Thursday, March 24, 2005


Deism and whence it arises

The great thinkers of the Age of Reason were not infrequently deists, meaning that they professed to believe in a God but didn't accept the common stories concerning the particulars. This didn't stop them from laying into the Bible and the Christian mythos with gusto, hacking out great swaths with scythes of logic.

Mostly, this stemmed from the same concern the ancient Romans had: that religion was necessary to help keep social order. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?" Voltaire, especially, was anxious about the societal ramifications of unleashing a godless rabble on the world.

But one error the great rationalists themselves made was to presume that all people in all times have commonly conceived of a God and worshipped accordingly. This isn't so; hundreds of millions of people over half the Earth and at all times in history have practiced religions that don't posit a God. The religion I profess, Buddhism, doesn't have or need Gods, at least in the forms in which I choose to understand it.

Insofar as the apprehension of God is a common or usual human trait, it seems to me that it arises from two things. The first is the psyche: to Freud's Id, Ego, Superego we might add Ultraego, which could be defined as the individual's needs and wishes regarding morality and fairness, revenge and punishment, comfort, sympathy, and protection from terror, detached in the mind from the realm of the relative and removed to the plane of the absolute. And the second thing is merely that every human being has had parents. The God-idea is the child's perception of the father elevated in the mind to the transcendent. It's right there in the language, at least of Christianity.

The Quotidian Meander

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