Christian Existentialism Part 1: The Confrontation with Nothingness

Long-term readers would know that I have a habit of starting a series of posts and trying to figure out what I want to say as I go. Well, here’s another just like that. But in this case I am extra-justified in following this strategy since we’re going to be talking about Christian Existentialism, a body of thought which has always set itself against the systematisers of philosophy – the Aristotles, the Kants and the Hegels; the ones who like to create neat little systems that explain everything. Existentialism, by contrast, embraces the messiness inherent in reality.

I’m calling it Christian Existentialism since the main thinkers we’ll be looking at are all from the Christian tradition, even the ones who railed against Christianity. The main names we’ll be referencing are Luther, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Shestov and Nietzsche. I include Carl Jung and the Australian author Patrick White in this list too even though they probably didn’t think of themselves as existentialists.

What all these thinkers have in common is that they experienced a momentous event in their life that changed everything. Dostoevsky has perhaps the most memorable story of the group. He was sent to Siberia and sentenced to death by hanging. They led him out onto the platform, put the rope around his neck, then pardoned him at the last minute. Dostoevsky had been convinced he was going to die. Every moment after that was a blessing, even the ones spent in a prison camp.

Kierkegaard’s turning point was less dramatic and more psychological. He seems to have had some kind of nervous breakdown that led to him breaking up with the woman he loved, Regina Olsen. Nietzsche’s turning point was his break with Wagner. Shestov lived through the Russian Revolution and eventually had to leave Russia as a result. We all know of Luther’s 95 theses getting nailed to the church door. Jung had a series of psychological episodes prior to WW1 which led him to believe he was going mad and represented a turning point in his life and his psychology.

Dramatic events like this can, and often have, been viewed within a religious context. For example, a while ago I was reading the story of a French priest in the early 19th century who found himself in a life and death situation. Despairing for his life, he prayed to the Virgin Mary to intervene on his behalf. He survived and came to believe that the Virgin had saved him. After that, he started a religious sect in her name.

Existentialists tend not to seek recourse in the institutions of religion or society in general. In fact, existentialism rejects the authority of those institutions. Hence, existentialism implies individuality and subjectivity. According to the existentialist, the “truth” of our experiences is always fundamentally subjective and personal. Attempts to form general truths are always falsifications. These falsifications are highly alluring. Since Adam and Eve, man has been tempted away from the fruit of the Tree of Life and towards the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Kierkegaard noted that existentialism begins with despair. Most people try at all costs to avoid despair. Kierkegaard’s book The Sickness Unto Death is a kind of catalogue of all the means people employ to avoid facing despair. We seem to be hardwired to avoid despair and so it is only people who are forced to confront death and madness, the Dostoevskys and the Jungs, who are able to advocate for the existentialist point of view.

Since we’re talking about the subject, it seems fitting that I should relate an account of an experience I had which fits the existentialist mold. At age 16, I began having a series of psychological “episodes”. At that time, I hadn’t heard of Jung, Kierkegaard or existentialism in general. But even if I had, I doubt I would have connected the dots between my episodes and the existentialist philosophy. In fact, it’s only in the past few years that I’ve made the connection, a process which began with my readings of Jung.

An important point of context in my story is that there is a history of schizophrenia in my family. For me, the idea that I might have been going crazy was not an abstract notion but a real possibility. This is also the main reason why I did not raise the issue with my family as that would have almost certainly resulted in a trip to the psychiatrist’s office and being pumped full of whatever drug was fashionable at the time. I was very keen to avoid that and so I suffered in silence. My life may have worked out very differently if I had turned to the “wonders of modern medicine”.

How can I describe the experience of my episodes? They lasted about 30 seconds each. They always occurred when I was in bed falling asleep. There would be a sudden feeling of “falling” accompanied with what I can only call “terror”. But the nature of this falling and this terror were completely disembodied. That is, there was no physical sensation at all. Whatever was going on, it was entirely psychological (or maybe we should say spiritual) in nature.

The closest experiences to these episodes I have had in “real life” are the shock response and the fight or flight response. Anybody who’s had either of these knows that they are triggered automatically and subconsciously. Physiologically, the body releases adrenalin and this acts to shut down the pain receptors. That’s why people who have just been in a bad traffic accident can often get up a walk even though they have broken bones. They are in shock and are not feeling pain. A similar thing occurs with the fight or flight response. You are not acting consciously. Rather, the conscious experience is of being swept up in a force that comes from within.

My episodes were similar to shock and fight or flight in that they were involuntary and seemed driven by an internal force I didn’t consciously understand. The big difference is that there was no cause in the external environment. Some external thing always triggers the shock and the fight or flight response and you know what that thing is. But there was no trigger for my episodes. I was just lying in bed and then suddenly I had this non-physiological feeling of “falling” accompanied by an extreme fear. The fear was simultaneous with the experience. I wasn’t scared because I thought I was falling. I knew I wasn’t falling. The fear had no object.

Just as there was no cause in the immediate environment which triggered the episodes, neither was there anything going on in my life which was obviously to blame. I had a stable and loving family life. I was a healthy and active 16 year old who played sports and mucked around with friends. Yes, I was bored out of my brain at school, but that’s not unusual.

Similarly, the episodes did not cause any effects. I suffered no other physiological or psychological problems as a result of the episodes. Anybody viewing my external behaviour would have noticed no difference and assumed nothing was happening.

Because of all this, I wasn’t able to give any meaning to the episodes. It never occurred to me to pray to the Virgin Mary. I hadn’t yet heard of Jung or Kierkegaard. I wasn’t able to talk to my parents about it for fear of the schizophrenia link and I certainly wasn’t going to raise the matter with my friends since that would only result in the endless teasing that 16-year-old boys give each other. I suffered in silence.

Even though I am writing in a calm fashion here, I should stress that these episodes were terrifying. But how do you describe a terror that has no cause and no object? What does it mean to be terrified of nothing? Dostoevsky was terrified because he thought he was about to be hanged. Kierkegaard was terrified because his life had been destroyed due to his own internal demons. I was terrified about nothing. Literally nothing.

The episodes continued for about 6 months. Then they stopped. At that point, I was grateful to know that I wasn’t going schizo. I got on with my life. I wasn’t able to make sense of the episodes but I also never forgot about them. It wasn’t until I read Carl Jung’s The Red Book several years ago that I finally had a framework to begin to understand what had happened.

Jung had also thought he was going crazy because he too had a series of terrifying psychic episodes that had no obvious cause or meaning. But Jung had worked as a psychiatrist for many years. He knew a thing or two about the subject.

“If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meaning. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into eternal disorder. You will be right! Nothing will deliver you from disorder and meaninglessness, since this is the other half of the world.”

In my episodes, I had the feeling of falling. Jung uses similar metaphors in the Red Book: the spirit of the depths, sinking into meaningless and disorder. What Jung came to believe was that the confrontation with the spirit of the depths is the discovery of the soul.

“Therefore the spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost of my soul.”

The Red Book is Jung’s account of his discovery of his soul.

Although I could certainly appreciate Jung’s concept of the spirit of the depths, I realised that his ideas around the soul didn’t work for me. Jungian psychology hinges heavily on the appearance of symbols in dreams and imagination. I remember most of my dreams, yet I can’t recall having had a single dream involving a Biblical figure or a sacred animal such as a lion or a snake. Neither have I ever had experience with ghosts, spirits or similar phenomena. I don’t have any problem believing that such things can exist. It’s just that I’ve never experienced them. So, while Jung gave me the impetus to start to make sense of my episodes, the psychiatric approach didn’t resonate with me.

Kierkegaard said that existential philosophy begins with despair. But this despair is not necessarily in opposition to knowledge or law. In fact, knowledge and law are built on despair. What lies behind knowledge and law is hubris and hubris is a response, a coping mechanism, a way to avoid the confrontation with despair. Jung also made reference to hubris (pride):

“The spirit of the depths has subjugated all pride and arrogance to the power of judgement. He took away my belief in science, he robbed me of the joy of explaining and ordering things and he let devotion to the ideals of this time die out in me. He forced me down to the last and simplest things.”

The two primary streams that run through modern European civilisation are the Greeks and the Jews; Athens and Jerusalem; the Classical and the Magian. The tradition of philosophy, science and knowledge comes to us via Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. This is the “joy of explaining and ordering things”, of making sense of the world.

Science and philosophy have been opposed to the tradition of revelation, faith and “freedom” that comes from the Bible. The tension between these two has been a constant in modern European thought since the beginning. That is why existentialism can properly be called Christian Existentialism even in thinkers like Jung and Nietzsche who no longer used Christian concepts.

Jung invokes this distinction in his quote above. He had followed the “Greek” path; the materialism that was popular in the second half of the 19th century. But the spirit of the depths took away the joy he had in materialism and science, the “ideals of this time”. Jung had ended up in despair, the starting point of existential philosophy.

I don’t know if Jung had ever read Luther, but Luther’s beliefs about faith are very Jungian. Consider this quote:

“The gospel leads beyond…the light of law, into the darkness of faith, where there is no room for reason or law.”

Here again we contrast the light of law, reason and science against the darkness of faith. This matches Jung’s idea that we find the soul not above in the light but below in the darkness. If that sounds unpleasant, that’s because it is. Faith begins in despair. Faith is not easy. Following the law, doing what you are told, trusting the experts, that is what is easy.

What our modern atheists won’t tell you is that the Christian Church was the conduit for the light of reason and science in early modern European history. It carried both traditions – Athens and Jerusalem. The battle between the two was waged inside its walls. Luther’s break with the Church came when he believed the Church had chosen Athens over Jerusalem. It had become the lawgiver, the light of reason.

Luther made it his job to remind everybody that faith was born in the darkness, not in the light. One of his central doctrines is sola fide – justification by faith alone. The Church could no longer declare a sinner to be righteous either through payment or through works. Faith would redeem. But faith is a subjective experience. It requires one to delve into the darkness and that can only be done alone.  

For Kierkegaard, “darkness” is a metaphor for Nothingness. The fear of the dark is the fear of Nothingness. Fear is to Nothingness what warmth is to the sun or wetness is to water:

“If we ask what the object of fear is, there will be only one answer: Nothingness. Nothingness and fear accompany each other.”

Darkness, nothingness and despair, these are the starting points of existential philosophy, not the end points. Existential philosophy does not offer conclusions, it opens up possibility. But possibility can seem like chaos. It can seem like the ground under your feet is giving way.

Kierkegaard ties fear and Nothingness back to the Biblical story of the Fall. Why did Adam and Eve eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge? The snake made them afraid. He whispered the fear of Nothingness into their ear and then held out the apple as the solution to the problem. The snake is still with us today. Every politician plays the same game: carrots (apples) and sticks.

Would you like the apple…
…or the stick?

In fact, the apple and the stick are the same. The light of reason can be pleasurable like an apple. But behind the scenes lies the stick in waiting. Reason and law are the stick. The stick is despair, the starting point of existential philosophy.

So, it was Luther and Kierkegaard who finally gave me the answer to what I had gone through during my episodes when I was 16. Kierkegaard describes it thus:

“Psychologically speaking, the Fall always takes place in a swoon.”

That is an exact description of what I had experienced. The “swoon” is the feeling of falling. The fear is the primal spiritual fear of Nothingness. The Fall has been associated with other concepts like sin and guilt. But the Fall was also the first experience of fear and therefore Nothingness.

These considerations led Kierkegaard to a radical idea that he could not fully accept. All history, philosophy and knowledge, all civilisation is born out of fear. They are the temptations of the snake who wants us to give up our freedom. We enchain ourselves spiritually and mentally before we ever enchain ourselves physically. Faith then becomes the antidote; the way to conquer fear and regain freedom. But faith can only be won by facing fear directly.

All of this is directly relevant to the world we live in now. In case you hadn’t noticed, our society is having its own confrontation with madness right now. So, it’s a fitting time to talk about these ideas. Madness and despair occur when the rational mind reaches the end of its tether. This may lead us to insanity and barbarism. But the existential philosophy offers another possibility: despair is the necessary stage on the path to faith and freedom.

All posts in this series:
Christian Existentialism Part 1: The Confrontation with Nothingness
Christian Existentialism Part 2: The Worship of Idols
Christian Existentialism Part 3: Necessity vs Faith
Christian Existentialism Part 4: The Boiling Point of Water
Christian Existentialism Part 5: From Luther to Feynman
Christian Existentialism Part 6: The Rise of the Irrational

21 thoughts on “Christian Existentialism Part 1: The Confrontation with Nothingness”

  1. Hey mate,
    so we have a choice between despair and insanity and barbarism. My guess is that most people will happily take the insanity/barbarism option.
    Actually no need to guess. We already passed that fork in the road it seems to me. But then again, i work in IT, so I see insanity every day.
    Isn’t this what Gianbattista Vico and Spengler predicted many years or even centuries ago?

  2. Roland – depends if history is a “law of nature”. Spengler certainly thought it was and so the thing to do was embrace the despair and run head-first to a glorious death. That’s why the contrast between him and Toynbee is so interesting because Toynbee still considered himself a Christian and so had enough of the influence of those ideas to at least consider transcendence an option.

  3. Despair seems to be my default condition as the world around me descends into madness. Would faith be an option? Not sure at the moment. The Spengler route of running head-first to a glorious death sounds also appealing but also pretty unrealistic. There is no glory left in a world dominated by the devouring mother.

  4. Secretface – the strange part about what is happening now is that none of it needed to happen. With just an ounce of common sense, western hegemony could easily have been maintained for another century or so. We can say that it’s just incompetence on the part of our elites, but perhaps there is something more going on. Either way, it’s not going to be boring like the last days of the Roman Empire were.

  5. I agree that our leaders seem to become more and more incompetent (and hostile towards their fellow citizens). I would also agree that there is something more going on. From my point of view, most people nowadays only care for themself. They don’t have children and just consume as much ad they can with no sense of community left. Maybe this is the logical conclusion if you are ruled by money lenders and merchants.

  6. Simon – do you think Western death-phobia is collective terror of nothingness (because our culture has lost any sense that something/anything exists beyond death)?

  7. Secretface – the British became experts at divide and conquer and the Americans have inherited the practice. Most of our politics now is expertly crafted to divide the public and keep control in the hands of the elites. The church was the main unifying force in society for a long time. For that reason, I still think there could be a re-emergence of religion in the future even though it seems very unlikely at the moment.

    Shane – My best guess is that it’s tied up with initiation. Initiation rites are supposed to be a symbolic “death” followed by a birth (born again). This seems true cross-culturally. The Christian faith symbolised that in the person of Jesus. So, my guess is that the increasing loss of faith has now left people without a proper “initiation”. It’s interesting that nihilism arose in the 19th century as both a philosophical movement and a lived experience. That would back up the idea.

    Still, Kierkegaard’s idea is more radical. He is saying that all of what we call civilisation, not just Western civilisation, is motivated by the fear of nothingness. The biblical story of Adam and Eve would then be the historical transition out of the “garden” and into civilisation.

  8. I’m pretty sure that Dostoyevsky was supposed to be executed by a firing squad. He was led in front of a firing squad, and then he was pardoned at the last moment. I believe that’s when he had his first epileptic seizure.

    I have little familiarity with Kierkegaard. I’ve only ever read one of his books, namely, “Fear and Trembling” (the one with Abraham and Isaac). I read it many years ago, as a teenager, and it went way over my head. I decided Kierkegaard was nuts and left it at that. 😛 So, he thought that despair is a necessary stage on the path to faith and freedom? Interesting. Sartre (the famous *atheist* existentialist) argued that we give our lives meaning through projects that we choose for ourselves. (I don’t mean business projects or similar; just things we have decided we wish to accomplish.) And since the world is meaningless in and of itself, we each choose these projects freely and are responsible for them. Something like that. 😉 It’s been ages since I read Sartre. BTW, in his novel “Nausea,” Sartre describes something similar to your “episodes.” The episodes (“nausea”) are caused by the main character’s discovery of “existence,” which has no meaning. The main character is particularly freaked out by a large tree (an oak, if I remember correctly). Anyway, he becomes desperate, and then he finds a way out of despair by deciding to write a novel. A fitting way for a novelist to end a novel!

    BTW, about that guy who sued his employer after he was fired for closing a deal in Hong Kong (hehe): if it’s not a secret, who won in court? Or did they settle?

  9. Irena – thanks for the clarification re Dostoevsky. I must have misremembered the details.

    Kierkegaard’s work is nuts. He was very well aware of that because he was educated in the tradition of logic and reason and was an enthusiastic follower of Hegel earlier in life. It’s also why he stressed that he couldn’t ever bring himself to have “faith”. All he could do was attempt to describe it.

    Sartre has been on my to-read list for ages. Maybe I should bump him up given that I’m on the subject now. I guess the question is why do we need to go through despair? Why can’t we just do whatever we want in Sartre’s sense. I think the answer is that children idolise their parents. Then, during adolescence, they learn that their parents are not all-powerful and all-knowing. That is when the despair kicks in because now you are on your own and faced with Nothingness. Of course, many people never encounter that problem. They follow the social scripts laid out for them and can become very successful in life without thinking about these things. Kierkegaard’s (and Luther’s) point was that blindly following social scripts is just a way to avoid despair.

    The employer offered a small settlement to the guy to bring the matter to an end. We were pretty sure he would lose in court but the company didn’t want to go to trial and air all the dirty laundry. What happens in Hong Kong, stays in Hong Kong 😛

  10. I agree. The whole talk about equality and oppression seems to be designed to keep the rabble at each others throats.

    At least, we are provided with shiny trinkets and 24/7 spectacle. We will see how long this system can be maintained. For a religious revival conditions have to get significantly worse.

  11. Secretface – how are things going with the electricity and gas prices in Germany? We’ve seen some big increases here along with higher interest rates. There’s also been a noticeable increase in homeless people begging.

  12. Simon – just on the topic of initiation… I’ve been bemused by the way many folk still talk about Covid; they say the word as if it refers to something more than a mere virus, as if getting it is a profound rite of passage. Several weeks back I saw a friend who said she’d recently had it. And a few minutes later, I asked how she’d been. And she looked at me reproachfully & said ‘I had COVID’, like how could I miss the gravity of this revelation, so I asked had she had it very badly. Well, no, it just sounded like your average flu. And some people, if you inadvertently minimise the vast death toll, treat you like a Holocaust denier. Besides which, the whole thing about getting the jabs (degrees of initiation?) had a creepily ritualistic vibe to it. Even if you don’t subscribe to the Satanic conspiracy theory. 🙂 So I guess what I’m asking is whether you think this pandemic exercise has offered the collective a kind of substitute initiation… a way to approach the terror of nothingness/death?

  13. Shane – that sounds right to me although it’s not a “real” initiation but a simulation. Real initiation means that you have to “die” to your old way of life. If you look at Australian aboriginal and Native American initiation ceremonies they are designed to be traumatic and also to leave permanent scars. They are a death and rebirth. So, I would say that corona was not a way to approach nothingness/death but just another way to avoid them. The fact that it was done in the name of “science” also proves Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky’s point which is that “necessity” (what we now falsely call “science”) is a way to avoid rather than confront nothingness.

    Actually, I think the real initiation happened to the corona dissenters, myself included. For us, the world really has changed because we can no longer be unaware of the exercise and abuse of power and that our governments are pursuing an agenda separate from what the public is told.

  14. Simon – simulation, sure (didn’t mean to imply it actually worked :P). And interesting re initiation happening to the dissenters. I’ve been thinking the dissenters I know well underwent their own initiations in youth through psychosis or spiritual awakening or whatever you care to call it (trauma w/ lasting scars), which irrevocably set them on an unorthodox path.

    Re approach & avoidance, we all get bombarded 24/7 w/ updates on threats to our species (pandemic, rogue asteroid, nuclear war, malevolent AI etc.) to the point where self-destructiveness just to numb out general unease increases, & at times it’s looked to me like lots of folk were weirdly relieved (if only of self-responsibility) to be given just one thing to fear & a pretend-benevolent ‘parent’ to take care of it. So, ‘approach’ in the sense that folk gravitate to a roadside accident. 🙂

  15. Shane – I’ll probably cover this in a future post in this series, but that comes under the old concept of “necessity” which is the idea that there are fixed law of nature that the “experts” (once upon a time we called them “philosophers”) deal in. Kierkegaard saw these in exactly the way you described. The idea of necessity is a relief to people. They are relieved of their responsibility. But Kierkegaard called that “freedom”. People don’t want freedom because it feels like nothingness. So, they will happily hand over their freedom to anybody who can give them the illusion of certainty.

  16. Perhaps the western existentialists should have asked people like Bach, Mozart, Leibniz, Newton, Beethoven, William Pitt the Younger or Napoleon what they thought of despair. I think Nietzsche got closest to this with his relationship with Wagner and his tendency to almost be laughing as he wrote his aphorisms, and I think he knew the answer is buried in Art, but further beyond that in beauty.

    And this is where I think in the long sweep of history the existentialists miss the point of the 18th century systemic philosophers who they are taking in some ways too seriously (as well as life in general, lighten up guys). The point in the end isn’t to be true or correct, the point might just be to be beautiful. Calculus is pretty, and so is the 9th symphony, as is Napoleon’s mastery of artillery (from a certain view) and so is Kant’s system. They are pieces of history produced by a culture wrapped up in its own revelation, full of self confidence and creativity.

    Dostoyevsky (who I think is very different from the western existentialists) says as much through the conversation of Ivan Karamazov and Alyosha regarding the graveyard of Europe.

  17. @Simon

    For Sartre, I suggest starting with “Nausea.” That’s arguably the best work of fiction he ever produced. Or if you want to start with something short, try “The Wall” (a short story). In a sense, “The Wall” is a story about unintended consequences, both good and bad. As for his non-fiction, well, I remember reading somewhere that he used amphetamines when writing his philosophical works, but not when writing fiction. There was some sort of explanation for this, having to do with the fact that fiction is supposed to be multi-layered (and he was unable to produce these multiple layers while on amphetamines), while philosophical writings are supposed to have only one meaning. Whatever. Read his drugged-up philosophy at your own risk (well, “Existentialism is a Humanism” is approachable enough, I suppose, although he was unimpressed with it himself). But as far as I’m concerned, his fiction is much better.


    For me, the corona fiasco wasn’t an “initiation.” It was an extremely unpleasant (and even traumatic) experience, but I wasn’t particularly surprised that the higher-ups didn’t have my best interests at heart. I knew that already. I was, admittedly, surprised by the level of incompetence.

    The thing is, I grew in the disintegrating Yugoslavia, and it was fairly obvious that our higher-ups were mad. However, I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I idealized the West. Well, what cured me of that was the 1999 bombing (I was in high school at the time, living in Belgrade). So, that was probably the closest I ever came to an “initiation.” Add to that many years of migration, on one temporary visa after another (which meant I understood very well just how disposable I was), and by the time the corona fiasco came along, I was not exactly surprised that they didn’t give half a you-know-what about me. I didn’t expect them to. I *did* expect them to just leave me alone (silly me). So, the sheer level of aggression and vitriol coming from both the politicians and the “experts” did catch me off guard, and I was pretty terrified some of the time. But it was a matter of degree, not of kind. And I was indeed disappointed in some people of my personal acquaintance.

  18. Regarding Electricity and Gas, I unfortunately cannot tell you what the current situation. I moved within Germany and my wife took care of this stuff. Gasoline is around 30% higher than pre-Covid but 20% lower than the peak price during the “pandemic”. Food is really expensive. Many items cost around 50% more than pre-Covid. I can handle the price raise due to a double income household but I would expect poor people to struggle. Interest rates for building houses have increased from around 1% in January 2022 to 5% in July 2023, so I would expect that quit a lot people will get into trouble if their interest rate fixation expires. I did not see an increase of beggars but I am not that often in the City center. There are a lot of cars on the streets with Ukranian licence plates but I did not see any Eastern European beggars at all.

  19. Skip – Kierkegaard knew all about the beauty of art and philosophy. That’s why he’s worth reading because he wasn’t just some bitter loser griping about the world. I think it was the Marquis de Sade who satirised the beauty of art by pointing out that in every idyllic landscape painting there will be a bunny rabbit being eaten by a fox behind the bush somewhere out of sight. There is another side to reality but civilisation has a habit of pretending it doesn’t exist. Civilisation creates its own (Jungian) shadow.

    I think you’re right that the point isn’t to be true or correct and yet that is how our society functions. As we saw during corona, there are people desperate for “truth” and power-mad idiots who will give them the illusion of truth so they can rule. That’s another feature of civilisation we like to pretend doesn’t exist. None of this negates the greatness of the Beethovens, the Newtons and the Kants even though existentialism is usually misrepresented as a negation.

    Irena – hah! Seems like everybody was on amphetamines at that time (the mathematician Paul Erdos comes to mind). That’s a crucial point about your experiences in high school. You already had an initiation. This actually fits Toynbee’s internal/external proletariat concept. The external proletariat of the West has been getting bombed for decades. For those of us on the inside, that was just a story on the 6 o’clock news. So, I’d say the “initiation” of corona was more for the internal proletariat. We’re now in the metaphorical firing line too. Our leaders are no longer even pretending to do what is right for us. Which means, of course, that we’re entering the Interregnum stage of the cycle.

    Secretface – interesting. Sounds about the same as here which makes sense now that we have a global economy. “We’re all in this together.”

  20. Simon & Irena – my understanding of a genuine initiation is that it brings the individual into a conscious encounter w/ death & their own mortality in a way from which Westerners, very generally speaking, are ‘protected’. And after such an encounter w/ death – which might, in the absence of a prescribed cultural initiation, include surviving a city-wide bombing or NDE or debilitating psychosis or whatever – you’re less vulnerable to being manipulated by the threat of death. When I mentioned a substitute initiation re Covid, I meant ersatz. Pretend. As if. People I know who didn’t take the vax drive seriously include a woman who was nearly killed by medical specialists whose incompetence left her in a wheelchair, a man who survived the WWII bombing of Malta, a woman w/ a history of OOBEs, a woman w/ a history of psychosis who nearly starved herself to death as a teen…

    I think one main difference between such incidental ‘initiations’, which can happen any time in life yet have more formative impact in youth, & a recognised cultural initiation that everyone undergoes at a given stage is that in the former case, the ‘initiates’ comprise a minority that don’t tend to share the values of the culture.

  21. Shane – I agree. And this raises the question of whether ceremonial initiations can ever replace the “real thing”. Take St Ignatius of Loyola. He became well known for his spiritual exercises which were, in fact, a 4-week initiation. But prior to that, he was a playboy and wannabe war hero until he was badly injured in battle which precipitated his religious conversion. Is it possible to go through what he went through just following the exercises? Luther, Calvin and other believers in predestination say the answer is no. God chooses those who will be properly “initiated”.

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