As the New Right begins to penetrate mainstream culture, some of the old challenges will fade away (the label “Nazi” is losing the last vestiges of its seriousness, even to hardline leftists). Part of overcoming some of these old struggles in acquiring relevance, however, is confronting new challenges that come with relevance.
There are many of these challenges, but one of the most interesting ones — and one I believe will prove to be among the most important disputes to resolve — is the division in the New Right over religion. It’s Interesting, because it represents a potentially deep division in identity inside of an identitarian movement; it’s important, because the division has the potential of sowing distrust between erstwhile allies fighting against common enemies, including Islam and neoliberalism.
The ground we are approaching can be outlined in the following way.
In one corner, there is a Christian contingent, which has demonstrated a propensity to distrust other elements of the New Right that put other values (such as racial integrity) ahead of Christian piety. This is almost an understandable view, as I also believe that spirituality is ultimately more important than any other issue because it is the necessary source of motivation and will that makes success in other areas possible. The problem is that this position leaves no room for people who put other Gods above politics.
In a second corner, there is a pagan component, dominated primarily by the Nordic variety of paganism. These tend to distrust Christians, whom they view as having accepted a “Semitic desert religion” which is at odds with the European spirit. Never mind that the spirit of the New Testament is entirely at odds with the legalism of Judaism and Islam as practiced, or that all religions are at some point derived from other religions which arose somewhere else.
Finally, there is an agnostic group, which seems to be composed primarily of atheists who are reluctant in their atheism, but who distrust any religious or spiritual loyalty which might take moral precedence over the survival of the group.
As a Christian myself, I can’t claim complete objectivity on the matter. However, I have spent some time as a strong atheist and as a student of paganism. I have an idea of where each of the different groups are coming from, and an appreciation for the merits that all of them hold.
To begin with, the critical question should not be “which religion is best,” but “how do we choose a religion?” Deciding upon the standards by which a religion can be chosen not only gets around many of the biases that impede conversation, but it gets to the heart of what a religion is. If the New Right — which already demonstrates an uncommon consensus in appreciating the value of religion — can agree also upon the nature of religion, then much of the latent division and distrust can be avoided before it combusts.
So what is religion, and where did it come from?
Man’s brain spent most of its evolutionary development in a world where most of the relevant information existed in the three-dimensional space around him, rather than in a section of two-dimensional space in front of him. Since our bodies are the products of environment, survival, and the efficient use of energy, and since thinking is a relatively energy-intensive exercise, it is natural to infer that our brains are likely to prefer certain kinds of thinking to others. And indeed, this seems to be the case. Humans are born with a certain predisposition to learning language, for example, and are so much better at thinking about spatial information than abstract information that we actually devise mental conversion systems in order to turn abstract information into spatial information to remember it better.
Humans can read faces, speak languages, and gauge the trajectory of moving objects like a radar system, but abstract information is a challenge. Although we are better at it than any other animal on the planet, we aren’t as good at it as we often think we are, or as we require ourselves to be. It turns out that when presented with facts that run contrary to our own internal narrative, for instance, humans are far more likely to dig in their heels and further entrench themselves in their own view than they are to be persuaded by the facts.
For people whose conception of humanity requires us to be rational and possessing a reasonably-high level of abstract reasoning, this revelation can be painfully dispiriting. It is why Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other prominent atheists are perpetually flabbergasted that so many people can believe in an invisible super-person who lives in the sky. In their world, humans are supposed to be rational, yet they prove over and over again how their superstition and irrationality trump their reason. Especially when the chips are down.
But the expectation of rationality is unreasonable. Most people do not need to run factor-analysis on data and convert day-to-day decision-making into an exercise in formal logic, even in the 21st century. Like our ancestors on the Asiatic steppe, most decisions do not require complex abstract reasoning skills. Nonetheless, living a successful life does require being right about some things. Without abstract reasoning, how can we learn the right hierarchy of values; the most functional beliefs; and their optimal relationship with each other, the unknown, ourselves, and the world?
We learn these with stories. Stories seamlessly blend our language talents with our spatial reasoning, while avoiding pedantic details that don’t matter. They tell us not only what happened, but why, and they convey the relationships between categories of things, and even rank the relative importance of these relationships. All of this is communicated tacitly, but because our brains are built for stories, the message sticks. Saying the same thing through statistics, logic, and scientific research simply doesn’t impact people as powerfully, although the research tends to agree with the most venerable stories because the stories that survive are saying something true.
For people who have become invested in the superiority of reason, the epistemology of stories is dubious. But on consideration, it is probable that a story composed hundreds or thousands of years ago (by people most likely older than you), and tested or refined in the intervening generations has benefited from more relevant experience and wisdom than you have. By default, it is more likely that you are wrong than the story on any given question of values or how we are to be in the world.
Two main objections to this view stand up: first, what about the internet? We have access to all the information in the world. How could old stories do better than the internet?
Second, aren’t there contradictions in the old stories, or at least between them? Doesn’t that prove most of them wrong?
If you are attempting to climb a mountain, there may be more than one safe path to the top. By the same token, there may be any number — perhaps an infinite number — of dangerous paths. The contradictions between different narratives, in their claims about the right values, beliefs, and relationships to hold, do not necessarily prove them false, any more than finding one safe path would prove there to be no other safe paths. Similarly, knowing that there are more available paths is not necessarily helpful in choosing a safe path, or the path with the best views.
Religion, in other words, is a mythological narrative that orients us in our values and our way of being in the world. The literal truth of the events that constitute the story are less important than the truth conveyed about the world by the story, because the former is temporal and constrained by time, while the latter is transcendent and eternal.
These mythological systems are also languages we use to talk about the most important things in life, when science and reason seem to lack the appropriate terms to describe what we are experiencing. Art from otherwise secular artists often depicts deep emotions in religious terms, simply from lacking other words to use, even if they are explicitly going against a mythological ethos. It is with this understanding of mythology and religion as language that we can make sense of what a God is, metaphysically. As an introductory example, there is probably nothing more simple, sincere, and true than Wim Hof’s assessment: “to me, God is cold.” In this sense, it is interchangeable with the claim that cold is God.
“To me, God is cold. You could say that. I think of the cold as a noble force. It’s just helping me, it’s training me. It’s bringing me back to the inner nature the way it was meant to be. And there’s a way I do not only endure the cold; I love the cold.”
Three paths up the mountain present themselves to the New Right: Christianity, paganism (Nordic and/or Roman), and ‘something else.’
How do we choose between these?
The fact that mythology is a language for talking about these subjects implies that there are different interpretations and conclusions that can be communicated with the same mythological story-set. Clearly, the finite number of stories means there is a limit to the variety of conclusions we can argue for. Conveniently, this often helps us avoid taking up the wrong value hierarchy. However, it allows for the communication of a variety of truths to people who are not necessarily aware of the same scientific facts as we are, but who share a common value language.
The New Right is fundamentally about putting loyalty to one’s people back into politics. It is about White Europeans caring about White Europeans as White Europeans. If I want to communicate to Japanese people, the first step I ought to take is to learn Japanese. If I want to speak to Icelanders, I must first learn Icelandic. If the New Right wants to connect with ordinary people, to whom our political philosophy dedicates its loyalty, the logical thing to do is to familiarize ourselves with the language of meaning and value that these people we care about understand.
This is, in fact, the reason that I am a Christian, rather than a pagan. My family, on both sides, are either practicing or culturally Christian. To become pagan would not be wrong at an individual level, but would be an abandonment of my family.
This may sound cynical, even atheistic, to the biblical literalist. But there is another way we can understand God, which is archetypal and transcendent, rather than constrained by the facts of history. In this view, Jesus is the redeeming quality of self-sacrifice and love latent within humanity, which counterbalances the disobedience revealed in man by Adam. This archetype literally is the bond of connection between people, whether in friendship, in marriage, or merely over a meal. It is the reason for trust, for hope, and for love of other people, in spite of their nastiness, intemperance, dishonesty, and cruelty. With this understanding, choosing a religious mythos for the sake of others is the most pious — the most Christian — thing we can do.
I only speak of Christianity because I am more familiar with its mythology than that of paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or anything else. The principle of how we ought to choose a religion could just as easily warrant the selection of another religious system.
This does not imply that all religions convey all truths equally, and with the same kinds of misinterpretations and shortcomings. Pagans are not prone to always loving all of their enemies in the way that overzealous Christians sometimes are, and Christians are not usually as prone to the cynical despair that paganism sometimes seems inadequate to fend off. Nevertheless, there is serious value in all of the religious systems that have successfully served European people so far.
Perhaps the best thing that those at the tip of the cultural spear can do is to familiarize themselves with all of them. We should read and understand the New Testament as well as the Poetic Edda and the Saga of the Volsung; each on its own terms. Pagans should understand that the cuckish Protestant literalism is neither the intended, the first, nor the best interpretation of the Christian god. Christians should understand that magic is not what they told you it was in Sunday school. And both Christians and pagans should remember that something in the spirit is lost when mythology becomes the only thing that matters, rather than the most important thing.
It may be tempting to search for some kind of third way. After all, there is a great deal of mythology that is less contentious and still binds our people together as well. While Homer is the most obvious and most important, there is great mythology that allows us to speak to each other about values in more humble sources, such as the novels of Tolkien, or in films like Star Wars, or Pinocchio. Even video games have the capacity for conveying mythology that is compatible with the European spirit. Ultimately, however, none of these options hold dominant sway over the hearts of people the New Right is reaching for. They are a useful addendum at very best, just as the more secular religions (such as Humanism or Liberalism) are only helpful additions, because they do not have the language to reach to the core of what moves people emotionally. Only religions with some concept of the divine that exists above humanity hold this, and so we must choose.
Given what religions are, and the purposes they serve, it would seem that the way to choose one’s religion is not to choose it, but to accept the religion you have been born into. It would be better to attempt to save your faith, through an act of heroic mythological creation — informed by a deep understanding of the tradition lying beneath it — than to abandon it in favor of another religion that appears to be more convenient to your own purposes. At the same time, we must always be willing to reexamine our faith, and question whether the religion we currently hold is truly in line with the identity we were born into.
With a shared understanding of what religions are, and a mutually-understood reason for choosing religions, there is a chance that the New Right can work together towards becoming the best version of itself while reducing division and distrust, even when we don’t all reach the same conclusions. Failing to do so, after all, will only mean that our mythology will be chosen for us. More than likely, it will sound either like an Islamic call to prayer, or something even worse.