I never realized that I was a religious person because my religion has never involved worlds beyond this one. Instead, like that of the ancient druids, it involves an order to this world in which ideas are the basis of reality. This order may extend beyond visible reality, but the rules do not change: physical reality is inherently logical, as is thought, and any other layers to reality play by those rules.
This ejects me from most religions. Or I should say: from most religious interpretations. As a nihilist, I recognize that writing something down — even writing it well — does not make it truthful or able to be communicated. It describes what one person knows, and other people in the way of humans immemorial will interpret it according to what they know, which includes looking for what they recognize which in turn includes both cognitive limits and preferences for what they already believe is true. With this in mind, even the most profound religion can be easily massacred by an idiot, neurotic or dishonest person and converted into its exact opposite, and this is the most common case in religion. All religions are interpretations of the same reality; all people are using interpretations of those religions; some of these interpretations make more sense than others. There is no single entity “Christianity” any more than there is a single recipe for spaghetti; people have different stuff in their fridges, different needs and different tastes. This is not to say, as Enlightenment liberals do, that every interpretation is different; like most things, they cluster around a few major points with variations. Even so, most religious interpretations find my approach unusual.
I came to this religious view from spending time alone in the forest with no hope for myself or humanity. Owing to unusual conditions of my upbringing, I was exposed to death, human denial and social posturing early on and was able to see through the “accepted” explanations for them, the consequence of a precocious development of verbal skill. In the forest, I found an order that while brutal never failed: it always kept moving forward and, in my experience, it moves forward to beauty. Higher levels of organization, greater unity of form/function, intensified gestalt, and elegance and efficiency in application all made nature to me seem far more graceful than the blocky, rigid and seemingly retaliatory human solutions. Unlike human logic, the logic of nature was not composed of a public layer and a private layer, only the latter of which approached honesty.
It was self-evident that nature addressed its purpose with finer granularity and a balance between all “details” that could not be achieved by humans, who approach all questions from a perspective of human interaction alone. As part of this, it became clear to me that nature contained a life-force that constantly worked toward greater efficiency, balance and beauty. The earth that supports both hummingbirds and eagles, mice and elephants, weeds and redwood trees clearly emerged from a more developed mind than what humans would do; we would design a concrete block of a building with booze at one end, porn at the other, and luxury goods in the middle, surrounded by dumpsters and tenements. Further, nature gave purpose to all through striving and self-betterment, such that a mouse might have real pride in overcoming its timidity and becoming an expert forager. This struck me as a wise and brilliant order that could only have come from some force geared toward ultimate good.
In contrast, humans seemed geared toward reducing the field of vision to what was immediately before them. They denied time, fearing death, and denied consequences of actions beyond the immediate in order to be less restricted. They used euphemisms recklessly to disguise unpleasant truths and then made social rules to prevent those truths from coming up. Everywhere was a sense of control or limiting what was recognized in reality to cause people to ignore it. No hawk would do this, nor any rabbit. But humans, ensconced in easy paper-pushing jobs and getting their food pre-cut from stores, had no need to face reality at all. Like children behaving badly when the teacher leaves the room, they “ran with it” and went into full denial, aware that a comeuppance was due at some point, but not right now. Parents became selfish and left insoluble problems for their children, all while treating those children as part of their own resume and denying the existence of those kids as individuals. It struck me as a sick, sick time.
At that point, I began to sense what evil was. It took many years to hone the philosophy. My first inkling came when I realized that many sources referred to sin as error, and to my mind, the root of error was failure to notice aspects of reality. As time went on, however, I saw that the root of this error was a compulsion not to notice; denial. With it came compensatory behaviors. Many people, such as liberals or religious fanatics, based their lives around denial and scapegoating. The denial allowed them to scapegoat, and that deflection removed their focus from personal improvement and doing right on their own to forcing the external world to compensate for their lack of self-improvement and hiding that fact with acts of public altruism which served their own goal of removing social rules, morality, standards and the noticing of reality upon which they are based. For them, the personal was the political, which meant that they used politics as a means to make themselves seem important and to distract from their actual agenda, which was always selfish, short-sighted, greedy, manipulative and generally cruel in effect (although not in appearance!). I also noticed how these people were chronically unhappy in ways that reflected their neuroses: liberals always talked about the suffering of others to disguise their own boredom and purposelessness, health food fanatics were always unhealthy, and religious zealots seemed to make every conversation about a coded reference to death.
For many decades, I have considered every theory I have encountered to explain this. Liberals argue that people are made miserable by their surroundings, but I find this not so. Dirt-poor people who knew no better made do and in fact seemed to have a lot of time, drink and smoke a lot and do exciting drugs, and not regret their lot in life. Did they want more money? Sure, but so does everyone else. They found ways for their lives to function and were usually highly social. The miserable people were white women in the suburbs and geeky men in dingy city apartments, railing at the world for not being what they wanted, instead of being willing to work with what it is. Some argue that the root of our problem is language, or grammar, or some fundamental defect in logic, but I found more often that it was a willful misreading of the rules of argument. Others said it was a lack of democracy, or of religion, but those did not seem to help and often led people astray. Over the years, I began to see the root as (1) what most would call “evil” and (2) its root in a type of error which we might call emptiness, or a lack of internal purpose and introspection, which required a solipsistic/narcissistic personality to support itself. For these people, everything they do is compensation (cognitive dissonance) for their own misery, apologism for actual problems and replacement in their consciousness of those with non-problems, and projection of their own desires onto others. They existed in a world of themselves, and saw any intrusion by reality as offensive, violating, victimizing and worth resenting. Most if not all human misery comes from this psychology.
Emptiness strikes when people disconnect from reality. When someone exists in a constant feedback loop with their world, noticing it and doing their part to increase order/good/beauty, they do not have this emptiness; instead, they have purpose, a place, and parts of an identity. For that to happen, they need a strong culture and strong leadership to reduce the billions of possibilities to a narrow but not artificially narrow range. However, most people rage against that under the impression that — much as they believe they will win the lottery — they need these billions of choices to feel a sense of personal power. That power however does not relate to changes in reality, but only in their own minds, and so like drug addiction or masturbation it is never satisfying because it never goes anywhere and pleasure must constantly increase to outpace its dulling through experience, much as any repetitive experience loses its intensity in our minds. Emptiness could be called “evil” but that is perhaps too mythological for this naturalistic Nietzschean, especially when evil is so commonly used to create scapegoats elsewhere. Instead, it makes sense to describe what it is: perpetual misery caused by a refusal to address reality and thus, a world created of the self which becomes a void as the self bores itself. Experience dulls over time, as said above, and so the self constantly chasing a way to stimulate itself becomes listless, entropic.
Over the years, evil has visited us in many ways, but rarely the ones the media and government identify. Hitler and Stalin thought they had a better form for society, and almost certainly they are just as much not all wrong as not all right. The real evil is mundane, occurs in tiny doses, and ingratiates itself to us. Evil does not show up as a giant demon with huge breasts and a giant penis while breathing fire, but as a seductive force that shows us an “easier way” or encourages us to take pity on ourselves, and reward us with something instead. It argues that we can have power without the ability that merits it, that we deserve more importance and less responsibility, and other illusions of the solipsistic mind. In short, it is solipsism, and its devious trick is that by making a world of ourselves, it forces that world into decay creating constant emptiness which we try to fill by destroying and consuming things around us. Instead of making us full, that only widens the hole, creating an army of mental zombies who ruin everything they touch and still remain in misery. If any condition is more like Hell, I have not witnessed it.
Inspired by (short) Twitter conversations with Alice Teller.