Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eldritch Revelations: Restoring God through Deified Humanity

The social philosophy that follows from Schulz’s reflections on religion combines Gnostic elitism, transhumanism, and existential despair about our ultimate fate. Along with Hindus and Buddhists and even Western monotheists, Schulz admires spiritual elites who shun the vulgar pursuits that define mass culture, because the spiritualists’ enlightenment has opened up a higher calling for everyone. But Schulz differs with them as to the nature of that calling. The purpose of Eastern religions is moksha, liberation from the natural cycles that imprison us by clouding our judgment. That liberation requires cognitive training and ascetic renunciation. Christianity and Islam emphasize instead the need for a personal relationship with an almighty Creator, which requires that we submit to this infinitely-greater being and understand the grace of God’s interventions in the natural course which redound to our benefit. God has revealed a path out of the thickets, and we must merely follow his commandments and trust in the deity’s greatness despite God’s unsettling hiddenness after the loss of our animistic innocence, that is, after the advent of settled civilizations in the Neolithic Revolutions (around 10,000 BCE) and certainly after what has been called the Axial Age, around the fifth century BCE.

As discussed in the last chapter, Schulz doesn’t take Western theology at face value, but reinterprets it as a system of coded, typically-unconscious references to the dynamics at play between divided human classes. God is indeed hidden because God is literally dead. Prehistoric animists didn’t realize this because they weren’t beholden to dehumanizing forms of objectivity and instrumentality; instead, animists anthropomorphized their surroundings, extending parochial human social functions to the natural world, and misinterpreting the fact that life is abundant on this planet, as a sign that life is metaphysically primary. As we now know by way of what we like to call the modern, scientific outlook, life is an aberration in the natural universe that extends far beyond not just our planet but our mundane concerns. So Christianity’s fixation on an outcast messiah is meant to revolutionize ethics—even though Church history serves the higher god of Irony; thus, the Church canceled Jesus’ revolution in the Orwellian fashion, with doubletalk to excuse Church leaders’ infamous compromises with secular authorities. And according to Schulz, the Islamic call for submission to God is hopelessly wrongheaded in light of God’s evident suicide. God’s gift to us isn’t to offer a path that leads to a place by his side; rather, it’s to free us from the burden of having to serve such a madman for all eternity. God accomplished that primordial act of salvation, by creating the universe of natural beings which replaced God’s supernatural realm. The personal God is no more, but Irony reigns in his stead and so Islamic submission translates to servitude to terrestrial caliphs, mullahs, and dictators—once again in line with mere bestial mammalian regularities. When animal dominance hierarchies are re-established by so-called wise apes, and these primitive social arrangements are rationalized by highfalutin theistic rhetoric, we have the makings of a sick joke.

Whereas the practice of Western religions has thus been farcical, on Schulz’s view, owing to the misguided, literal reading of monotheistic scriptures, Eastern religions avoid farce with their insights into the meaninglessness of the natural course of events. On the whole, liberation from the world of suffering and illusions occurs as an act of extinction, mediated by an ascetic victory over natural forces. Instead of the everlasting preservation of our personality, according to the Eastern outlook we’re freed from the anguish and indignity of having to be reborn in a cycle of absurd, sometimes horrific events. “Victory through spiritual death” is the essence of Eastern wisdom. For Schulz, though, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains offer a misleading interpretation of life’s evolution. Life isn’t entirely pointless and so a final death isn’t our ultimate purpose. Our active deity in nature is Irony, the clash between facts and intuitions. Therefore, our task is to maximize irony, to appreciate the irrelevance of our animal preoccupations so that, as in Zoroastrianism, we can take a stand against our true enemy. But while Zoroaster speaks of a final reconciliation after the apocalyptic end of natural time, Schulz is more stoical than sanguine about our fate. Even if there can be no absolute triumph of higher values, assuming the universe is metaphysically tainted by its origin in the fall of divine being, we can partially redeem nature with the fruits of our struggle against it.

However, Schulz’s writings are frustratingly short on details of the nature of this redemption, and indeed this is the chief mystery not just in Schulz’s philosophy but in the exploits of his cult. Schulz shares with some Eastern currents of thought the view that thinking itself is the primary evil. But whereas Zen Buddhists, for example, contend that so-called rational thinking is cognitively inferior in that it produces the illusion of egoism, and that a deeper experience of oneness is possible, Schulz maintains that reason is baneful precisely because of its cognitive supremeness. Reason presents the horror of fundamental truth, the fact that being in general is absurd and that God is probably literally dead, but our use of reason also restores divinity and so this cognitive expertise sets us on a course to God’s madness. Reason undercuts itself by delivering rational creatures the unwanted grand truth that a precondition of our happiness is the set of vices that comprises the vulgar personality: above all, happiness depends on ignorance, in that the more you know, the harder it is to sustain the short-sightedness needed to be comfortable under any circumstance. Reason demonstrates that we have no proper place in the universe and that our salvation can proceed only by our schemes that all seem harebrained in historical hindsight.

There’s the hint, though, that Schulz shares with Eastern religions the additional tenet that when we know ourselves we know God, because God lies dormant in each of us. For Hindus, the soul is liberated by its recognition that its detachment from God has been an illusion all along. For Schulz, the detachment is real because God isn’t just hiding but is expired. Still, God is reborn in the sentient creature’s enlightenment, in that the same creativity and tyranny that corrupted God manifest themselves again as they have throughout our history. Thus, contrary to Eastern mysticism, our oneness with God is disquieting, not a mystical perception that should be welcomed. And yet God’s rebirth in an awakened animal’s understanding is awe-inspiring and thus, for Schulz, sacred. “Natural sacredness,” he writes, “is due to the paradox that nature has undermined itself by evolving godlike creatures within it that can recognize the horror of the universe-as-God’s-corpse and can artificially reverse its course; sacred creativity transcends the obscenity of nature’s flow to nowhere” (26b).

But Schulz’s assumptions raise the question of why God would reincarnate in this fashion. There are several possibilities. God could have left an escape hatch in the mechanism of his suicide, a potential for molecules to complexify and to mold creatures into being that would approximate God’s more exalted form. Perhaps God devised a belated therapy for his madness, which was to recreate himself in a finite capacity that would never know the agony of absolute godhood, but would nevertheless carry on God’s divine life—much as science fiction authors imagine that our descendants will achieve immortality by copying their personality into the degraded minds of clones. Alternatively, perhaps God meant to torture his vessels by supplying them with just enough sentience to feel alienated from godless nature and with just enough power to fall short of being able to fully recreate a supernatural heaven. In line with Gnosticism, nature thus becomes a prison and a torture chamber for fragments of divine being, but also an echo chamber for reliving God’s wailing and gnashing of teeth. The possibilities reduce to a dichotomy between scenarios in which godhood is redeemed and those in which it is not. For example, if sentient, organic or cybernetic creatures are destined to become godlike creators of worlds, they are fated either to overcome any god’s tendency to succumb to tyrannical madness or to be victims of Irony and to destroy themselves and perhaps everything else with a childlike outburst.

The mystery, then, is whether Schulz subscribes to the former or to the latter meta-scenario. As I said, his writings, interviews, and cult’s exploits are inconclusive with respect to his beliefs on this crucial matter. Assuming Schulz suffered a mental breakdown which some would interpret as an effect of a mystical revelation, and taking for granted his cosmology as I’ve reconstructed it, he should regard the evolution of natural life as either a correction or a continuation of the fall of the once-supreme deity. Suppose he takes the more optimistic view. In that case, he should support those social and technological initiatives that are conducive to God’s reconstitution. In general, Schulz and his coconspirators would be expected to nurture developments that increase our knowledge, power, and godlike character, and Schulz would look forward not just to the deification of our species, but to our overcoming the pitfalls for any divinity. Clearly, science and technology are instrumental in this enterprise, but there’s little hint of how Schulz plans to forestall our moral deterioration. How could finite beings that become immortal and all-powerful triumph where the original, absolute god failed? Will we recall the animalistic portion of our history so that even as we acquire sovereignty over natural forces, we retain humility and so prevent our collapse into tyrannical madness? And yet this is precisely what tends not to happen at the micro level: individual human dictators typically don’t learn from memories of their years of childish naiveté and teenaged awkwardness, and they do become obsessed with self-aggrandizement and with sadistic displays of domination—just as foreshadowed in theistic myths. From Hitler to Stalin and Pol Pot, from Saddam Hussein to Kim Jong-Un and a plethora of African dictators, we see only a reckless seizure of partial divinity, of unbridled power without the temperament or the creativity to avoid the self-destruction that seems the destiny of godhood. These clownish false gods don’t inspire confidence that our collective initiative will result in more sustainable godlike ventures.

If, on the contrary, Schulze adopts the opposite view, he might be expected to resist progress in science and technology, assuming that such progress is needed for us to fall into the wicked deity’s trap in which we’re tempted to attain divine status, only to lose our soul in the process. However, this assumes that Schulz is a humanitarian who wishes to spare us this downfall. In my interviews with him, Schulz displayed signs of misanthropy and so he might instead attempt to hasten our deification; more precisely, he might try to exacerbate the traits that compel us to misuse our knowledge and freedom. The fact that Schulz hasn’t whipped up resentments, in the role of a demagogue, but has tried to act in secret may count against this latter scenario. Then again, Schulz has had to be inconspicuous to avoid being involuntarily confined again to a mental care facility.

What little we know of Schulz’s activities after he escaped Borsa Castle lends itself to either interpretation. But the most tantalizing clue is the reported identity of Schulz and an anonymous artist whose work has appeared in galleries in London, Paris, Hong Kong, and New York. The paintings and sculptures are signed “LWTG,” which are initials from the German title of Schulz’s philosophical writings, “Alive and Awake in the Dead God.” Photographs of the artworks have been forbidden and viewers are encouraged by the docents not to describe to others the works themselves. Surprisingly, details have indeed been kept in short supply. This could be because viewers are preoccupied with a sense of the sublime and the absurd which they insist is conveyed by the strangely affecting artworks. Apparently, the art provokes a feeling that the world dwarfs us not just in physical size, but in its meaning. If Schulz is the artist in question, these works may be intended to apply his peculiar ideas about archetypes and artistic inspiration. In an early session with me, Schulz contended that besides the archetypes postulated by Carl Jung, there are universal mental frameworks that operate tragically, guiding not our individuation or our evolution to personal wholeness, but our collective existential reckoning with bleak truths. Moreover, the content of these grim suspicions about our role in the universe isn’t as important as their function, according to Schulz. These absurdist archetypes comprise, he said, “precisely the mechanism by which God revivifies himself in our lesser forms.” Once recognized, the existential truths which are implicit in a proper reading of religious myths and art, namely the one provided in the last chapter, compel us to embrace our godhood as humanists with no illusions. Schulz’s art, then, would be meant to awaken us to those truths, to allow “the disgraced deity to be reborn in our minds.”

However that may be, I wish to end this monograph with a protest against the malicious insinuation muttered in some quarters that I facilitated Schulz’s escape as his alleged first acolyte. This scurrilous rumour overlooks the fact that while I have herewith endeavored to explicate Schulz’s ideology, I’ve done so with the standard academic agenda in view, not to urge anyone to adopt Schulz’s way of thinking.  


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I was thinking in the end there, in the last paragraph of the above chapter, of Nabakov's book Pale Fire, where you have an untrustworthy narrator. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to flesh this out.

  2. Trump is now emperor of mankind.

    1. I see three possibilities. Either Trump will surprise most people yet again and change things for the better, which is the least likely scenario; or his regime will be 100 times more catastrophic than George W. Bush's but somehow he'll evade responsibility, thus avoiding poetic justice; or his reign will be that catastrophic but he won't escape blame or responsibility, which is the most delicious scenario (if you're a non-American like me who won't be as affected by the brunt of his incompetence). The second possibility seems most likely, though.

    2. Since I'm a misanthrope, I will find it all quite entertaining.

  3. Oh I want your next article so bad. Though I think you've covered all this before.

    1. I have an article on free will nearly complete, but I will indeed have to set it aside to write more about the political developments in the US. Indeed, there's so much to say. The first thing that strikes me is what it could mean when the bad guy well and truly wins, when the bully doesn't get his comeuppance but on the contrary crushes the champions of the establishment. It's the makings of a dystopia, as in Orwell's 1984, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanours, or any other story in which the bad guy wins.

      Another thought is of the shadenfreude of watching the beta professionals who make up the Democratic base (as shown recently by Thomas Frank) face true horror for once. It's all worthy of a side blog in its own right, if only I had the time to write it...