Jump to content
Soviet.ie | Sóivéid.ie
Sign in to follow this  
Fodla32

The Alien Nature of the Personal God

Recommended Posts

I must say that I have a very abstract concept of God. So abstract, in fact, that many people would consider me a de facto Athest. As a teenager, I rejected the idea of a God that was actually interested in me and my comings and goings, in the way my father was. But, I didn't reject the whole idea of God, and certainly not of transcendence as a concept. Later on, I read some of the work of Kant, and, it seemed to me that I had found the perfect answer to my dilemma. God could simply be defined as that which is unknowable. We know from Gödel and Heisenberg that the unknowable certainly does exist. That being the case, it would be nonsense to claim that God doesn't exist. So, I could put God to the back of my mind and pretty much forget about the whole thing. What's the point in worrying about what is, by definition, unknowable?

 

And yet, all of us do have some intimation of the transcendent. That which is beyond language. How many times have we looked at a beautiful scene, and known that no words could possibly describe it? That this scene contains much more than the sum of its parts. In such moments, it's very difficult not to feel the presence of God. (To do so would be to fall into imbecilic rationalizations about endorphins, etc. à la Dawkins et al.)

 

But, still, help was at hand. We have had no end of Westernized versions of Zen Buddhism, to tell us that the devine is within us, and that all we need to do is look deep into ourselves and there we will find God. How nice and safe. God is a happy mood chanting away inside our good old selves. (I don't claim that this is really the theology of Zen Buddhism - I very much doubt it is.) This Westernized Zen has had a huge effect, even within the Christian churches, where private mediatation has become more and more important.

 

Again, I was left in the very safe position of being able to ignore the whole concept of God. He was unknowable, and whatever radiations emiated from Him, could be reached by tuning in to myself - if one ever had any reason to do so, which I very rarely had. And if He made a beautiful scene even more beautiful, well, so much to the good.

 

Naturally, such a view of God made the very idea of imputing any intentionality to Him utterly ridiculous. How could the unknowable be thinking thoughts about us? And even if He was, since they were unknowable, they must be in a completely different system of thought to anything we can concieve of - since they would be quite knowable if God thought in our terms. There was absolutely no possiblity of any connection between human language \ thought, and any possible thought of God. Ergo, imputing intention to God has no meaning whatsoever. And if God has no intention, then He has no opinions about my behaviour. Indeed, the very idea of God thinking about my behaviour is utterly ridiculous. And, needless to say, the idea of doing deals with such a God, can be left to the completely uneducated.

 

All in all, this is a poor picture I'm painting here. There is something impoverished about it. But, I must say, that this is, more or less, my position on God. It's mind numbingly safe and pedestrian. I don't think that I would be wildly unjustified in claiming that this is a view of God that is quite common among men in particular. We feel there is something valuable in the idea of God, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water, but, at the same time, we don't wish to hold beliefs that would contradict science and "reason."

 

In my personal experiance, women tend to have a different conception of God. Woman tend to love and fear a very personal God. A God that knows them personally, loves them personally and holds them to account personally. This really is God the Father. And with such a view of God, comes a whole host of saints and angels that can put in a good word with the Father. This would seem to be a method of making God even safer and more domesticated than the Kantian Zen version. God thinks just like me. He gets angry at the same things I get angry at, He is pleased by the same things that please me, He has the same sense of right and wrong as I have. This is a God that I can do deals with. He understands quid pro quo.

 

Now, on the surface, this can be dismissed as so much primitive superstition, and I can be dismissed as a male chauvinist pig for imputing such ideas to modern, educated, women.

 

But, is this all there is to say about the personal God? Is there not something far more alien - evil even - about a God who knows and cares about this world? About a God who even made it like it is? All creation is an act of evil. It is the destruction of everything else that might have been. All law is similarly founded on an originary evil. Every law is (at least) as unjust as it is just. This was a point that Hegel made very well.

 

It is a kind of homespun wisdom that women are more religious because they bear children. On the surface, this is little more than saying there are no Athests in foxholes. But, I think there is much more to this idea.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there not a certain element of men using science as a kind of boundry line to keep them contained as thinking beings. Almost by definition, we consider someone, who's thinking and acting is not held in by science, to be insane. The psychotic may consider himself to be Napoleon. The scientific fact that Napoleon died a long time ago makes no difference to this psychotic. His personality is, in no way, reigned in by the facts of science. One cannot be reasonable with such a person - at least if one stays oneself within the bounds of science. All one can do is feel some sympathy, and, perscribe a course of medical treatment. It's far from sure that there is anything physically wrong with psychotics, and science certainly has no cure for schizophrenia. All we know is that the thinking of such people is not held in place by science - so science dopes them up to keep them safe and quiet.

 

In previous times, religion performed this function of socialization \ reality making. And religion was quite a lot more flexible than science is. Most of the great mystics would simply be perscribed neuroleptics, if they were around today - certainly their "ravings" would not be taken seriously. Before the "Enlightenment," God was that boundry line that held the human mind and its desires in place. And this God was a personal God, with many flaws that science doesnt have. For example, He was a bit fickle. You had to work to keep Him on your side. He was easy to anger. And then, He might just do really horrific things to you - like to Job or Abraham - for no very good reason. One might even say there's something of the psychotic about this God. Certainly, there is something deeply alien about Him. His desires are often deeply shocking. Indeed, there was always a touch of the devil about Him - maybe a lot more than a touch.

 

I hate to say it, but, this is obviously a far more interesting God than the Kantian Zen God. Science also looks a bit bland compared to such an alien presence. A miscarriage is a very cruel event for any woman. I think the sorrow of such an event could drive anyone well beyond the bounds of rational thinking - the weak and and almost pitiful bounds that science contains us with. Who cares about the medical explanation? It is meaningless in such a situation. Perhaps only a Devil\God could contain such sorrow, and give a consciousness enough space to heal. A fearful, alien, God, who always loves, but not in a way that is predictable or explainable. Sometimes the love of this God is as evil as it is good, and His demons are always just as close as His angels. Similarly, with the joy, or even despair, of childbirth. What has science to say on these matters? Absolutely nothing. Indeed, science fades into nonexistence, when faced with deeply human (perhaps all animal) events. So, if science cannot contain our thoughts, at the most critical moments, do we just become psychotic? No, we feel this alien God as the shape of our joy or despair.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think your almost-Athiest position on God is widely shared by men and women alike, certainly in younger generations.

 

I'm not sure that childbirth and associated experiences, which younger women also face, explain the difference. The closely defined social role of women which is only beginning to be eroded would be a more likely candidate in my opinion.

 

Women, excluded from political and economic power and influence, have been (and continue to be, even if less so) denied simple decisions over their own bodies and lives in a way that a man could not imagine. In the 26 County state we're not yet 30 years into lawful divorce and contraception. Imagine having to have a child every time you had sex, I mean, actually give birth to the child! Imagine being the legal property of your husband, with no right to engage in employment or own property in your own right? Decisions on the ability to chose whether or not to even give birth are for many women are still not in their hands. The subjugation of women and their sexual objectification continues rampant in the media (and in various comedy clubs across the country :P ). And that's before you even get to the economics, which still have thousands of women confined to the home looking after children, and ensure that the quality and remuneration of employment that is available is still completely inferior to that available to men.

 

Perhaps what you sense as women having a more personal God is simply that their reality is unknowable for you as a man? But this is changing, there has been progress in the fight against the oppression of women. And as women become equalised as wage slaves, as economic instruments, as they pass from being sexual objects owned by men in Patriarchy to being gender neutral tools for capitalism, their experience, and therefore their perception of their reality, becomes more and more similar to that of a man.

 

In today's world, fewer and fewer men or women have this personal perception of God. It is however being replaced by a personal God-like complex, where personal choices are justified solely on personal and indvidualised considerations, increasingly regardless of wider society and with no acknowledgement of any unknowable. Today's men and women think that they know everything, and the more "educated" they are, the stronger this belief seems to get.

 

Basically patriachial God relations are breaking down and capitalist God relations are filling the void. The capitalist God is still a He, but less and less so, there are now women priests in many Christian sects, even now within Catholicism as it seeks to keep up with its economic pre-requisite, Capitalism.

 

But until He becomes She, it is perhaps disingenious to say that women have a different perception of God. How would you describe your relationship with the Goddess?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I accept what you're saying, but it certainly is my experiance that women tend to believe in a more personal God. And this includes women who are by no means denied access to the workplace. I don't mean to say that the whole idea of a personal God is particular to women. But, I do feel that it is more prevelant among women.

 

I think what you are saying points to another development in late capitalist society. Baudrillard said we now live in a transexual society, i.e. that gender distinctions have been broken down to a very great degree. But, it seems to me that its not an even transexualiazion of society, i.e. a neutral space is not being found. What is happening is that, in the workplace, women are supposed to adopt all the traditional subjective positions of men, i.e. have become masculinized, while in the world of home and leasure, men have become feminized.

 

Whether or not that is true, I think the fact of the body is still a block to the tendencies of late capitalism. I think the fact of child bearing does give women an insight that, as you correctly say, I will never have access to. I would not find it strange if this difference in the Real \ reality of the body would lead to differences in the encounter with the transcendent. By the way, I was not claiming that my Kantian view of God is superior. I was very seriously doubting that it is. I've actually come to the conclusion that it is completely unsatifactory.

 

It's interesting that you mention the Goddess. Clearly the Great Goddess is much closer to the personal God than the, lets say, the Western Zen God. If you think about the Jewish God Jehova, there is nothing particularly male about him. It's traditional to think of him as male, but he has no particularly male attributes. The Holy Spirit impregnating Mary is a Christian development, and is borrowed from a whole host of other religions. Mary is clearly the Great Goddess, dressed up in Christian garb, and continues to enjoy exactly the same adoration as she enjoyed five thousand years ago. But, if you have a Mary-like goddess, then you need a sort of overgod behind her. No evil is imputed to Mary. So, you need an overgod capable of holding evil - an entity capable of the evil of creation. Once you have a distinctly female Goddess, then the overgod, will, most likely, by comparison with the human family group, be imagined as male - in effect, it is the Goddess who introduces sexual difference into the pantheon - Jehova only becomes sexually male where there is a Mary. That is in contrast to the Old Testiment, where no goddess was part of the scheme. Devine maleness was only thought of in terms of The Word, i.e. the Law.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But, if you have a Mary-like goddess, then you need a sort of overgod behind her. No evil is imputed to Mary. So, you need an overgod capable of holding evil - an entity capable of the evil of creation.

 

Yes, if you have a Mary-like goddess with male imposed attributes like infalibility and ever-lasting virginity. The pre-Christian Goddess has no such overgod behind her. She may have many undergods in front of her. She is not necessarily a personal Goddess in the way that you talk about, she represents everything within the Universe, with no good-evil distinction.

 

People have a personal relationship with her, only in that they see the Divine within themselves, and this is an important point when considering the personal nature of Divinity. For Divinity to have any meaning it must relate somehow to humanity. The Divine as something completely outside of humanity is absurd. I'm not talking about a God or Goddess who takes a personal interest in what the individual is doing, but a connection between the individual and a higher purpose, something that is human in the abstract without it being personally constructed for the individual human.

 

I'm not sure that Jehvoa is not a male god, all the manifestations are male, indeed the concept of Jehova is synominous with the fall of the female line and tribal structure and with its replacement with a private property based society.

 

The Goddess existed ever before there was a God, if anything the Goddess became feminine when maleness sought to assert its independence, and eventually assert its domination over the universal Goddess. The male gods (like Jehova) armed with testosterone, ensured that the Goddess didn't have a chance, to the point that her existance was almost wiped from history!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, if you have a Mary-like goddess with male imposed attributes like infalibility and ever-lasting virginity.

 

As I understand it, the Great Goddess was also understood to be ever-virgin. In the winter she slept, and awoke as the Virgin Spring. Also, the word Virgin originally means "fresh." It also has the meaning of "self-contained." Until very recent times, in Ireland and Scotland there were rituals of awaking the Goddess with phallic objects, in effect, she was awakened by sexual excitement. Many of the manifestations of the Goddess, at least in the last 3,000 years, have emphasized her virgin or "fresh" quality - such as Brigit, Persephone, Artemis, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

People have a personal relationship with her, only in that they see the Divine within themselves, and this is an important point when considering the personal nature of Divinity. For Divinity to have any meaning it must relate somehow to humanity. The Divine as something completely outside of humanity is absurd. I'm not talking about a God or Goddess who takes a personal interest in what the individual is doing, but a connection between the individual and a higher purpose, something that is human in the abstract without it being personally constructed for the individual human.

 

 

But is that not the type of Kantian reduction that I was talking about? Are you not domesticating the Great Goddess?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I'm not sure that Jehvoa is not a male god, all the manifestations are male, indeed the concept of Jehova is synominous with the fall of the female line and tribal structure and with its replacement with a private property based society.

 

 

 

I agree with you that monotheistic religion is always associated with the subjugation of women. I also agree that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, law and language are considered to be male attributes, and Jehova is seen as the god of law and language. Isn't it St. John's Gospel that begins : In the beginning was the Word. Jehova is thought of as Word or Law. But, beyond the association of all law with maleness, I don't see that Jehova has any sexual gender. Certainly not if having a penis has anything to do with it. On the other hand, one could hardly imagine the Great Goddess without a womb.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The pre-Christian Goddess has no such overgod behind her. She may have many undergods in front of her. She is not necessarily a personal Goddess in the way that you talk about, she represents everything within the Universe, with no good-evil distinction.

 

 

I left this till last, as it is a very difficult concept. The question that strikes me is: how do you have language and law, if there is no distinction between good and evil? And yet, we can hardly imagine all those thousands of years, when the Great Goddess ruled supreme, without law and language. Is there not a sense that if she represented everything, she, in fact, represented nothing? (For some reason, PSF comes into my head.) I don't have any answer to that question. But, it is an extremely interesting one. Particularly if we think of all of European philosophy, going back to Greece, where God is considered to have created the world out of the primeval chaos (Christianity came up with the idea of God creating the world ex nihilo, but most of the great Christian philosophers pretty much ignored that dogma and stuck to the Greek idea.)

 

Is the reign of the Great Goddess the "chaos" that they are talking about? If so, it can hardly really have been chaos. And if it wasn't, then was there not a need for a good \ evil distinction, and from that, representation in general? And doesn't that bring us back to a Jehova-like entity?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But is that not the type of Kantian reduction that I was talking about? Are you not domesticating the Great Goddess?

 

Yes, I suppose it is. Reducing God to something human. But to Marx God was very much a human concept, without humans there is no God. There is certainly beyond-human, the unknowable, but as far as this does not relate to humanity, it is of no relevance to them. If God was this truly this unknowable space, then humans have no use for him. Indeed what religion has done has been to use this concept of the unknowabe and merge it with their form of a human God to mystify divinity and impose their own agenda.

 

From the Great Goddess' womb onwards, these divinities have been very human and couched in human terms. I don't imgaine that the unknowable Divinity really has a womb! Divinity is a metaphor for how humans see themselves and what is around them. It is when divinity, or religion, tries to impart truly unknowable qualities on to god that the problems start, when you get a truly alien God.

 

I guess I don't have a problem with a personal god, if that person has compassion and respect for what is around him, and realises that Divinity is and should be a social concept and not there simply to justify an individual's own selfish decisions and desires.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is the reign of the Great Goddess the "chaos" that they are talking about? If so, it can hardly really have been chaos. And if it wasn't, then was there not a need for a good \ evil distinction, and from that, representation in general? And doesn't that bring us back to a Jehova-like entity?

 

I think this is exactly what happened. It is the anarchy that we are taught to fear, a world without private property relations. That is pretty scary to a capitalist, or to most within Judeo-Christian faiths and Islam. Jehova smashed all that, he didn't bring a penis into the equation as such, as you have rightly said the Goddess had plenty of action already, indeed many of her forms have her exposing her vulva to the world and there are many phallic arousals of her depicted in art from the time, but what he did bring was the alienation of maleness from the whole (no pun intended).

 

According to Engels, In tribal society, mother-line ruled. Tribes were in general divided into two groups, or gens. The only sexual taboo was that you could not mate with someone from your own gens. Originally men would mate with a woman from the other gens simply as desired and then leave. This developed to pairings, whereby the man would associate with a particular woman, but all children remained within the gens of the mother. Proprerty, other than immediate personal possessions belonged to the gens and remained in the gens, essentially communally.

 

Jehova turned this on its head. This "chaos" could not cater for the amassing of property. Men had started to amass property, generally in the form of cattle. This new property relation was not compatible with mother line and communal gens property rights. If property that had been amassed was to stay amassed mother-line had to go. Men had to assert themselves as individuals outside of the common good. Property rights, through children, started to pass from father to son. This way property was alienated from the tribe and amassed to the individual, passing down the male line.

 

This as I see it was the formation of Jehova and all that has stemmed from that Deity. This is why we have been taught not to covet thy neighbour's ox, or indeed his wife, and why we have been taught to honour only our mother and father rather than our wider family. This is of course why we are told to honour and obey one God, a very male (in the economic sense) God and to destroy all other idols.

 

An economic male god is a very personal god, in the sense that he is there to underwrite individualism, compared to the Great Goddess, who regardless of how personal one's relationship with her was, embodied social and communal economic relations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think this is exactly what happened. It is the anarchy that we are taught to fear, a world without private property relations. That is pretty scary to a capitalist, or to most within Judeo-Christian faiths and Islam. Jehova smashed all that, he didn't bring a penis into the equation as such, as you have rightly said the Goddess had plenty of action already, indeed many of her forms have her exposing her vulva to the world and there are many phallic arousals of her depicted in art from the time, but what he did bring was the alienation of maleness from the whole (no pun intended).

 

 

 

This is a very interesting point. It's very easy for us to imagine alienation, as we live in a world of alienation. In the socio-economic sense that Marx wrote about, but also in the alienation of the entry to language itself and the formation of the unconscious that Freud wrote about. At least from the point of view of Freudian theory, the only time this linguistic alienation is not present is in the infant before the learning of language and in animals that rely on instinct for their functioning. If that were the case, I can't imagine that the society of the Goddess was without alienation either.

 

Von Shelling had an interesting theory on this question. He put the breaking of the Whole-of-Nature into nature itself, i.e. because the human infant is born premature, compared to other animals, i.e. is born far too early for practical functioning, a very long time is given to the infant, i.e. between birth and weaning, when it begins a process of alienating itself from the instincts and coming to rely on a set of symbolic relations, i.e. the language of its parents.

 

If this is correct, then we would have to say that the Word comes into the "chaos" of the infant's mind, in the very same way that the Word entered the life of our species as a whole. It comes to us as an external shock. There is something distinctly alien about it. And, when we have taken the Word onto ourselves, we are left forever alienated from our animal being, i.e. we are divided in ourselves, cast out of the paradise of the Whole.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't say that there was no alienation in primiitive communistic times, I think the point about langage is valid, when you start symbolic communication, then you are already alienating yourself from the whole, or you could say that only when you are alienated from the whole do you need symbolic communication.

 

Or from a positivist point of view, I suppose you could say that language and the desire for communication actually creates the whole in the first place. We frame our own whole :D We could have remained dumb animals with no desire to communicate in symbolic language, but as we evolved as more and more social animals, the whole that we created with language developed increasing levels of complexity and interdependence. I think I prefer this model than suggesting that we have somehow become alienated from a whole that never really existed, like some mythical fall from Eden.

 

Its never helpful to idealise a former era, especially when we know so little about it, but I'm sure you wouldn't disagree that private property and excessive and completely unnecessary alienation go hand in hand. The development of private property exactly coincides with the move from Goddess to God and with the move from female lineage and gens society to the patriarchal married couple that has now developed into the atomised nuclear family. There was an existing whole prior to this development which male domination sought to alienate property rights from.

 

Whereas communal property relations were sustainable under the Goddess, the male dominated accummulation involved in the rise of capital is unsustainable. Unsustainability would be one measure of alienation. If something is sustainable it works as a whole, when one element seeks to dominate (ie, alienate itself from the whole by putting its individual needs first), the whole becomes unbalanced and unsustainable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I fully agree that the introduction of private property means that humanity, as a species, is alienated from itself, and that each individual is also alienated from his\her self. The god of monotheism is certainly the ultimate god of alienation. Which, in a strange way, brings us back to the OP. I would certainly like to do some study on the question of the Goddess and law.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Im too tired to write a long piece on my intimate feelings on this matter but will tommorow:-)

 

But I find this fascinating to read and it is a testament to your intellect Fodla, one which one day I hope to pocess.

 

But its a topic close to my heart as at present Im struggling to find myself spuritually

 

Since my teens and discovering republicanism and radical thinking I adopted an attitude that I was atheist because socialism seemed so hostile of religious thinking

But I can never help but feel drawn to Christ, and have come to many conclusions on his presence in life

 

Is he a metaphor for personal and worldly struggle for man to be morally better

 

Was he gods son who took the form of flesh to bear the brunt of mankinds folly?

 

Is it logical to believe in a 'Virgin birth' and to follow Christ why should I accept the infalibility of a papal figurehead which brings me to Protestant version of thinking

 

But then again Catholism defines Christ so beautifully as a man of compassion and a fighter for the oppresed

 

So many questions that ultimately can never all be answered concretely which brings me to conclusion I can never have a personal god ala Christ as I will always doubt

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×