108. After completion (II)
By twenty-three, I had abandoned my teenage atheism. I realised—mainly through reading John Gray, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Allan Bloom—that religious traditions sustain societies; even Voltaire, the arch-atheist, acknowledged that he would prefer that his servants believed in God, lest they cut his throat in the night. This led me to a position where I did not believe, though I was still friendly to religion. I could not agree with the New Atheist trend popular at the time. I accepted that man is always religious; it is religions all the way down: the only question is whether what a person believes sustains them or harms them.
I also noticed that the final outcome of Nietzsche’s worldview was not atheism, it was to adopt the truths—not thetruth, the supposed singular truth, of Christianity—that sustain and strengthen an individual. These truths can include following a traditional religion; a religion that, by surviving, has proved its usefulness and capacity to enhance power. To come to a faith in this way is to see what is useful in it: all long-lived faiths, simply by surviving, contain truths that enhance power—though the doctrine itself may be false.
Over the years, I experimented with Christianity; but I was deterred by, in the Protestant faiths, the congregations of bitchy old women and the female vicar who, completely vain, delivered a sermon about how well her son was doing at university—to have a woman speak in church truly is an affront to God. I also visited a Catholic priest; he took much delight in describing a sex scandal in the Church of England where a vicar was caught flagellating young boys for pleasure. At first I thought he was merely enjoying a dig at a rival faith, but he kept working the point over until I realised he derived sexual enjoyment from the story. That was enough for me.
Eventually, on my third reading of the Bible, I decided to abandon Christianity altogether; simply because I realised that reading the Bible made me feel sad, whereas Homer, whom I was also reading at the time, made me feel light and happy—just as Nietzsche described. This was a relief. I still carried with me the relic of an ultra-reactionary Catholic schooling and a weaker Church of England sensibility from my younger days; but to drop all that lightened me. I decided that, inherited wisdom notwithstanding, the Christian tradition is too decayed in the West to offer any comfort (or much wisdom); and, on sober intellectual analysis, it is from an alien racial group as well. There is little to be lost by abandoning it; and there are some spiritual threads still available, especially in the Buddhist and Hindoo worlds: the worlds of extant pagan tradition. Indeed, I once said to my mother, on a whim: “I think something like Hindooism is the true religion.” She responded, with spontaneous sincerity: “Yes, I think so.” She had never evinced an interest in it before; perhaps I had hit on some archetypal truth buried in the female mind.
All men are basically pagan: men are pragmatic and, essentially, indifferent to what people believe in their heads so long as they respect the rites and do not disturb other men; they do not think there is a literal hereafter. All men, from the standpoint of instinct, know that a man should push back if he is violated; thus, even for Christians, the ideal of Jesus is relegated to the realm to come. Jesus is all very well, but here on Earth we will act like pagans—if we wish to live. Indeed, even the conservatives who defend Christianity today—Peter Hitchens, Jordan Peterson, and Rod Dreher—are pagans really; they pragmatically support Christianity because the alternative—secular Christianity, the left—is worse; and because they think the tradition contains beauty and wisdom, but this is itself a pagan way to think—the world of hopeful illusion is for women and feminised men.