#132: Mortal Loneliness

I

Many have noticed the religious nature of modern Leftist movements. The acceptance of a priesthood, the proscribing of apostates, the fervor, the hysteria are all hallmarks of the religious. Duly noted.

But more importantly the same Left which exhibits these characteristics fails to be aware of them. If it were, it would also see the inescapable inference: people desperately need and want religious experience (even if they get it from atheism). Science and Leftist indoctrination have stolen the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from the West, but the need for a God, some God, remains. One such god was Communism; we see this explicitly recognized by the Western ex-commies who contributed to the 1949 book The God that Failed. I actually knew communist devotees in the 1950s, both in high school and college, some adults and some young men. All of them knew the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin like catechism and would discuss them with each other by reciting relevant passages. Not unlike the Christian theologians of the Middle Ages and the students of the Torah in yeshivas for the past 5000 years.

Nowadays, the god is sometimes “mother earth” and sometimes “humanity” and sometimes people have no idea what it is they are worshiping. People just want to worship. They always have, and have all around the world. The need and the impulse are hard wired in them.

But why?

The Existentialists were on the track of this answer, I think, but fell short of the mark. They identified the problem in the “meaninglessness” of human life. We’re born, we live, and not long after we die. Some got closer to the mark when they emphasized that we die alone. I think that’s the heart of the matter.

I remember a deeply disturbing scene in a science-fiction movie in which a man in a space-suit became untethered and slowly drifted out into deep space, alive for only as long as his air held out.

God, religion, and worship are answers to the fear and horror of loneliness in life and in death. Not the social loneliness that can be cured through companionship, but the loneliness experienced simply by being an inaccessible mind, a kind of solipsistic loneliness we suffer in the face of death. I call it “Mortal” loneliness.

II

Nietzsche announced “the death of God” in 1882. I think he was both premature and late to the party. The slide in God’s health could arguably be said to have begun with Galileo’s work with the telescope (ca. 1650). Many people date the beginning of God’s health problems with those beginnings of modern science. His health certainly declined during the 18th century as more and more intellectuals questioned His very existence. By the late 19th, publishing His obituary was scarcely a big deal. But was God actually dead? Maybe Nietzsche’s surrogate Zarathustra was releasing “fake news” to the media.

Fifty years earlier, Kierkegaard had far more perceptive thoughts. He asked the question later brought to the movie public in the title song of the movie “Alfie”:

What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?

Kierkegaard thought that it’s all about the personal bond of love. Not a love between man and woman, but a love between the particular man and a a particular, personal God. Hmm, perhaps God was still alive at that point.

This meant really that religion was losing the battle with science not so much, perhaps, because of science’s enormous explanatory power, but because religion had taken on over the centuries the characteristics that science exemplified much more effectively. Aristotelian Christian theology became increasingly abstract and intellectual through the centuries, losing the very element which had been the source of its original power: the loving presence of a personal God in one’s heart and mind. Not an abstract God, but a God who was actually a person, who knew you as a person, and who was there with and for you right inside yourself until the last fragment of your consciousness left this earth. When you and God loved each other, you did not die alone. Had religion stuck with that, it  would have done much better; it should never have gone into competition with science.

III

It’s not enough, though, to identify the direct benefits of God’s love here. There are complementary benefits as well. Those who love a  personal God within the context of a religion have not only God’s love to sustain them, but they have a further antidote to their mortal loneliness in the community of God-lovers in which they live. There are thus two sources of ease for the mortally lonely, God’s love and what I call “huddling”. There is an important lesson in this. Huddling is a powerful loneliness analgesic, but it comes admittedly at a price: those who huddle together, often work at strengthening their huddle by rejecting others. 

History has in various ways made the acceptance of a loving, personal God more and more difficult. Some people are still able to “make the leap,” thus Nietzsche was wrong and God is still “alive”; but huge masses of people no longer have this solution available to them. Yet “huddling” is still available to them, though one of its most important forms has been systematically attacked by the internationalist Left. This is the huddling of nationalism. And, admittedly, nationalist huddles are often aggressively hostile to other nationalist huddles.

The Left is not ignorant of the political utility of loneliness, it herds masses towards the useful huddles, while driving them away from ones it sees as problematic. The Left drives the masses away from Western God-religion huddles and from Western nationalist huddles, but it encourages earth-worship and humanity worship huddles. And like all huddles, it encourages rage and hatred towards other huddles. This is captured beautifully in Tom Lehrer’s sardonic introduction to his song National Brotherhood Week. He says:

“I’m sure we all agree that we ought to love one another and I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.

IV

The mortal loneliness I’m speaking of was identified some years ago in sociology by Emile Durkheim. He called it “anomie”. I think it can fairly be described as the condition of feeling to be without an identity. Another way is to call it “looking for a huddle” of one’s own. Huddles have membership requirements, characteristics that all members have and expect others to have as well. These characteristics constitute “identities” or “roles.” Sartre is brilliant in his discussions of personal identity and the way in which people adopt “roles.” In particular, he is very good at identifying the discomfort people feel when they are suddenly bereft of a role. Anomie is the condition of being role-less.

A world of role-less masses presents political opportunists with troubled waters. The Left loves to fish in troubled waters, such waters present them with crises “too good to waste.” And Western waters are very troubled these days with role-less masses.

We see this particularly in the U.S., though also in different ways in Europe. The two largest anomie populations in the U.S. are women and blacks. In the case of the former, traditional roles have been under systematic attack for over a hundred years. Whether one likes or dislikes the roles that women had in America, no one can claim that women have actually formed a new, modern identity. We see this in the media’s coverage of the Women’s March on Washington. More and more of the women interviewed were besides themselves with rage, but unable to articulate their issues except in pre-packaged Leftist talking points and platitudes. And among the young ones, we heard them say, over and over again, “I wanna make a difference,” I wanna make the world a better place,” and other pap. We hear similar sentiments from beauty contest finalists: “I wanna work to end world hunger.”

And we’ve seen American Blacks experiment with one posture after another since the 1960s, the latest one being the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

V

We live in a time of anomie, a time of failing solutions to the problem of mortal loneliness. Some of the solutions are failing on their own, other solutions are failing because of relentless attack. While the old solutions soldier on in places, huge masses are living in frightening personal isolation, looking either for an old personal god, a new personal god, or a group within which to be loved.

And even “being in search of an identity” has now become a prevalent identity!

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6 Responses to #132: Mortal Loneliness

  1. Marta says:

    Yes! I completely agree and so well stated. I always knew the existentialists were on to something big!

    • Jean-Pierre Schachter says:

      Thanks. Yes, you did. I think you did a paper on Simone de Beauvoir and I was impressed by the way you went behind the bafflegab to the issues.

  2. Theo says:

    This has triggered distant recollections of my platonic readings. In the Fido – maybe – when presented with the cup of hemlock or exile in relative comfort, Socrates chooses the hemlock. I believe Plato wrote Socrates’ last words as something like, “Why should I fear death? I know I am a good man. If there is an afterlife, I’m going to heaven; if there isn’t – well, I’m not going to care, am I?” I do not think the left are made of the same stuff. I do not think they will be so certain, or embrace the darkness so willingly. Well, perhaps that’s unfair. Maybe Socrates didn’t either. We, after all, only have Plato’s word for it – and his teacher is the hero of his story.

  3. It’s easy to think that the ancients were made of sterner stuff than we. The Romans would commit suicide in the face of dishonor and the Stoics promoted reason over pain and emotion. This makes it appear they didn’t fear death. The examples can quickly be multiplied. But the enormous efforts they made through religion and philosophy to deal with death tell us they were just the same as we. The difference in recent times, I think, is due to the disintegration of the social environments, the huddles, which helped people deal with death. Many forces, cultural, political, economic, educational &c converged to create people who really don’t know who they are. This is a difficult position from which to face the tragic isolation of death. Fear in the face of the ultimate isolation and annihilation of death cannot be managed by an “argument” along Socratic lines. Socrates’ argument, if it actually took place, could only work for someone already conditioned to subordinate emotion to reason like the Stoics did.

  4. Tony says:

    Thanks for this very thoughtful piece. I have been through a religious phase, a secular phase and a number of other “huddling” phases. These days I find myself thinking along Sondheim’s lines:

    Isn’t it rich?
    Isn’t it queer?
    Losing my timing this late in my career.
    And where are the clowns?
    Quick, send in the clowns.

    Don’t bother
    They’re here.

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