Monday, 25 April 2011

God's Heir

Some refer to our species as Homo sapiens, the thinking hominid, as if the capacity of our motivational and emotional systems to control behaviour lay entirely subordinate to wonderful Father Reason.  But most of us are well aware that really it is the other way around.  Indeed, Shakespeare made his very living off the abilitiy of passionate feeling to overcome the whining of the intellect, an innevitable tsunami threatening the wall’s of Reason’s fortress.

So what’s the appropriate taxonomic name for our species?  What single word connotates the entire ability of unreasonableness, emotion, passion, feeling, and love to overcome the tremendous resistance initiated by the pursuit of logic?  Mircea Eliade proposed Homo religiosus, the religious hominid.

If we consider the history of humanity, from an anthropological and animal behavioural perspetive, we find that an enormous amount of our behavioural output has been oriented towards the pursuit of goal’s seemingly ordained by divine and spiritual beings: the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Aztec, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, the Angkor Wat’s of the Khmer, monasteries in the Himalayas, and the God-Knows-What-Goes-On-Over-There.

Perhaps now adays you’re not so convinced of the necessity of religion for anything.  Fine.  We’ll get to that.  But for the time being we should agree that for most of the rest of us, at least until a couple hundred years ago (of say, 40 000 years of human cultural evolution), perhaps the most primary motivation in the lives of the majority was somehow or other a religious one -  a pursuit of goals passed down to us from beings on another plane.

Cute.  I know.  That we should believe in fairies and elves and Hercules and El, monsters and hells and Hades and spells, Christ’s, alright! Buddhas, Shiva, Thor, and Night, god’s a plenty, oh so many, where’d they go, are they alright?
Are we alright?

If you would humor me so much as to agree to the taxonomic designation Homo religiosus, then it is a curious thing that we should find our selves in an era where the popular claim of influential philosophy is that God is Dead.  God’s have been with us, sometimes personally, sometimes much more socially, for at least the last 40 000 years.  And now they are gone.  Where did they go?  Or did we just get smart enough to realize they weren’t there?

Here’s why you cannot deny the existence of the gods.  The stuff that gives rise to the religious experience, to convictions about Divinity and an unbreakable passion to fulfill its will, is the same stuff that gives rise to dreams, to ideological persuasions and pursuits, and to the deep and wonderful well of humanity’s creative juice.  It’s all the same stuff.  And it’s right there in our nervous system, somehow coded as the interaction between our bodies and our environments.

What is this stuff?  And what are we to make of its various manifestations?  What forces lie beneath ourselves, operating in neural circuits parallel to our conscious river of ceaseless thought?  What unconscious personalities battle for expression into consciousness, and realization in behaviour?  Have the gods gone into hiding, motivating us without our knowing?  Coaxing us into a downward spiral of socio-ecological destruction, from within our very own neurophysiology?!

In this age, then, of smothered gods, industrial jaws, and consuming paws, we grope and we grope for the brief, subtle pause of a fleeting feast of satisfaction.  But a fleeting feast is on the order of yeast when compared to the beast in the scheme of life’s greatest feats.  We’re hooked on treats.  And The Trends can be tough ones to beat.

Consumption cannot extend the pause of pure joy.  It can only make it repeat.  And the intervals between treats will toss a driver out of his seat.  Desire will consume you, as you so ravenously consumed before.  And the spiral contends release.

The gods cannot be replaced with treats.  The gods commanded diligent effort, commitment, discipline.  They enforced order and stability on societal goo, molding it into the cultural mosaic of our world.  But we no longer serve majestic, immaculate divinities.  We find ourselves the servants of new gods, of the Pepsi’s and Nestle’s and Gucci’s, and their legion of Great and Powerful Providers.  Are these satisfactory heir’s?    Are they deserving of a seat in legend?  Our diligence is to them, not for the sake of the universe, or of Nature’s Great Beauty, or of divine, passionate, love, or of the pure thrill of the existential position – but for the immediate pleasure they bring to us as individuals.  And don’t think for a second that such pleasure is authentic.  Our reward systems have been hijacked.  Sugar tastes as good as it does because it was once rare – nature did not intend for us to consume hundreds of grams of the stuff a day.

So where does this leave us?  Mass marketing, the Economy, and the world of advertising have made us into addicts.  They have usurped the role of the gods and taken hold of our reward systems, our motivations, our emotional health, and our passions.  They have desacralized us, shamed our inherent divinity.  They have shaped us into vultures.  What retribution can we seek?  How can we re-instate divinity?  Are we in need of new gods?

Or are we in need of something different?

Something a bit more fluid, more tolerant, more accepting.  Something more identifiable, present, and sustaining.  Something that does not fool our sense of joy with the trick of a treat but rather encompasses and reminds us, just how wonderful, really, is this Great Feat.  Something like humility and inspiration.  Like the realization of your own infinite, and your own emptiness.  Something like unconditional acceptance of the way things are meets determined passion for the integrity of us, as stars.

We are God’s heir.  And that is an enormous responsibility.  Act wisely, lest we unleash the final flood.

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