Friday, September 16, 2016

Apocalyptic and Conspiracy

One of the things that frustrates me about modern life (and, by the way, don't ever ask me to recite the list of things that frustrate me about modern life unless you have a decent chunk of time to spare and nothing constructive to do with it) is that we are now all conspiracy theorists.  We have been so indoctrinated with cynicism that we are incapable of taking anything at face value; we always want to know what is really going on, and we all assume that whatever it is that lies behind the facade it is certainly sordid.  Oh, it looks like compassion, but it is really a power-play.  It looks like the pursuit of high ideals, but it is really all about money.  Practically the only thing we can accept as straightforward and true is the idea that nothing is straightforward and true.

It seems to me that this attitude is crippling our society and making public discourse impossible, as everyone knows that their side is the bearer of the truth which everyone else wishes to suppress.  Everyone knows that the media is biased against the Tories, everyone knows that the establishment is ganging up on Corbyn, everyone knows that religion is just about power and sexual repression, everyone knows that we are being lied to all the time.  And because all our thought now is conspiracy theory, we can't talk to each other: we just react with disbelief that the other person can't see what is really going on.  And of course every apparent event or action is explicable by the conspiracy theory, and so nothing can count as evidence against my own view.

The blame for this has to be fairly apportioned.  Philosophically, Nietzsche, Marx, and I guess Freud, must surely bear their share.  They taught us that everything is really about power, money, and sex respectively.  Between them, they raised the critical thinking that characterised the Enlightenment to the level of blanket suspicion, and in so doing of course killed off the Enlightenment itself.  But alongside them, we surely have to blame politicians, religious leaders, and others, who in so many cases have shown that suspicion was warranted, and that there really was something dark lurking behind the pleasant words and seemingly pleasant actions.

But there are deeper, and less arbitrary, roots of this attitude.  Certainly Marx drew on them, albeit in a hostile way.  These roots are Biblical.  Read the book of Daniel, or Revelation.  The message of these books is essentially: it may look as if one thing is going on (specifically, it may look as if God is defeated), but what is really happening is that God's plan is being worked out according to his timetable (and leading inexorably to his ultimate victory).  How is this not just another conspiracy theory?  It has to be admitted that no evidence is allowed to count against it.  It has to be admitted that the intention of these books is explicitly to unmask an otherwise unknown reality.  So how is this different?

I suppose the question that needs to be asked is one of authority.  How did Nietzsche, or Marx, or Freud, or your average Corbynista, come to see the reality that is otherwise hidden?  It cannot be based on empirical observation - it is the lens through which the world is viewed, it is too big for any data to sustain it, it is the substratum on which the facts themselves are built.  So how do they know?

The Biblical answer, the epistemological anchor for its own grand conspiracy 'theory', is the death and resurrection of Christ - because this one event is large enough (by virtue of involving the eternal Son of God in the history of the world) to anchor the grand interpretive scheme and to give it validity.  If in the one event, the forces of death and evil are overcome, then the defeat of death and evil is what is really going on in the world.

And hopefully the grand conspiracy loosens the hold on us which the other lesser theories wish to exert.

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