He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Oh, wait a second, that’s Santa Claus. He’s similar, but he’s not all powerful like God. God is the creator of everything. He’s the one who decides who lives and dies, all, they say, according to plan.
I was okay with God’s plan until the priest came in and said that if we masturbated we would go to hell. That seemed like a bad plan. The seeds of doubt were planted as the seeds of Onanism hit the wall. As I grew older I became suspicious of any plans ascribed to the all powerful personal force behind the universe, but it took a while to kick the God habit.
I spent many years praying to this God. Usually in the form of Jesus. I like that bit in the film Talledega Nights where Will Ferrell playing Ricky Bobby the NASCAR race driver says grace before a meal addressing it to Baby Jesus:
“Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger, just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors. I would like to thank you for bringin’ me and my mama together, and also that my kids no longer sound like retarded gang-bangers.”
Of all the Holy Trinity that comprised God, I preferred the Baby Jesus. I figured he was the least likely to turn me into a pillar of salt. Jehovah was the scary one. In the Old Testament he is pretty much worse than Zeus, Ares, and Hades combined. He really has a bad temper. He throws his best angels into hell, just about wipes out mankind and considers wiping out every single creature on Earth? I mean, what did the camels do that was so bad?
(Probably Sodomy, actually.)
The nuns who taught me about the impending end of the world and return of Jesus, were into Baby Jesus, but they also savored the kick ass side of Jesus, the one with holes in his hands who is coming back to beam up all the good people, then kick ass. The nuns believed that the last judgement might be very soon becasuse the Russians and Chinese were godless Communists bent on destroying Christianity and besides the yellow people were going to take over the earth. Apparently Jesus wouldn’t abide that.
The nuns conducted the Civil Defense drills we practiced, in anticipation of nuclear attack, where we would get down on the floor under our desks. They were testing H-bombs on Pacific atolls then and I expected Jesus to appear in the sky soon.
I had my first Communion at the age of 8 which required my first Confession of all the mortal sins that would have damned me to eternal hellfire. For some years Confession was really a stretch.
I knew some Protestants and their version of the Lord’s Prayer was longer but they believed like us. Atheists were scary. I didn’t know any, but it was said that many scientists were atheists. (Good reason to doubt science.) But atheism wasn’t something many people volunteered. It evoked hatred. The public face of atheism was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Heavyset and angry, even her name seemed scary. She founded American Atheists and published its magazine. It was her lawsuit that resulted in a Supreme Court decision against Bible reading in American public schools. Life magazine called her “the most hated woman in America.” She was kidnapped, murdered and mutilated along with her son and granddaughter. “Served her right” was the general reaction.
But it didn’t seem right to a rational pubescent that the only time one was permitted to have an orgasm was when there was a wife attached. Of course Faith was usually invoked when something unreasonable was proposed. “Well, you have to take that on faith.” Taking no sex on faith was a “deal breaker.”
When you’re a child and they’re chanting in Latin and the organ is playing and the incense is wafting, it’s easy to ask Baby Jesus for some favors. You are in a condition that you will later recognize as being high. Like on drugs, but achieved through the magic of the Church. That no one every answered prayers, whether it was Baby Jesus goo-gooing, or adult Jesus or Jehovah or the Blessed Virgin. The answer was supposed to come in action, not words. Had God or the saints talked back, we might have become schizophrenics or George W. Bush.
I was through with religion when I entered college. I didn’t need God to get high. Marijuana and acid were easier and there were no rules involved. I was also against God’s organization because I had been beaten for no reason by nuns and had Jesuits proposing spanking—underpants down no less. I didn’t go for that, but many did!
Still, I didn’t think of myself as an atheist. I was an Agnostic. That term for religious skepticism dates back only to Thomas Henry Huxley, a Darwinist biologist, who coined the term in 1869. Later I realized that I was more of a Deist, like America’s founding fathers. I believed that there was a great intelligence out there, what Freemasons would call “the great architect of the universe,” but that he was too busy expanding the universe to eavesdrop on our thoughts, decide football games or make hurricanes.
I found that when I got into art, rock and roll, science and the erotic, one required a more up to date belief system. The Bible is ancient, written for shepherds and there’s a lot of crazy shit in there—especially in the Old Testament, where God often comes off as a real asshole. Not to mention Christians throwing women in the water tied up to see if the were witches or the Pope insisting that the sun circled the earth. Faith meant accepting a hotbed of fiction.
I grew up during groovy times and hippies dug spirituality. Buddhism had been big since the beatniks. Kerouac was taking speed and writing about the Dharma. Allen Ginsberg was on hashish singing Hindu stuff. Richard Alpert, a Jew who pioneered acid in the US along with Timothy Leary, also went Hindu and started calling himself Ram Dass. When the Beatles got into the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and George Harrison started writing songs like My Sweet Lord and Gopala Krishna, I kind of gave up any hope for all that eastern religion stuff . The Rolling Stones, cocaine and heroin and Jack Daniels, seemed like a more reasonable solution.
“There are no atheists in a foxholes,” they used to say. And it was always publicized that atheists and secular thinkers usually wound up as deathbed converts, confessing, taking communion and praying for heaven. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers now call themselves “Atheists in Foxholes” just to make a point. The worst part of being an atheist is religious fools expecting you to chicken out at the last moment.
Atheism can be a bit dry. The appeal of Deism was you could talk about the Great Architect of the Universe and do religion ceremonially to appear nice and good. But I am actually a bigger fan of the most obsolete religion of all, the Olympian cult of ancient Greece and Rome. It is basically atheism with great stories.
Nobody is all powerful or all good. Zeus, top god of Olympus, is a horny and jealous personal sky god, a patricide and serial ravisher, but like all of the Olympians he has an awful side and a fabulous one. The gods were jealous, ambitious, horny, angry. They were immortal, but vulnerable. Ares, the feared god of war, was wounded by Diomedes at Troy. If they can fuck up, so can I.
We haven’t improved on this classical religion because nobody ever told better stories, and they tended to avoid dogma. When it came to the fine points, the gods fought it out. And the Olympians not only heard the prayers of their clients, they actually talked back or even fucked you.
In his Religio, Ezra Pound wrote,:
“What is a god?
“A god is an eternal state of mind.
“When is a god manifest?
“When the states of mind take form.
“When does a man become a god?
“When he enters one of these states of mind.
“By what characteristics may we know the divine forms?
“And if the presented forms are unbeautiful?
“They are demons.
“And if they are grotesque?
“They may be well minded genii.
“What is the greatest hearsay?
“The greatest hearsay is the tradition of the gods.
“Of what use is this tradition?
“It tells us to be ready to look.” *
In the Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) Julian Jaynes speculates that during the Homeric era men did not have consciousness as we know it today, but heard the voices of the gods in their brain. Idols were used to trigger the voices of gods. The process is retained in religions of possession, like Umbanda and Voodoo, where the god is said to mount the possessed like a horse. Possession is even acknowleged by the Catholic Church and it exists in Christianity today in congregations where they speak in tongues.
When the Prophets of the O.T. like Moses and Abraham heard the voice of God, they were really hearing it, but then God began to lose his voice as men developed reason. According to Jaynes “the attempted reformation of Judaism by Jesus can be construed as a necessarily new religion for conscious men rather than bicameral men. Behavior now must be changed from within the new consciousness rather than from Mosaic laws carving behavior from without.”
Aldous Huxley coined the term “Neurotheology” and the brain is where many now look for god. Matthew Alper’s The God Part of the Brain takes Julian Jaynes theories into the cortex. Some investigators have delved into the relationship between perception of divinity and drugs. R. Gordon Wasson associates the development of consciousness with the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. John T. Allegro’s Sacred Mushroom and the Cross sees the original Christian Communion as a mushroom.
I’m sure that the right mushroom can light things up in the god part of the brain. Just remember, God doesn’t like to drive! He’s a back seat driver. If you don’t necessarily want to see god up close, but you’d like to get on the god tip regularly you can always do as the Rastas do and have a little “reasoning” where you pass the ganja around and discuss.
Bob Marley outlined the Rastas ideas on religion in Get Up, Stand Up.
“Most people think great God will come from the sky,
Take away everything and make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth, you’ll will look for yours on earth,
And now you see the light, you stand up for your rights.
According to Marley:
“We know and we understand, almighty God is a living man.”
But God is not the pope. He’s also not the Internet, which threatens to become God in it’s own scientific way. A certain emerging model of God was introduced by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his 1851 novel The House of Seven Gables: “By means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time … The round globe is a vast … brain, instinct with intelligence!” The idea was further developed by H.G. Wells, who anticipated the Internet with his 1938 book World Brain, foreseeing a World Encyclopedia (Wikipedia?) and a centralized planetary intelligence. It’s a fascinating idea, also terrifying in that it reduces the individual to a cog or the element of information known as a bis. Bowing to a big stone head seems attractive in comparison. I’m sure if I took enough mushrooms I could have a good conversation with one of those Easter Island heads but I don’t want to be a cell in hive mind.
The anthill and the beehive are models of efficiency and models of a vast group possessing a single mind. Is the hive a democracy or corporate fascism? We seem to be in the process of finding out.
Should the world brain kick in fully we had best hope that it is better than the sum of it’s parts and that it functions more efficiently than democracy, where the majority rules awkwardly.
In the U.S. 58% of people who identify as Republicans reject evolution and believe in “creationism.” Maybe Rome wasn’t built in a day, but America believes the world was created in a week. Hopefully, these people have slow Internet. I’m waiting for beauty to appear and avoiding becoming a drone in the corporate hive. Maybe if we can get in touch with the right gods, we can get to be renaissance men again. You can’t have a renaissance without a few good men.