I often meet people who speak with absolute conviction of a “truth” that makes no sense to me. They seem to live in another universe, or perhaps I live in the other universe. It isn’t just a question of telling lies or believing them. We arrive at the limit of the famous Principle of Non-Contradiction of Aristotle, the means by which courts of law catch witnesses out for perjury. The witness says that X went into the building at midnight, and then the opposing lawyer asks the same question after using a distracting strategy, and gets a different answer. Am I being cynical? Am I losing my mind?
There are theories about parallel universes and states of consciousness, all related to quantum mechanics. Perhaps they offer an explanation to what happens to our consciousness after bodily death, ideas corresponding to what Christian tradition calls heaven, purgatory and hell. These may be three discrete categories of a spectrum of parallel states. Already some traditions talk of degrees of beatitude and degrees of agony in hell. These are notions that we cannot clarify with materialistic science or reasoning. Church teaching is only vague compared with the more “gnostic” ways of thinking and believing. So, in this earthly life, we meet another person who lives in another reality. We usually call this madness, psychosis, schizophrenia, a diseased brain or mind.
When society reaches a degree of malaise, what we now call madness becomes the new normal, the new rational, the “buzz” term of the new reset, or whatever. These ideas twist our minds, and there comes a time when we have to become self-sufficient, vaccinate ourselves from the virus of terror, fear and manipulation. I have read a lot about this when examining the conventionally-named mental condition of the narcissistic personality and gaslighting. Another person begins to twist and distort our sense of reality. We either react or let ourselves die spiritually. This is the power of the darkness of this world, that Ungrund of darkness within each of us like the origins of God, Creation and the infinite universe – and the universes outside the possibilities of our observation.
Another thing came to my attention, the descent of our society into darkness and madness. Today I read How France fell for QAnon, The land of Descartes now fizzes with conspiracy theories by John Lichfield in UnHerd. At the head of the article, we see a man in his early to mid thirties, carrying a French flag and sporting a yellow star of David, like the ones Jewish people had to wear under the Nazi persecution, with the words Sans vaccin – vaccine-free. Everything is said, as if that man would survive a day at Buchenwald or Auschwitz in the early 1940’s!
We read the article and ask whether conspiracies only exist because the mainstream says so. Can we trust anyone? Was not Nazism a conspiracy to take over the whole world and kill everyone the ideology thought to be inferior to their “master race”? Yet, Nazism captured the support of a whole country and nearly a whole continent through conspiracy theories, usually involving Jews or Freemasons. Hitler’s ideology was a conspiracy that fed from conspiracies, a monster eating its own tail.
On one side, it is alarming to see masses of people abandon materialistic rationalism to embrace some form of idealism that produces its new reality. On the other side, like the Romantics, some of us see the value of rationalism if it is tempered by the imagination and allows the spiritual dimension of man. We still have things to learn to understand, more realities to yearn for as we go through life.
Conspiracy theories and those who seek to understand our world by that means are the products of literalism. Some will call the Queen of England or Bill Gates shape-shifting alien reptiles. They are not reptiles but humans. Perhaps they are acquired by the Dark Side (Star Wars language) of the Archons of Gnosticism or demons of Christianity. Perhaps not. Perhaps we are. The enemy is never far away and often within ourselves. It is called sin. The ideas may be analogies or metaphors, situated at a level different from our sensation of matter. The we can become more subtle in our criticism.
The other absurdity about most conspiracy theories is that they are secret, yet I know about them from reading widely available books, articles and the internet! If we know about them, then the people who matter would know about them from the same sources. Yet conspiracies can exist. Think of Guy Fawkes and his buddies, who all ended up on the rack and the quartering block! The article goes on about France, almost as fragmented as the USA, but the same tendencies are found everywhere.
There is a delicate balance between this mass psychosis and what most of us (individually) call conventional wisdom, the so-called mainstream position. One thing about the conspiracy theory is that it is not based on either empirical evidence-based proof or demonstrative reasoning. A real conspiracy might be exposed or remain hidden. It is amazing to read in this article that such a high proportion of people believe in irrational conspiracy theories.
My concern is that we are abdicating both reason and spiritual life, and we will go back to the 1920’s albeit with a different appearance. One aspect of Nazi misinformation was the conspiracy theory. Many historians argue that conspiratorial thinking was central to bringing the Hitler regime into power, consolidated the third Reich and radicalised ordinary people and men in the German armed forces. Certainly I would prefer to have an imperfect democratic regime in a country, because our vote does have some effect.
One effect of post-modernism and post-everything else, the new nihilism like in nineteenth-century Russia, is the rejection of all institutions from the State, the Church, the police and armed forces, the government and republic, everything. Yes, we gripe when the buying power of our money is diminished, when we are pushed to the limit in spite of doing an honest day’s work. I supported the Gilets Jaunes at the beginning by displaying my regulation yellow vest on my dashboard. After all, it was about fuel prices and taxes. Why take it all from the ordinary people rather than from the billionaires? Then the Gilets Jaunes started to get radical and violent. Then I saw what was happening: they were exploited and re-educated by the extreme Right. My yellow vest went back into my car toolbox! I am not sure about the health pass policy. However, it is nearly impossible to get objective and scientific information about the pandemic. What I do know if that vaccines are helping (I have had my two jabs and they haven’t killed me – yet) to reduce severe symptoms, hospitalisation and death from acute pneumonia. Tell a French person to do something and they will do the opposite. It is a result of the Occupation of 1940 to 1944. The problem with the vaccines is that not enough people are getting vaccinated. In the end, the State will have to lift all restrictions and hope that enough people have been vaccinated so as not to swamp the hospitals by a “let rip” policy. Protect the vulnerable as much as possible and let the unvaccinated take their chances with the virus. I see no other way. But – – – I’m not a scientist and have a hard time getting my mind around herd immunity and the likelihood that this virus is going to go on for years. Lockdowns are over, because we can’t afford them. I have played the game with the masks, social distancing and vaccines, but I can easily give credence in the bungling policies of governments everywhere in managing the crisis and the clashes of interests with scientific experts – with their own self-interest.
The stuff about Bill Gates and Big Pharma seems to be nonsense. At the same time, I was scandalised when I read that Pfizer and Moderna had hiked their prices! Things like that hardly inspire trust. There are some very evil and greedy people around who have all the money!
QAnon seems to have made its way in France. I have never met anyone believing in that stuff, but I am sure they exist. Some of the more extreme elements of the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen are stirring up white working class people and Muslim immigrants and enticing them into Anti-Semitism. Will the QAnon people here or in America have any more influence than neo-Nazis in Germany? George Orwell simply said about his horrifying vision of a totalitarian future – Don’t let it happen. It depends on us as human persons.
The article suggests that conspiracy theories fill up the anti-institution and nihilist vacuum of people who for the most part never had a religious or Christian culture. As “meta-narratives” fall be the wayside with “post-modernism”, conspiracy theory takes their place as something people believe in. It sounds plausible. America has fundamentalism and conservative Christianity, but French traditionalist Catholicism is much more marginal.
I have known a pre-internet era where information came to us much more slowly. Was that a good thing? Are we worse off with the internet with its shouting voices? How do we balance our scepticism, self-doubt and the courage of our convictions? Whistle-blowing on institutional corruption makes us increasingly informed and vulnerable to radical thinking. I my own mind, I am deliberately sceptical and say that anything might be as someone has said, yet there might be a stronger argument to the contrary. Perhaps there are truly opposing truths in different “dimensions”. I do question everything, even my own certitudes, because for me truth is above our understanding. Truth is God, the Absolute, the Mystery.
One big stumbling block is our culture of technocracy and bureaucracy, the very things that erode our faith in institutions – including the Church. The archetype of the Orwellian dystopia is very powerful in our minds and anxiety. The institutions and radicals almost seem to be in league like the old Fascists and Communists. I find Macron here in France more credible and respectable than the Tory bunch in England or the new Biden regime in America. At the same time, Macron is sometimes difficult to follow.
I don’t have quick and easy solutions. I can’t do anything about other people, but I can work on myself. I can work on my own sense of self-reliance and mapping out my life with the Christian Gospel and the old philosophies. To what good is our world and culture are doomed, as they may be. We look to the Night, our death and the Parousia. At the same time, we love what is beautiful and innocent in this world. Is my parallel universe the right one? I just don’t know, and I am left confused and vulnerable. This is why we have to have faith in the Mystery of Christ, lived sacramentally and liturgically in the Church. Tu es Petrus et supra hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. Christ said this to Peter, but not to Peter alone, but to all of us. The Church is built on what is solid in us all, and this brings about our communion and desire for the absolute truth above all universes and truths.
Many Christians will try to reach out to the secular world and embrace its fleeting values, but they will be disappointed. They will try to use materialistic politics to promote their values, but those values will not be those of Christ. We do need to look more deeply into the notion of the Benedict Option, but with new ideas. Some are called to monastic life, but some monasteries have embraced the world and its temptations. Some have the idea of intentional communities, but what of the reality? Many of us have to rely on ourselves and set the boundaries of our relationship with the world and other people. That is only possible when we have come to terms with ourselves and God.