Religiosity in an Incompatible Universe

I was yesterday sent a link to an interesting article, noted as “in conjunction with the eldraeic conception of religion”. Herewith, then, some commentaries and sparked notions. (Note: The blog this article comes from appears to be associated with the neo-reactionary movement. If that makes you want to comment in some manner unrelated to the content of this post, please see the disclaimer at the end before so doing.)

The article in question is this: Experiments in Post-Rationalist Religion – discussing, loosely, the problems of meaningful and beneficial religiosity in a universe that metaphysically doesn’t support its underpinnings, but as creatures who seem to require a spiritual narrative in order to function. Well, without retreating into nihilism, anyway.

So we are offered some axiomata, up front, with which the Imperials would not disagree too much:

Materialism. The universe is well modelled by an unknown but computable mathematical object akin in some ways to a mathematical series, a cellular automaton, a fractal, etc. An object of vast complexity that grows from a relatively simple defining Law. We find ourselves manifested as patterns within this construction.

Well, they wouldn’t express it in quite those terms – for a start, if you go by their fancy-schmancy theory of Information Physics, the universe is not modeled by, but actually is, an enormous self-computing information pattern. “It is bit,” and all that. But obvious corollaries, such as the completeness of the universe, the susceptibility of everything, without exception, to scientific investigation and understanding, and that all claims of “supernatural” qualities are inherently null, are, well, obvious and generally accepted. Imperial culture has little taste for mystagoguery; the only proper response to the ineffable is to eff it, good and hard.

Sanctity of Truth. It is critical that the accurate perception of reality not be subordinate to other values. We shall not adopt beliefs about the material world for their projected effects, palatability, or political correctness.

Very much so. “Truth” is not an instrumentality; it’s a series of univalued and objective descriptions of the universe that does not care whether you like it or not (“many people are naturally inclined to be… meddlesome”), or whether it’s useful or not (“the speed of light is kind of a bugger, no?”). And to achieve anything worth achieving, you can’t mess around with it. (“Go ahead, try building a bridge without understanding the truths of steel and stone. You cross it first.”)

So, yes, truth is sacred and quite possibly revered. As a good epistemologist will tell you, theirs is the most important part of philosophy and therefore all thought, because if your epistemology isn’t right, everything that follows from what you think you know is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

Non-Nihilism. Nihilism is the observation that material universes do not contain anything of spiritual value or moral authority, and thus that accurate perceptions of reality do not contain beliefs about spiritual narrative. But it is also the case that wholesale nihilism is a non-solution, and that humans must live within a believable spiritual narrative or mythos.

And on this point, well, we all know what the Imperials think about nihilism:

Anyway, yes, they don’t really care for it that much.

Anyway, the post goes on to say:

The third axiom, in commanding the existence of a believable mythos in contradiction to the nonexistence of true myths implied by the first two axioms, gives us our problem.

The immediate and obvious solution is that we must believe in a mythology that is not true. Not necessarily false, mind you; our spiritual myths may be nonsense from a truth perspective. For example, we might claim to believe that “It is the destiny of mankind to conquer the stars”. This can’t really be true or false in a positivist sense because constructions involving “destiny” and “mankind” are not really meaningful empirically. How does the statement constrain your expectations? It does not; it is purely mythological.

This would be where they start to go down another path. I would certainly agree on the importance of mythos, and I can think of no better way to do that than to quote Terry Pratchett, from my personal favorite Christmastime story, Hogfather:

Death: Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?

Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

Susan: So we can believe the big ones?

Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.

Susan: They’re not the same at all.

Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.

Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point?

Death: You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?

But where the eldrae, the Imperials, and the Flamic belief system would differ is in arguing that, if I may wax Platonic for a moment, these things are true, and do exist. (Which is why I don’t much care for the term “Materialism” to describe their null-supernatural view of the world.) Existence is not the same thing as instantiation as matter.

Take, for a trivial example, the equilateral triangle. The equilaterial triangle, the concept of the equilateral triangle, is a mathematical truth that existed before any of the mass-energy of the universe congealed into equilaterally triangular shapes, and would go on existing even if some Omnicidal Maniac were to go on a universe-wide pogrom to destroy all three-cornered objects. It’s an idea, and ideas exist in the Iconic Realm, the Realm of Forms, etc., etc., every bit as much as this triangular thing, right here, exists in the Realm of Matter.

Supernatural is a null word. There are no spirits and so forth as humanity *here* would understand them. But there are certainly ideas, and anyone who cares to deny that is plunging headlong into the nasty recursive paradox of endorsing the concept of the nonexistence of concepts.

So, from their perspective, they are not believing things that aren’t True, or aren’t in the same category as True things – the Truth-Myth barrier of which the original post speaks. They’re believing fundamental truths, the ideas hovering off there in aevum until the mind perceives them, and then instantiating them in the Realm of Matter by virtue of belief and imposing that belief on reality by sheer force of estxíjir. The mind, very literally, makes it real – because it’s the instrumentality by which ideas are reified.

I’m going to skip lightly over the original post’s “Gnon” section: mostly because I think I have already talked somewhat about the broken nature of the universe, the flaw that is Entropy, and the blind-idiot-staggering creative process that explains why there is so much nasty in the universe, despite matter’s best efforts to self-organize. The Imperials aren’t terribly interested in taking teleic (“ought-y”) guidance from the natural state of the universe, because anything that’s broken can be remade, and the universe is so very, very broken.

So, when it comes to the “Small Gods and Spiritual Crises” part of things, well, obviously they’d disagree with the statement of “there is no meaning to concepts such as consciousness, souls, identity, rights, dignity, well-being, or any of that”. Obviously there is. That it’s a projection from the Iconic Realm rather than an obvious, named, lump of matter doesn’t mean it’s not real.

But there are some interesting points here:

In the world around us, there are many important processes besides individual people that we must relate to. Many of the old gods, those of natural processes like weather, fertility, home, war, the land, and so on, can be understood as myths around these processes that allowed our ancestors to relate to them in a natural spiritual way. We no longer live or think the same way as them, and their particular gods don’t speak to us, but we can’t pretend to have cast off all gods: Civilization, Progress, Democracy, Social Justice, Santa Claus.

…now this is a concept that makes instant sense in an Imperial-culture context. Because their gods, the eikones, are defined as creatures of the Iconic Realm. They are, literally, ideas. To steal another perfectly cromulent quotation, this one from Mass Effect 2:

A god — a real god — is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It’s a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn’t have to want to. It doesn’t have to think about it. It just does.

That’s what an eikone is. It’s one of the Big Cheeses of the Iconic Realm, an idea so powerful that it reshapes the world around it simply by existing. That’s also why the key feature of Flamic belief is emulation, not worship. Wealth, or Love, or Integrity doesn’t care for all the lip service in the world. It wants you to be wealthier, lovelier, more integral. Better – which is to say, more like it.

Now, if I may digress for a moment into other points of theology, one of Plato’s sticking points was the question of, in a realm of Perfect Forms, would there be Perfect Forms of Perfectly Awful Things?

Well, so far as eldraeic theologians are concerned, there aren’t. The Iconic Realm is the realm of perfect instantiations of concepts, and as such has no room for intrinsically imperfect concepts. Sylithandríël Leafcloak, the Twilight Mother – Mother Nature, if you will – is technically not the eikone of nature as it is materially instantiated, with all its unnecessary waste and suffering. She’s the eikone of the harmony of emergent perfection that nature would be if our old enemy Entropy hadn’t screwed up the material universe so much.

So when we look at, say:

Many of us react against some of the predominant gods of the day, as our enemies reacted against the gods of their days, calling them false, calling their worship harmful and antisocial, and so on. It is important to have a nuanced view of the theological nature of such conflicts. It is not that we claim these gods do not exist – anyone who wants to claim that Democracy et al are not profoundly real and powerful sociopsychological entities with significant basis in reality, has an awful lot of work to do – what we claim is that their cultists base their worship on mistakes of reasoning on the Truth side about the nature of their gods. For example they believe that the worship rituals and patterns of spiritual relation around Democracy will bring peace, order, and good government, when in fact those rituals may only bring slow ruin.


The shape of our spiritual crisis is not that we do or don’t worship gods, or that we worship false gods, but that we worship terrible demon gods that demand the sacrifice of our people, culture, and civilization. A healthy mythos would instead be a quiet but lively human-allied tradition offering us positive guidance, spiritual context, and purpose in our lives. Such things have existed in our past, and perhaps we can weather this and move towards spiritual health again in our future.

The existence of imperfection, in ideas or in material reality, is a consequence of Entropy, in its mental-spiritual sense, squatting like a black fog between us and the Iconic, distorting our perceptions. That’s how some people can look at Liberty and see Democracy, or look at Wealth and see Zero-Sum Money Transfer, or look at Purity and see Norm Enforcement, and other heresies suitable for the darkest past and outworlder barbarians.

It’s also why the Doctrine of Hypothesis is so important in their theology – because it recognizes that that distorting cloud is there. It’s why the Flamics are not, by and large, a dogmatic church; because right from the start, it recognizes that while the eikones may be perfect, they see them at best through a glass darkly, and as such it is vitally important to ask questions and test every bit of your doctrine to make sure that it is actually reflecting what you think it is.

(Otherwise you end up with metaphorical demons coming out your ass and Entropy cackling to itself in a totally non-personified evil way.)

Of course, now, once the post gets into talking about human-allied tradition and religion as instrumentality and naming specific ideologies, then we part ways more or less completely. The Church of the Flame may have been a vigorous force for progress throughout eldraeic and Imperial history, but it wasn’t designed to serve as such. It grew out of attempts to understand the why and the what of the world, like the majority of religions – it was just rather more chary about declaring that it had the answer. But the believers believe, quite sincerely.

And that’s about as far as I’m going to take it, rather than trying to get into specific mythologies. They might agree on Science Fiction and the value of long-standing social customs, but since the eldrae consider our views on masculinity [and femininity, for that matter] and ethny borderline insane, not much commonality there. (Cultural pride, sure, but people who get attached to unchosen phenotypic epiphenomena are not rational.)

And while ancestor “worship” does form a part of Flamic belief, as you might expect, what your ancestors want is not your strict adherence to the mos maiorum, but for you to have improved on it. If you didn’t live any better than they did, they might say, what the hell was the point of you?

(The disclaimer:

Since this is a controversial piece of fringe politics right now, a couple of things right up front:

1. Linking does not constitute agreement.

To that end, let me note for the record that an Imperial clionomist or administrative specialist, were you to import one, would classify the neo-reactionaries as creepy-ass openly-hierarchist totalitarians, their progressiv[e|ist] bêtes noire as creepy-ass crypto-hierarchist totalitarians, and both of them as taxonomic divisions of hypertrophied and pathological kratism, which is basically the opposite end of the spectrum from civilized, technocratic, empirical-rationalist, minimal, and above all consensual governance. Don’t get any on you.

[And, should either attempt to put their ideas into practice *there*, would be guilty of conspiring to deprive people of their civil and natural rights by instituting a political system, for which the penalty is being thrown off a 400′ high waterfall in the middle of deep winter.]

2. My personal political views, whatever they might be, are not up for any kind of discussion on this blog, and indeed any comments addressing real-world, rather than SFnal, politics – especially since this post isn’t even about SFnal politics – will be disemvoweled without mercy.)

Trope-a-Day: Ludd Was Right

Ludd Was Right: Severely and harshly averted.  Low-tech societies aren’t even all that good at surviving the cataclysms of nature, much less the realities of galactic realpolitik, which, in its hotter moments, could accurately be summed up as “Hey, space is a tough place where wimps eat fiery plasma death!”.  Reject technology, get eaten by someone who didn’t.  The unfairness of this is essentially irrelevant in the face of the inevitability of this.

Trope-a-Day: Low Culture, High Tech

Low Culture, High Tech: Happens an awful lot, due to the absence of any Alien Non-Interference Clause, and the common interpretation of general free trade statutes by free traders as “can (and will) sell anything to anybody who wants it”.  If they don’t read the manual (or, in many cases, the encyclopedia) – well, at least what happens subsequently is unambiguously their own damn fault, and they haven’t a leg to stand on if they come back to you in the future to bitch about it, unlike the problems that arise if you try to play regulator to their technological development.

(More sensible low-tech societies go out and hire some professional uplift consultants to avoid this biting them on the ass too hard.)

Trope-a-Day: Loud of War

Loud of War: What the war pipes were originally invented for, and never mind their usage to rally and direct the troops.  Also, if you recall the lampshading of the lack of battlefield stealth under Bling of War, what the speakers on the Powered Armor and Awesome Personnel Carrier are often abused to do.

(It is actually not military policy to advance to a rousing chorus of “Behold, The Gods of Thunder Advance”… merely military practice.)

Getting There By Candlelight

candle (n.): A candle, or putt-putt, is the simplest transport spacecraft that can be devised, consisting essentially of a tank of hypergolic rocket fuel powering a thrust motor and a simple reaction-control frame. The pilot, supported by their vacuum suit, rides the candle – the tank itself – in much the same manner as a velocipede.

The additional accoutrements and controls of a candle vary widely by type. Most common are stabilization gyros, to make their handling less temperamental in the face of mass shifts. Commercial models often include a range of accessories: fly-by-wire navigation, Orbital Positioning Systems, a comfortable saddle and space for passengers, cargo panniers, canned life support reserves, and so forth.

But the virtue of a candle is its simplicity. One can be put together out of parts readily obtainable from even a half-stocked chandler, or for that matter from those lying around any wreckyard, or even crash site. Such a scrap-candle may consist of little more than the tank and motors, with handhold bars and lash-downs for bagged cargo welded on where they might be useful. Some go so far as to strip the navigation system down to a row of firing switches for each motor, requiring the pilot to figure burn times and vectors by eye, or at least by pocket-contents.

Indeed, in many spacer cultures across the Worlds, building one’s first candle from parts, salvaged, scrounged, and where necessary even purchased, is considered a rite of passage for the young. More cynical observers consider the true rite of passage being making one’s first candle flight without having to be ignominiously hauled home by the Orbit Guard.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary


Trope-a-Day: Lost Colony

Lost Colony: Not played straight, for the most part, simply because with the stargate network, virtually every system is visited on at least an infrequent basis (for routine maintenance checks, if nothing else) and/or receives at least basic extranet service, so most colonies would never have a chance to get lost.  Abandoned colonies, hermit colonies, and lost castaways of distinctly sub-colonial size – although even this last are rare – now those, we can do you.

Trope-a-Day: Loss of Identity

Loss of Identity: Given how often it’s done (see: Body Surf), everyone in a modern transsophont civilization is pretty clear that body-swapping doesn’t cause it.  The mind is not the plaything of the body – fundamentally, at least, even if it may distort the way it plays out.

Strictly speaking, say the Empire’s sophotechnologists, identity could be defined by the logos, the personality organization algorithm, alone.  It’s the unique, volitional, free-will-granting thing, after all – but that’s much the same standard as reincarnation might be said to use; sure, it’s the same soul, but when you throw away all the memories and personality…

Thus, for practical purposes, there are legal standards concerning exactly how much of the mass of archetypes, subpersonalities, personae, agents, talents, memes, memories, etc., etc., that make up the rest of the mind you can grossly edit or remove over how much time before you are no longer, in the eyes of the law and (practically speaking) everyone who knows you, the same person.  To avoid committing de jure cognicide on yourself, stay on this side of the line.