Even as a kid, I noticed that the hierarchy of heaven suspiciously resembled the social organization of humans here on earth. As an adult it is clear that the heavenly order is a metaphor for idealized human society. Atheists might say religion is stupid and false. Religion is true, though, in the language of symbols. Symbols are very powerful because they are rooted in the collective consciousness—everyone intuitively understands them, even if they don’t know it. Literal-minded modernists think themselves logical and above-it-all but in their pride they have deafened themselves to the deeper dialogue. From politics to policies their initiatives backfire because they engineer structures without understanding the less tangible natural forces.
If heaven is the ideal social order of the rulers, hell is the concept of the ultimate counterculture. In between lies earth where ordinary people are subjected to the ebb and rise of the great forces fighting for their souls. In the social cosmology, the highest status people live in heaven and their most dangerous enemies are from hell. As the ruler represents the state itself, there can be gods of other abstractions such as love, wisdom, or war.
About a decade ago I started intuitively thinking of cultural conflicts by this model of Zoroastrian/Christian dualism. I realized that in a society of hundreds of millions of strangers, those known to all are best thought of as gods who are not people but divine representations of concepts and ideals.
Humans can only process around 150 personal relationships, the Dunbar number. The demands of mass society are so astronomically beyond those limits, we need to repurpose our mental constructs to process our environment.
The memetic spaces that used to be occupied by polytheistic deities and animistic spirits are now used to comprehend entities whose every word is heard by millions. This was how I came to understand people’s reverent attitudes to celebrities, athletes, or royal families who will never personally know or care about them.
Even where the stars are selfish and dysfunctional, it is little different than reading about Zeus’ serial infidelity and Hera’s spiteful revenge or Apollo getting his sister’s best friend killed out of jealousy and then punished for it with exile to the mortal world.
The reality show dynamic has an unmistakably mythological feel to it. People are hard-wired to be receptive to archetypal human narratives about the interaction of abstract concepts because it has been a reliable means of transmitting complex ideas to simple, illiterate people since prehistory.
Cain and Abel have sibling rivalry fueled by jealousy that any of us can understand. Through this conflict that culminates in the first murder, we understand the depth of the ancient rivalry between farmers and herders. Trying to explain things logically is by comparison a very feeble way to communicate, especially back before everyone had modern levels of information exposure.
In modern times people still understand the world through these primal archetypes. If you try to talk to the average person about the strengths and weaknesses of Trump’s policies, the conversation does not typically go far. Trump is one of the great lords of hell since he has opposed the established order and acts contrary to the supposedly genteel manners of the ruling class. If I try to explain Trump’s reasoning to someone aligned with the status quo, I may as well be trying to persuade a Christian that Lucifer had good reasons to rebel against God.
I have found this heuristic to be a very useful way of analyzing and predicting how a group will perceive the world. Sure enough, those who see Trump as the devil have raised great idols to him that would not seem amiss in a traditional Balinese procession of demons.
Likewise, I thought of Hillary Clinton as a high goddess of the establishment and it proved to be an excellent way to model the social reality. When she fell, it was clear from the reactions of overwhelming despair, even from people who reluctantly voted for her, that greater forces were at work. They had witnessed nothing less than the fall of a goddess from the top of their pantheon and the ascent of a victorious devil. Viewed in this context, the magnitude of their hysteria and the violent methods they are now willing to employ make a lot more sense.
From watching the cultural unraveling of 2016, the hierarchy more clearly revealed itself. As far as I could figure it looked something like this:
Olympians: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, MLK, Harry Potter, Gandhi, John Lennon, Lincoln, Mandela, Dalai Lama, Mickey Mouse, Coca Cola, Apple
2nd Tier Gods: A list celebrities, Nancy Pelosi, Che Guevara, Noam Chomsky, Frida Kahlo, Zuckerberg, Daenarys from GoT
Angels/Mythic Heroes/Paladins of the Light: Actors, Musicians, Athletes, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedhan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Steven Hawking, Jackson Pollock
Saints/Martyrs: Malala, Emmet Till, Matthew Shephard, Anne Frank, Tibetans, Trayvon, Galileo
How they perceive hell:
Greater Evils: Trump, Hitler, Voldemort, Holocaust, KKK, Nazis, Putin, Russia
Lesser Evils: Bannon, Timothy McVeigh, Saddam Hussein, Columbine shooters, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering
Greater Demons/Dark Angels: Alt-Bloggers, podcasters, youtubers, twitter accounts who get millions of visits. Alex Jones, John Wilkes Booth, David Duke, Dylan Roof
Demonic Centurions: Less popular internet personalities with a steady following, “neo-nazis”
I hesitate to try my hand at defining a dissident cosmology yet because it is still settling into place and none of the factions would agree. Figures like Trump, Bannon, or Spencer play prominent roles in that hierarchy, but at the moment it’s hard to know if that will be true even next year. Nevertheless I can guess at some of the divine archetypes.
The Holy: 40k’s God Emperor of Mankind, Kek/Pepe, Gnon, Dune universe, Men of Gondor and Rohan, Starship Troopers(Heinlein book), Space Marines, The Joker, Bane, Harrison Bergeron, Marcus Aurelius, Pinochet, the red pill
The Underworld: Sauron, Uruk-Hai/Orcs, the Zerg swarm, Nurse Ratched, Grendel’s Mother, the Borg collective, Big Brother, Diana Moon Glampers, Trotsky, Lenin, Alinsky, the blue pill, Le Happy Merchant
That’s all of that I will do for now. I feel like I’ve gotten the idea across. Feel free to expand on it, critique or make your own in the comments.
See Also: Election 2016: The War In Heaven