Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Resurrection of Meaning

When Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the Death of God in the 1880s, I don't think he was proclaiming a victory. Rather, he was mourning a loss. The loss was the matrix of meaning, formed by medieval Christianity, that had bound together and animated European society from the time of the Crusades until the Enlightenment. With the coming of the Enlightenment, this matrix of meaning was slowly but surely shredded, which wouldn't have been a huge tragedy except for the small detail that the Enlightenment really had nothing to offer to replace the hole in meaning that had been left behind.

We are still grappling with the consequences even now. We, as a civilization, are very much like Oscar Wilde's cynic who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. The Enlightenment destroyed the coherence of the old values without offering a replacement, and now we live in a society that has no commonly shared values.

Although the secular world does not like to hear this said today, the surest and most stable route to commonly shared values is a common religion (and by this, I don't mean a civil religion; I mean a full-blown religion that acknowledges the spiritual world as being a key part of our lives together). We need a new religion; or more likely, we need a powerful revival, reformulation, or synthesis of one or more existing religions. This new religion is our best hope for resurrecting meaning in a world in which it has been destroyed. I propose that this is the central challenge of our times, because, as a number of writers have observed, the crisis of industrial civilization is not primarily a problem that can be solved by technical means, but a spiritual crisis.

I have fantasized about creating a new religion, more or less from whole cloth, which would, I hope file off the rough edges and incomprehensible aspects of religions as they exist in the real world. Much reflection has convinced me that this, even if I had the time to pursue it (which I don't), would be a doomed project, for a number of reasons. Instead, I will invite people into discussion and reflection on this topic, and spend time examining and writing about the building blocks of a future possible synthesis: values, practices, and traditions. I don't expect to complete the work of resurrecting meaning in our culture, but I can at least prepare the ground and plant some seeds.

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