales from our eyes.
If one reads the ritualized version of the Exodus story, we learn that Moses went up Mount Sinai and was given the 10 Commandments from YHWH. However, if we can look beyond the metaphor, we can see more clearly.
The mountain, as a symbol, represents the place where Heaven meets the Earth- this is the heightened state of mental clarity that the individual must enter (go up the mountain) to engage with the superordinate principle (meet with God). Moses (as a prophet, he represents a man acting in accordance with the laws of being) goes up the mountain for a long time, and in his isolation of thought, receives (via insight, or “divine inspiration”) the Ten Commandments, here representing a system of law derived from the superordinate principle.
When he descends the mountain (leaves the “monastery” for the “marketplace”) and returns to life amongst the common men of his people, he discovers that, for fear he (the man of attainment that must arise as a leader) would not return, they have enshrined a golden calf for worship (representative of a return to older religions prevalent in the Egypt they had abandoned, also an interesting parallel to the bull on Wall Street).
What this means is that when the man of attainment arises in a culture that has lost the Way of the superordinate principle, he must rediscover laws by elevating himself to the position where he can devise a new system of laws, a new means by which the people can be led from the desert towards the “promised land” of a better future.
In our case, what is required to transverse the Desert of Nihilism is a new connection to the superordinate principle, a Theory of Everything that will allow man to take his rightful place on the Throne. If God made Man in his image, and the Son and the Father are one, then has the time not come for Man to accept the burden of his birthright, and bear the responsibilities left to him by his late Father?
Nihilism will be conquered the instant that Man can accept that the weight of this world is his to bear. None but him can bear it, none but him can wear the crown, and none but him can take the seat on the Throne.