Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On the Impoverished Worship of Evil Gods

The comments to this thought-provoking article (forwarded to me by a friend) included a statement that gives me pause:
Sadly, a great many people die feeling as Anne did, but without a voice, and without a suicide parlor. They simply abandon the will to live, and fade away. Maybe they still their inner voice with drugs or alcohol, and maybe it takes them a while to die, but they are suicides, as surely as I am sitting here typing this. Thus is the great service our godless society has done.
It strikes me that the problem I have with society is not its godlessness, its lack of things that might answer meaningfully to words like god, but the way in which it conceives and creates gods and then worships them.

We suffer not from atheism, on my view, as much as we do from lack of gods worth worshipping, and (perhaps even more important) lack of opportunity to offer meaningful worship.  What does it mean to respect something in modern society?  What do we hold sacred?  As a group, we have never held the same things sacred the same way, in all our history.  Unfortunately, many of us attempt to solve this dilemma by doing violence to worship, actively punishing those who worship gods as we would not.  We do not cultivate our own garden of service to God and fellowman because we are too busy burning down our neighbor's (who is gay or Muslim or Democrat or something else we are not that we loathe, for some reason: any reason will do).

Humanity needs the freedom to imagine gods it can believe in.  These will not all be the same, even to those who agree to share with one another--to imagine together some ideal of moral excellence that they can honor in community and alone with worship.  Likewise, human worship is not infinitely malleable or universally prescribable.  We will not all worship the same god the same way.  At some point, we need the freedom to separate our worship.  You need your sacred space apart from mine, your private life before God that does not include me as an active or intimate partner (even if we worship the same god in ways that are remarkably similar).

The great tragedy of many modern gods is that they are so universal as to become either impossibly bland (when we all try to get along without acknowledging our irreconcilable differences) or impossibly destructive (when we assert those differences with the intention of destroying anything or anyone that will not submit to worship our god the way we want him to be worshipped).  Really good gods are local gods, small gods, gods that individuals and communities create and respond to without aspiring to write large all over the world (as though we could all worship the same god the same way, speaking one language, eating one food, living one life, sharing one death).

We need ways to value gods that are not all-inclusive, that do not respond to other gods with jealousy, hatred, and war where these are not productive.  We cannot keep conquering one another for God without impoverishing him and ourselves, until we become so weak and incapable of meaningful personal worship that our only sacrament is to come together and celebrate how much better we are than others who refuse to worship with us, as we do, rendering homage to whatever idol we have decided must be adored as the One True God.

People will always fight for their gods, it seems to me.  But we need not make the fight more hostile than it must be.  We need not spend all our energy worshipping God with fear and hatred for others who worship him differently (and conceive him as some thing or things that we cannot recognize or worship for ourselves).  We need not actively embrace and love gods we cannot worship, either.  Ecumenism has its limits, too, I think, that wise people must learn to respect (as they move away from trying to create impossibly universal forms of religion and focus more on making small communities work better without growing too big or powerful to serve inherently limited human needs).

The worst gods are like the worst human beings.  They acknowledge no limit to the worship they are willing to receive.  They demand absolute obedience from all and sundry to standards that human beings must enforce with violence.  Such are the impoverished modern gods of the nation-state, the global corporation, and the mega-church (with hundreds or thousands or millions or billions of members actively trying to convert the world).  There is no such thing as worshipping safely or well with a nation, a corporation, or a worldwide religion.  Their gods are all predatory, as they are, built to suck the life right out of individuals and smaller communities that they parasitize (under the banner of heaven, which they erect to protect some sacred cow impossibly remote from most human experience--like Wall Street, which the American taxpayer must worship willy-nilly because "it is too big to fail").

From such demons masquerading as angels of light, deliver us, O Lord. 

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