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Philosophy and Religion during the Fifth Empire, 828 onwards

SLELS FUSTEN AND THE ATTEMPT TO CREATE A POST-RELIGIOUS MORALITY

The reaction against the growing immorality and belief in the relativeness of all values set in well before the official start of the Fifth Empire in 828, but it was forced to stay underground at the time. The Brotherhood Party certainly publicly rejected the egalitarian, relativistic and amoral "Zeitgeist" of the 790s and 800s, and claimed to stand for a return to traditional Atlantean moral or "family" values. In fact, though, its founder, Yrutiens, had little to say about morals, and mistrusted all religions; he wanted to change the world using the influence of great men, and social "engineering". The Party, as it grew and showed itself in power after 805, ignored many of Yrutiens’ social and moral opinions, and merely supported the right of "great" Atlanteans to rise above conventional morality; and the Tyrants themselves proved they were the epitomes of amorality, obeying no law except for their own whims. Public and private behaviour sank lower and lower throughout the 810s and 820s, to the despair of a small number of intelligent and far-sighted people. We have already seen that Slerakh’s later work can be seen, in one way, as a reaction to this amorality, and an attempt to reassert the value of individuals. Another reaction was the regrowth in interest in Genandourso, or "apartness", whose belief in a complete withdrawal from the everyday world in favour of a solitary life of meditation so annoyed Slerakh. But the most influential moral philosopher of a younger generation was Slels Fusten.

Fusten was born in Snodriun in Helvrieh in 782, and died at the age of 61 in 843. He started as a fast-living young man, who studied philosophy at university, and espoused all the most fashionable contemporary creeds, including determinism, relativism, atheism and the right of the individual to live as he or she wished, untrammelled by traditional values. After the accession of Thoun, the first of the Tyrants, Fusten began to have his first doubts, and by 812, he understood that the ideals - or lack of them- that he espoused had helped to lead Atlantis and its people to its current degradation. both moral and political. He now began his first original writings, demanding a return to the absolute moral code of olden times. At this stage, he also thought that this should be backed up by a religion. Naturism he considered far too closely linked to the amorality of the times, and reluctantly chose a reformed Theism, though at this stage not necessarily New Theism, about which he probably knew very little in any case. This book, though not overtly critical of the Tyrants, was nevertheless quickly banned by Borbar Measel on its publication in 814, and Fusten fled into Ughrieh for fear of his life. Coincidentally the family of the future Emperor Thildo Gailonex were also refugees there at the same time, and the young Thildo met and was soon most impressed by Fusten and his beliefs.

Fusten's ideas were in rapid flux at this time, for he was realising that it was not really possible to return to the "good old days" as he had written - indeed this notion was partly a compromise, which he had hoped would ingratiate him with the Tyrants' regime, and also perhaps persuade them to adopt his ideas. He gave up the Tyrants as a bad job, and looked now far ahead to a new government, which would sweep the morals, values and political standards of Atlantis clean. He still recognised the symbolic value of a return to the traditional political institutions of old Atlantis (chiefly of the Second Empire) - this point was one never forgotten by Gailonex, for it formed the basis of his Fifth Empire after 831. But he thought that no existing religion could form the foundation of any future code of morality, because too many people now would not believe their other tenets. Rather, a moral code must be extracted from all religions and philosophies, indeed from the heart of man himself, and from this a system of values must be built up, which would be binding on all humanity, and publicised, though not harshly enforced, by the government. It would be all the more readily accepted, because it was to be based on basic human feelings.

NATURAL MORALITY

Fusten was to call this system of values "Natural Morality", but as such it sounded like the beliefs of the Naturists. However, the Naturists believed that man was basically good, and he would know and do right of his own accord. Fusten, in the years after 805, knew this idea was far too optimistic, and in fact, if left to his own devices, many men would naturally act basely, according to their lowest instincts. Indeed he looked down on the Naturists as woolly-minded and outdated, and declared that they were based on mere emotion. He thought that deep down men and women did know right from wrong, and these ideals should form the basis of a moral code; but because humans are weak and fallible creatures, who will more readily be led by baser instincts and desires, a common moral code should be extracted from the religions and philosophies of as many different peoples as possible, and then written down and taught to children and adults as a code of duties and obligations. Fusten was confident that such a system of values, common to peoples throughout the civilised world, did really exist, and in his books written between 816 and 825, he believed he had proved it.

Gailonex rapidly took up Fusten’s ideas of morality, and made sure they were taught in all schools, and became the basis of the legal system, which, in turn, enforced them. However, punishment for moral or ethical misbehaviour was always kept in bounds, and Gailonex really aimed to enforce morality by means of social pressure and conformity, rather than by the law. This proved difficult and often ineffective, and it is a fact that by the 850s the law played an increasingly major role in policing morality in everyday life.

NACUSSE – THE FIRST SUCCESSOR TO SLERAKH

Slerakh’s writings on the Subjective "I", and the possibility of a transcendental realm before 800, had no immediate philosophical successors, because of the political odium into which he fell, as a result of his writings on morality after 810. However, his ideas had already, as we have seen, resulted in the foundation of the creed of New Theism, though this too had to go underground in the 810s and 820s. Nevertheless, people were around to carry on one aspect of Slerakh’s metaphysical thoughts, about the Self and its afterlife, albeit secretly at first, and his greatest immediate successor was Nacusse. Nacusse was born in 788, and studied Slerakh’s work in the 810s. He moved to Skallandieh in 820, and only returned to Atlantis in 830. But throughout this period, he was working hard, developing Slerakh’s ideas, which he passed on to his disciples, particularly the New Theists and the Naturists throughout this period.

He basically accepted Saiphoyan and Slerakh’s ideas, and saw it as his own aim, to work out how, in the light of these discoveries, people should act. His main conclusion was that as Slerakh had proved, to his satisfaction, that the Self had real access to the transcendental realm, and should pass on to it after death, it should therefore maintain as close a connection with this realm throughout life, remembering and reminding itself of the value of the Self, rather than participating in the mundane world of reality. Thus it should seek to keep in contact with the realm of ideals and abstraction – Art, Morality, Maths, the highest emotions. Such conduct should also prepare us for our deaths and permanent transition to this other world. Nacusse also accepted Slerakh’s views on the afterlife and reincarnation. Nacusse did meet the elderly Slerakh in 831, but as he (Nacusse) died in 838, he knew nothing of Slerakh’s later philosophical writings.

Some believers in New Theism, as well as remaining followers of Genandourso seized on Nacusse’s views in the 820s and 830s, partly as an escape from the awfulness of everyday reality, and developed beliefs in self-training, meditation and forms of preparation for death, parts of which Nacusse himself was to agree with. However, he, as much as Slerakh, dissented from the views of a breakaway group of fanatical religious believers, who preached and practised monasticism and a complete retreat from life, to prepare for the life to come. Some of these people practised extremes of self-mortification and meditation in the 840s and after.

Nacusse had a considerable influence on contemporary art, because of his beliefs that when we seek to approach the transcendental realm in our lives through the study and appreciation of Art, we must aim to find that Order and Beauty, which lie behind the greatest Art, and are representative of the transcendental realm. Nacusse developed this idea at length, claiming that most contemporary art was false, because it lacked such a basic pattern of order. This notion led to an important development in Fifth Empire Art after about 835, the attempt to produce truly ordered and beautiful art, which reflected the supposed canons underlying the ideal realm, which lies behind the world of reality.

Nacusse’s views on art, though not so much those on self-mortification, chimed in well with the Emperor and with the philosopher Fusten, who, as we have seen, was seeking to find a new basis for an absolute standard of morality. However, Nacusse did not truly develop two other main strands of Slerakh’s ideas – the meaning and status of the Self, as the unique "Subjective I", and the sort of existence it can expect after it dies. The first was left to Slerakh himself and other philosophers later on, and the second largely to religious thinkers, who were to produce an amazing variety of pictures of our after-death existence in the 840s and 850s. Many of these were pure imagination or fancy, but a few were genuine insights, based on thought meditation on the one hand, or faith and visions on the other.

We must also mention the "Neo-Wonderment" movement, which, based on the thoughts of the Wonderers of the 780s and 790s, led as easily into contemplative mysticism in this century, as its more distant predecessor had done in the later seventh century. It also linked in well with that part of Nacusse's teachings, according to which we must, throughout our life, remember the transcendent realm, in which we share, and to which we will return after death. The results of this movement would be seen in the later part of the ninth century.

THE STATUS OF THE MIND

There was also another group of thinkers, who were the successors of the materialists of the previous century. After the experiences of the regimes of the Tyrants, very few people had anything good to say in favour of relativism, scepticism or even hard materialism any more. Nevertheless, there was still great controversy over whether it had been proved that a separate subjective realm of the mind did exist, and if so, what was the exact connection between the mind and the body, and between the mind and the transcendental realm, let alone God. By the 840s, four different views about the relationship between mind and body had grown up. First of all, there was that of Slerakh, and his immediate disciples, who stressed the reality of the Self, its importance, and its eternal nature. They also, however, understood that we should all play our parts in the real world as well, enjoying the multitude of material things at our disposal. Then, others considered that Mind or Soul, the Subjective, was all important and eternal, and used the body simply to incorporate an aspect of itself during earthly life. Material reality was an expression of Mind, and is indeed probably a construct of our brains, into which Mind has to squeeze itself. Although this is obviously philosophical idealism, philosophers of this period did not doubt that the material world existed, nor that it was perceived by everyone in a similar way. But it was really only like the scenery on a stage, which could be taken off and changed, without having any effect on Mind, or on individual souls, which were completely independent of it. A further strand of thought, connected to this school, took up the notion of the Romantics and some of the Naturists, that the Divine is within our individual subjective selves, and by our actions we can express the Divine Will in the world at large.

Those more attracted to materialism said that the mind or the soul were real, but were simply developments of the body, most advanced in humans, and less so in animals. The mind is wholly dependent on the body, which is part of a really existing world of reality. As a result, they doubted the capability of a person’s mind to survive the death of its body, but agreed that people, because of their unique minds, must be treated with reverence and as an end, not as a means to an end, in the fashion of the Tyrants. The Manralianists, partly linked to this viewpoint, certainly agreed that the mind and a spiritual realm existed, indeed was anterior to physical reality, but they believed there were no real individual souls.

Finally, materialists and some scientists still denied the existence of souls, or even the subjective viewpoint, insisting on an atheistic materialism as their explanation of the world and the universe. The 840s and 850s saw much argument between these three groups, which was indecisive, and led in a way to a more general mood of disillusionment with worthy philosophising after the 860s.

NATURAL RELIGION – THE PHILOSOPHICAL AND RELIGIOUS SYNTHESIS

Even before Slerakh’s later writings became well-known in the 840s, philosophers, theologians and the State itself, especially Gailonex, were trying to weld together a new moral and religious code for life, which should be taught to all children, and used as the basis of the Atlantean way of life in the Fifth Empire. We have seen how Fusten’s ideas on natural morality were taken up by the Emperor and State after the 830s, and widely promulgated. It was more difficult to get general agreement on religion. Ideally Gailonex and his advisers wanted an all-embracing system of natural morality, backed up by a religious code, to provide a moral way of life for all the citizens of the Empire. Unfortunately for this plan, the Empire was pluralistic in its faiths, and anyway Gailonex did not want to proscribe any system of beliefs. He insisted on complete freedom of religion – or of no religion – during his reign. He felt that Slerakh had finally demonstrated that there is another world beyond this one, a transcendent world, and from this, he personally, with many others, concluded that God exists. He felt that this should be obvious to everyone who understood Slerakh’s arguments, and made sure his works were reproduced in simpler language, and promulgated in schools. Gailonex and others gradually saw the main battle as that between religion, or a belief in the ultimate sanctity of the human self and of all life, and the reality of a transcendent realm; and atheism or materialism. Still, there was, initially, the problem as to what exactly should be the religion, or form of faith, which he should favour as the backing for the new moral code.

Naturism was definitely frowned upon officially in the early years of the Fifth Empire, because people tended to associate its apparent creed of trust in one’s own nature, and its links with the agnostic liberals of the late 700s, with the excesses of the period of the Tyrants. As a result Emperor Gailonex and Fusten veered towards New Theism as the approved religion of the new regime. But an initial battle to be fought was between the believers in the sanctity and eternal life of the individual soul – the New Theists and the heirs of Slerakh, on the one hand, and those, like the Manralianists, who did not deny the reality of the spiritual and subjective realms, but believed that there was no true afterlife, at most a pantheistic absorption into a Universal Spirit, which was wholly amoral and indifferent to humans as individuals. This developed after the 850s both into a battle between the need to link the reality of a subjective realm with that of a spiritual one, which would entail some form of life after death, and a conflict between religious or spiritual commitment of any sort, on the one hand, and careless epicurean materialism on the other.

Despite an initial prejudice in favour of Theism, two particular aspects of Naturism were seen by the authorities as being of particular significance. These were the Naturist’s belief in the value and sanctity of all life, human and animal, and in reincarnation. Many Naturists believed that the Divine Spirit was within ourselves, as our souls. Some Theists took this further and insisted that our Selves, the "uniquely personal" parts of us, as Slerakh called them, were an actual part of God Himself So each human life, or at any rate, each soul, was divine and hence uniquely precious. This upholding of the sanctity of human life was opposed to the Tyrants’ disregard of the value of individual lives, and their enthusiasm for torture and murder. Gailonex adopted this ideal as well, although the official line did not claim that human souls, or selves, were themselves divine. This, after all, could be made to mean that every action we take, whatever it is, is part of God’s Will, because we are part of God. The Naturists could believe this, because they thought that human nature was basically good. Most Theists, and the State, thought humans were much more easily led astray, and needed strong and imposed moral teaching to inculcate the right way to act and behave. Moreover, Gailonex’s secret police would run roughshod over the human rights attested by this philosophy throughout his reign – but admittedly on a much smaller scale than had been the case with the Tyrants. These doctrines also threw down a challenge to the Manralianists and the materialists by its insistence on the reality as well as the importance of the individual soul, and the subjective world. Some theologians were equally attracted by the notion of reincarnation, particularly the New Theists, and those who followed Slerakh’s early writings. A sect of the New Theists had already adopted this belief by the 830s, but then came the publication and revelation of Slerakh’s last book in 840, which also proposed the value of this creed. This provided a great impetus to everyone, and with Gailonex’s encouragement, a series of meetings were held in the middle and late 840s, attended by philosophers, Theists, New Theists and Naturists and even atheists.

Gradually a unified system of beliefs, or new religion was hammered out. This essentially represented the views reached by Slerakh in his final work, backed by a definite commitment to theism – the Absolute was, in reality, the Divine. It combined the Naturists’ beliefs in the value of all life, the immanence of the divine, and reincarnation, with the Theists’ stress on the value of the immortal soul, the union with God after death, and with Slerakh’s earlier writings on the Subjective "I" as the philosophical basis of transcendent belief. Essentially, the soul would move into the divine sphere after death, but would later return repeatedly to earth, or, (in a gesture to appease non-believers in earthly reincarnation), in some other sphere, unknown to us, for reincarnation and another life. This might go on for eternity, but probably, ultimately, such reincarnations would eventually cease, and the soul find a pantheistic style of union with other advanced souls, and with God. The Naturists’ use in word and prose of the "eternal I" form for the first person singular was also adopted by the new Church.

Some of the greatest argument concerned the title of this set of beliefs. "Natural Religion" was adopted as a general title, but something more specific was also sought. This was finally found and agreed to in 850, namely "Natural Theism".

However, debate continued amongst "subjectivists", as they came to be half-jokingly called, concerning the exact role of the inner, subjective realm during this life, and how we should maintain the balance between it and the material world, in which we have our being.

NATURAL THEISTIC MORALITY

As we have seen, the Emperor had sought to impose a generally agreed religious code on the whole Empire, as a back-up to the Natural Morality he had accepted from Fusten. In the 840s, he had tried to promulgate Slerakh’s proof of the existence of a transcendental realm and the Divine as a self-evident statement. But he found that while this philosophy was acceptable to some religious believers (but by no means all – hence his subsequent attempts to reach a synthesis of religious beliefs), it remained totally unacceptable to all materialists, and anyone else who was too lazy or unintelligent to think out or worry about spiritual matters. As a result, Gailonex was forced, by the mid 840s, to adopt a double standard in enforcing his Natural Morality. Believers were told that the new moral code had the backing of religion, and therefore must be accepted for religious reasons. Non-believers were allowed to retain their own opinions on religion, but had to accept the moral code as a part of the legal system of the Empire. Following the religious discussions of the 840s, the new "Natural Theism" was accepted by most, but again not all, religious believers. Gailonex now hastened to combine Natural Morality and Natural Theism into the one overarching scheme of beliefs for the whole Empire, and called "Natural Theistic Morality".

THE REACTION TO IDEALISM AND NATURAL MORALITY

Already by the late 850s there were marked reactions to these idealistic views and codes of life. People began to reject the idea of a life of aloofness and remoteness from life, seeking instead to pass their time in hedonism, sensationalism and thoughtlessness. They tired of what seemed like meaningless arguments about mind and body. They no longer cared about other realms or life after death, but happily plunged into the world of reality, which might include immorality, crime and a rejection of any sort of moral training or education. These ideas accompanied the general rejection of the ethos of Gailonex’s Fifth Empire, with its stress on order, deference, morality and love of the ideals of the Second Empire. These people wanted in addition more freedom and democracy, and many of these notions were supported at first by the Emperor’s sons. Those thinkers who supported these views were often called "Objectivists", in contrast to the Subjectivists, who believed in the importance of the subjective world.

As it turned out, when the sons acceded to the throne in 865, the whole new liberal era, which seemed to be dawning, was quickly crushed by militant nationalism and the disasters of the Final Wars after 870. The idealistic philosophers’ views were nevertheless lost to the multitude, but were kept alive by some, and even continuously developed right up to the final fall of Atlantis in 889.

PHILOSOPHY IN THE POST-GAILONEX ERA: SUBJECTIVISM AND OBJECTIVISM

The split between the Objectivists and the Subjectivists was parallelled by the division within the empire between conservatives, who wanted to hold on to the moral and governmental framework imposed by Gailonex, as well as the imposition of a firm military and diplomatic role in the world at large, and the liberals, who wanted to break away from this stifling order, in favour of democracy, freedom, agnosticism and individualism. The two joint Emperors became figureheads for each of these political beliefs, Gaistulex for the conservatives, Gaiduiccon for the liberals. During the five years of their rivalry, the two philosophical camps were willy-nilly forced into line as well, the Subjectivists with the conservatives, the Objectivists with the liberals. But in fact many Subjectivists did not approve of Gaistulex’s militarism at all, and Gaiduiccon would later repudiate his earlier wild and immoral ways, coming round to support the Subjectivists’ creed. Equally Gaistulex was soon seen to be paying only the merest lip-service to Natural Theistic Morality.

"Objectivism" as a name and creed was in fact looked on with increasing disfavour after Gaistulex assumed complete power after 870. He did not wish to perpetuate ideals of democracy, freedom and semi-anarchy in the life-and –death struggle with Rabarrieh which was now taking place. He had no objection to their atheism or agnosticism, nor to the scientific materialism some of them espoused, but he wanted these separated from any sort of political liberalism. The latter was indeed crushed by the state police, and any protest against the establishment only reappeared after 878 as political independence movements within Helvrieh and later the Kelts. On the other hand, the State made no attempt to inhibit religious or philosophical thought or debate, as long as it did not involve anything that could be construed as treason or anti-militarism. It is indeed surprising how much deep philosophical argument continued throughout the 870s and even the 880s, but it was evidently part of a process by which many people sought solace in their own personal worlds of art, religion and philosophy, as a contrast to the horrors of the outside world – a very similar reaction to that which occurred during the time of the Tyrants at the beginning of the century. Nevertheless, as more and more of the population was either conscripted into the armed services, or taken over by the armies of Atlantis’ enemies, fewer and fewer people had the time or leisure to practice these relatively passive pursuits. By the mid 880s, it was only women and old men who were still practising artists or philosophers. Indeed, as Atlantis’ fortunes finally tipped over towards complete disaster after 885-6, anyone who showed any interest in anything other than fighting the enemy was looked on with grave suspicion. A few brave artists, historians and philosophers carried on writing or working to the very end, in some cases within areas occupied by Rabarrans or Ughans, in others, within the besieged or burning cities of Atlantis. Indeed it is to these people that we owe our knowledge of the last days of the Atlantean Empire.

THE SPLIT WITHIN SUBJECTIVISM

There had also always been the potential for a split within the Subjectvist movement. Since the time of Nacusse, some thinkers stressed the need for a contemplative withdrawal from the world, in order to prepare ourselves for the next one, while others wanted to continue to act in the world, and if possible, bring round others to their views. As we have seen, political realities caused further rifts in peoples' beliefs. But when war broke out, the "withdrawing" tendency amongst religious people grew extreme, and a new solipsism arose. These people wanted to withdraw themselves from the world, as they hated the war, and spend time either thinking about the next world, or wondering at their own and the world's very existence. Most, however, compromised with reality, and joined Gaiduiccon in his attempted reconciliation between Subjectivism and patriotism. Of course, as conscription was introduced, and war mobilisation took over completely, it became more difficult to withdraw from the world, except indeed inside one's head.

FINAL DAYS OF THE EMPIRE

In the 880s, mobilisation for war became general, and nobody could hide from the threat of complete disaster for Atlantean civilisation. Religious and philosophical thinkers now mostly agreed on the need to fight a ferocious and uncivilised enemy, who would otherwise destroy all Atlantean achievements, including its spiritual insights. At the same time, writers must seek to preserve these ideals in writing, so that they could pass on to future generations. But another quite sizeable group added to this the notion that to find or seek death was a worthy aim as it would bring that person straight out of this miserable world and into the next, which was believed to be either unknown, or much better than this one. Traditionally, this view, very much a minority one, had been linked to the solipsists, who had sought to withdraw from the world to meditate. One faction took this to the ultimate extreme and advocated suicide to escape this world of misery as quickly as possible. However some thinkers advanced a still more radical idea in the 880s, namely that this death should be achieved in battle, by deliberately seeking to kill as many of the enemy as possible, at the same time sacrificing one's own life.

A philosophical battle, the last in the history of Atlantis, raged between these groups during this final decade. Many thinkers, although agreeing that Atlantis' achievements, spiritual, artistic and practical, should be preserved, nevertheless hated the thought of people deliberately and fanatically seeking death, in a form of suicide. Some of the military and political leaders, including Crehonerex, were naturally keen to support this idea, but many thinkers opposed them  in writing. All agreed, though, on the importance of saving Atlantis' matchless heritage of philosophical and religious thought, and along with other literature, copies of important books were buried in underground libraries as the final days of the Empire approached.

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