The void of meaning in the West

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The void of meaning in the West

Ken Crawford believes that those dissatisfied with Western aesthetic materialism may find deeper meaning from aspects that are already coded into our own culture, without needing to grasp at the hollow ‘isms’. 

In a recent Comment Central article, Sean Walsh explores the concept of intelligent design, a subject that quickly runs up against the question who in turn was the master architect, or if indeed there ever was one. To my mind the more interesting and fundamental questions sit a layer further down, pertaining to purpose and meaning. In seeking to address this question I will again draw on dated sources like Nietzsche and Jung, something I have been criticized for in the comments in earlier articles. I am aware that banks of academics have been pumping out peer-reviewed papers in journals of psychology in the intervening period but none of them have come close to emulating that golden of age where science and spirituality, now parallel worlds, were contemplated in one model. This is true of Jung in particular who had read widely on religious texts from the earliest times but had also discussed quantum physics with Einstein and jointly published work with Pauli. It was Jung’s belief that theoretical physics and psychology would arrive at the same conclusion on the transcendent, though coming from different directions. Theoretical physics has made significant strides but psychology has made most progress only in the realism of chemistry and biology, losing interest in spirituality and parapsychology or else becoming embroiled in the wider malaise of postmodernism and Marxism that bedevils the humanities in academia.

The 21st Century has seen atheistic materialism or realism emerge as the dominant culture. Science is at the forefront and meaning is to be found in the periodic table of chemical elements, the electromagnetic spectrum, the corporate balance sheet and a sleek car. In the realm of science, it is only theoretical physicists who are pushing the boundaries out in seeking to unravel the deeper mysteries of existence. The Church is alive but greatly weakened, still reeling from Nietzsche’s declaration of the ‘death of God’. This famous claim was made in Thus Spoke Zarathustra but less well know is that this same book takes matters a stage a further – that man is not an end but a bridge to the Ubermensch, the Superman. The Nazi’s seized on this claim as a justification for the Master Race but Nietzsche had something much more profound in mind as a reading of the wider text would reveal. Jung perceived this and, drawing on his own reading of the Gnostic texts in particular, articulated the concept much more fully in Aion and the Red Book.

In seeking to explore the earliest formation of grand design, the Gnostics held that Christ, son of God, was preceded by the son of the highest archon of the hebdomad, in turn, preceded by the son of the highest archon of the Ogdoad. In chronological order this trinity expresses as spirit, soul and body, the inference being the human spirit was present before the body. Fanciful stuff perhaps but the Egyptians also recognized the Ogdoad and being a pictorial society we can see how they perceived this – eight Gods, four with the head of a frog, four with the head of a serpent. The Gnostics paired the eight as Profound Depth – Silence, Mind – Truth, Word – Life and Man – Church. Atheistic materialism has no interest in such things but on a planet billions of years old it seems plausible to me that there are old and mysterious forces at work that sit far outside our full comprehension, especially if approached through the lens of pure rationalism.

The prominent spiritual figure in Western Culture is Christ the Redeemer. He is the archetype of the perfect man and as an archetype of the collective unconscious, Christ is in all of us. To what end? Jung argued that the psychological significance of Christ crystallized in the Passion, the betrayal, torture, humiliation and crucifixion of the most spotlessly good person ever to walk the earth. The intention of Christ was to cleave the opposites (Matthew 10:34 – I have not come to bring peace but a sword), to separate Good and Evil, sending one above and casting one below so that the difference would be comprehended and both could grow in their separate ways. Christ initiated the work of redemption but it remained for us to complete.

Jung argues that it was now for the people of our time to bind what Christ cleaved apart by integrating the opposites. This is achieved by acknowledging your light and dark side, masculine and feminine, conscious and collective unconscious, material and spiritual and so on, such that the two opposites are harnessed together to strive to become as complete and balanced a person as possible, the crowning glory of the fully integrated Self. Given that life comprises both horror and beauty, like Christ, it is necessary walk through the fires of the Passion, some deeply challenging experience of your own life such that your character is severely tested, completing the redemption that Christ initiated and so ignite the star of your God in the inner world, (John 10:34 Jesus answered “is it not written in your law – I have said you are Gods) which is the ultimate destination of humanity. This accomplished, you would become the force of effective fullness in your own world, where what you loosed and bound on earth is loosed and bound in heaven (Matthew 18:18). In other words, the character you defined on earth would define the nature of your own world.

This is a subject I approach with great humility. I do not presume to know all the answers to what amount to the deepest and most fundamental of questions. I have no wish to preach to others about what they should think, not least because I am still forming my own thoughts. However, such a model, if Nietzsche and Jung were correct, would allow for a grand design and as much meaning in life as it is possible to have. With psychology having renounced such investigations, it will be interesting to see what revelations theoretical physicists will bring to the table in the decades ahead, given we now know there are more than four dimensions (somewhere between 10 and 26 is the current estimate) and exotic types of matter are being discovered. Perhaps solving the deepest mysteries of quantum physics will provide the unification of science and spirituality that Jung was seeking. If the individuals that comprise Western culture feel that aesthetic materialism leaves a void inside them that requires something more meaningful to fill, there are potential answers already coded in our own culture, without grasping at the hollow ‘isms’ that seem to be our culture’s current direction of travel and that we already know fail because we tried them to our terrible cost and near extinction in the twentieth century.

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    Ken Crawford
    Ken Crawford is a graduate of St.Andrews University and a certified Chartered Accountant. He has worked as a project manager in a range of industry sectors, currently in the defence industry.
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