Secular humanism has reached a dead end

Here is a Salon article by Camille Paglia about the death of Art Films:

Here is the money quote:

Ingmar Bergman’s creativity was certainly stimulated by the overly cerebral, puritanical Protestantism in which he was raised. In film after film, he militantly made space for emotion and intuition, usually embodied in elusive, charismatic women, whose faces his inquiring camera obsessively searched. Bergman’s artistic drive was inextricable from the religious impulse.

Now, in contrast, aspiring young filmmakers are stampeded toward simplistic rejection of religion based on liberal bromides (sexism, homophobia, etc.). Religion as metaphysics or cosmic vision is no longer valued except in the New Age movement, to which I still strongly subscribe, despite its sometimes outlandish excesses. As a professed atheist, I detest the current crop of snide manifestos against religion written by professional cynics, flâneurs and imaginatively crimped and culturally challenged scientists. The narrow mental world they project is very grim indeed — and fatal to future art.

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art. I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end — and any liberals who don’t recognize that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam. The human quest for meaning is innate and ineradicable. When the gods are toppled, new ones will soon be invented. (”Better Jehovah than Foucault,” I once warned. For more on this, see “Religion and the Arts in America,” a lecture I gave at Colorado College earlier this year that was broadcast on C-SPAN’s “American Perspectives” series and that has just been published in Arion.)

The waning of art film has been just one of the bitter cultural disappointments that the baby-boom generation has had to endure. Rock music, which exploded in the artistic renaissance of the ’60s and ’70s, seems to have exhausted its formulas.

My comment: I find this bitterly amusing. Mrs. Paglia and I would no doubt disagree on nearly every point of our philosophies, and yet she says Secular Humanism is at an end. I am not sure if she means an artistic dead-end, or a more general collapse.

I agree with her on that point: the intellectual life of the West has been coasting on Empty since roughly the time of Kant. The modern philosophies of Sartre, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and what not have contributed nothing to the glory of philosophy: they are, if anything, antiphilosophies, negations either simple or complex of some or all of human mental existence.

Even acknowledging the End of Secularism, however, she cannot bring herself to examine her axioms. Why is Secular Humanism at a dead end in the arts? She seems to be haunted by the idea that Igmar Bergman’s genius had its roots in a religious vision, but she cannot bring herself to acknowledge the strength of the vision or say what is the weakness of the alternative, the vision of the Material Secularists.  The only thing she can say about the weakness of the alternative is that its failure is “enabling” the conservatives (notice that the Christians and the fundamentalists of Islam are mentioned in one breath, as if Jerry Fallwell or Pope Benedict XVI were indistinguishable from Osama bin Laden. Sure).

She is also premature in decreeing the death of Secular Humanism, in my opinion. There is a place where art is alive and well and flourishing, and it is based on the scientific world-view of progress and enlightenment: the only artistic medium where the romance of the scientific enterprise is celebrated, where the mystery, the almost mystical vision is held: and that is in science fiction.

Mainstream Secular fiction does not contain any of those elements that makes the human soul leap for joy or recoil in awestruck horror, that sense of transcendence, of the sweep of history, those visions of nuclear Armageddons or Posthuman Utopias which have an almost religious flavor to them. What was the vision at the end of CHILDHOOD’S END by Arthur C. Clarke except an SF version of the Last Judgment, the Rapture of the Just?

I am not saying Science Fiction is a copy of religion anything like that. I am not saying persons of one particular religion or another, or none, have some special claim to understand science fiction. I am not really talking about science fiction at all. I am talking about art. Art requires a vision of something beyond the world, a mystery, an awe, in order to be inspiring.

It is the way the human mind is constructed: we understand what we see by means of what we do not understand and cannot see. A science fiction fan, for example, can look at the modern world with greater savor than his muggle friend, because he sees the present as if he were looking back at it from the future: he sees the world as if he were a Martian seeing it for the first time. He does not see the future, and does not see the Martian: these are the unseen. He sees the same cars and people we do, but to him they are ground-cars from the Days of the Highway Deaths, and the humans are Earthmen, oddly walking on their hind paws.

Secular Humanism is dying because the world it did not see, the Socialist Utopia of the Progressives, the clean world run by the Council of Scientists, the Brave New World of Free Sex and No Monogamy, has turned out to be pipe-dreams. Instead of utopia, the socialists of Germany and Russia piled up more corpses and the socialists of England and France piled up national debt. Science is simply the enemy in most of the popular political causes of the modern Progressives–everything from DDT to aerosol spray cans to nuclear power–and the sad fact is that the clean underground roman-toga-wearing world of THINGS TO COME cannot come about if we turn the clock back on technology, burn wood for fuel and ride horses for transport. The Brave New World of Free Sex never made any realistic promises; it was just a sexual fantasy, so to speak. Nothing has failed so completely and so throughly in history as the cause of socialism.

Not all Secular Humanitarians are pure quill socialists; in fact, only a very few. But without the vision, without the world they cannot see, they have no goal and no guide. Progress implies a direction, an end-state. Change without a direction is merely change for the sake of change, and therefore chaos.

Humanist art is dead and humanism is dying because they have lost their vision of what the superhuman is supposed to be. Even a comic book vision of superhumanity is better than none at all. If you cannot ask yourself “What Would Jesus Do?” at least ask yourself “What Would Doc Savage Do?” or even “What Would Frodo Do?”