We're All Religious?

  (16 December 07)
  by Greg Spearritt

In his address to the 2006 UK Sea of Faith Conference, Noel Cheer suggests that even those who loudly 'disbelieve'  - the Sam Harrises and Richard Dawkinses of this world - are engaged in a religious quest: "The ambition to be radically, totally human", he says, "is about as sacred as it gets."

Are we all, in fact, 'religious'?

6 comments

Generally speaking, human beings, both the ‘believers’ and the ‘disbelievers’, possess their individual sets of high values, lofty ideals and their areas of ultimate concern. If we wish we can label these values/ideals/concerns as the ‘Sacred Realm’ or the ‘Spiritual Realm’.

If the possession of such Realms constitutes ‘Religion’, then both the believer and the disbeliever are religious. In this I am in full agreement with Noel Cheer, who in reference to such attachments says, “What we personally identify as ‘sacred’ we commit ourselves to deeply, even totally.” (page 9). The Theists amongst us tend to symbolise their Sacred Realms with metaphorical personifications and call them ‘God’.

However, the total human being also has low values, mundane ideals, base concerns, vile impulses, and crass desires, etcetera, which the Theists label as ‘Demonic’. If we were to be polytheistic, rather than monotheistic, then every distinct value/ideal/concern/impulse/desire could be labelled a ‘god’ or, where appropriate, a ‘demon’. (I have commented further on this issue in an earlier response to Noel Cheer’s article, which I added to the ‘God, Gods and Spirituality’ thread in the Blog Archive.)

Might I remind you that the Buddha is reputed to have advised, “Ignore the gods.” Leaving aside, till later, the question of whether or not it is advisable to do so, let us first ask – Is it possible to do so? The Buddhists tell us that to break such attachments a lifetime of discipline and meditation may be necessary. On the other hand, the Rationalists used to tell us that such attachments could be broken by a mere rational decision. These days we know better. Your rational side can decide what it likes, but the rest of your being often ignores it.

Modern scholarship is divided as to the origin of these attachments. At one extreme of the majority viewpoint, the Cultural Determinists claim that we are the product of our social conditioning. Whilst within the minority viewpoint, we find that at the other extreme, the Biological Determinists claim that we are hard-wired by our genetic inheritance.

If our values/ideals/concerns/impulses/desires are either conditioned or hard-wired then, to return to our earlier point, so are our gods. Noel emphasises this when he gives us a quote from the movie, ‘Luther’ - religion is what “holds your conscience captive” (page 6). And from Tillich, “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern…” (page 9).

Where does that leave us in relation to the Buddha’s advice, “Ignore the gods”?


Posted by David Miller

Two of Noel Cheer’s final points are (page 19):-
“While humans exist, religion will persist in one form or another because to ascribe value and to commit utterly to it is an essential part of being human.
The search for better ways will go on as long as humans exist because, at rock bottom, that is what religion is.”

If I were asked – What is the ultimate origin of Religion? I would answer –
The clash between Perception and Imagination. Or, to put it another way, the clash between the Real and the Ideal.
This clash commenced when homo sapiens, or their precursors, developed sufficient intelligence to add to the combination of memory and concept-formation the ability to imagine future possible scenarios.
These ‘imaginary scenarios’ are what we name as ‘ideals’.
From the vantage point of the Ideal, the perceived reality is judged and found wanting. Then something can be done about it. Life can be constantly improved.
From that time onwards homo sapiens began their climb to ascendancy, eventually to become the dominant life-form on the planet.
“Hey, wait a moment”, I hear the protests, “You have merely pin-pointed the origin of humanity. Why are you claiming that it is also the origin of religion?”
“Because it is”, I would answer. We became human at the very moment that we gained the ability to hold ideals.
The ideal is above and beyond the real. We can yearn for it. We can strive for it. We can commit ourselves to it. We can bind ourselves to its achievement.

Is there a downside? Yes there is.
If ‘Humanity’ is our ideal, then any human beings who do not fit the ideal can be judged accordingly. And dealt with. Our ideal could be as narrowly defined as we wished. Unfortunately our human history has demonstrated how we dealt with those of our fellow humans who did not fit our narrow ideal of Humanity. We slaughtered them. Or enslaved them.
Initially, our ‘tribe’ represented our ideal of Humanity. Later it included those with whom our tribe had formed an alliance. Then it became all those within our Kingdom, later expanding to those within our Empire. It did not include those within our empires whom we had enslaved. With the rise of the nation-state it became all those of our Nation, but not necessarily those within our colonies. And in more recent generations, with the rise of the totalitarian ideologies, it became only those of our Colour and Race, or only those of our Class. These became our ideals. Unfortunately, this is what some of us meant by ‘Humanity’.

Noel Cheer (page 17):-
“Sea of Faith does not suit everybody and nor does it try. It treads that uneasy line between a rejection of a supernatural order of things and the feeling – conviction even – that all that is profound and ennobling about being human, needs forms of expression that sound supernaturalist – when what is really happening is that we are talking in the language of transcendence. It’s the age old problem of metaphors being taken literally. We are not being supernaturalist when we affirm that God or the gods are figures of speech which we deny at our peril.”

Yes Noel, the taking of the metaphor as literal may be older than you realise. It may be an integral aspect of concept-formation. It may be older than humanity. (Oops, I’ve just done it myself.) ‘Humanity’ is a metaphor. A metaphor for ‘humans in general’. Should we be taking it literally?
Let’s back-track: ‘God’ can be a metaphor for our high values, lofty ideals and areas of ultimate concern. Humanity is an excellent example of an area of ultimate concern. Humanity is the reality, we would say, and God is the metaphor. God is a symbol, a metaphorical personification of our area of ultimate concern, Humanity.
But if ‘Humanity’ is only a metaphor, how can it then be the reality. It obviously is not. What then is the reality? How can we express it? Perhaps saying ‘humans in general’ is the same as saying ‘Humanity’. What can we say? Individual humans? Actual humans? Existing people? Or name the person or persons?
Is it not possible to generalise at all without falling foul of Noel’s, “age old problem of metaphors being taken literally”?

Yet it really is a problem of murderous import. Why is this? It is because of ‘transcendence’. Transcendence is not the god-send that Noel believes it to be.
Noel has, unannounced and unexplained, introduced the word ‘transcendence’ into the discussion, as though it offered us some form of saving grace. “…our hardwired spiritual potential pushes us to aspire to transcendence. The pursuit of transcendence is a religious pursuit.” (page 9).
But, on the contrary, transcendence is actually the problem. Supposing we were to ask, transcend what to what? Would the answer be that we should aspire to transcend our hard-wired identification with our own narrow tribe to that of some wider grouping? Would that be to our Nation and its colonies? Or the ones suggested by the Ideologies? Or to some cultic allegiance masquerading as a religion? Fanatically held varieties of this latter option seem to be the way the world is heading at the moment. We know what the holding of any of these identifications has led to in human history.

Maybe Noel was suggesting transcendence to “something greater than oneself”. Perhaps self-transcendence to the “other”? This sounds wonderful, but it is fraught with danger. If the “other” meant an actual person, there would be no problem (Unless, that is, such persons are limited to those within our own tribe). But if the “other” means “Humanity”, then we do have a problem. We are back with an “ideal” and the very problem that we have just been discussing. Look what we humans did throughout history to all those individuals who did not fit within our ideal of “Humanity”.

To have an ideal is to have a religion. It does not matter one iota whether or not these ideals are labelled as “supernatural”. It is the natural human function of holding ideals that is both our blessing and our problem.





Posted by David Miller

Noel Cheer, page 13:
“Our western Christian tradition has looked to ‘the church’ to facilitate a process of re-prioritisation in which the ‘spiritual values’ of mercy, pity, peace and love are made to override the fear and greed and self-absorption that is our animal legacy.”

Fear, greed and self-absorption are a normal part of being human, I would say.
By labelling them with such a pejorative term as ‘animal legacy’, Noel has joined with the Witchdoctors of all the major religions, both supernatural and secular.

The Witchdoctors thunder, “You are being selfish.” You, they say, are not living up to the ideal, to the ‘spiritual values’, of which they are the representatives.
The Witchdoctors insist that you are therefore putting yourself before the ‘cause’.
The ‘cause’ is a lofty ideal to which you must aspire, irrespective of whether or not you are capable in the slightest of such an achievement.

You are thereby made to feel unworthy, unclean and valueless.
In such a degraded state, you clutch at the Witchdoctors and cling to them for spiritual sustenance. You place your emotional survival in their control and submit yourself to their dictates. Yes, that is, in the very grasp of those vermin who poisoned you with the filth of their unattainable ideal in the first place.

The secular purveyors of such filth are just as bad as the supernatural purveyors.
Nationalism. Fascism. Communism. They all demand that you obey their Bureaucrats or their Fuhrers or their Commissars. The ‘cause’ must come first. You must obey these Witchdoctors. If not, then you are being selfish and disloyal.

* * * * *

But why is Noel labelling self-absorption and greed as an ‘animal legacy’? They obviously are not. The self-awareness necessary for such a level of individuation is a late development of post-tribal consciousness. It is said that the progress of a civilisation can be judged on the level of privacy available within it. In our cyber-world, with its atomisation, the resultant isolation and loneliness have become an intractable problem.

I would assert that our animal need is to return to community.
This is the exact opposite of what Noel is claiming. What is his agenda?
Perhaps we can answer this by having a look at a couple of his adjacent sentences a few paragraphs earlier (pages 12, 13).
On page 12, Noel’s last sentence reads, “We are born to transcend Darwin’s legacy. I am not proposing metaphysical transcendence, but aspirational transcendence.” Yet his next sentence (page 13) contradicts his previous sentence: “As Feuerbach said in a lecture in 1848, we are all born as animals and, if the circumstances are right, we develop both the aspiration and the competence to transcend our animal substrate to become spiritual beings.”

Transcending “our animal substrate to become spiritual beings” is actually ‘metaphysical transcendence’. Admittedly, Noel is not adopting full-on Theism. But where is the mention of personhood, as in the Endnote (44) in which he gives Feuerbach’s quote:
44. “My wish is to transform…Christians who, by their own profession and admission are half-animal, half-angel, into people who are whole.” The quote comes from Geering 1992 (‘Religious Trailblazers’) p26.
Noel either misunderstands or ignores Feuerbach’s quote. Noel sees us as animals who transcend themselves to become spiritual. From one to the other, bypassing the human. This is ‘metaphysical transcendence’.
Let us unpack Feuerbach’s comment: Christians imagine themselves to be half-animal and half-angel. Feuerbach wants to transform the consciousness of the people into a realisation that the ‘animal’ and the ‘angel’ are both aspects of being human. This is ‘aspirational transcendence’.
As I see it, the animal, the human, the moral and, if you wish to label it as such, the spiritual, are all part of the Darwinian legacy. We are human animals who have developed a morality out of our animal ‘societal’ instincts. It seems to me that Noel is in denial about aspects of the animal, and of the human, and of the moral, and of the spiritual.

As an explanation of this latter assertion, let me be cheeky and quote myself from an earlier blog post – (from ‘Religion and Morality’ in the SoFiA Blog Archive):

Religion and Morality:
I would suggest that the issues can be made more clear-cut (and hopefully not too simplistic) if we remember back forty or more years to that Science populariser Robert Ardrey and his books, 'African Genesis' and 'The Territorial Imperative'. He claimed that Evolution and Morality are both two-edged swords. Ardrey pointed out that the instinctual armoury of the packs of social animals, holding their territory in common, contained both 'Amity' and 'Enmity'. Amity within the pack. Enmity towards those outside. Internal co-operation. External antagonism. Both equally instinctual, equally innate, equally ‘hard-wired’. And BOTH combine to form the basis for Human Morality.
The two aspects of Ardrey's conclusions that I wish to emphasise are, firstly, that within the animal pack, the instinctually based Amity behaviour is expressed as co-operation, friendship and mutual aid. This is often overlooked.
Secondly, that within the human tribe, besides the Amity behaviour which we normally label as 'Moral', the equally instinctually based Enmity behaviour also has moral rationalisations and underpinnings - Courage, Valour, Patriotism, Loyalty, Obedience, etc. These are based on antagonism, hostility and aggression toward rival tribes. They encourage prowess, fitness, strength, size, endurance, and applaud hunting, fighting, and warfare. These are the masculine 'Warrior' values which, I would suggest, have been the dominant moral values of all societies.


Animal instincts comprise BOTH Amity and Enmity.
Noel seems to be denying animal Amity, and to see animality solely as Enmity.
And as for the Enmity aspects of human behaviour, morality and spirituality, Noel seems to be judging these aspects as ‘animal’.
Human behaviour, morality and spirituality comprise BOTH Amity and Enmity.

Noel has implied that only his particular preferences from amongst the multitude of human behaviours, moralities and spiritualities are the ‘true religion’.
This would put us back at square one.


Posted by David Miller

Noel Cheer has responded to David Miller’s comments.
Noel quotes David, then gives responses:


Generally speaking, human beings, both the ‘believers’ and the ‘disbelievers’, possess their individual sets of high values, lofty ideals and their areas of ultimate concern. If we wish we can label these values/ideals/concerns as the ‘Sacred Realm’ or the ‘Spiritual Realm’.
Response -
OK


If the possession of such Realms constitutes ‘Religion’, then both the believer and the disbeliever are religious. In this I am in full agreement with Noel Cheer, who in reference to such attachments says, “What we personally identify as ‘sacred’ we commit ourselves to deeply, even totally.” (page 9). The Theists amongst us tend to symbolise their Sacred Realms with metaphorical personifications and call them ‘God’.
Response -
We agree.


However, the total human being also has low values, mundane ideals, base concerns, vile impulses, and crass desires, etcetera, which the Theists label as ‘Demonic’. If we were to be polytheistic, rather than monotheistic, then every distinct value/ideal/concern/impulse/desire could be labelled a ‘god’ or, where appropriate, a ‘demon’.
Response -
Yes. I understand Jung to mean something like this. We take our interior mental states and project them on o the cosmos and call them gods or demons. If we obey them, that is to be religious.


Might I remind you that the Buddha is reputed to have advised, “Ignore the gods.” Leaving aside, till later, the question of whether or not it is advisable to do so, let us first ask Is it possible to do so? The Buddhists tell us that to break such attachments a lifetime of discipline and meditation may be necessary.
Response -
Whether we listen to the Buddha or to Jung its much the same. Our 'gods' rule us -- by definition.


On the other hand, the Rationalists used to tell us that such attachments could be broken by a mere rational decision. These days we know better. Your rational side can decide what it likes, but the rest of your being often ignores it.
Response -
As I understand it, the mission of psychotherapy is to reconcile the workings of the unconscious and the conscious portion of the mind.


... to return to our earlier point, so are our gods [hardwired]. Noel emphasises this when he gives us a quote from the movie, ‘Luther’ - religion is what “holds your conscience captive” (page 6). And from Tillich, “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern…” (page 9).
Response -
I wouldn't say the the 'gods' themselves are hardwired -- they are, after all, the products of our minds let loose into the community and set on pedestals. The *capacity* to do this -- what I have elsewhere called "the itch" is almost certainly hardwired. How we "scratch" is determined and limited by the cultural ethos that we move in.


Where does that leave us in relation to the Buddha’s advice, “Ignore the gods”?
Response -
A bit optimistic.


‘Humanity’ is a metaphor. A metaphor for ‘humans in general’. Should we be taking it literally?
Response -
Not a 'metaphor' but rather an abstract collective noun. Metaphors 'belong' to the person who utters them -- they are part of the linguistic creativity that humans have and can be neither right nor wrong. On the other hand abstract nouns are community property and, once we have agreed on what we take them to mean, can be used in objective conversation.


Let’s back-track: ‘God’ can be a metaphor for our high values, lofty ideals and areas of ultimate concern. Humanity is an excellent example of an area of ultimate concern. Humanity is the reality, we would say, and God is the metaphor. God is a symbol, a metaphorical personification of our area of ultimate concern, Humanity.
Response -
You'd be on safer ground to stick with God as 'symbol'. A symbol participates in the reality to which it points. A national flag is an example of a symbol which, though you may try to describe it as 'merely a piece of cloth' carries all of the affection that the country carries. Likewise, 'God' is the symbolic name for the collection of human aspirations to transcendence.


Is it not possible to generalise at all without falling foul of Noel’s, “age old problem of metaphors being taken literally”?
Response -
It is only since the Enlightenment that categories such as 'myth' and 'metaphor' (as private myth) have given us any trouble. Once the division was made between objective and subjective language we had to go on making the distinction. Like 'gender-free' language.

* * * *
In the next section you (David) mount a head-on attack on my major thesis: that religion is our more or less conscious, more or less deliberate attempt to realise our spiritual potential and to become maximally human.

* * * *

But, on the contrary, transcendence is actually the problem. Supposing we were to ask, transcend what to what? Would the answer be that we should aspire to transcend our hard-wired identification with our own narrow tribe to that of some wider grouping?
Response -
I can't agree that our tribal loyalty is hard-wired. It is entirely mutable as young children abducted from one country to another show.


Or to some cultic allegiance masquerading as a religion? Fanatically held varieties of this latter option seem to be the way the world is heading at the moment.
Response -
The owners of the cult have to work hard to maintain loyalty to it. They even conscript 'God' to help!


Maybe Noel was suggesting transcendence to “something greater than oneself”.
Response -
To one's current self. As J.S. Spong "We are not fallen angels, we are work in progress".


To have an ideal is to have a religion.
Response -
But it must be the "ultimate concern". Not merely an ideal weight or golf handicap.


It does not matter one iota whether or not these ideals are labelled as “supernatural”.
Response -
Yes, that is optional terminology.


It is the natural human function of holding ideals that is both our blessing and our problem.
Response -
I agree. We have these spiritual capacities which we might realise in some formalised path of faith. There are no guarantees that we will do well. There have been many religious nutters. I think that Paul was pretty close to the edge.
Our propensity to 'do' religion is here. It won't go away. The most stable and beneficial outcome is not 'no religion' (as Dawkins et al would want), but 'better religion'. I see the mission of SoF as a clearing-house of ideas for this.


Noel Cheer, page 13:
“Our western Christian tradition has looked to ‘the church’ to facilitate a process of re-prioritisation in which the ‘spiritual values’ of mercy, pity, peace and love are made to override the fear and greed and self-absorption that is our animal legacy.”
Response -
Fear, greed and self-absorption are a normal part of being human, I would say. Who wants to remain 'normal'? Don't forget 'transcendence'.


By labelling them with such a pejorative term as ‘animal legacy’, Noel has joined with the Witchdoctors of all the major religions, both supernatural and secular.
Response -
Not pejorative, merely descriptive. Elsewhere I refer to them as our 'Darwinian legacy'. Animals just work that way.


The secular purveyors of such filth are just as bad as the supernatural purveyors.
Nationalism.Generally speaking, human beings, both the ‘believers’ and the ‘disbelievers’, possess their individual sets of high values, lofty ideals and their areas of ultimate concern. If we wish we can label these values/ideals/concerns as the ‘Sacred Realm’ or the ‘Spiritual Realm’.
Response -
Once we give away the requirement for religion to 'be about' the supernatural then we can admit that Fascism and Communism are low-grade paths of faith. I think it was Graham Greene who referred to Marxism as a Christian heresy.


But why is Noel labelling self-absorption and greed as an ‘animal legacy’? They obviously are not.
Response -
We disagree.


What is his agenda?
Perhaps we can answer this by having a look at a couple of his adjacent sentences a few paragraphs earlier (pages 12, 13).
On page 12, Noel’s last sentence reads, “We are born to transcend Darwin’s legacy. I am not proposing metaphysical transcendence, but aspirational transcendence.” Yet his next sentence (page 13) contradicts his previous sentence: “As Feuerbach said in a lecture in 1848, we are all born as animals and, if the circumstances are right, we develop both the aspiration and the competence to transcend our animal substrate to become spiritual beings.”
Response -
It seems consistent to me.


Transcending “our animal substrate to become spiritual beings” is actually ‘metaphysical transcendence’.
Response -
Why not existential transcendence? I take 'metaphysical' to talk of the way things are and 'existential' to our perceived place in them.


he gives Feuerbach’s quote:
44. “My wish is to transform…Christians who, by their own profession and admission are half-animal, half-angel, into people who are whole.”
Noel either misunderstands or ignores Feuerbach’s quote. Noel sees us as animals who transcend themselves to become spiritual. From one to the other, bypassing the human.
Response -
I don't see 'spiritual' as opposed to 'animal' but rather a re-alignment of priorities. I am not advocating 'bypassing' the human. The only realistic ambition that we can hold is to be fully-realised humans.


As I see it, the animal, the human, the moral and, if you wish to label it as such, the spiritual, are all part of the Darwinian legacy.
Response -
Latent, awaiting development as an adult is latent in the baby.


We are human animals who have developed a morality out of our animal ‘societal’ instincts. It seems to me that Noel is in denial about aspects of the animal, and of the human, and of the moral, and of the spiritual.
Response -
Not so. Left unsocialised a human is likely to be self-centred and self-absorbed. (Much of our current western culture actually applauds this.) Most humans can marginalise their desires, at least for the time being, and perhaps only as a pawn sacrifice until a better moment arises. The saints and sages down the centuries talk of a better way. Christianity swithers between Jesus' 'Kingdom of God' and Paul's 'In Christ' as names for ways of living which invite us to put our neighbor's interests on a par with our own.
Or, to put it another way, to transcend what our genes gave us and to operate according to our spiritual potential.

Noel Cheer

Posted by David Miller

I am pleased that Noel has responded to my comments. His responses have highlighted our areas of agreement and disagreement.

Noel has alerted me to my misuse, by over-extension, of the term ‘metaphorical’.

He has also alerted me to the need to be more painstaking and to explain why I use particular concepts.
For example, my assertion that we are all hard-wired for tribalism (tribal loyalty). By this I meant that it is the propensity, and only the propensity, that is ‘hard-wired’.
And by ‘tribe’ I meant that grouping within which one is reared or, later on, with which one identifies. It could be a Street-gang at one extreme, or at the other, an Empire. Or maybe a Race, a Religion or an Ideology. Usually it is merely one's Community. Ideally, it would be Humanity as a whole.
These propensities are either enhanced or inhibited by one’s total environment and experience.
In this I imagine that Noel and I are in furious agreement.


Posted by David Miller

OK. Back to the Buddha’s advice: Ignore the gods!
But, can we ignore the gods? Was the Buddha being naïve?

In so far as the Buddha was referring to the ‘imaginary friends’ and ‘tooth fairies’ of Theist religion, no he was not being naïve. These, however, are merely symbols of the underlying reality and can easily be ignored, but not so easily forgotten. This is attested to by the often heard plaintive cry from the person who has lost faith. Usually it is only a loss of faith in a symbol. The symbols often lose their effectiveness. However, the underlying reality is still there, hard and fast.
(The underlying realities are the values, ideals, concerns, desires, impulses, etc, etc, etc. These are symbolised by the gods.)

Strangely, the Buddhists refer to these underlying realities as ‘attachments’, as though it has been our own choice to be so attached. The knowledge we now have of the biological and genetic hard-wiring of propensities, as well as the effect of social and cultural conditioning, has shown that we may in fact have little or no choice in the matter. The Buddhists do acknowledge that it may take a lifetime of effort to break an attachment.

So if these attachments are our gods, the question then becomes – Do we wish to be free of them? I suspect that our answer may be – Yes, the lower attachments and no, not our higher ones. It is from our ‘demons’ that we usually wish to be freed.

If a lifetime of effort is the price that is required to be god free, then is it worth it?
If the price of freeing yourself from the gods is the destruction of the gods, then it may not be worth it. If you have destroyed your gods, then you can never again enjoy their gifts.

The question is – Who has mastery over whom? Are the gods your master? Or do you have mastery over your gods? Who possesses whom? Who lords it over whom? Who owns whom?

Yes, that is the shocking realisation. In order to be free of the gods, you have to gain control of them. In my more Rationalistic younger days I used to say, “The gods are your own creation. You have allowed your own creation to lord it over you. Take back your creation. Re-possess the gods.”

Those days are gone. My Rationalistic imaginings have been replaced by a combination of genetic and cultural determinism. I now see the sad truth. I did not create the gods. They created me.

Is my constant god-talk becoming irritating? Is it getting annoying? Let me give in to the demands of my Atheist colleagues and drop the god-talk. I have been using the word ‘gods’ as a naturalistic (non-supernatural) symbol for values, ideals, concerns, desires, impulses, etc. Instead, let me refer to them all as ‘Values’.

So the question now becomes: Do you have the Values, or do the Values have you? Who has mastery over whom? I will repeat that the other way round: Do the Values possess you, or do you possess the Values? You can now see the problem. It is easier to understand when using god-talk. It is a problem of language. We say that we have the Values, when the opposite is actually the case. Our Values have us. Our Values are ‘greater than us’. They are ‘above and beyond us’. We ‘live up to them’. We serve them. We are their slaves. They lord it over us.

(There are those who say, “Hey, you are not talking theology. You are talking psychology. You are in fact discussing the Psyche.” They may be right.)

Let me take a mundane hypothetical example. In the pantheon of the god, Beauty, there is the lesser-god, Music. In Music’s pantheon is a still lesser-god, Jazz. I love Jazz. That god (or demon) has me completely hooked. Let us suppose that I am totally subservient to it, that I am utterly under its sway. My every waking moment is spent in its thrall. I try to give some attention to my employment. I pretend that I am listening to my family. I ignore their pleas and their complaints that I am spending all our money on Jazz concerts and CD’s and ever bigger and better sound systems. My boss is fed up with me. My marriage is on the rocks.

Jazz is a god that I wish to be free of. What can I do? Aversion Therapy may be the answer. If it works I will be free of my addiction. Jazz will have no effect on me. I will have ceased to enjoy it.
But that’s the problem. I do not want to cease enjoying Jazz. I wish to continue appreciating Jazz and yet not remain addicted.

Beauty, Aesthetics and Art are to be found amongst our Values and areas of concern. They can help to give meaning and purpose to our lives. Sometimes we are addicted to various aspects of them. In that case they are our masters and each of them can therefore be labelled as one of our many gods or demons.

To return to god-talk:-
Rather than the gods possessing you, you must possess them. Possess or be possessed. You must be the master, not them. If, in order to be free of the gods, one needs to smash the gods, then one may find that freedom to be rather empty. One must possess the gods rather than smash them. If the price of self-possession is the destruction of the gods, then it may not be worth it. Then there would be no gods to possess. You can’t possess a smashed god. Possession of the gods is the aim, rather than their destruction.

Finally, let me make a self-critical remark –
Perhaps all that I am doing is to foolishly worship one god rather than another.
Have I not elevated the god ‘Freedom’ to the position being my highest Value?
Am I not attempting to sacrifice my subservience to all the other gods in exchange for subservience to my highest god, Freedom?


Posted by David Miller

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