John Vervaeke lays out a summary of what is behind the meaning crisis, and offers a brief introduction on his view of the way through it. He describes the meaning crisis as both the result and cause of the ecological, socio-economic and spiritual / existential crisis of our time. The crisis is driven by attempts to create secular alternatives to religion.
In the two dozen or so videos up to this point in the series, he has walked through the relevant philosophy and theology since recorded time. By this point, and after introducing Hegel, he comes to World War One – rightly describing it as (in my words) the calamity that put the exclamation point on the destruction of the West that has been occurring since at least the Enlightenment (the killing of God).
What has the death of God left us with?
We now have complete politicization in the quest for meaning. Perspectival knowing has been reduced to your political viewpoint; participatory knowing has been reduced to your political identification.
Perhaps unpacking these terms is helpful (certainly to me). Perspectival knowing:
Perspectivism is the philosophical position that one's access to the world through perception, experience, and reason is possible only through one's own perspective and interpretation.
Nietzsche talks about ‘perspective’ when he is relating beliefs to our values (and hence to our instincts).
Participatory knowing appears to have once been wrapped up in the spiritual:
First, "participatory" alludes to the fact that spiritual knowing is not objective, neutral, or merely cognitive. On the contrary, spiritual knowing engages us in a connected, often passionate, activity that can involve not only the opening of the mind, but also of the body, the heart, and the soul. …Second, the participatory nature of spiritual knowing refers to the role that our individual consciousness plays during most spiritual and transpersonal events. This relation is not one of appropriation, possession, or passive representation of knowledge, but of communion and co-creative participation.
All authentic knowledge of God is participatory. I must say this directly and clearly because it is a very different way of knowing reality—and it should be the unique, open-horizoned gift of people of faith. But Christians have almost entirely lost this way of knowing, ever since the food fights of the Reformation and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, leading to fundamentalism on the Right and atheism or agnosticism on the Left. Neither of these sides know how to know!
Our perspective is political; our participation is wrapped up in the political. We are reduced to a struggle of wills of political ideologies. This view reminds me of a recent essay by C. Jay Engel, entitled Libertarianism’s Place In Society – tailored toward a slant on a libertarian’s view of society, but relevant to the reality that everything in society has been reduced to the political:
Libertarianism as a unifying spirit is only conceivable because we operate in a world that has experienced the imposition of a political society.
…it should be made clear that the only reason libertarianism as such seems to play such a fundamental role in the self-identity and life-meaning of so many in libertarian circles is due to the politicalization of society.
Returning to Vervaeke:
The only thing that in the past that has created systematic sets of psycho-technologies that transform consciousness, cognition, character, and culture in an interdependent way is religion. Religion is the only thing that does this.
Read that again, then think about what happens when God is dead and we are reduced to nothing more than random atoms smashing together by chance. What happens then to man’s meaning, purpose, or ends? What meaning or purpose can one find in random? So, what happens when man finds he has no meaning? I think that would be called the meaning crisis.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have tried to create alternatives to this – the pseudo-religious ideologies that have drenched the world in blood.
And we continue in the twenty-first century – even peddling many of the same alternatives while trying to dress these with a more appealing mask. Perfuming a pig.
What do we do? We need to respond to the meta-crisis, but we have been traumatized by the pseudo-religious ideologies.
He calls the attempt by some to return to religion as “nostalgic.” Such as these attempt to ignore all of the history. Let me get this right: in all of recorded history, only religion has served this function – but even those who recognize this, like Vervaeke, are looking for an alternative to religion…or desiring to create a new religion.
Well…I will take nostalgia over those man-made “pseudo-religious ideologies that have drenched the world in blood” for the last two-hundred years. But Vervaeke has a different plan. His view is that we need a religion that is not a religion, a god beyond all gods.
Over the next several lectures, he will describe how we can each reach this new level of self-transcendence – a religion that is not a religion. This is also very much the project of Bret Weinstein, who – in this video – offers his version of a religion that is not a religion. When it is suggested that he is proposing a new religion, Weinstein offers:
I would be careful. It’s not a new religion; it’s something that sits in the same place. It addresses some of the same needs.
Wait! What did he just say? But it’s not a new religion?
It is not founded on the same principle.
The not-same principle that he wishes to avoid is God; it will be a religion without God. Something that has been tried many times over the last couple of centuries. If something independent of and outside of human reach (i.e. God) is not sovereign, then a human (but not you) will be. As VanderKlay offers, this idea of religion without God leads to totalitarianism; as history offers, VanderKlay is right.
(BTW, if you have an hour to spend, this really is a video worth watching; if you don’t have an hour, watch the twelve minutes remaining beginning at about the 58-minute mark. I have never seen VanderKlay enjoy himself as much as he does in this video.)
Vervaeke will base his religion-that-is-not-a-religion on cognitive science – which he introduces by saying that he will offer his version of cognitive science, as scientists and academicians don’t agree on the meaning of cognitive science.
So, there is no agreement on the meaning of cognitive science, but from this we will find a new religion that is not a religion. There is more. The study of cognitive science involves several disciplines: psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, and anthropology. The discipline that ties all of these together is philosophy. Put all of this together, and you are doing cognitive science.
Read that list of academic disciplines again. Consider the social-justice “science” that has infiltrated most of these departments. Then consider the “religion that is not a religion” that will come out of this effort.
Good luck with that. I will suggest that it is precisely what is taught in many of those disciplines that has caused and is reflective of what is behind the meaning crisis.
Search for clues
The answer's been right in front of you
- Octavarium, Dream Theater
As noted by Vervaeke’s co-author, Christopher Mastropietro:
There is nothing obvious to replace the archetypal image of Christ to the West; there’s no obvious substitution. Every substitution that we grasp at is a pale image in a different set of vestments.
Jesus Christ is Plato’s Form of the Good, made manifest – as Aristotle requires. We have not found a replacement or alternative (as we cannot); absent this Form of the Good made manifest, we are lost – without the ultimate example of our meaning or purpose.
VanderKlay concludes his video with a description of Christ:
What I would offer is that there is a religion that actually has someone at the top of its hierarchy that walks into a situation where everyone is playing the same old game with swords, and says “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” And in the Garden, He says, “if anyone’s blood is going to be shed, it’s going to be mine.” And I will win the game.
We know what happened next.
It doesn’t make any sense in Darwin-land. But that’s what Christianity says.
To be fair, given what passes for Christianity these days, it is difficult to blame people such as Vervaeke for wanting to look elsewhere: cheering on wars; Christian Zionism; appealing to the lowest standard of human dignity instead of holding people accountable to the highest life-affirming standard; scandals, travesties, and corruptions – moral and financial – all covered up or even promoted.
What does it say when those who are searching for meaning are finding an understanding through lectures and discussions led by the likes of John Vervaeke and Jordan Peterson, and not through their pastors and priests?
Whose sin is greater? Vervaeke’s, or those who pass for “Christian” who drive him away? Men such as Vervaeke are looking for God; they have just been convinced that they will not find God in a church on Sunday morning.
It is difficult to blame them.