To the fresh, mad eye of primeval man, the world was full of gods. The human mind worked so as immediately to create religion. It does so now and it did so at its beginning. This is a function common to all humans everywhere, at all times, intrinsic, inherited, irresistible, Religion is then naturally ecumenical; any two people anywhere can agree in general on what it is that they are talking about.
The mechanism is simple. The thousands of books, the infinite discussion over millions of fires, the pomp of parades, the grandeur of cathedrals, and the hysterical wars and killings about religion - all of this intimidates inquiry. Yet all of this, as we shall see, descends from the operation of the mechanism as if a holocaust would flare from a flint striking stone.
The human mind, as soon as it starts working, builds a multiple identity, a self-awareness. In the origins of the race, this trait is so pronounced as to set the creature apart from other forms of life. Self-awareness is the psychological manifestation of a physiology of the central nervous system, especially the cerebral cortex, which presents a person with the feeling of being at least two persons. It is like the bother of two eyes that cannot focus well upon a single object, but it is of course enormously more ramified and important.
Since the body is one alone, it is "intended" for one mind, one spring of action, a single commanding organ. Never mind that in some remotely related animals two brain centers occur, or, for that matter, that in man himself, there are such "lower" brain centers that have escaped the parturition which we speak about here as self-awareness. A person has the instinctive appreciation of and a nearly total apparatus for realization of unitary conduct. But this preparedness for the life of an ordinary mammal is rudely challenged by the sense of an inner conflict of selves, which can 'change one's mind' and redirect one's energies at any time, whit seemingly little possibility of control. It delays by microseconds the instinctive response that the mammalian physiology and neurology crave.
The result of the perceived conflict, that "I am I, but who am I that says 'I am I'" is fear. We can call this fear existential because it is the absolute quality of human existence. The fear is indistinguishable physiologically from the anatomy and process of mammalian fear that arises out of non-existential causes; such would be the fear of a blow or of a lightning stroke. If it is to be distinguished at all from animal fear, existential fear has to be discovered by statistical means, by logical reasoning, by experiment, by psychiatric theory. We assume, hoping to be more empirical later on, that existential fear is a "free-floating" fear overload that characterizes the human and is attributable to the "fear of oneselves" associated with self-awareness.
This state of affairs called "self-awareness" is instinctively undesirable. Its advantages are ambiguous. It interferes with peace of mind; it blocks the instinctive action of the beast; it introduces unwanted self-consultation concerning decisions and evaluation of the effects of action. It introduces continuous distrust of the self. It requires, as will be amply discussed, an endless stream of devices and decisions, all basically intended to adjust the elements of the self to each other, some of them taking place within the bodily frame, others occurring in interpretations of and controls upon the outer world of other people and nature.
Obvious schemes occur to the human person. One is to stamp out the other selves, to produce a granite-like person unbothered by internal inquiries. Another is to kick out the other selves like unwanted children or undesirable tenants. The first method is workable only up to certain point; many subconscious activities occur and leak out onto external objects, no matter how impressive the monolith.
The second method, expulsion of internal conflicts, creates the human's world, but is not effective as intended, either. A lady who has a bad dream, and then doubles her contribution to a church collection, may successfully lower her level of anxiety, but is likely to receive more cordial solicitations from her church, which, if refused, may give her more bad dreams. A boy who perceives a ghost under his bed will in time flesh out the ghost with various traits, motives, and activities. Displacements of anxieties, that is, are boomerangs which, no matter how far flung, unerringly return.
Since the struggle of the selves is essentially psychological, it can be called supernatural. Then it is even more proper to call the projection and displacements of the self supernatural. To become more focused upon religion, it should be said that there is absolutely no resistance of the part of the human to displacing his internal world, in effect, living his life - upon super-sensory or ultra-sensory phenomena. It ill behooves the source to deny its essence in the world outside.
At the same time, the operation of tying a world of external supernatural phenomena to the world of internal supernatural phenomena is invariably expressed in ritual practices, that is, repeated related performances. The lady and the boy in the instances above establish practices. The ramifications of practice are limited both by the environmental forces governing practices and by the tendency to reiterate actions. From action to practice to habit to obsession goes the continuum, a rating scale on which, given the object in the world to which people relate, the same people can be graded, like churchgoers from once-in-a-great-while to those who would rather die than miss a church service. Paul Radin has properly pointed out "that all people are spontaneously religious at crises, that the markedly religious people are spontaneously religious on numerous other occasions as well, and that the intermittently and indifferently religious are secondarily religious on occasions not connected with crises at all."
"Fear made the first gods of the world," wrote the Roman Statius (c. 45 to 96 A. D.). In the long history of religion it is the only theory to come close to the truth. And man, in return, is theophobic, full of dread of god. The first gods were also the first humans, a scheme of delusions to map and control the immense, live universe. Everything seemed capable of turning into a god; hence gods were in everything (as the early philosopher Thales conjectured). They controlled everything, it appeared, but were unaccountable and did both the expected and the unexpected.
The simple mechanism of religion is then self-awareness, fear of the self, fears or anxieties displaced upon supernatural or tangible appearances of the world, and the development of practices to control and maintain transactions with the supernatural appearances. The drive to control oneself (oneselves, we should say) is paramount and moves man to wherever his rears alight. Again, Radin's anthropological surmise is acceptable: "man was in a state of fear, physically, economically, and psychically. Man thus postulated the supernatural in order primarily to validate his workaday reality." His aim was "the canalization of his fears and feelings and the validation of his compensation dreams."
The judgment of what is supernatural and what is tangible may bother intellectuals and theologians but has never been much of a problem to the ordinary person or priest. The logic of the multitude is foolproof: the supernatural is everywhere and is incorporated in tangible things. We shall come to understand science better when we appreciate the futility, yet inevitability, of its struggles to squeeze the supernatural out of the rocks and out of the mind. It is trying to make an animal out of man, just as the pesky theologians say, that is, trying to destroy all outward manifestations of the uniquely human person, if not he mind itself. Mircea Eliade has reported will the state of mind of the "religious man" through the ages.( He uses the term as, for instance, H. D. Lasswell uses the term "political man," as the "pure" or obsessed type of actor in history.) Where we employ the term "supernatural," Eliade uses the term "sacred."
"For religious man," he writes, "the world always presents a supernatural valence, that is, it reveals a modality of the sacred." Every bit of the cosmos has its sacrality. "In a distant past" (but why not include today?) "all of man's organs and physiological experiences, as well as all his acts, had a religious meaning," "Homo religiosus always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real." "For religious man, nature is never only 'natural'; it is always fraught with a religious value."
Finally, "the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being... Religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power. This rounds out an accord with our ides of religious genesis. Man naturally sees the world supernaturally. Reality is supernatural. His heart and soul go into tying this reality to himself, to gain its powers. We should say that all of this grandiose ambition is to stabilize his mind, to let him live unanxiously, unfearfully, to be at peace with himself."
How good it is to be assured of this, too, as the Hebrew Elohim assures man, that he shall "fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth," and furthermore has given him "every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit..." Elohim is thinking and working like any ideal reasonable man would think and work. All is divinely created, by hard labor. All is sacred, therefore.
Yet, granted that humans are bent upon creating the supernatural and tying it into themselves, why should they dispose of the credit to gods? Why should they not he frankly proud of the world that they create and control, whether it be supernatural of tangible? First there is the fearful fact that they do not control it. Second there is the fear that disregards fact. They fear that they may not control anything; man is born with an inferiority complex from not controlling himself. Third, there is the appearance of purposeful control of the world by non-humans, an appearance, one may insist, that has both invisible and perceptible substantiation.
Take up first the fearful fact that man does not control himself, or the world. Hence religion arises to drug mankind, according to Karl Marx: "religion is the moan of the oppressed creature, the heart of heartless world, the sense of senseless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
Perhaps the most powerful suppressant of religion is the promise of science to give one such controls. "Serious" scientists do not pretend to such abilities or make such promises. On the other hand, they at least feel relieved when other "non-responsible" people, like science fiction writers or humanists or philosophers, make such claims in their name. "We are approaching the time when we will be able to control..." - and every human anxiety has its assurance - "our anxieties," "climate," "earthquakes," "approaching comets," "plague," "birth defects," "war," "governments," and ultimately "the challenge of death itself." This wealth of promises emerges from the instruments and procedures of scientific method, a process finding its way only through provably material entities.
For those who doubt the fulfillment of these promises, the outlooks of cynicism, stoicism, and pessimism - or, alternatively, religion - are available. A society dominated by the scientific outlook will, however, endeavor to persuade many of these of its promises, and for that will take over all of the trappings of propaganda and organized pressures developed over the ages by religions, and, later, political systems. The secular society is then in being. However, there is still the fear that disregards fact. There is a factual element in anxiety, but additionally the aforementioned existential element. It is highly probable that no change in the human condition can erase this anxiety except the eradication of the human in man. Self-awareness can be detrained, stunned and doped, but never with complete success and never over a whole population for very long. If it could be done, it would long ago have been accomplished. We may suppose that most cultures, in one way or another, have tried to do so, with no lasting effect. Man has achieved every imaginably bad society except one of lasting soullessness.
But fear alone might bring forth the supernatural, and the ways of dealing with it, without gods, unless some inherent part of religious mechanism demanded them, For this we require both an internal and external cause. The divine being must be both in us and in nature.
The internal sequence may be suggested. If it is the plural self that disturbs our peace of mind, then the infinitely varied displacements of this self that are employed to ease the fears engendered by the civil strife of the ego are likely often to emanate as living forms. That is, the world created by the human mind is animated. The world is alive.
It is an absurd but common notion, fostered unfortunately by scientists who are disciplined observers trained precisely to observe objects as "stripped-down," that the human neatly undresses his thoughts of their libido before placing them upon the world. To the contrary, the human is naturally surprised, like the child bumping his head on a table, when whatever he encounters turns out to be unalive according to the battery of tests that his mind applies consequent to the encounter. "Everything is alive until proven dead" is the natural psychic principle to go along with "Everything is sacred, unless demonstrated to be secular."
To say then that a natural force has to be animated into a god by some separate superstition which the observer must be trained to apply is incorrect. Depending upon its impact, the force is a god or a manifestation thereof. It is historically, as well as psychologically, incorrect to think that humans invented gods as a kind of convenience to collect their thoughts and then gave them names. It is more likely that gods were observed and in the very process of perception named by ejaculations (so beginning human speech), and then, following natural observation, the world was ordered in consonance with the gods. As Hock well says about the early gods of Greece "... these gods were not felt by the Greeks to have been manufactured or invented as the 'Personification' implies; they were discovered and recognized, precisely as the modern scientist discovers and recognizes the effects of something that he calls 'electricity. '"
Furthermore, the apparitions of nature are anthropomorphized insofar as they seem purposeful and humanlike. The human, responding to a vast range of stimuli in time and space, entranced by the sky as well as the abyss, infiltrating his spirit into this vast world, is both psychologically and materially affected by them. It is practically impossible, for any length of time, to take the apparitions of the world impersonally.
There is "every reason" to regard the fall of a meteor as a purposeful intervention in one's life. It moves through the air like a flaming lance, sword, chariot, or torch held high. It is faster than a bird. It screams like a tiger. It strikes with the might of ten thousand men. As scientists say, "Everything must have a cause." Well, here the cause is a superhuman thunderbolter. From effects, one reasons to causes.
If especially there are periods of time when great effects are common and men are shaken by them, the gods are implied, even visualized, as when a comet resembles different human figures and organs. Men measure the effect carefully, as the ancient Etruscans every spot struck by lightning, to see in the measure of a divine intervention the intent of the god.
In summation, the age becomes confirmed as religious. The more intense, pervasive, and frequent the experiences, the more religious the age becomes. It is as certain as any other proposition of science, that, were an asteroid or comet of modest size to strike the globe, astronomy would promptly become astrology, meteorology divination, biology creationist, politics catastrophic, and theology revivalist. Evidence for this statement is strewn among all writings on the effects upon humans of close-in and crashing celestial bodies.
This divinity, perhaps the same, perhaps another, is known not only by celestial or other natural apparitions; it is also manifested in ways that will be demonstrated in chapter 3. The god is as prompt to appear as religion itself, inevitable in the primeval mind, as culture, too, is prompt to appear and as fast as it is instrumented, married into, if not born of, the sacred. We speak thus, of a hologenesis of homo sapiens, culture, religion, and gods.
Logically, the evolutionary theory of a slow final development of homo is gone; so is the theory of cultural evolution, of the evolution of religions, and of the progressive evolution of a concept of god. All of these things are today very much perceived, afforded and functioning as they did in the first centuries of humankind.
The science that those of us who write books so highly esteem represents a sharp break with the history of mankind, but scarcely less a break with the human thought and behavior of today. We can, and shall, make much of it, but should remember all the while that the proportion of science to religion in human behavior is like the ratio of the depth of the surface crust of the Earth to the radius of the whole globe, one to four hundred. And as the thickness of the crust varies beneath oceans and continents, so does the depth of penetration of the scientific method vary in different cultures and minds.