Monday, July 01, 2013

The Gospel According to 'Me" (Passive Nihilism)

In the nytimes recent "The Gospel According to 'Me'" Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster write about America's cult of self-worship. The more "nones" we have we would expect to see a turn to "me." They write:

"Despite the frequent claim that we are living in a secular age defined by the death of God, many citizens in rich Western democracies have merely switched one notion of God for another — abandoning their singular, omnipotent (Christian or Judaic or whatever) deity reigning over all humankind and replacing it with a weak but all-pervasive idea of spirituality tied to a personal ethic of authenticity and a liturgy of inwardness. The latter does not make the exorbitant moral demands of traditional religions, which impose bad conscience, guilt, sin, sexual inhibition and the rest."

People are moving from the idea of God to the idea of self. (See Christian Smith's helpful work on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - see here, and here.) 

Surely Critchley and Webster are correct when they observe:

"A postwar existentialist philosophy of personal liberation and “becoming who you are” fed into a 1960s counterculture that mutated into the most selfish conformism, disguising acquisitiveness under a patina of personal growth, mindfulness and compassion. Traditional forms of morality that required extensive social cooperation in relation to a hard reality defined by scarcity have largely collapsed and been replaced with this New Age therapeutic culture of well-being that does not require obedience or even faith — and certainly not feelings of guilt. Guilt must be shed; alienation, both of body and mind, must be eliminated, most notably through yoga practice after a long day of mind-numbing work."

The goal of human life is personal well-being, rather than a collective endeavor towards a greater good. "The stroke of genius in the ideology of authenticity is that it doesn’t really require a belief in anything, and certainly not a belief in anything that might transcend the serene and contented living of one’s authentic life and baseline well-being. In this, one can claim to be beyond dogma."

The American Dream is now one of "pure psychological transformation." Critchley and Webster call this "passive nihilism." This is an this is an ethic of personal authenticity, "at the heart of which is a profound selfishness and callous disregard of others. As the ever-wise Buddha says, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”" 

An uncritical brainwashed "authenticity" leads to a "deep cynicism." (We see this in the self-made "Eckhart Tolle's (not his real name) silly, money-making The Power of Now (yes, I did read it... :(  )

Sadly, a lot of church culture is marketing itself this way. Critchley and Webster write:

"When the values of Judeo-Christian morality have been given a monetary and psychological incarnation — as in credit, debt, trust, faith and fidelity — can they exist as values? Is the prosperous self the only God in which we believe in a radically inauthentic world?"

Ironically the uncritical zombielike (flesh-without-spirit) humanity of today is becoming more and more inauthentic in its none-ish staggering towards the Oz of the false self.