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Zarathustra Speaks

Proclaiming the death of God and the dawn of the Superman

Bulletin of The Sect of Zarathustra (member, Alliance of Secular Humanist Societies)

 

Volume 1, Number 1   Summer, 1999

                                                   


 

The Great Noon

 

Whether one be servile before gods and gods' kicks or before men and stupid men's opinions - whatever is servile it spits upon, this blessed selfishness... And sham wisdom: that is what it calls the would-be wit of the servile and old and weary, and especially the whole wicked, nitwitted, witless foolishness of the priests.... But for all these the day is now at hand, the change, the sword of judgment, the great noon: how much shall be revealed there! And whoever proclaims the ego wholesome and holy, and selfishness blessed, verily, he will also tell what he knows, foretelling: "Verily, it is at hand, it is near, the great noon!" Thus spoke Zarathustra.

I believe that the direction of world evolution is towards radical religious pluralism, then on to secularism in which religion will either wither away entirely or will become marginalized to the point of social irrelevance. First let me set forth the signs of the end.

Nietzsche's Zarathustra speaks of the coming of the Great Noon, when all things will be laid bare. In a related passage, the Madman passage in The Gay Science, he unleashes a similar revelation, the apocalypse of the Death of God. The two are one, for it is only when the shroud of divine cobwebs is thrust aside that the beacon light can be seen.

We are heading for the Great Noon, a cultural culmination of sorts, an elucidation, a universal clarification. Myth will not become fact, don't get me wrong. There will never be a final revelation of the Truth. We will never "know even as we are known." We will never see "face to face." But at least the Dark Age of spiritual slavery will have ended. There will be no Utopia, though we should continue to pursue one.

The Great Noon has not come and will not come in its flood-tide fullness probably for some centuries. But the Great Dawn has begun. And that was centuries ago. We call it the Enlightenment. It was time when the autonomy of reason was proclaimed. When all authorities were overthrown and humanity first felt itself to have reached maturity. Kant sounded the clarion call: "Dare to know!" And from that time forward autonomous science, philosophy, and historical criticism have marched forward to a new age, toward the Great Noon. The Enlightenment ushered in that period, that condition, that state of consciousness which we call Modernity. As science advanced resistlessly, winning campaign after campaign, the bankrupt forces of magic, superstition, supernaturalism, dogma, and ecclesiastical authority all received their fatal blow. It is all too obvious that gods do not pull switches to start rainstorms and earthquakes. Providence and miracle are the last refuges of wishful thinking. It becomes clearer and clearer that we can understand the working of the world without the hypothesis of religion. You don't need God to explain anything anymore. It is in fact difficult to figure out what difference it could be making in the scheme of things if there were a God!

Religions' days are numbered, and the apparent strength they now seem to have in a time of resurgent credulity is only the futile panic of the dragon who has lost the war in heaven and, being cast down to earth, rages mightily, for he knows that his time is short! (Revelation 12:12) That is why resurgent Islamic fundamentalism is on the war-path, because their own societies are slipping away from them, and they hope in one last desperate gambit to force the lid back on Pandora's Box. All such "revitalization movements" are doomed to failure. It is too late in the first minute they organize themselves!

Pluralism is another aspect of modernity, facilitated by immigration and communication. In traditional societies religious belief was the atmosphere everyone breathed. It was the ideological rationale for all the manner, mores, laws, and customs of the society. It was impossible to doubt one's religion. It would have seemed insane to do so. But that changes forever once you find yourself away from the old cognitive neighborhood. As soon as you realize plenty of other people hold different beliefs with the same self-evident certainty that you take for granted, and with as little justification, everything has changed forever. You can never again take it for granted that the old ways are right.

And the better you get to know other individuals who believe in other things, the more your belief in anything is going to be relativized. You can't come to know someone who earnestly lives another faith and smugly condemn him to hell. Stereotypes can't survive that. You may start by making exceptions for individuals you know, but eventually you're going to have to put two and two together. You eventually will conclude that all beliefs are true in some vague metaphorical sense, but little else. You will agree that common moral values are all that matter. Kant and Lessing saw that long ago. It was the piety of the Enlightenment, and now society is beginning to catch up with them.

You can throw up walls of defense against this conclusion by building a fortress mentality, refusing to think about the troublesome truth. Or you can segregate yourself from the larger society, having as little to do with it as possible and spending as much time among fellow believers as possible--going to church three times a week, having no close friends who are non-believers, etc. But few are going to be able to make a go of either strategy after a while.

If resurgent fundamentalism is a last gasp, the mealy-mouthed mewlings of liberal religion are death rattles, too. The whole enterprise of liberal religion is to humanize religion, to temper it with modern psychology, to use it for political engagement, to make it less subject to fanaticism and less arbitrary in its behavior. Liberal theology rationalizes, naturalizes, ethicizes. In short it evacuates itself of everything distinctively religious! It, too, is moribund. Everyone knows the staid liberal churches are dying a terrible lingering death. They question their identity, their reason for being, all the while parroting kindergarten platitudes about their "mission." But sociological surveys indicate that all white denominational churches are in big trouble in the next generation. Even the fundamentalist Mega-churches have apparently renounced any distinctly religious content in favor of financial advice, family values, etc.

So modern technology makes supernaturalism increasingly and inevitably incredible. The drawing together of the global village is bringing about a radically pluralistic world culture (sadly, to a great degree, American pop culture). And in such a world, traditional creeds no longer function as charters for unanimous cultural universes of meanings. For us to live together in these plural societies we have to sacrifice religion to privatization. That is, we have to find a non-religious common ground to provide a charter for life together. It can't be based on religion since we don't agree on that. So it becomes based on common moral values. (Want proof? Even Jerry like Falwell's Moral Majority was a religiously pluralistic alliance of different religions!) Or it is based on a Social Compact, a lowest common denominator of staying out of each other's faces.

In such a world, one's religion must be reduced to a private preference, a hobby, a closet belief like the belief in astrology which has no real effect on any other area of life. One's religious allegiance, such as it is, must shrink to something like an ethnic heritage. But even this is not stable, because what happens to ethnic identities in a plural society? There are militant enclaves of various ethnic groups, but these exist solely to stem the inevitable tide of mixture and assimilation. Again, a defensive last gasp.

Intermarriage, interfaith and interreligious marriage, is rapidly breaking down the barriers between different ethnic and different religious identities. Once a Christian marries a Jew, it is simply not an option for either to think that the other is damned, a member of a false religion. Such a belief would function as a barrier to love. And then of course there is the big question: what do we raise the children? They get raised as syncretists, correctly perceiving that each religion is merely a different set of ethnic trappings. Or they get raised as secularists, with no religion. Or they get raised as Unitarians, again with no religion. Don't you see what must happen sooner or later?

Finally one's religious allegiance will shrink to something like a sports team loyalty, or having a favorite rock group. It will be like the household gods ancient people used to line up on the mantel. In fact, we are already seeing the birth of non-sacred religions, religions that do not necessarily think of themselves as religions, such as the Elvis cult. A recent book analyzing the Elvists shrewdly recognizes that what is emerging in such cases is a religion that ignores the old distinction between the sacred and the secular. Alongside this, I would add that such pop culture religions ignore Kierkegaard's distinction between the ethical and the esthetic. There is no ultimate moral seriousness to the thing. It is a matter of firing the imagination, tickling the fancy. Morality may be as important as ever but need have nothing to do with religion.

Where will religion and religious symbols end up? The future of religion is consumer capitalism. A set of New Age fashion accessories, mouse pads, ear rings, mood CDs, decor accents. Angel calendars. Angel movies with John Travolta. It is interesting that the Hercules cartoon opens with gospel singers belting out a chorus about the "gospel truth" of the Son of God, Hercules. Eventually Jesus will be reduced to a Disney character on McDonalds glasses. He is already being edged out of Christmas by Ebenezer Scrooge. Religion will be dead, or as good as dead. And then what will meet the needs of the human spirit?

In my opinion, worship is a set of special effects for inducing certain emotional and esthetic states. And the same states have long been induced in other ways, by other esthetic means, like visual arts, music, poetry, drama. Care of the soul is already a matter of psychotherapy. Society already offers cultural rites of passage, though in our culture they have become attenuated. But graduations, sweet 16 parties, weddings and funerals are all still quite vital, with or without religious mythology.

We will still read and mark holy scripture, which is and never has been other than great myth, saga, epic, and poetry. The canon of scripture will be one with the canon of the great books of civilization. The imagination must be nourished, but one scarcely needs religion to do this.  

So by losing religion we will not be losing much. Those of us who have lost it already can attest to that. And in that Great Noon we will have much to gain: We will gain sober realism, an ability to deem life much more precious for renouncing the illusion that we have an endless supply of it. We will gain the glorious liberty of those who know they are not the sons or daughters of god, but only homo sapiens, both beast and godling. We will have the satisfaction of making our own decisions, no longer living for the goals and by the rules set by another. We will not think glory lies in slavishly emulating ancient others of our kind, but in finding our own way. We will admit the terrible truth of our own greatness and dare to bear the burden of it. We will cower no longer, fearing we haven't the right to poach on God's prerogatives, for instead we know they are the prerogatives of our race--to clone ourselves, to reach out toward other planets, to extend life, to control the evolution of the race. Dare to know! Dare to be the Superman! Because verily it is near to you: it is in your mouth and in your heart! The Great Noon is at hand!

 Robert M. Price

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The Sect of Zarathustra is a Humanist group meeting in Bloomfield, NJ. Our regular activities include:

Heretics Anonymous: Discussion group on issues of philosophy and religion, first and third Fridays of each month at the Prices' home, 30 Stockton Street, Bloomfield NJ 07003. 8:30 pm till whenever.

The Skeptic Tank: Discussion group on issues of philosophy and religion, second and fourth Friday evenings at the Montclair Public Library Auditorium. 8 - 10 pm.

The Grail: Lecture by Dr. Price followed by discussion and refreshments. Every Sunday, 11 am. at the Prices' home.

The Freethinker's Bible: Free class, critical study of the Bible. Second and fourth Mondays, 7:30 pm at Borders Books & Music, Wayne Towne Centre, Wayne NJ. 785-0037 

 

 

 

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