A Pagan's Blog

A Pagan's Blog

Nihilism in America

Paul Krugman has a fascinating column in today’s NYT demonstrating that Mitt Romney’s stump speech is 100% lies.  Not one true statement of substance in it.  Not one. This means that Romney believes in absolutely nothing he is willing to say publicly.

I think this is a profoundly revealing comment about the nature of modern secular and even right wing religious America. Traditional morality has always been defined in Christian terms.  Now the party that talks incessantly abut Christianity as the moral basis of our society has completely abandoned even a nodding respect for truth to embrace 100% lies.


The conclusion I draw is that the Republican Party has  degenerated entirely into the party of nihilism. When one believes in nothing there is nothing but the quest for and use of power to provide direction in life.  Power is sought and used for its own sake.  That is  why they stand for nothing in public policy beyond expanding war, cutting services, and expanding the power of the mega-wealthy over the less wealthy and weak, and why they dress up their nihilism with incessant talk of values and the constitution, while ignoring both.

Some might say “But isn’t Romney least popular among right wing Christians?”  Yes, that’s true.  But significantly, it is because they doubt he really believes in the brutal and vicious values he is presenting, and so they prefer those with a longer track record of viciousness.  If they are right, Romney lies to them as much as to us. The Republicans will give us a choice of a sociopath who believes in nothing we can discern or a sociopath who is a vicious and bullying figure over all who are weaker than he is.


The roots of this moral collapse came many decades ago, I think, when leading religious figures abandoned both myth and reason as means for understanding the more-then-human-world and replaced it with commitment and will. I think of Kiergegaard and Barth here.   W. W. Bartley’s Retreat to Commitment was the first place I discovered how important this move was although I have also seen it perceptively discussed much more recently in Peter Berger’s The Heretical Imperative.  Their theological move was remarkably similar to the widespread praise of will and deed by the nascent European revolutionary right that became active at the same time, just before and particularly after the first World War. The difference was the the NeoOrthodox looked inward to the individual’s relation to God whereas the proto-fascists and the fascists that followed looked outwards to the exercise of power and will in the world.


Given that their intellectual methods were so similar, as soon as right wing Christians turned their attention outwards, they took to a very similar set of methods and values as had the secular revolutionary right. In the process they became the opposite of what Christianity had always professed to be: the religion of the poor and downtrodden, of love and forgiveness.  Now we have major Republican politicians using the Bible and prayer to try and kill their political opponents.

This political nihilism took longer to penetrate deeply into America’s culture.  Perhaps 60 years.  But penetrate it has and we are undergoing what Europe went through in the 20s and 30s, but within America’s cultural context and not Europe’s, for which we can be grateful.


I personally think the shift in spiritual interest away from a transcendental male deity separate from the world to emphasizing sacred immanence within the world, often best conceptualized and frequently experienced as feminine is the only route open to American religion to enable it to stand against these forces of darkness.  The same point holds in a secular form as many conceive of the good life a love for people in the world rather than separate from it and with the rise of cultural feminism.  These developments could provide a similar transformation in secular ethics.

My point is not that Pagans are the future.  Who knows?  But I am pretty sure two central Pagan themes of sacred immanence and the divine feminine are the future of American religion if the future is one decent people can look forward to.

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posted January 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

So may it be.

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posted January 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

You made me think. Thanks!

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posted January 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

How curious and perverse to believe so completely that nothing exists that is worthy of belief. And to conclude that believing that nothing is worthy of belief implies that actions lack consequences.

I tend to think that nihilism does not exist outside the rotted stillness of the decayed human heart. Nihilism is not anything that most living things could imagine.

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