The collected qualities of gods resemble a bazaar where all types of potentially useful objects, frequently queer, are brought in by all sorts of people. The childish, outlandish and genial effects of the human mind are displayed in seller and buyer alike.
What brings one to he market: curiosity? hope of a rare beautiful utensil that one can afford? something to lighten our spirits? the euphoria of the busy scene? a thing - we know not what - that may change one's life? So one shops for gods. Some say, they are in everything. Some say, you cannot find what don't exist. Some say, they are most useful. Others say, they are not to be found when you need them.
If it were not for the fact that two billion people claim to know one or another god, perhaps we should scarcely bother to take up the question of what is known in this regard. Further, since most believers claim that their god wishes to be adored, and is infinitely capacitated, should not the god display himself clearly and prove at least his own existence, if not his other qualities, beyond a shadow of a doubt? But he avoids the flea market. He seems to want privacy, but then he should certainly resent the continuous universal efforts to bribe him to appear.
A few hardy souls venture to say that gods have little interest in humans and therefore have no motive to prove themselves. Some, like the deists, argue that the gods created everything and set it into motion; then, retiring, the gods left the world to develop by itself. Some merely say: "God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." (There is, incidentally, a religious adage for every circumstance.) Most who believe in gods - these are in numbers largely of the Hebraic complex or Hinduism - prove their case by pointing to divine signs (hierophanies), including the marvelously intricate reality of the world, by asserting there must be a purpose to everything, and by commanding, "Don't ask questions; have faith."
Gods appear directly to people, especially to heroes, on occasion; if not the gods themselves, then surrogates or messengers reveal themselves, if not these, then hierophanies or manifestations of gods occur. Dozens of gods, thousands of agents and subordinate gods, and tens of thousands of hierophanies, performing in plural appearances, would, if catalogued, constitute millions of appearances. Zeus knew many women; Athena marched before many soldiers; Buddha came from a noble family; Jesus was known among the people as a man; Paul met him on the Road to Damascus, resurrected; children of Fatima conversed with Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Millions of such encounters have gone unreported because of the modesty of people; they could not believe their good luck. In Some religious sects, it is expected that now, if not earlier or later, every member must experience at the least a significant hierophany and a changed life thereafter.
A divine appearance or hierophany must be social, not individual, in the sense that it must the authenticated by the belief of others. This has not prevented millions of individuals, at some risk of persecution, whether criminal or medical, from claiming encounters.
Who validates encounters? This is properly a subject for the political science of religion. Who "should" validate them is the claim of as many theistic religions as exist. A large bureaucratic church may devote much energy to acknowledge any encounters, sometimes saying that god does not conduct himself so, so that he did once but now does not.
All sects lay down (that is, their gods lay down) rules for encounters. It is unthinkable that a Christian could conceive of his god going about raping women as Zeus was inclined to do. On the other hand, Yahweh, the god of Moses, delighted in the killing of enemies both foreign and domestic; at least so says Moses in numerous cases, as when the heresy of the Golden Calf is discovered, and the Lord's order is "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor." Three thousand Israelites were killed that day.
In the Hebraic complex, Moses is the central figure. "Moses spoke with God." These conversations have been subjected to analysis for thousands of years and it is unlikely that late psychiatric explanations such as have been offered by Julian Jaynes and the present author will be final. Be that as it may, the relationship of Moses and Yahweh can be analyzed within the framework and propositions of the psychology of hallucinations and delusions. That is, Moses was conducting interior psychological operations. Yahweh was, to his mind, a real sacred Lord God.
By treating the world around him - the Egyptians, the Israelites, the desert, the architecture of sacred enclosures, the bushes, rocks and waters, and his disciples as if they too were under the direction of Yahweh, Moses created a marvelously integrated religious complex recomposing this world and himself in the midst of great natural turbulence. The more one studies the Books of Moses, the more sense one can make of them as literal history written by a deluded and masterful genius. But this hardly advances the cause of the Hebraic religions.
Increasingly, psychiatry and physics are pressing upon religions to surrender all cases of alleged hierophanies. The majority are easy to prove false. But, as we shall see later on, science is "getting too smart for its own good," and beginning itself to present important arguments concerning the supernatural - its own hierophanies perhaps.
Certain types of ancient hierophanies lend themselves to scientific reinterpretation. Examples are the collectively witnessed catastrophes of great magnitude - such as the Deluge of Noah - and electrical discharges of types no longer experienced, such as were central to, the operations of Moses' Ark and the Delphic Oracle. Whereas new evidence and scientific interpretation go to prove the veracity of ancient reports, the super natural character of the reports is thrown into doubt. Thus, a substantial proportion of the appearances of Yahweh in the Book of Moses occur in connection with (literally "on") the Ark of Moses; most probably these were electrical displays, ingeniously managed, and believed to represent the fiery essence of the deity.
Deluge legends are worldwide. Survivors included not only Noah's family but, to believe their legends, other people in different places on Earth. Evidence of large-scale flooding, totally beyond present experience, is worldwide. The cause, focusing now only upon the floods contemporary with Noah, were exoterrestrial and the water was in large part new water from outer space most likely from a nova of a theretofore much larger Saturn. The establishment of this theory, even if it is accepted as the second most likely alternative to "no worldwide flood at all," reduces the religious and hierophanic aspects of the Hebrew story (and of all other religious descriptions).
Those who before saw the direct intervention of an explaining, instructing, humanly motivated god in the deluges gain a minor victory from the validation of sacred scriptures, but suffer a defeat of the notion of a divinely chosen people working under the immediate personal direction of their god. Dozens of peoples, perhaps all of them, inherit the belief that the gods once saved only them from a worldwide ruin. Doubt is cast upon all ethnocentric religious aspects of the Deluge, whence some persons will be led to a "higher religious synthesis" of the relations between gods and the natural world, while others will be led out of religion entirely.
Many people believe that they know gods by their effects, not by the grand effects of nature but by targeted effects upon issues of personal concern. The word "god" in Aryan etymology stems from the words "to sacrifice" and "to invoke." Invocation, prayer, and rituals are seen to be followed by events unexplainable except by a direct divine intervention. A sick child is for example, the object of medical therapy and religious solicitations; a cure is accredited to the divine; a failure of cure may be deemed to be in part a punishment, or the result of unconvincing solicitations. Seeking divine attention and determining whether and how it was provided take altogether too many forms, most of them well-known, to consider them at length here. The scientist will say "Explain all effects by natural causes; those not precisely determinable must be natural as well; where psychological effects are produced, these too are natural; for the human mind and its morale can be significant producers of effects in the context of human activity."
Modern theologians and religious practitioners tend to transmo-grify all forms of knowing about gods that seem vulnerable to the lances of science. Most theology has been apology for vulgar religion. Realizing, for instance, that mental asylums are well populated by hallucinators, they are most approving of more subtle religious encounters. Encounters are favored that do not implicate divine personages or voices or external visions but which display simple faith, spiritual resources, and the Lord secondhand. Thus, "I have faith in a benign Intelligence. It enables me to draw upon deep spiritual resources. I feel like Jeremiah, when the Lord told him 'Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. '" The problem of hallucination ceases as soon as one uses indirect quotation, "I think that god would help me to defeat the enemies of our country." This technique works all the better because in a bureaucratized society it has become rather insane for any job-holder to say "I" do this or that, rather than "We" or "our policy" or "the management" or "they."
It is not an accident that the most strongly individualistic and anti-bureaucratic groupings of modern America overlap largely the religious sects with the greatest expectancy of personal encounters with their god. (This, incidentally, may explain the "mystery" to many people of how the suave Hollywood product Ronald Reagan came to be allied with the simple direct primitive evangelical Christians; he was a "rugged individualist," anti-bureaucratic.) The belief in gods arising from "faith" is a step away from personal encounters and authoritative testimonials. "Faith" is an affirmation. As such it is taboo in logic, for logic is grounded upon reasons and proofs. Logic would not exist if faith had its way. Faith cannot be proven, but it can never be driven from its deep psychological recesses; it can only be surrendered. What is reported by a triumphant rationalism as the "destruction" of faith must always remain the dubious word of a third party. If the believer resists the terms of surrender, faith will never be conquered.
Faith cannot prove itself by logic, but it can be justified by its effects. "See how happy is the person who believes. If you would be happy, believe!" If the faithful receive more than the usual share of what are regarded as the goods of life, their faith acquires a pragmatic proof, different from and inaccessible to empirical proof. Insofar as "the goods of life" are psychic and exoterrestrial, one can construct an infallible circle from which the non-faithful are excluded. One can come from heaven, live bathed in heavenly light, and return to heaven, invulnerable to mundane contradiction.
Let one step for a moment out of the charmed circle into competition for mundane "goods of life" and one finds oneself amidst a crowd of the variously successful where statistics come into play, and one can no longer be sure that faith is associated with achievement. "God must love the poor; he made so many of them," it is said. Moreover, if the "goods" are doubted and "faith" as a good is committed to definition, debate and proof by conduct, then evil is the lot and behavior of many of the "real" faithful. "Faith moves mountains," says the Gospel of Mark (II: 22-4), but faith in whom, and to where are the mountains moved?
"Faith, hope, and charity," are supplicated by Paul the Apostle, but faith in its uttermost recess may be another word for the strong and unquenchable hope of a divine existence. Scientific psychologists will agree; faith is an attitude established by, preserved by, or destroyed by all that makes, maintains, and breaks other attitudes and predispositions: as for instance, drinking and smoking, quarreling, charitability, studiousness, political party affiliations, etc. All this is what concerns a college course in developmental psychology: the workings of indulgences and deprivations of infancy, family life, and society systematically and authoritatively explained. Faith is educed as a pattern of expectations, endorsed and rewarded, such that the faithful one, under normal conditions, will never regret his course of life nor lose his expectations.
Besieged and buffeted in its last traditional trenches by modern science, faith nevertheless survives, because nothing else survives better, because the desperate refugees from science and reason crowd in with it, and because a variety of non-traditional licenses are granted to privateers who venture to vest their faith in ancient astronauts, flying saucers, and the like.
Philosophical arguments for the existence of the divine can scarcely capture the popular imagination and suffuse popular religion with practical implications and a precise operative morality. A mention of the traditional arguments for the existence of god may illuminate the problem.
There is first the argument of the necessary reality of perfection: if we can conceive of the idea of a perfect being, the being must exist, because existence is an aspect of perfection. We join most philosophers in refusing this argument. A great deal of nonsense exists in the human mind, product of its inner machinations; must it all be granted the status of reality somewhere, sometime, someplace? All the monsters of fairy tales and science fiction would come alive. Dante's Inferno would be awaiting its newest victims even now.
Most conceivable things do not exist. Nor can we make them exist by an act of will, by the mechanism that has been called "omnipotence of thought," although we can make them exist as operative forces in people's minds, as illusions. Furthermore, we know that people lie in part according to their illusions, in all areas of existence - politics, love, economics, beauty, etc. Illusions have consequences. Hence if the consequences of a belief in a being of specific absolute perfection are good, or at least better than the consequences of any substitutable illusion, we may seek earnestly to establish and maintain the illusion, or myth (for that is what it is as well.)
A second traditional argument for the existence of god pleads that the world as we see it cannot have come about without a previously existing cause. Since the universe is so grand and so complex, containing by definition everything, its cause must be at least as great, conforming to what may be called god, the demiurge, the first cause, the creator. Everything does have a precedent form - call it a sense. This we sense; and every experiment can probably prove it.
But it may be of the nature of the world to extend itself indefinitely in an infinity of forms occupying time and space or a presently unimaginable dimension. Hence the gods as creators are unnecessary. One may slide into a counter-assertion to prove their existence: that the gods are in the principle of change, there being no ultimate reason for change other than the will of a demiurge, who may be Aristotle's "unmoved mover," or Heraclitus' inherent changefulness of all things. So close are such abstractions to scientific generalities, so far removed from practical religion, and so vulnerable to contradiction (for all things can be viewed in their unchanging aspects a la Parmenides), that the gods would soon shuffle off to Sheol with their help.
The most popular of arguments for the existence of gods is the (humanly perceived) design of the world. So marvelous are the construction and interconnections of things and so purposeful (that is, moving towards their proper goals) that an infinitely masterful designer must have created the universe. However, even before modern science exposed some of the guts of the material world, including the physiology of psychology, philosophers, priest, and ordinary people were acutely aware of the evils of the world. They were aware that the world had been nearly destroyed on occasion by natural (divine) forces, so that the gods came to represent destructiveness as well as constructiveness. Under such conditions, the problem of evil was tied into the grand design, so that interminable arguments might occur concerning what parts of the world and its people were deliberately designed by the gods to malfunction. The tedium of this discussion hardly assists in any proof of divine design, while the issue keeps people in a prolonged and useless state of fear and quarrelsomeness.
To be sure, a great many processes of the world seem to be moving toward a definable end. Thus, the common astronomical theory is that the sun will ultimately burn itself out; so is the idea already cited that the present fragmented universe of starry bodies was created by a primordial explosion, but that a limit of expansion will be reached, whereupon the universe will implode. Again it is often said that man will colonize space, etc. All such processes appear to be non-random, hence to some thinkers, purposeful.
Take the biological "law" that evolution cannot reverse itself. If this is so, evolution appears to have some goal, which encourages certain theorists to feel better about the world and others to believe in gods. Materialists can take a different view: non-random processes develop an evermore specific direction out of inertia; once an ear begins to evolve in animals, it will develop into various ears unless it finally quantavolutes; the developing ear preempts some proportion of the changeability of the organism. Therefore, an "end" or "purpose" can be claimed. It is hardly an occasion for divine pride, or for pride in the divine. And sense organs may degenerate in evolution, not only among blind moles, but in man, whose senses are stunted by comparison with those of one or more species.
With an irresistible thrust, most theistic religions have promoted the idea that "nothing is impossible to the gods," The gods are usually allowed perfection. They are eternal, omnipotent omniscient, omnipresent, omnivirtuous, unchanging and unchangeable (for how can perfection change?) So naive are such assignments of qualities, that they seem to be pure projected delusions. Just as one can solve a mathematical problem by manipulating the concept of infinity, one can arrange and interpret any divine action with the concept of complete qualities.
It seems that design is found where the heart is: one who is healthy, reared to optimism, indulged, and promoted in life, is likely to find better designs in what he senses and experiences than others find who are less blessed. Indeed, a goodly part of much religion consists precisely in designating the world as evil, in anticipation of our arriving shortly after death in a better world, or escaping presently from the world about.
The stress of religions upon suffering is unavoidable. Suffering is not only blatant in ordinary lives; it is also regurgitated as feelings out of history, not merely church and social history, but the history of great disasters engineered by the gods. Finally, suffering gestates in the very genetics of humanity, in its eternal fearfulness, in the contradiction between wishing for everything and controlling nothing.
At times, religious factions diverge and sects spring up which preach a religion of secular joy and the elimination of suffering and sorrowful memory. But secular joy as religion soon liquidates the religion. The joy of religion generally must consist in the appreciation of man's lot and a surcease from it upon death, or resurrection, or otiose earthliness.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant perceived in the moral laws always present among human beings a proof of the existence of god. Unlike the beasts, men rule themselves by voluntary ethics, it is said. This unique and universal search for the good suggests a divine purpose. Only the magnificent order of the heavens, which moved Kant to "ever-increasing wonder and awe," was comparable to "the moral law within me."
Modern quantavolution readily demonstrates the inconsistency of the order of heavens. As contrasted with older generations of scientists, the younger generation sees more and more the history of the heavens as of quantavolutions and catastrophes. Ethology and socio-biology meanwhile are asserting vigorously the presence, now here and now there, in animals and plants, of moral rules and moral behavior that man used to regard as products of his superior and voluntary ethics.
As for the "moral law of man," sociologist Louis Wirth used to remark to his students that "people differ in every way that they can." A thoroughly relativistic and pragmatic philosopher would add that it is "the moral law within me" which causes most of the worst human conflicts in this world. I agree with both men. The claim to know gods, so general in history and today, has not reduced differences so much as it has promoted fights over them.