Julian Huxley, Religion, Kleenex

Damien Broderick (damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au)
Sun, 26 Apr 1998 14:18:50 +0000

Several recent interesting posts sent me scrambling through a dusty old
pile of my magazine tear-sheets, whence I dug out an article I published in
an Australian mass market magazine in October 1967 - is it possible to be
so ancient? surely not - entitled whimsically `If there is no God, who
pulls up the next Kleenex?' Diverting to see what curious intimations of
transhumanism were afloat in those dim lost days...


...biblical religion... simply is not hooked into the dynamo of our age.
It is too firmly entrenched in patterns of thought and emotional response
long superannuated; it has a weight of centuries on it. Stripped to
fighting weight, it comes out punchy, its jab is short and feeble and
directed at shadows painted on its own eyes.

Yet there remains that brooding violence in our culture's belly, the large
reality which magic and religion, before our day, handled not
unsuccessfully. Perhaps, with Julian Huxley, we can call it *the divine*,
the latent potency which is not supernatural but *transnatural*. It is, I
suggest, the same coiled spring which drove primitive man, in a fury of
invention, to build gods as its representation. It is the subterranean
torrent of dread and exultation which is the twin realisation of our
blurred insignificance before the towering presence of the universe and our
inevitable personal extinction, and the full, rich, scarcely-glimpsed
flowering of human possibilities.

Here, perhaps, is the central existential reality we must neither
propitiate nor ignore, but embrace. It finds a statement in Huxley's
scientific panorama: "This new vision is both comprehensive and unitary.
It integrates the fantastic diversity of the world into a single framework,
the pattern of all-embracing evlutionary process." [...]

There seems, as I mentioned at the beginning, to be something ludicrous in
the assertion that our having relinquished religion might be the betrayal
of our civilisation to vast undirected energies. Yet it is not
implausible. In casting off a belief in God "which has ceased to be
scientifically tenable, has lost its explanatory value, and is becoming an
intellectual and moral burden to our thought", we have carelessly lost
sight of the divine which ante-dated gods.

Norman Mailer has spoken of the plight of our time, that our world "reduces
one's sense of reality by reducing to the leaden formulations of jargon
such emotions as awe, dread, beauty, pity, terror, calm, horror and
harmony", that it "leaves us further isolated in the empty landscapes of
psychosis, precisely that inner landscape of void and dread which we flee".

And yet it may not have to be that way. "Maybe we are in a sense the seed,
the seed-carriers, the voyagers, the explorers...; maybe we are engaged in
a heroic activity, and not a mean one".


More than three decades later I would distance myself from the last wisps
of teleology and crypto-religiosity in that piece. Still, perhaps it
catches a moment (perhaps shared by FM-2030 in another part of the world at
around the same time) when we started to see the plausibility - indeed, the
inevitability - of a transhumanist trajectory.

(Incidentally, some of that old article was later recycled in my 1982 sf
novel *The Judas Mandala*, with its explicitly transhuman cyborgs, virtual
realiy, and Tiplerian Omega-mind.)

Damien Broderick