by Manuel García, Jr.
"My own mind is my own church"
—Thomas Paine, (1737-1809) The Age Of Reason
"God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world"
(Swans - January 17, 2005) "If God is everywhere, why do I have to go to church?" The inability of adult authority to give a six-year-old boy an unequivocal answer planted a freethinking seed that flowered into liberation.
To criticize religion is unkind, like ridiculing a child's thumb sucking and security blanket. Then why discuss it, since for many, discussion is equivalent to critique? Because concepts of God are at the root of attitudes about community, security and power, and these in turn affect our shared external reality -- country. Church and State, God and Country, they are never far apart. The ideal would be to keep our Gods contained within ourselves so they do not destroy what we enjoy together. Reality is otherwise.
Belief and Religion
Religion is organized belief in response to psychological need.
Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.
—Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), (1)
There are two aspects to consider, a personal one of belief or unbelief in the existence of God, and the social one of communities of organized belief or unbelief: religions or societies of freethinkers, secularists and humanists. How do the beliefs within these communities affect the politics between them?
First, let us consider belief.
The Age Of Reason
In January 1794 in Paris, Tom Paine began his last important work, The Age Of Reason, of which he completed Part 1 six hours before his arrest by the Jacobins. Paine escaped the guillotine by accident, but nearly died of illness during his ten month incarceration. This patriot of the American Revolution, who had been elected an honorary French citizen and returned to the Convention (in Paris) by three different constituencies in 1792, had seen the promise of the French Revolution debased by the concentration of power, the self-aggrandizement of "leaders," and a loss of vision and human connectedness by many others. A Robespierre who could believe "I am of the people because I feel all their wants, their hurts, their pains, their sufferings," was a man elevating himself to godlike heights -- with glacial empathy. (2)
Paine's response was to write about religion because
The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of the priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true. (3)
The Age Of Reason shocked Paine's contemporaries, even many who agreed with his politics. The nature of his belief was shared by Jefferson, Washington and Adams, but they were careful to avoid any public expression of unorthodoxy. (4) Paine wrote
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.
The incendiary phrase is "and no more." Paine spelled out the "no more" at length, generally a criticism of the Old Testament from a moral point of view, and a dismissal of the Jewish, Roman, Greek, Turkish and Protestant orthodoxies. Though Paine's belief is now commonplace, these three words still keep it beyond the permissible limits of many today.
For Paine, belief was personal -- not organized -- and it informed personal acts, in his case an unwavering opposition to slavery (in America), oligarchy (in England) and unnecessary bloodshed (in France). He was a democrat opposed to cruelty in any form.
The Undiscovered Self
A more recent voice speaking eloquently about personal belief was that of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). He was separated from Paine's lifespan by 66 years, and from today by 43 years. Jung had no need of faith, he was an empiricist who observed that natural processes of growth and decay included a natural process of psychological integration, which he called individuation. For him, that this happened of its own was God, and being aware of the process within oneself was knowing. And no more.
The fact is that what happens to a person is characteristic of him. He represents a pattern and all the pieces fit. One by one, as his life proceeds, they fall into place according to some predestined design.
All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take His existence on belief -- I know that He exists. (5)
One can hear an echo of Herakleitos (c. 500 BC) in Jung, "Character is fate." (6) Jung recommends that you dive in, that you know for yourself, and in particular that you "beware of childishness." And what could be more childish than unquestioning obedience?
Discovering yourself provides you with all you are, were meant to be, and all you are living from and for. The whole of yourself is certainly an irrational entity, but this is just precisely yourself, which is meant to live as a unique and unrepeatable experience. Thus, whatever you find in your given disposition is a factor of life which must be taken into careful consideration.
If you should find, for instance, an ineradicable tendency to believe in God or immortality, do not allow yourself to be disturbed by the blather of so-called freethinkers. And if you find an equally resistant tendency to deny all religious ideas do not hesitate: deny them and see how that influences your general welfare and your state of mental or spiritual nutrition. But beware of childishness: whether you call the ultimate unknown "God" or "Matter" is equally futile, since we know neither the one nor the other, though we doubtless have experiences of both. But we know nothing beyond them, and we cannot produce either the one or the other. (7)
Who is Jung's God?
The collective unconscious, it's not for you, or me, it's the invisible world, it's the great spirit. It makes little difference what I call it: God, Tao, the Great Voice, the Great Spirit. But for people of our time God is the most comprehensible name with which to designate the Power beyond us. (8)
Without knowing it man is always concerned with God. What some people call instinct or intuition is nothing other than God. God is that voice inside us which tells us what to do and what not to do. In other words, our conscience.
In this dark atomic age of ours, with its lurking fear, man is seeking guidance. Consciously or unconsciously he is once more grasping for God. I make my patients understand that all the things which happen to them against their will are a superior force. They can call it God or devil, and that doesn't matter to me, as long as they realize that it is a superior force. God is nothing more than that superior force in our life. You can experience God every day.
The Sound Of One Hand Clapping
What makes Gods godly is their remoteness from human scale. This remoteness is one of power, emotion and concern. The ancient Greeks understood this about the Gods, they could be magnanimous or unearthly cruel, and they could equally well be completely oblivious about our individual fortunes or misfortunes. Jung's great insight about God was this evenhandedness between the right hand of sweetness and light, and the left hand of darkness and cruelty; the mandala, the yin-yang of the Tao. Jung presented this in his work Answer To Job (1952), which of his writings most disturbs his religiously orthodox critics.
Does the image we have of God or Not-God inspire humility and satisfaction in "doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy?" Or, does the image we have of God or Not-God support a feeling of power and exclusivity, something that sets us above the unanointed with a superior sense to "feel all their wants, their hurts, their pains, their sufferings?" The first attitude as a social norm is essential to civic health, and to this end it does not matter whether any individual's image is of God or Not-God. The second attitude as a social norm would be the left hand of God playing the religion card.
It is not what you believe that determines the worthiness of your religion (or non-religion) and the merit of your practice, but what you do, how you act, what you support.
If I call the unimaginably vast and ancient, powerful and impersonal universe the superior force in my life -- God -- and I view my own existence as an insignificance of such scant proportion that mere random chance can easily explain it, do I hold a belief in God that inspires humility and appreciation, even exultation in being alive, or have I crossed over into unbelief? Is there any difference?
The opposition of God and Not-God may be a false dichotomy if the practical outcome for the adherents of each is Paine socialism. If the social outcome is a Robespierrean absolutism, then the belief or atheism of the perpetrators is irrelevant, despotism is despotism. Where under Paine socialism the widest variety of personal conviction and religious practice would be tolerated, despotism would eliminate all competing thought in favor of one compulsory system of belief -- a theocracy even if atheistic.
Only those religions or non-religions intent on achieving a Robespierrean absolutism (saving the country, saving the world) will be concerned that their particular form of the God or Not-God image dominates popular attention. If they have a mission, they are a threat to society, a mental health epidemic. Orthodoxy is the enemy of the people.
In April 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934-1968) became the first human to orbit the Earth. During his 89 minute orbit he radioed "I don't see any God up here." This led to many apocryphal stories and jokes, like the following. Yuri Gagarin is interviewed by Western journalists after his historic flight. An American journalist asks "Did you see God when you were in space?" Gagarin answers, "Yes, she's black." I heard this from Brother Kieran, OSF in my high school biology class of 1966. This was a Franciscan Brother, and it was the 1960s. Another entertaining story is told in "Many Voices, One God." (9) Gagarin's documented quote is included in compilations of interesting quotes about atheism, (10) religion, science, skepticism and nonbelief. (11)
Now, let us consider nonbelief.
Why I Am Not A Christian
The objections to religion are of two sorts -- intellectual and moral. The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.
—Bertrand Russell (12)
In 1925 Bertrand Russell published a booklet called What I Believe, "to say what I think of man's place in the universe, and of his possibilities in the way of achieving the good life." This booklet and other writings were presented as evidence in court that Russell was unfit to teach philosophy at the College of the City of New York. The court agreed and Russell was barred from accepting his professorship in 1941. The successful campaign against Russell was carried on by "ecclesiastical journals, the Hearst press, and just about every Democratic politician joined [in a] chorus of defamation." Of the sad result John Dewey said "As Americans, we can only blush with shame for this scar on our repute for fair play." (13)
In What I Believe, Russell said this on the existence of God:
God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science. It cannot be said that either doctrine is essential to religion, since neither is found in Buddhism... But we in the West have come to think of them as the irreducible minimum of theology. No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for either. I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the Gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them. (14)
In Why I Am Not A Christian Russell succinctly demolishes five major arguments advanced to prove the existence of God. A summary might be as follows (C = Christian, R = Russell, J = Jungian Christian):
First Cause Argument
C: Everything in the world has a cause, and the root of this causal cascade -- the First Cause -- is called God. R: "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God."
Natural Law Argument
C: Processes in nature, like the planets orbiting the sun, follow natural laws, pointing to a divine lawgiver. R: "Human laws are behests commanding you to behave in a certain way...but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being mere description[s]...you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing there were, you are then faced with the question 'Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?'" C: God did so for his own good pleasure, without reason. R: Then there is something which is not subject to law, and your train of natural law is interrupted. C: In fact, God does have a reason for each law, to create the best universe. R: "You would never think it to look at it," but if there were such reasons "then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary."
Argument From Design
C: Everything in the world is designed just so that we can manage to live in it, pointing to a supreme designer, for if the world were ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. R: Since Darwin we know that creatures evolve to adapt to their environments, not that environments are created just so for existing creatures -- there is no evidence of design. "When you look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world...should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think, that if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?"
C: There would be no right or wrong unless God existed. R: "[If] there is a difference between right and wrong...is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer significant...to say that God is good. If you are going to say...that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning that is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them." If so, "it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but they are in their essence logically anterior to God." J: God can be bad. R: A Gnostic hypothesis -- "which I often thought was a very plausible one" -- is that "this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it."
Argument For Remedying Injustice
C: The existence of God is required to bring justice into the world. R: "In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying." C: To have justice in the universe as a whole there is a future life, with heaven and hell, to redress the balance of life here on earth. R: The simplest logic is to assume that this world is a fair sample of the rest of the universe unknown to us, "and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also. Supposing you got a crate of oranges...and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue 'The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say, 'probably the whole lot is bad,'" and a similar argument would apply to the universe. "Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in this world," which in turn forms "a moral argument against deity."
But belief in God is not a matter of logic, it is a matter of imprinting and emotion. We humans are very similar to geese (read Konrad Lorenz), we imprint many images and associations very early in life, often our most indelible images and compelling associations. "Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it," as Russell observes right after concluding his five counterproofs of deity, just described. The emotion is "the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you."
Why I Am A Pagan
Lin Yutang (1895-1976) like C. G. Jung was the son of a Christian preacher and seriously considered a life in the ministry, until his college years. The many doubts easily accessible to keen young Christian intellects -- who use their minds as intended (if they were intentionally designed) -- reached a head for Lin Yutang when he was a college instructor, one day in conversation with a Confucian colleague.
"Why," I reasoned with a colleague, "if there were no God, people would not do good and the world would go topsy-turvy."
"Why?" replied my Confucian colleague. "We should lead a decent human life simply because we are decent human beings," he said.
This appeal to the dignity of human life cut off my last tie to Christianity, and from then on I was a pagan.
It is all so clear to me now. The world of pagan belief is a simpler belief. It postulates nothing, and is obliged to postulate nothing. It seems to make the good life more immediately appealing by appealing to the good life alone. It better justifies doing good by making it unnecessary for doing good to justify itself. It does not encourage men to do, for instance, a simple act of charity by dragging in a series of hypothetical postulates -- sin, redemption, the cross, laying up treasure in heaven, mutual obligation among men on account of a third-party relationship in heaven -- all so unnecessarily complicated and roundabout, and none capable of direct proof. If one accepts the statement that doing good is its own justification, one cannot help regarding all theological baits to right living as redundant and tending to cloud the luster of a moral truth. Love among men should be a final, absolute fact. We should be able just to look at each other and love each other without being reminded of a third party in heaven. Christianity seems to me to make morality appear unnecessarily difficult and complicated and sin appear tempting, natural, and desirable. Paganism, on the other hand, seems alone to be able to rescue religion from theology and restore it to its beautiful simplicity of belief and dignity of feeling. (16)
Lin Yutang went on to become a prolific writer, whose works include classics of philosophical commentary like The Wisdom Of Laotse, and of pedagogy like The Lin Yutang Chinese-English Dictionary Of Modern Usage. Lin Yutang's 1937 bestseller, The Importance Of Living, is a work in the style of Michel de Montaigne's Essays imbued with wu-wei, the Taoist concept of no-action.
Thinking Is Freedom
Is Russell's freethinking unbelief of less value than morality compelled by orthodoxy? Russell makes an excellent case for the opposite. Is it possible that what Paine, Jung, Russell and Lin Yutang share is that their ideas of God or Not-God are motivated from their morality and not vice versa? Is it possible that both belief and unbelief are distractions, illusions, maya obscuring the living reality that has any value, which is adherence to the morality of "doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy," of being "inspired by love and guided by knowledge," of "leading decent human lives simply because we are decent human beings," of "discovering yourself" with Jungian diligence, echoing the inscription at Delphi to "Know Thyself," and Buddha's dying words to "work out your salvation with diligence."
Orthodoxy is the death of intellect, and in that there is no God, as Paine and Jung intuit, Russell proves and Lin Yutang eloquently confirms.
Why have orthodoxy and churches?
Church is community, it is what people seek beyond family -- or instead of it -- to find belonging. At its best, such community can be very warm and accepting, and of great psychological and financial help in times of personal crisis. Many people find great comfort by association with others who mirror their concerns, and with whom they can form cooperatives for educating children and performing good works in their communities.
The church is the physical plant of a religion, which is an organized system of belief, which in turn is maintained by a priesthood or professional ministry who set about creating and interpreting theology to justify their existence, and creating community to maintain the attraction of their churches to ensure the continuing operation of this earthly enterprise. In the United States, religion is defined by the Internal Revenue Service, and religions are tax-exempt corporations. The original quid pro quo of this arrangement was that Churches would stay out of politics, and the State would stay out of the Church treasuries ("separation of church and state"). However, like all corporations Churches have preferences as to government policies, which can affect existing operations, income and the prospects for growth. So, churches engage in politics, as the 1940 case of Bertrand Russell, and much else before and since has demonstrated. The role of the Catholic Church as a barrier to social and political reform is historic -- read Bertrand Russell. In a recent article, Gary Leupp describes how the Catholic Church in France thwarted the aims of the Revolution of 1848. (17)
When the Catholic Church became a progressive force with "a preferential option for the poor" in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, it found itself opposed to oligarchy instead of allied with it as had been traditional, for example with Franco in Spain. Then, instead of having national armies protecting the Church, they attacked, murdering its priests and nuns, and even Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Since these Central American oligarchies are extensions of US imperialism, what occurred was a war by the US government through proxies against the Catholic Church. What was true in Rome in 250 during the reign of Emperor Decius was true in America in 1980 during the reign of Ronald Reagan, Christianity seen as a threat to the State was persecuted. The subsequent retreat of the Church is evident in its shift from the liberation introduced by Pope John XXIII and Vatican II in 1962, to the renewed fundamentalism of Pope John Paul II. From the perspective of empire the spread of "liberation theology" among the masses is socialism and not to be tolerated, and from the perspective of the Churches fundamentalism that reinforces oligarchy and the status quo is the surest guarantee of its physical safety and financial security.
Religious orthodoxy is an element of social control and thus of political power.
If we taxed the Churches and allowed them to engage in politics in the same manner as any other corporation, there would be much less confusion all around about both the politics and the religions.
There is a great deal of hate and prejudice that aspires to suffocating political control, and appropriates the language of Christianity to elevate its self-image to god-like stature. Such so-called American Christianity is hate masquerading as religion to operate as tax-exempt corporation, giving an illusion of power to the ignorant, and a vent of cruelty to the fearful.
Orthodoxy opposed to intellect is religion addiction, and of this the United States has a mental health problem of epidemic proportions. We are not the only country so affected. Our "War On Drugs" does not now include the "opiate of the masses" because the present mass addiction serves the interests of the ruling elites.
The Levers of Control
The four major levers of control by any government are: guns (and armaments), money (the supply and use of, including gambling), drugs (including mass psychosis and religion) and women (libido, fecundity). Religions at the service of the State will facilitate its use of these levers.
We can see that people whose God/Not-God image springs from Paine socialist convictions will be most likely to oppose government oppression and oligarchy. They are also the people least likely to contribute to the support of Church, Incorporated, though a good number may be very socially, civically and charitably engaged. These people can be troublemakers because they are inquisitive, outspoken, uncowed, principled, responsible, disobedient, uncontrolling, witty and irreverent.
Being in control is an illusion, but one that obsesses many.
People who are intimidated by the prospect of thinking, who are fearful and seek security, willingly surrender funds, the free range of their intellect and their freedom of action to a higher authority in exchange for protection, also transferring with a sense of relief their personal responsibility for the social consequences of Church actions and policies. Recall Jung's comment about childishness. They do their duty, follow the obligatory strictures, perhaps complain now and then about "having to go to mass," or "having to keep kosher at grandma's house," but generally coast along without the burden of thinking with its frightening possibility of erupting doubts that would undermine the well-oiled routines of their daily lives and their personal concerns to make money, push their children to success, amplify the comfort of their homes, gain social status and all the usual preoccupations. Their existential problem has been put on autopilot, and many will fly to their graves without once looking back on the settings. For some, "the left hand of God" may pull them up short -- a fateful accident, a tragedy -- and force them to reevaluate, and out of such crisis to break through the religion spell and discover themselves.
If misery loves company then so does doubt and so does resentment over obligatory religion -- if this is salvation, even immortality, where is the joy? Joy is what attracts the charismatics, they find group acceptance to act stupidly, babbling, whooping, writhing and feeling physically excited like children. Perhaps all we need are some playgrounds for adults, some shedding of public inhibitions, and police trained to understand the difference between a natural psychological outlet and an actual public disturbance.
Joy comes with the freedom of using your mind, of "being your own church." Then you are part of the world, which is both good and bad, but most importantly you are not trying to push it away or control and suffocate it to end its threat to your ignorance -- your fear. The politics of religious orthodoxy is an apartheid politics, it projects its fears externally then seeks to contain and punish these projections -- sinners and people attributed with lower value -- in a delusion that this is an escape to safety, an elevation to prosperity and righteousness.
Jesus had it right when he said "By their works shall ye know them." Don't you think he would get along well with Tom Paine, Carl Jung, Bert Russell and Lin Yutang? Wouldn't that be a fun party to attend? God is the ultimate reality, which we create for ourselves by our own actions. And no more.