Home » (Quotes) » Passages. Notes. Of Pseudoscientific Religious Symbolism.

Passages. Notes. Of Pseudoscientific Religious Symbolism.

Describing the obviation of spiritual religions that preceded the “scientific” symbolism of the early twentieth century—leading to fascism and National Socialism:

The radical metaphysical question posed by Schelling—”Why is there something; why is there not nothing?”—reflects the worries of a few; it means nothing to the religious attitude of the masses. The world as contents has suppressed the world as existence. The methods of science as the sole forms to study the contents of the world are declared to be the generally obligatory basis of man’s attitude toward the world. Since the nineteenth century and for long periods up until today [in 1938], the word metaphysical has been considered to be an abusive word, religion to be “opium for the people” and, in a more recent turn, an “illusion” with a doubtful future. Counter-formulas against the spiritual religions and their worldviews are coined and legitimated by the claims of secular science as the valid form of cognition, contrary to revelation and mystical thought. The “scientific Weltanschauungen,” “scientific socialism,” and “scientific race theory” emerge; inventories are taken of the “mysteries of the world,” and they are solved. At the same time, the general knowledge of fundamental questions of being and of the expressive forms used to study them shrinks into small groups. Indifference, laicization, and atheism become the characteristics of the publicly binding worldview.

Describing the origin of the new “scientific” symbols, which from their origin have a religious character:

Men can let the contents of the world grow to such an extent that the world and God disappear behind them, but they cannot annul the human condition itself. This remains alive in each individual soul; and when God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place. Like the Christian ecclesia, the inner-worldly community has its apocalypse, too; yet, the new apocalyptics insist that the symbols they create are scientific judgments.*

We overlook the religious character of non- and anti-spiritual language. So did the Germans before the Führer.

This makes me interested in another book: Lingua Tertii Imperii by Victor Klemperer. In it, Klemperer warns against the culture of buzzwords. Ours is a culture of buzzwords, maybe even more insidious than those in Nazi Germany, maybe more difficult to spot.


* Both passages taken from Eric Voegelin’s 1938 essay on “The Political Religions”; published in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. Vol. 5, Modernity Without Restraint. Manfred Henningsen (ed.). 2000. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. Translated from German by Virginia Ann Schildhauer.

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2 thoughts on “Passages. Notes. Of Pseudoscientific Religious Symbolism.

  1. As is usual when I read these things, I’m not sure I understand most of it, but the first sentence of his second paragraph is something I believe strongly, if by “contents” he means not only the material but also our ideas about the world and each other.

  2. Yes.

    At the beginning he contrasts “contents” with “existence.” These are two of the possible lenses by which we view the world: I think its like the distinction between facts and beings, or maybe contingent things (based on cause-effect sequence) and necessary things (eternal and unaltered in time). I’m not sure if that’s what he’s getting at, but it would fit with some of the passage. The point is that “metaphysics” was pooh-poohed so much so that people only looked at the world as objects of science—factual and contingent.

    In the second paragraph, “contents” could include, in a sense, ideas. I think he’s saying that our view of the world becomes overwhelmingly about the discrete facts of the world. Our ideas about the world are turned toward a multiplicity, so that there is no idea of a world as such (e.g., a creation with a transcendent origin, or a Nature with order separate from human thinking), let alone an idea of a god who is its original and unifying principle.

    The fundamental claim is that humans need some way to live religiously, as well as politically, socially, etc. When we are deprived of the spiritual religion, we create an inner-worldly one to take its place. The political religions, like National Socialism, are the ones in which the State becomes the new god and the Führer the great mediator, etc., etc.

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