Why do so many things seem phony these days? In the public sphere as well as in our own private lives, there is a clear absence of authenticity and connection to reality. It is not accidental.
The secular faiths of this modern era – liberalism and socialism in all their various denominations – have created societies where life is inauthentic, alienated, disconnected. These ideologies are religions of the intellect – they are rooted not in an experience of the transcendent divine but in logical fallacies and empty reason. We moderners have put our faith in reason, and as a result we are all Cartesians now: cogitamus ergo sumus. We think, therefore we are. We have believed this lie at the heart of the modern project, and as a result many of us experience life as if we are a brain in a jar. We look on the poor and backward peoples of the world and idealise them and their more authentic, pure state. Despite their superstitions and naive beliefs, they have something we don’t and that we crave. They have reality.
Descartes was wrong. Sum ergo sum. I am therefore I am. God revealed this to the Israelites when they asked him what his name is in the desert. His reply was I AM WHAT I AM. God rebutted Descartes three millennia before he developed the lie at the heart of modernity.
Morality cannot be grounded in an intellectual belief system. It is too fluid, too susceptible to the foibles of human psychology. Good conduct, nobility of character, personal integrity – these only come out of relationship, not principles. We can see across the world that in countries where laws are not enforced (pretty much everywhere outside the West), then people treat strangers very poorly. Lying, cheating, manipulating are commonplace. People will behave somewhat better toward their own family, tribe or clan, because this will affect their reputation. Only in the post-Christian West is there a culture of universal standards of behaviour, although this is rapidly dying as the last remnants of Christian culture disappear.
The only bulwark against immorality is relationship, and the only cultural mechanism for moral behaviour, and therefore human flourishing, is that people have a relationship to a moral God. This function was performed by Christianity for fifteen centuries, and it is why we still treat people better. Where else in the world do people adopt an African child? Nowhere. The only children they will provide for are their own, if at all.
As Christianity has died out and been replaced by ideological faiths amongst the people of the West, we have replaced true morality linked to personal conduct with the holding of correct opinions and identities. Instead of honour, decency and true charity, we have empty virtue signalling, narcissistic manipulation of emotions and boundless charity with other people’s money using the power of government to enforce redistribution. We are moved to tears by the fate of the trees, yet see it as an expression of women’s rights when the ‘bundle of cells’ growing in her womb is ripped apart and discarded as an inconvenience. We wail for the whales, but care nothing for oppressed in our own workplaces.
Our wickedness is rational, logical and well-reasoned. It is the inevitable consequence of faith stripped of any metaphysical higher standards or belief in a moral law. It has created a culture of emptiness: empty politicians who fleece us and laugh at our gullibility, empty economic activity which serves vested interests rather than the needs of real people, empty houses with cohabiting relatives rather than families, empty popular culture which regurgitates the same nihilistic memes to distract a world-weary mob. We float disembodied, and project our existential rage at straw men rather than identify its true source: our foolish worship of reason.
The boast of modern man is that he has figured out the way to figure it all out. This boastful hubris has brought us to the edge of collapse. Our immorality, our spiritual weakness, our loss of identity and connectedness, our self-hating drive to self-destruction have their root in our lack of humility and our misplaced faith in reason. There is a reason the world today is phony. The reason is reason.