Sunday, November 8, 2015

The identity of God, and why I believe in your God, if not mine

Sometimes I think of my Roman Catholic mother attending Easter week services, during her all-too-brief years with her children. For one who has moved away from her faith, in my case toward something like pantheism, I wonder how awkward that topic would be if I could talk to her again now…

I recently read James Michener's The Source, a story of the Hebrew/Jewish people and their ancestral land that is now Israel. This is an impressive and gripping work of historical fiction, deeply researched, published in 1965. In one vignette, a Hebrew tribe marches out of the desert into Canaan, carrying the invisible yet omnipresent Yahweh in their hearts and minds. Yahweh commands and prescribes customs, laws, and rituals. Although a fiction, the portrayed Hebrew beliefs resonate with something I've suspected for a long time, that the myth of Yahweh was of highest importance, even more so than the truth of Yahweh. For Yahweh was the deified manifestation of the Hebrew people. Yahweh was their identity, the face of the collective tribe.

I suspect that this is so throughout most of history, that God is less about theology and more about identity. An ouroboros of God creating man, and man creating God.

And this is the source of the discomfort when you say you don’t believe in someone’s God. You are saying you don’t believe in them. Many who stand in their faith feel this identification, and this is why denying or challenging their religion is tantamount to denying their existence.
I do not know if supernatural beings exist, but I do believe in religion as a cultural identity myth. And there’s that poor bastardized word: myth. If ever there is a great enemy, as some Christians say, what has happened to that word, becoming synonymous with a falsehood, would be the greatest of his works. For it robs us of mystery, story, and meaning. Nothing is more real than that, transcending even veracity.

If humans are indeed hyperprosocial creatures (see Whip it good), a Being projected into the sky out of the brains and hearts of a group can have stupendous polarization power. We don’t eat that or we do wear that or we whatever because the face in the mirror in the sky says so when we look up moving our lips in unison as we pray. Behavior guided not by rationality but by identity preservation. Myths are the scripts that each must play out.

The Jews are a remarkable example of this. Anticipating and adapting to diaspora, the dense hedge of the Talmud and the rabbinical caste preserved and protected the Jewish identity through centuries of wandering.

This lack of borders may be a reason why pantheism is not as appealing as some other beliefs. Everything is on the inside of God, so where can you point to that which is not self? And without these lines, what is my identity?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Whip it good

I’m seeing hyperprosocial everywhere now, after reading this in Scientific American:

How Homo sapiens Became the Ultimate Invasive Species, by Curtis Marean.

“Many human species have inhabited Earth. But ours is the only one that colonized the entire planet. A new hypothesis explains why.”

The hypothesis is that an relatively recent evolutionary funnel shaped us to be hyperprosocial creatures, an indomitable force marching out of Africa:

“Everywhere H. sapiens went, massive ecological changes followed. The archaic humans they encountered went extinct, as did vast numbers of animal species. It was, without a doubt, the most consequential migration event in the history of our planet.”

Some threads drawn from and around this:

Our huge energy-hungry brains, and radically differing facial features serve a purpose of forming and managing alliances and identifying insiders and outsiders.

Humans excel at altruism. Also at spite and schadenfreude.

The open hand gesture is a universal sign of peace, yet human hands uniquely and instantly can be weaponized as fists, against which male facial physiognomy is armored.

Hypersociability is Shiva and Brahma, tearing down and building ever higher.

World War I, precipitated by Archduke Ferdinand's assassination, was an astounding and furious alignment of us and them forces. Many historians still do not know how this came about.

“We have met the enemy and they is us.” --Pogo.

It is wise to think before plunging in. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” --Yeats.

Technology fertilizes the growth of institutional golems:

“Feral edifices are awakening on the planet
mosaics made of fragments of frightened people
tribes once profiting by mimicing machines
now caught inside."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A religion that might have been but will never be again

It seems that the days of humanity living in a dream world with myths and stories serving as spiritual guides have passed away. For weal or woe truth is king. Combined with the queasiness of uncertain existence, this can mean latching on to belief for dear life. So if unsubstantiated truth is a requisite of religion, I propose three things to keep the butchery and the bizarre at bay:
  1. Ask science if your truth is healthy. We have bodies and minds that allow science to do this. If believers are pumped full of stress hormones or found in piles at the bottom of ravines then someone should bring this up for discussion.
  2. Rituals and customs are fine for binding the tribe, but at one point in time such things did not exist and there may come a time when they need to go (see #1). Example: animal sacrifice.
  3. If God wants you to do something, let God tell you in person. If there is no message then assume God wants you to figure things out on your own. Never ask someone or something what God wants you to do. We have seen how that plays out time after time. If your holy book has some good advice that stands on its own merits (see #1), then by all means proceed, but that is very different from God telling you personally to do something.
One of the stimuli for writing this: