[The following is the long-awaited continuation of the Nature of Reality, that began with pt 1: Chairs, Trees, Cows, Stardust, and Dinosaurs.]
“Do you believe in God?”
I’ve been asked that question many times in my life. At least in my adult life. When I was growing up under the guidance of preacher-parents, the answer was a foregone conclusion.
“Of course I do.” was the only answer I was allowed to give, and quite frankly, the only one I had even thought of.
But that changed as I grew up, especially when I went to college. Much, or all of what I had taken for granted was laid bare to the slicing scalpel of intellectual surgery. We had to challenge what we knew to be true, and that tendency has never really abated. I’m still asking myself painful questions. Most of the time the answers I come up with turn out to be bullshit. Why?
Because I think most of the answers that we all come up with are based, not in logic, but in the pain and fear we’re carrying around with us all the time. I suspect most of our beliefs are rooted in that. But I don’t want to talk about fear today. I want to explore the possible locus of the divine, if in fact there is a divine to be located.
Where are the gods, or the God?
Where is the divine to be found? Many would argue that he/she/it is found in the sacred texts of the world.
I seriously doubt it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. If you subscribe to the omnipresent-ness of the divine—i.e., god is everywhere at once—then by definition it must also be within the divine texts, and I suspect that if God, or the gods, do exist, then they are indeed omnipresent, within everything. But that would mean that all texts are divine, in some respect.
That’s not to say that all texts are really worth reading, not from a literary stand point anyway. Some of them really fucking suck. But from a philosophical point of view, the divine must exist within them, and can in fact be found there, if one knows what one is looking for, or is open to such an idea.
That would mean, of course, that you might also find the divine in this lame, textual attempt to explain the divine, but I won’t be so presumptuous as to suggest that my writing is that good, though I guess I am suggesting just that.
Of course, if the divine can be found in texts—if it is omnipresent—then it can be found in everything else as well.
This has always intrigued me. And if it’s true—and we’re operating for the moment on the premise that it is—then all places, and things, are divine. That means your bedroom, bathroom, workplace, the street, even your car, are divine spaces. It also means that the whorehouse, the crack-house, the porto-potty, and the pub are all residences of God, as well.
Doesn’t sound so pretty now, does it?
But it certainly must be true. Ergo, we can worship the divine by taking a shit in a portajohn, or while drinking beer on Saturday night. We can also do it on our knees in a church, the traditional way.
The idea that the divine is in everything isn’t a radical one. The Church, and philosophers, have been promulgating it for millennia.
But if people are allowed to worship the divine everywhere, how can you collect their offerings?
Hmmm. Very tricky that. They simply must worship in sanctioned spaces, set-aside, holy spaces. And only certain texts can be the official word of God. In order to create order, people must be told where and how to worship the divine. And they must be told, at all costs, that only a few select individuals know where to find the divine. The divine must be locked up in a magic book, a text, that only they can read, or only they can interpret properly.
“That’s crazy” you say.
Yeah, it is. But that’s how organized religion works. They—the mysterious they, meaning the priestly caste—attempt to codify the divine within magic books, with words, with letters, with symbols. They “draw sounds” as the Viking warrior said to Ibn Fahdlan in the movie, The 13th Warrior. Drawing sounds, or writing, was always seen as a magical thing in the distant past. Today we think nothing of it, but it really is quite magical, if you think about it long enough.
The Magic of Language: Creating Reality
First off, language itself is magical. I won’t go too far into this here, as I’d love to talk about it in more depth, but when our ancestors created the technology of language—and it is a technology, a tool for understanding and making sense of the world around us—it must have seemed quite magical to them.
They had figured out a way of turning mind-pictures into sounds, and they agreed, one by one, that certain sounds were the right sounds for each thing in their world.
“That thing over there is a tree.”
“That thing is a lion.”
“You are Unga Bunga and I am Unga Bungo,” etc.
This new way of communicating through agreed upon sounds was revolutionary in the most profound sense imaginable. Our ancestors had figured out how to create the world around them. And that is what language does; it creates the world.
If you can give names to things, you are in a sense creating them. I’ve talked about this before. The Dao de Jing would agree. But I don’t want to go to far off topic here. Let’s just agree, for argument’s sake, that our earliest ancestors who invented language all agreed that it was a magical, divine thing.
It must have seemed so. And those who had come up with this new way of communicating must have seemed special to those around them. They had a special power that no one else seemed to have. They could create order out of the chaos around them, by naming things.
Naming things meant that you created them to a certain extent. That doesn’t mean that the tree wasn’t there before the word for it. But if you call it a tree, it fixes the process of tree-ing into a solid, static thing that can be manipulated and understood as solid, if not entirely static. Remember our discussion of the transitory nature of so-called, solid objects, in part 1?
Language gave humans power over their environment. It gave them the ability to talk about their environment and to lay order to it.
This moment is even captured in the text of the Bible, in the Garden of Eden. Adam is given dominion over the Garden, and allowed to name all the plants and animals living there. While the story is symbolic, not literal, at some point in our ancestors’ past, they did exactly that; they named everything they saw. And by giving them names, they created the world around them in a very real sense.
They gave things that had already existed, trees, rivers, cat shit, bat shit, meaning. They assigned meaning to them. And this act, truly is creation, or at least sub-creation. It is the one thing that only we can do. And by we, I don’t mean humans, because that would be arrogant as hell, and I can’t prove that only humans can do it.
When I say we I mean each living being in the universe. Do they all do it? I don’t know, but I suspect they do on some level or another. I’m quite certain that cats do it, for instance. No one will ever convince me that from the perspective of Squishy Kitty, she isn’t the creator and destroyer of worlds. You can read it in her disdainful and dismissive countenance.
“But isn’t the act of speaking the act of creation?” you ask.
In a certain sense, yes, but I’m only trying to explain how humans do it. It may very well be that other animals–because humans are animals, too–or at least some animals have a telepathic language that they use to speak to each other, and to name things. I don’t know, and neither do the scientists who study it.
Through the use of language we create the world around us because we assign meaning to it. But there’s a problem with that. If sometime later a handful of humans want to lay proprietary claim to the divine in order to convince their fellow humans that they should tow the line, join their little group, and pay taxes to the king, the temple, or tribute to the god of fuckin’ fried chicken, or whatever, then they need to claim ownership of the divine itself.
Drawing Sounds and Owning the Divine
How could this new group of elitist snobs lay such a claim upon creator-ship? They had to invent a new way of communicating that they could then claim is even more magical than speaking, which by that time must have seemed pretty mundane and boring anyway. Humans had probably been doing it for 50,000 years or more by then.
So to dazzle the masses with bullshit, these snobs came up with the ultimate tool: drawing sounds. And while the very first sounds drawn seem to be used to mark pottery with such inane things as ‘wheat,’ ‘beer’, and ‘wine,’ they soon came to include all the other sounds as well, things like ‘god’, ‘temple’, and ‘taxes.’ Now we’re gettin’ somewhere! What would life be if not for Death AND Taxes? Shudder the fuckin’ thought.
By turning language into symbols—symbols only the elite could understand—they had usurped the power of creation unto themselves, again. I have no doubt that the original ability to speak pictures—language itself—wasn’t quickly usurped by those in charge, or it might be more accurate to say that it made them elite. But speaking language is much easier to learn than reading and writing it, so that power must have quickly dispersed among all humans.
Writing, however, has to be taught. It’s not a natural thing, like speaking, which the human body can just do. Drawing sounds is a very abstract thing, not something that just happens. You have to create a symbol, and the first ones were abstract drawings of the actual thing they were attempting to link the word to.
For example, they looked at their woman’s breasts—because that’s what guys do, right—and then they drew them in the dirt. What they drew weren’t the actual boobs, of course, they were instantly creating a symbol for boobs. But now they could attach that symbol to the sound, the word tits or breasts. So instead of saying it, they could now write it with a simplified picture drawing, a hieroglyph. But they then took it a step further.
The first hieroglyphs were pictures of entire words, but they realized at some point that they could also stand for single sounds, basically consonants. So the hieroglyph for boobs could stand for the b sound, and you could take other glyphs and make them stand for other consonants, combine them together, and make words, or the sound of complete words.
This is a much more complex system of writing, and it quickly took over. It allowed an even more abstract step in the codification of the divine to occur. Now the gods were really locked up in texts. And only the priests could read and write them. And that was good, if you were a priest, and that power more or less remained theirs for a very long time. But even that came to an end.
Gradually, everywhere, and at different times, more and more people learned to read those magic letters. This allowed them to interpret them in new ways, which undermined the power of those who held them. And since their proprietary ownership of the divine was no longer valid, they relied on other methods, which weren’t new either, to maintain their control of the gods. They claimed the sacred spaces of the world, and then built temples upon them—something that was difficult for the average person to do because it required resources that only the elite had access to.
And they locked the gods away in buildings. “Ding dong” the church bell rang, and everyone came a runnin’.
So what is the point of this little exercise? Just to say that if you’re looking for the divine, don’t get caught up in the search for the sacred in books and places. The divine is everywhere. In every book, every house, in every thing in the entire Universe, and beyond.
And be careful when you throw words around all willy nilly! You’re creating your own reality, and that’s a dangerous business to be in.
Continue to part 3, A Penis, a Hammer, & the Ever Illusive Reality