previous.gif     next.gif    


by Alfred de Grazia



We have progressed so far from the early chapters of this book that a review of them is probably needed, a final commentary on the divine succession and historical religions. Historical religions conserve the memory of a certain time when the world was created and humans came into being. None says that mankind always existed, or that he evolved mechanically by random association of particles. A purposeful act took place at a certain time. Most religions say that mankind was subsequently destroyed and recreated. Almost always the extermination of humanity stops short at a surviving couple or the equivalent. The subsequent homologue of the first chaos is a subsequent set of catastrophes by flood, fire, wind, and earth movements.

To preserve the memory of the first time of creation is a function of rituals, liturgy, anniversaries, and sacrifices. Many religions have strenuously sought to reproduce, short of deliberately re-annihilating themselves, the exact circumstances of chaos and creation. They have obsessively kept forms, practices, and words that go back to the beginnings of all religion and the first experience with the gods.

All historical religions are therefore highly conservative and weaken their foundations as soon as they admit deviations. The function of inescapable and exactly repetitive practices and symbols is to relieve the massive anxiety stored from the earliest times by confessing what happened in those times and reliving them successfully.

What appears to be radical in religious history is reactionary. Practitioners of the religion, wrought up beyond sufferance, find even the rigid rites of their church insufficient to recapture the moments of chaos and creation. Prophets, apostates, evangelizes, and orgiasts arise. So do whirling dervishes and berserkers. They are chiliast or millennialists. They proclaim the end of the world while demanding that everyone acknowledge the full and immediate meaning of the creation of the world. They prepare to die and be saved in the recapitulation of the original catastrophic times.

All historical religions are based upon punitive gods, are self- punitive and are punitive towards others. Gods are adjudged good to the degree to which they refrain from destroying their creatures. Humans exist by divine tolerance. A common word for a good person in most religions in "god-fearing". Personal merit through skills, altruism, and dogmatic belief and practice is sometimes, but more often not, a guarantee to a greater of lesser extent of the gods' benevolence; never is merit a perfect or universal guarantee. This belief in the denial to merit of its due is not, therefore, as some think, a connivance of religion with the envious mob.

Sacrifices are forms of punishment of the self and others to forestall, and therefore to control, a punishment from Heaven. The concept of representation effectively lets a partial sacrifice stand for a full sacrifice and a sacrifice of others stand for a sacrifice of oneself. Sacrifices are said to be gifts freely given; yet it is acknowledged that withholding sacrifices will be followed by divine retribution. The more valuable the sacrifice, and the more strict the rules under which sacrifice and all other kinds of punishment occur, the more pleasing to the gods.

Guilt is self-punishment. It is the refusal of pleasure to some negative degree. We often knows it in its late and rather pragmatic sense: guilt is what makes a fickle creature responsible; without guilt, personal and social discipline would be impossible. To get relief from guilt, one follows religious directives or some secularized substitute such as warring for one's country or pursuing "the work ethic."

But primeval guilt originated from the terror of "the other self," the terror produced out of the minute systemic delay of instinctive impulses. At the same time, the heavens were turbulent and terrifying. To control one's unbalanced self, one signaled the gods to arbitrate; and the gods responded, saying, "Your soul is a struggle of good and evil. We, with your cooperation, will take care that the good dominates you. You are not sick. Be hopeful. Help is on its way." This formula, although it can be called delusion, was a great invention. Granted the essential incurability of human schizotypicality, it alone could lead to a manageable psychic world.

Important anniversaries or holy days are celebrations of divine destruction and near escape from destruction. Every truly religious anniversary celebration is therefore ambivalently tragic and joyful. Anniversary excesses and orgies, at both extremes of somberness and exuberance, are nevertheless occasions for the relief of tragic memory, more or less deeply suppressed. Anniversaries cluster around the great cycles of the ages, which give evidence of having been common to most of the world's cultures. Calendar diversions, not psychological changes, have driven apart the anniversaries of different cultures; they are farther apart in days than they are in mind. The end of the year inspires saturnalia in many cultures. Also thus, Roman Catholic and Greek churches mark a different Easter holiday for unessential reasons. Anniversaries sometimes are pulled together in a given culture by their original proximity during a cycle such as a solar year and by their psychological resemblance. Thus, Venus (perhaps at -3437 B. P., where Before Present =1984 A. D.) and Mars catastrophes (perhaps in -2671) occurred around March 23, close to the Spring equinox; the holidays were merged ultimately, and are submerged at Easter time in Christendom and comparable holidays in other cultures.

Sublimation, like ritual, is universal in religion; it pacifies, dissembles, represents, and rationalizes the strict conditions of the fatal times. Sublimation becomes more secular and pragmatic with the evaporation of stored anxiety over long periods of prosperity and peace. Disaster, deprivation, and frustration raise anxiety levels; they cause reactions against secular sublimation occurring in the artistic, social, political and religious spheres; these activities are attacked as irrelevant and blasphemous.

Furthermore, all religions incorporate directives for every aspect of life -- work, sex, property, power, relations, health, and knowledge. Humanity was created and made deistic at the same time; the human mind is not logical, but it is wholly occupied by a way of looking at the world as a supernatural creation. The question of separating special values and calling these "the province of religion" has no meaning to a mind that was originally formed with every value at stake.

Religious practices are basically similar everywhere and have been from the start. Permutations of practices are innumerable. The new humans executed religious observances among their first acts. In this sense, all the world's religions came from one religion, that of the first and only band of humans. Then different experiences befell the different peoples. Some were non- catastrophic experiences and these brought many minor changes. Other experiences were catastrophic -- global and intense -- and these reinforced the basic resemblances of religions while at the same time prompting many minor variations. Thus ultimately, history came to witness a similar succession of great gods ruling amidst a congeries of ethnic religions.

One god has been replaced by another on various occasions. Almost always, the replacements successful because of unconscious techniques of cross-identification and rationalization. Sometimes men sought to replace gods by deliberate choice, with or without the help of events such as cultural amalgamation; invariably then compulsion and heavy propaganda were employed. Such occurred when Hinduism moved over Southeast Asia, when Christianity came to dominate the Roman World, and when Islam moved across Asia and Africa.

The replacement of all gods by materialistic and atheistic ideology is a special case, discoverable, in non-catastrophic times, among philosophical schools such as the ancient cynics, among scientists and humanists of the post-enlightenment, and among communists.

Invariably secular replacers have argued the lack of empirical proof of the existence of gods; they have also stressed the contradictions of ruthlessness and mercy in the concepts of god; and they have attacked the behavior of religious establishments. As alternative behavior they have recommended principles of brotherly love, cooperation, and mental health, among humans, or principles of an ideally organized state that provides enough goods to satisfy people's needs without recourse to supernatural agents.

The major proof that such ideologies might succeed is based upon the waning of the gods when societies possess a pragmatically optimistic morale and are materially prosperous or believed to be potentially so, as recently. Then the gods have seemed remote and unneeded; considerations of logic and efficiency would appear to dictate their abandonment, removal, and forgetting.

Even under optimal conditions of prosperity, secular morale, compulsion and propaganda, the replacement has proceeded slowly and painfully. At the peak of their success, the ungodly ideologies have been undermined by new gods (e. g., Christianity in the Roman Empire), resisted successfully by the masses (e. g., communist Poland, 1945-1983 A. D.), transformed into secular religions of temporary duration (e. g., Roman Emperor worship, der Fuhrer Hitler, Comrade Lenin), or transformed into pseudo-scientific therapeutic or philosophical sects employing substitute semi-divine agents (e. g., gurus, anthroposophists).

The fundamental obstacle to ungodliness has been the construction of the human mind. Inasmuch as the events of creation that split the hominid character introduced the splitters as gods, humans become god-seekers as part of becoming human. The particular manner in which the universe was seen for the first time implied perforce the instrumentality of divinity. Self-awareness, formed a nature which was unceasingly prone to discover gods.

Far from being an afterthought, the gods were a first thought. To excise this thought, after thousands of years of experience with it. was not only most difficult pragmatically; it was structurally impossible, at least as long as the origins, function, and mental structure of religion were not understood.

To forget the gods is impossible; the memory deck can only be reshuffled. To retain self-awareness without schizotypicality is a contradiction in terms. Human creation involved a basic reconstruction of mammalian mind; to extinguish this essential schizotypicality would restore man as an instinctive mammal, but is in any event now physiologically and psychologically impossible. Symbolism as the effect of the split self, flows naturally and cannot be obliterated. By the same logic and dynamics, treating symbolically with both the "other self" and the "outsider-others" must inevitably result in projectional thought, that is, treating the "outside other" with the same mechanism and feeling that the self utilizes in dealing with its "own other."

All of this process is transactional and the transaction is of the essence of human being. Therefore a group mode of projection, a group communication, is inherent in the individual-social complex. Thence, naturally, whatever is unanswered and questionable becomes a matter for resort to authority -- that is, a prevailing, preponderant group opinion. Since the group is forever under historical and existential stress, it is forever seeking authority and incapable of receiving satisfactory answers to its questions without a symbolic, abstract and animate referent that provides solution. Thus it happens that, if humans exist, god exists. God is the closing of the circle -- both question and answer. But so inextricable are the question and answer that only logical artifice can distinguish and designate the two.

Man's need to control the terrible and the terror causes him to invent gods. Nowadays, if one were asked how to control or stop an advancing comet, he would dismiss the possibility, and say that we must await it. He is not prepared to undertake all the actions that ancient man had ready just for such approaching catastrophes -- propitiation, sacrifice, ritual, saturnalia, "going on the warpath." Nevertheless, as catastrophe approaches, at first slowly and then rapidly, and then hysterically, the modern human will act like his ancestors, including the excesses of guilt for not having foreseen the deserved end of all folly. He will draw upon the dwindling and remaining reserves of the "old time religion."

If the fossil voices telling us of the nature of the gods and of the rules for man's behavior respecting the gods are distorted and incorrect, and though they are not valid and reliable guides, yet these voices have told us things of positive value. They have given us foundations of history. They have recounted the basic facts of existence repeatedly. They have conjured existences differing from ours. They have in effect performed innumerable experiments with the allegedly divine from which we can learn what not to do religiously, and to a lesser extent what to do.

Perhaps the greatest lesson they have taught us (by negative inference) is that the religion of today and tomorrow should not be sought in the religion of the past: that humans, until they reach some certain level of perfection cannot be trusted to have known and arrived at the nature of the gods. Whenever historical man has said "Let us change our religion," (even if he does so in the name of preserving the old religion) he is saying "We were wrong about god and religion and it is up to us now to find a new way to god and a new religion."

The gods have retired into new forms, but they still operate through the busy humans whom the poet Rilke called "the bees of the invisible." The gods are still everywhere and are not as remote as our scientific texts would have us believe. They are in astrology, in magic, in fortune-telling; they fly to the scenes of disaster; they augment the forces of authority; they heal and console; they scare; they make anxious; they set the rituals for a multitude as they have done since the times of Ouranos. They assume their own negation: for they argue with themselves in Natural Law, Bureaucracy, in Dogmatic Materialism, in Reified Words, in Mummified Heroes, in Times and Worlds without End. They let themselves be molded into One and the One obliges his necessities by becoming Many. Beyond all else, they stand at ease waiting for Armageddon and the Day of Judgment. Then they will don their armor and gather their hosts.

Although they have retired it still takes rare courage to contemplate all of their continuing manifestations and to resist the invention of new negations. There is yet nowhere else to go and few who would follow.

By skimming along on the thin ice of the cerebral cortex or by mathematical astrophysics or metaphysics or another such exercise, the gods can be sublimated. Dumb bestiality may be equally functional. We think that of all ways of facing them, the best is to look at them everywhere, contemplate their every manifestation, anticipate their reappearance, but do no more. If there is any question of human madness, it is erased when one pretends to be divine. Our human destiny is an open question. We deny our humanity if we try to close it. We belittle ourselves if we plead with the gods to answer the question at any cost.

Whenever gods and religious practices have been abandoned, put aside, forgotten, changed consciously or unconsciously, those who made such changes are saying to us their descendants, "Do not think that our ancestors, or us, or even you, will have the answer. There will be New Testaments without end." We the present generation are told that we are not the first, nor the last, but a truth-seeking figure in the series of forevers until the day when somehow, somewhere, we shall be perfect. At which time, we might, if we dared, claim omniscience, omnipotence, and the fullness of virtue.

In hastening to accuse traditional religion of claiming falsely absolute truth and morality, we often fail to see in the seeming absoluteness its inherent self-confessed contradiction. Just as psychiatry has proven that excesses of anger, self-destructiveness and aggression have ordinarily come out of self-doubt and self-hatred, so we can see in the madness and excesses of historical religious behavior the same psychological sources of self-doubt and self-hatred transformed into dogma, authority, bigotry, punition and guilt in the name of absolute achievement and arrival at the nirvana of perfection. Yet even while civilizations and peoples are being destroyed in the name of absolute truth, newly arrived at, a class of readers or priests of the absolute are contradicting the behavior in gushes of explanations and interpretations of the ways of the gods. As the Hindu Brahmin calculates, the warrior slays. As Anselm seeks proof, King Arthur crusades.

The most important question of religion is not how to eradicate gods, but to establish gods at one with humanity and the human soul. For there can be no logical or moral objection to the concept of and belief in gods in themselves; again the human being, insofar as he knows any happiness, has known it in activities of a sublime sort that are inextricable from the divine. A formula and model is required, which is physically possible, and which will forego conflicts of the self, among humans, and between devils and gods. Specifications are: a) sufficient relief from fearful stress to permit the search for a new formula; b) a search for physico-chemical change agents (whether mutational or continuously operative) that would eliminate terroristic memories, with all that subtends from such in the way of self-destructiveness and other-destructiveness without damaging, and optimally while promoting, the affectional and inventive facilities of humans; c) and, while the search goes on, and anticipating that the search may be unsuccessful, the invention of social strategies( therapies and institutions) that will hold the conflicts in abeyance indefinitely.

Secularism is a negative counterattack against religion, justifiable as a restraint against malpractices known to everyone. Generally, however, humankind is not in a state to abandon religion and the gods. At best it is capable of achieving a concerted view of an overall divinity and the sacredness of existence. It can borrow from and encroach upon science. Great good would ensue, provided that the concerted belief could work its way into the aims and practices of myriad rituals of human lives.


previous.gif     next.gif