— William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
You can’t get paid for a real job. Wages pervert the purpose of any job you can do, every time. It’s something most people don’t realize. That’s what happened to the church, and the rest of society, really. A real job is something you know you have to do and nothing will stop you from doing it. In fact, if you get paid for it, it’s possible (though not necessarily so) that the gig is bad for you, in terms of what it can do to your dream. And everybody has one of those.
Most people at some point run aground on what we’ve chosen by necessity to keep ourselves afloat as the years pass and we become eagerly attuned to the requirements by which, at least theoretically, we could prosper.
Sure, our desires and our genes guided our choices and we became who we always wanted to be. Our education possibly drew us a little offline as we were either captured by the magnetic pragmatism of the financial game or chose a profession that we later found we didn’t like. In our pursuit of security and amusement, chances are good that we were never exposed to the idea that life is about a lot more than bank accounts, or that what one person does really affects everything else.
Now, as society runs aground in its leaking vessel of simplistic slogans and thoughtless scams, is a good time to think about meaning and purpose. Or perhaps you’d rather wait until your child joins the Army and is killed for nothing in Iraq?
Just what the hell are you doing here, anyway? Surely you’ve asked yourself that question. What was your answer? Repeat it out loud, and store the definition you speak as a meme that will guide your future, as so many people I know have done. The satisfaction then becomes following the plan you have chosen for yourself, and becoming the person you want to be — the nicest, most honest, most useful person you would ever want to meet.
I marvel at the insights of people I’ve met in cyberspace into whose brains I have been allowed to peek. They know some very important stuff, and it’s always a shock to me on those rare occasions I step outside of my cyberworld and venture into the dank atmosphere of commercial life on the side of that chintzy bingo bazaar known as the Tamiami Trail, near which I live. The shabby mechanization of this fetid treadmill of chain stores, polystyrene food and glazed and decaying numbness is surely a portrait of what America has become — braindead, bamboozled and bewildered. And soon to be bereft, if one is to believe the chilling cascade of recent rumors on the Internet.
How we live. First we have to get what we want, each of us as individuals. We come into the game solo and leave the same way. We’re thankful to our parents for the chance to play. And we’re dementedly devoted to our children, and often find in them a real reason for living.
But while we’re busy getting what we want, we often encounter curious potholes on the road to our success. Sometimes we find we’re on the wrong road altogether. And this requires making rational choices, or at least, best guesses — just like school, in a way.
We are trapped in the material world, and don’t even know it. Our entire lives are devoted to the gathering of material things which we think will give us pleasure, but what does that pleasure become when you’re old and sitting in a hospice wearing a plaid shirt? Triangulate. Jump ahead. What would that guy think of you now? If we only could’ve ….
Review the road we took to this point. Think about the signs we failed to read. What were we doing there? Where were we going then? Way back when. And, most importantly, are we there yet?
The answer is clearly no. And the prospect is that we never will be. Plus, past a certain point, we notice that little drumbeat in the rhythm of time that creeps toward us as calendar pages flap in the wind. Sooner or later, this world will kill us. Don’t kid yourself.
People don’t like to talk about that. It’s the number one NONTOPIC in any polite social conversation. Tells you something about our society, and our tactical makeup, when the most important chat we could have in our lives is the ONE THING that we can’t talk about.
So we’re goin’ down this road, see, and it’s very nice because the road’s well-paved and the car is new. We want the ride to last forever, because it’s so cool, and yet we know it doesn’t. Actually we don’t KNOW it doesn’t, because only dead people know that, if they know anything.
So in following the social custom in matters on this somewhat “icky” subject, we fail to talk about the most important events of our lives, because really — no matter what kind of creed you espouse — damned few folks are eagerly awaiting their expiration dates, because the deal here is so good, and we want it to last forever.
(Look over there, to the right: There are some people who want the end to come, they say, so they can join their Lord in Heaven, in the arms of the elite. Perhaps this is not your first glimpse of the ghost in the chapel.)
But we know it doesn’t last forever. Exactly here, my friends, is the location of the abyss, in all it’s grand terror, revealed in every moment for all to see, except we do everything we can not to see it. This is what is meant by the necessity of repression, because we couldn’t even function if we thought about that all time. So we invent strategies to anesthetize this nerve-wracking fear — to sedate, suppress and palliate it — so we can at least function — have babies, go to the movies, stuff like that.
The human race has careened 5,000 years down a highway of its own design, and not only have we concocted elaborate and unfathomable thought labyrinths to explain why we shouldn’t even look at this particular pothole — but we cringe in awed terror FROM it. We have also designed defective, deceptive and destructive solutions that prevent us from even exploring the nature of this threat that underpins our consciousnesses every single moment of our lives. Typical medical diagnosis? Painkillers. Down through time this has always been the scam. Healthy people know if you can’t identify the cause of a problem, the problem will not be fixed.
Religion doesn’t fix it. It merely frosts it over with a grotesque gloss of sadistic and small-minded fantasy. It gives you an illusion that you are forced to believe, and you choose to believe it because you think the alternative is worse. But is it? Have you ever asked that question?
Religion and its churches are the commercial providers of an anesthetic tranquilizer that both feeds and numbs a universal psychological dynamic — guilt and our need for redemption. How they have chosen to furnish that product, and what its relationship is to actual human health, are two things that even after all this time — five thousand years — have never really been adequately explored or discussed — at least not in the public mind.
God is merely the echo of thought bouncing off the wall of death, I once told myself. But it was futile. This beloved beast we call God is beyond naming. Everybody realizes that. And everybody takes the piece of the godpie that suits them, that they need to feel secure, or that they use to justify their scams.
This is the real Family Feud! Let’s play! Here’s the category.
Top uses for the God dude?
Survey SAYS …. immunization from fear of death is the number one answer.
Number two? Mind control of the masses and shaping of the patsies who are going to become your consumer market.
Number three? Supernatural sanction, the perfect cover for crime using the excuse that some things can’t be explained because that’s just the way it is. Can you say “Resurrection”? Or, notice how nobody is ever caught in all these recent American atrocities that are blamed on mystic al Muslim terrorists?
Four? It is a profitable business. The franchisees pay minimal dues, are tax-exempt, and pretty much have been taken over — assuming they weren’t that way to begin with — by cement-smile tacticians who coldly calculate by which method they will capture your soul simply by pushing the right buttons. Plus, the homicidal maniac named Emperor Constantine who founded Christianity reportedly made his real money from the sale of artifacts, saintly statuary, and most of all relics, sundry travelers’ trinkets pertaining to the holy corpse.
Five? Transference. Lonely, fearful child that you are, you need a surrogate parent, and that need takes you in desperation right to that same ole ghost in the chapel. In your need, he doesn’t need to make sense. He only has to give you comfort when you need it most.
Ah, we ought to play the feud more often, instead of actually acting it out in the world!
That’s why I always get peeved when shallow prudes look down their noses at Druidic or Mayan civilizations, which in several strange ways, including orientation to the planetary environment, were light years ahead of us. The closed-minded, fearful folk whine, “Oooouh, they conducted human sacrifices.” The frequent and proper response to this is, “At least they didn’t kill 75,000 in one shot like we did at Hiroshima!” The additional words in this sentence: ” . . . or the 200,000 people we just killed in two years in Iraq!” are not optional.
I know I mention Becker too much. I simply need to do a complete review of him soon. Among his unprecedented insights, he deploys staggering quotes to mark the territory he is exploring. Like this one …
“We are born in need of authority and create out of freedom a prison.” — Otto Rank, psychiatrist who broke with Freud.
“Evil stems from man trying to deny his animal nature.” — Wilhelm Reich, discoverer of orgone energy. (You know it has to be real because the government threw him jail and killed him for it.)
Ernest Becker was a cultural anthropologist who coordinated some of the best accounts of that uncharted territory of fear of death, and when he analyzed them, he realized the nature of the survival instinct has a dark side that relates frighteningly to the obvious human proclivity to murder other human beings and everything else we know that lives. But listen to his words …
Kierkegaard’s whole understanding of a man’s character is that it is a structure built up to avoid perception of the “terror, perdition [and] annihilation [that] dwell next door to every man. He understood psychology the way a contemporary psychologist does: that its task is to discover the strategies that a person uses to avoid anxiety. What style does he use to function automatically and uncritically in the world, and how does this style cripple his true growth and freedom of action and choice? Or in words that are almost Kierkegaard’s: how is a person enslaved by his characterological lie about himself? (DOD, p. 70)
I have a chart with my favorite Becker aphorisms.
“Heroism is a self-defeating fantasy.”
“Historical religions are all critiques of false perceptions.” And, “All religion is narcissistic megalomania.”
And this may be the best one of all, because in the context of what we’re facing, every single one of us, at this very moment — is that our leaders have gone mad, along with much of the society, and they’re threatening to detonate nuclear weapons — or worse — above the heads of more innocent people.
So Becker’s line these days has more than the usual share of its profound relevance.
“Man is a frightened animal who must lie in order to live.”
And the companion meme, “Societies are standardized systems of death denial that give structure to rituals of heroic transcendence.”
This notation, all Becker’s words but culled from my notes, begins to explain the dilemma.
We embody death in order to control it. Ritual puts one in possession of eternity. Yet it is a departure from the truth of the human condition. Men fashion unfreedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation.
And it is here that we begin our steep and slippery slide into the abyss between death and murder.
Becker, who died of prostate cancer in 1974 at the same time he was winning a Pulitzer Prize for his companion works “The Denial of Death” and “Escape from Evil” (MacMillan), despaired at the real terror of what he found when he dug all the way to the bottom of the dirt of human motivation: “If men kill out of joy, what possible system could be devised …?!” he lamented.
This, then, is the crux (forgive the term) of the thorniest human problem, more important than absolutely any other one, because it threatens and influences every other one.
In the companion book Escape from Evil, Becker faces the classical existential dilemma with fearlessness. Again I’m quoting from memory.
Man’s natural and inevitable urge to deny mortality and achieve a heroic self-image are the root causes of human evil. Man’s urge is to transcend this fear with culturally constituted heroism. If man is as bad as he seems, then either we have to behaviorally coerce him into the good life or else we have to abandon the hope of a science of man entirely.
But Becker is not without hope. “There is nothing in man or nature which would prevent us from taking some control of our destiny and making the world a safer place for children,” he insists, bravely. And of course, everything would depend on exactly who is doing the coercing.
Yet Becker’s view of the world is like Lewis Mumford’s:
The amalgam of kingship with sacred power, human sacrifice and military organization unleashed a nightmare megamachine on the world, which began at Sumer and continues today.
The pivotal central core of Becker’s Denial of Death thesis is “the vital lie,” what humans tell themselves to make their lives more comfortable. The psychological implications of mortality have demanded this strategy, and it has been to some extent successful along the path of evolution. But it has left such a mess of us and our garden, that Becker was compelled to say:
“Men use one another to assure their personal victory over death,” and quoted the great master Otto Rank for the reason:
The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice of the other; through the death of the other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being.”
Which if you had the misfortune of noticing, that’s a lot like heroin. Waste an Iraqi family and feel better about yourself, dude!
One more Becker remark. I could go on for hours.
“The megamachine is the major historical challenge facing Western man.”
Thirty years later, that statement has never rung truer.
So this is the abyss between death and murder. Kinda clinical, eh? I didn’t want to scare you, because it’s scary enough without me adding to your jitters.
I started out this piece talking about jobs for a reason. By now some of you have figured out that I am going to connect your job and death.
If your job has anything to do with killing people, you’re not welcome in this world. Simple as that. Our highest leaders. Our richest entrepreneurs. Our most respected philosophers and theologians. In America, all these people, if only by their silent indifference, utterly support the horror that has gone on in Iraq. We’re talking depraved butchery, people, and the responsibility for it belongs to all Americans, as well as our fellow lemmings residing in some other First World sniveling sycophant countries, like Britain, France, Germany, Japan and most especially Israel.
You people who have made these choices and implemented these policies are no longer welcome in this world.
It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that the human race is mentally ill. The current task is to diagnose it and treat it, and quickly, please.
Religion is a candy-coated sedative that prevents its adherents from accurately identifying the actual authentic contours of the one problem that assails us all. The problem isn’t death, which is the most important fact of life. The problem is what we do to keep ourselves from recognizing and dealing with the true existential nature of life and death, and realize the damage caused by artificial, magical and manipulative strategies that prevent us from discovering the real nature of the world.
We die, and we must stop acting out that we don’t. It prevents us from seeing the real world, and poisons our destiny in the most certain way, which is extinction.
There is a direct connection between the mysteries we choose to worship and the misery we choose to cause in its name.
A miracle is merely an expression of ignorance when you don’t know the true facts.
You’ve got Moloch on your side, though he changed his name many years ago to Yahweh. Can you imagine that small minded, homicidal pervert who dominates the pages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy actually pretending to be God, as if God would kill anyone for praying the wrong way. This is the crap you believe, you Christians and Jews. You fearful fools.
This magical mystery tour of the resurrection and sense of cannibalizing one’s own savior in a ritual way has wound its way down through history, through every religion and every culture. It is wholly a manifestation of our fear of death, and is now revealed as a necessarily fraudulent description of the repository of imagined answers to questions that we will never be able to resolve in a useful way as long as we fail to recognize that it was our inner fear of death that created these holy myths. They were not objective accounts of history in the world. No one gets out of here alive, pal, and the value of life is to recognize what that means, and give humble thanks for the gifts we’ve been given, NOT to say that the story in front of your eyes is wrong and invent some kind of pistachio paradise to prove that it’s not true.
Now for our current evolutionary pop quiz: Is religion real?
Answer: Give me a break. You mean we’re supposed to believe that crap? No longer. It’s an unsound strategy for evolution.
Religion fails to recognize the most important fact about ourselves — limited time frame within which to make meaningful contribution as our way of giving thanks for the gifts we’ve been given. There is no more important duty or privilege in life than that. Religion promises you eternal life, if you just believe, and let the lies slide by unnoticed.
And as we learn all this and integrate it into our thinking while we detox from poisonous religious myths, can we please figure out a way to live peacefully? Treat everyone in the world as you would members of our own family, because, as God is my witness, they are.
Most important is to identify the link — the grisly sinew — that connects religious fanaticism to mass murder, and following from that, explore the depths that Becker has in hope of finding a way to more humane and honest world.
Just never tell anybody how to pray. They figure it out for themselves. Language, form, building, scripture, color of skin don’t matter. All the gods are the same. Pray to any one of them, if you like. No matter what, the message gets through to the Big Kahuna. And I have this on good authority. Krishna said so. And he was the real deal, way back when. All the other divine wraiths are merely poorer copies of him. (He was also black, from the most beautiful of all the races, the Dravidian.)
But the important thing to remember is that ALL of the Gods are wraiths, inner projections of our own fear. Because it wasn’t God that invented man, it was man who invented God.
Now is the time to study the savage sinew that stretches from magical ideas upon which our security is based to the misery and murder we confer upon those who are not like us, or have something we want, which we, in our righteously contrived certainty, feel we have the right to take.