In 1999 Routledge published my book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. It was the results of more than fifteen years of work — thousands of hours of obsessive thinking and writing. It was my attempt to deal with the aftermath of Nietzsche’s pronouncement of the Death Of God in his revelatory book, Thus Spake Zarathustra:
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.
Nietzsche believed that the death of God would produce cataclysmic upheavals in the Western world — including, as he prophesied in Will to Power, the death of millions at the hands of utopian communism. God is dead, and the hole He left behind is a vacuum in the human soul, filled carelessly and dangerously by ideology, motivated by intellectual inertia, arrogance, resentment and deceit. Dostoevsky believed the same thing, detailing out his beliefs in his great novels, most particularly Crime and Punishment and The Devils (or The Possessed).
I wrote Maps of Meaning during my sojourns at three universities: Alberta, McGill and Harvard. While teaching at the latter, I met Irina Vayl, a Russian physicist and poet (see, for example, http://bit.ly/2ev6cOY
Yesterday, I saw the following video, featuring the libertarian Stefan Molyneux and a Danish journalist, Iben Thranholm: http://bit.ly/2evaHcB. In this video, the claim is made that Russia has undergone a re-conversion to Orthodox Christianity, taking the precise path out of the nihilism and totalitarianism attendant upon the Death of God recommended by Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, as well as Dostoevsky. I was struck very hard by this video, which also indicates — correctly, in my opinion — that we are in the midst of a profound spiritual battle.
The human psyche has many levels. What is religious exists at the very deepest of those levels. What is religious is what is fundamental. People are religious, whether they know it or not, because they must have fundamental beliefs. Otherwise they cannot act. They can’t even perceive. They can be very confused about the nature of those fundamentals. Their psyches can be fractured, disjointed and incoherent. Without axiomatic beliefs, however, we cannot simplify the world enough to act within it.
Maps of Meaning is about the fundamental levels of the human psyche. It’s about the Christianity upon which the West is, and must be, founded. It’s a call to a new way of being and, simultaneously, a reunion with the past. It is the responsibility of every man to rescue his dead father from the underworld. That’s the oldest story of mankind. Without that, there is only chaos. Maps of Meaning unites neuropsychology with ancient mythology, from the Mesopotamian, through the Egyptian and Judaic, to the Christian, with detours into Taoism and other profound faiths. It’s strongly influenced by the thinking of Carl Jung and his student, Erich Neumann, as well as Freud, Rogers and the other great 20th century clinical thinkers.
Maps of Meaning is a call to religious awakening, for the modern mind. It details what I have come to understand as the proper and profound alternative to ideological possession on the right and left alike and the madness such possession produces. Writing Maps of Meaning compromised my health and, sometimes, my sanity. It deals with the horrors of Auschwitz and the Stalinist nightmare, and the evil that lurks forever in the human soul. It’s a very difficult, frightening book. But I have produced hundreds of hours of public lectures about Maps of Meaning, one series (1996) dating from my time at Harvard (http://bit.ly/2f8qBaS), another 13-part program televised on Canadian Public TV (TVO) (http://bit.ly/2fjgelc), and three others from the course I taught on the book in 2015 (http://bit.ly/2fje3hj), 2016 (http://bit.ly/2e8ukIy), These can all serve as a guide to understanding, for those who are interested.
Here are the Russian books I would profoundly recommend, as accompanying readings, as well as a list of books I regard as of the first order of importance:
Other books of critical importance: