In the last couple of posts we’ve been exploring the psychological impact of our current predicament. Now – if you haven’t guessed from the title – it’s time to go deeper with a plunge into some serious metaphysics. Buckle up!
For these notes, I’m relying on Charles Upton’s epic critique of modern spirituality The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age. The book offers a critique of postmodernism and its effect on spirituality exploring where some texts go wrong, as well as what they get right, in relation to Traditional metaphysics. For this he draws on the perennial philosophy of the Primordial Tradition and the Transcendent Unity of all Religions, including the work of Rene Guénon and Frithjof Schuon.
The book covers multiple traditions but with profound depth, providing a necessary balance to the postmodern nihilism that underpins much of current spirituality, or what passes for it. And there’s a fascinating chapter on comparative eschatology and apocalypse myths – well worth reading, especially now.
Having said that, this isn’t a light read – it’s a long, dense book, but highly readable and full of insight gained from years of experience. A book for genuine spiritual practitioners, not for dabblers, the ‘love and light’ brigade, or those drowning in the nihilism of the world – although he clearly points the way out of this spiritual error or misperception of reality.
Much of the book explores how religion and spirituality can be hijacked and distorted, perhaps for nefarious ends. There’s a lot of good in many modern spiritualities but they’re often misguided and tend to reinforce the ego, leading to narcissism. These paths might work well for a time, but when the shit hits the fan, they simply don’t have the power or depth to carry you through the crisis.
The book starts by explaining that postmodernism has left us without a sense of meaning in our lives. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human. We don’t understand ourselves or reality and mostly live in a kind of fantasy world without even realising it. Because we’re not rooted in eternity we have no way of making sense of anything – everything is relative but relative to what? We have nothing to compare our experience to so it becomes self-referential in ever decreasing circles.
We’ve become post-human and humanity is seen as something to be got rid of – a problem to be solved. This diminished perception of ourselves has many causes, one of which is how our consciousness is limited due to the quality of the times – i.e. the Kali Yuga, or the ‘latter days’. He says it’s now so fragmented and shrunken that only the shock of meaning will jolt us awake.
“The specific medicine for the shock of despair is the deeper shock of meaning. Where time and history have crushed us under their ‘unbearable lightness’, nothing but the weight of eternity, breaking through the thin, brittle shell of the postmodern sky, can set us on our feet. This is one of the several meanings of the word ‘apocalypse’.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about a Great Awakening that will transform society – we’re going Integral! or Holistic! on a mass scale. But this idea of spiritual progress in the material world comes from certain religious systems misapplying the myth of progress and translating individual spiritual development onto collective history.
Traditional metaphysics has a different view which sees time as cyclical and unfolding in stages that unwind into entropy and then renewal and rebirth. For example, in Hinduism and classical Greco-Roman mythology:
“…a given cycle of manifestation emerges fully formed from the Creator in the form of a Golden Age, to be succeeded by a Silver Age, a Bronze Age, and finally by the present Iron Age, which ends in an eschatological cataclysm, a Purification Day, after which the Golden Age of the next cycle commences.”
We see a similar system in multiple other cultures around the world – something I’ll be exploring later in more detail, and in the next post. But for now, we can say that these ideas represent an archetype – a deep structure in the psyche of humanity that shapes our reality and our experience of death.
How that manifests in the world depends on how conscious we are of our true nature, and how willing we are to face our mortality. And the deeper we move into the Kali Yuga, or the Iron Age, the harder it gets to see that truth – hence the big mess.
“The fall of man, seen in intellectual terms, begins as a primal misunderstanding of the true nature of God. All else follows from this, since a failure to understand Who God really is distorts our picture of every other thing, person, situation, or level of being. Where the intellect is darkened by spiritual ignorance, it can reveal to us only shadows of the Truth, false objects which the will is attracted to because of their partial resemblance to the Truth they hide.”
This sorry situation tends to reinforce itself and get worse over time as the layers of shadow build and become more dense. The good news is that it can’t go on forever, as Upton points out:
“The spiritual degeneration of humanity cannot go on forever; it must reach a terminal point, beyond which the human form itself, at least in its earthly incarnation, could not survive.”
And because these archetypal truths manifest at every level of being, we can expect this degeneration to spread through every area of our lives, including spirituality. This gives rise to what Guénon called the Counter-Initiation and the myth of the Antichrist.
“If the name ‘God’ denotes the eternal truth of things, and the name ‘Man’ the central mirror of this Truth in terrestrial space and time, then the name of those forces of obscurity and denial which are opposed to ‘Man’, in their fully revealed and terminal form, is ‘Antichrist’.”
Antichrist can be seen as an archetype that manifests in multiple ways and at multiple levels. So it could be seen as a person or multiple people, as well as a system or structure in society. But before you think you’re off the hook (!), it’s also reflected in the individual ego, or false self, out of which the system is produced.
“Just as the ego is the shadow of the Divine Self within us, so the Antichrist is the shadow of the Messiah…who represents the complete unveiling of the Divine Self at the end of this cycle. The ego will often reach a climax of despair, delusion and violence just when a spiritual breakthrough is imminent; in the same way the Antichrist will gather to himself all the social and psychic forces which have willed to resist God at the very moment the Face of the Absolute is about to dawn upon the world.”
The Antichrist is a kind of fake messiah, somebody (or people or a system) that says all the right things and promises utopia and heaven on earth. But it’s a lie – a trap. It’s a promise that appeals to your spiritual pride and makes you feel good about yourself.
Like the ego, it works through creating a double-bind, trapping you within your own impossible web. It tends to play sides against each other and create conflict. So anything and anyone can be co-opted and used, including spirituality and religion. This makes spotting the real Messiah quite tricky.
The Messiah is known by various names in different traditions and represents the way back to God and eternal life.
“Those who, responding to messianic hope, pass from the turmoil of time to the vision of Eternity, have met the real Messiah. Those who fail to break their pact with time, either because they hope for something from fate and contingency, or foolishly believe they can manipulate them for their own ends, have fallen into the snare of the Antichrist.”
Ultimately, this is the battle between good and evil which is archetypal, so whatever happens in the outer world, it’s really a reflection of the struggle that goes on within every individual soul. This is the battle between love and power, the ego and the Divine Self. In fact, the Antichrist is:
“nothing but the human ego in rebellion against God.”
On this postmodern battleground, everything becomes increasingly relative and subjective, while objectivity and the Absolute is suppressed. Then whoever seizes power can shape reality in any way they like and the ultimate truth becomes chaos. This sounds like a perfect description of what’s happening right now.
“…No reality but power itself, which means: no truth but chaos. Therefore, after the powerful have finished seizing their power, the Antichrist will seize them. Antichrist, that towering instability, that centre of mass subjectivity rising up against objective truth through power alone, will be the universal, devastating, and final expression of postmodernism. And the Web will be his Whore.”
The internet has many valuable uses but it also represents our ability to create and live inside a fantasy world. It’s a manifestation and expression of avidya-maya, the power of ignorance and illusion – a shadow of God.
“A shadow requires three things: a source of light, an opaque object, and a field where the shadow falls. If the light is God, the opaque object, the ego, and the field where the shadow falls, the universe, then the shadows of the ego, projected by the Light of God, are false beliefs, which appear to that ego not as its own shadows, nor even as beliefs, but as the literal nature of reality: the shadows of God.”
We take what we see as real because it appears that way to our limited perception. But no illusion can last forever, and in the end it collides with Reality – called ‘Armageddon’ in the Bible.
“When perception-become-virtual-illusion goes to war with Truth, Truth must take the wrathful form of Kali, whose non-manifest essence is Shiva: Absolute Reality as destroyer of the world-illusion.”
The stripping away of illusion can be a brutal experience and the abyss of our ignorance isn’t easy to face, but there is something on the other side. The way through is to surrender to a higher power, or the Ultimate Reality, which is what apocalypse is really about.
At the end of the introduction Upton states his aim in this book:
“…to help the reader make sense out of the chaos and darkness of these latter days, avoid unconscious participation in soul-destroying evil, and intuit the Divine Mercy which is always here, hidden in even the most dire conditions, as a clear sign of that higher Reality, mysteriously present behind the mask of this one, where Truth is synonymous with Goodness, and evil only another name for illusion: ‘All is perishing,’ says the Koran, ‘except His Face.’”
In the next post, we’ll go a bit deeper into the meaning of apocalypse…
More from Charles Upton:
- The 2-Edged Sword of the Psyche – part 1 of conversation on The Liminalist
- The Best Pursuits and the Worst of Idols – part 2 of above
- Coalition of Chaos – another great interview on The Liminalist
- Charles Upton’s website – for books and other writings