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by Alfred de Grazia



Any old religion is likely to have a complete life-program, guaranteed to give satisfaction. It will include answers to all problems that arise, with a counseling service from birth to death. This is no mean achievement, but rather a work of unceasing genius characterizing all ages and all cultures, and therefore thousands of designs and operative systems. Our admiration of the astronomical universe pales in the light of universal religiousness. Indeed, if one is hungry for proofs of the existence of ultimate design and intelligent gods, here is fertile ground to plow.

But why, out of all this experience has there not occurred one religion of all times and places for all people such that a model human being would lead a happy life? Why should not one formula have been discovered? Why all the changes, conflicts, misery? In replacing the instinctive existence of other creatures, why could not man rapidly invent just that proper set of behaviors that would satisfy the respective and combined needs of his human mechanisms and culminate in expressions of satisfactory existence? Is there some practical impossibility, the fault of the external world? Or is there some inherent contradiction of the mechanisms of human nature?

Let us set up a model of religious citizen (not a leader) and inquire whether he should be happy, and, if not, why not. We call him "sacral man." not because he is sacred, but because he believes a great many phenomena and actions are sacred. He sacralizes.

A thorough moral defense of religion from the standpoint of its expression through sacral man has not appealed to modern writers. Such old and religiously circumscribed works as Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress will hardly do for these days, when the field instruments of sociology, biology, psychology, economics and political science need to be orchestrated for the purpose. Available are negative critiques of ritual and assaults upon the supernatural. But where are the moral scientific (as opposed to merely sociological) studies of the Baptist and the Secularist living on the same street, multiplied a thousandfold to cover the world scene?

The ideal sacral person is born of religious parents, is baptized at an early age, and attends schools whose curriculum and teachers are of same belief. He or she hears of the gods, and experiences religious rituals, at an early age, so that by the time of receiving catechism he is already identified with supernatural beings and is pleased to learn that they have played the most important role in all major and many minor events of the history of his culture. Well before receiving formal religious instruction, he has been rewarded and punished in the name of the gods, and (he is convinced) by them directly. He knows this latter to be true, because he has had indirect and accidental rewards and punishments at the hands of what "must have been god." He has a fairly concrete impression of at least one god, the Great God, anthropomorphic but dressed in ritual clothing. He knows of many instances in which God has intervened in the current lives of persons dear or near to him, and to many others that have been the objects of his affection or the attention of his closely identified mentors.

Following upon years of catechism, he can explain events by himself to the satisfaction of members of his religion, and possesses a general history of his group and of mankind from their earliest creation by his gods. He can sacralize readily, that is, impute sacred meaning to any event, natural or human, consistent with his religion. His religious mentors have long since informed him of the political climate of his larger culture respecting his religion, so that he can know what to expect from strangers in and outside of his culture. He knows how to invoke the gods by prayers and rites, even only by mentation and, perhaps with a poor sense of statistics, believes his score of successes far outnumbers his score of failures. He enjoys a logic that employs heavily the formula, "This follows That because God willed it;" "God must have willed This" (where 'This' is an event with significance and within the expected scope of God's actions -- love -- death, etc., or so unusual as to be the work of God); "This other cannot be, because God would not will it."

He questions authority, since he is early forewarned of its religious untrustworthiness. He pursues a line of secular work regularly and responsibly, as an offshoot of religious ritual behavior. He understands readily the news of the larger world, for there is a general correlation between his political and religious friends and enemies. By virtue of his early training in displacement and projection, he can readily conceive of the larger society, even the whole world's people, within the sphere of and dependent upon his gods. His sources of mundane authority, if not religious, partake of the respect, authenticity, and reliability granted religious authority. Births, marriages, accidents, careers, illnesses, and deaths of all with whom he identifies -- who are part of him -- are handled by old, well-known procedures. He is probably better able to confront a personal disaster by appropriate sacred explanations, instead of trying to cope with it independently as for instance, does the character Charlotte, in Joan Didion's novel, A Book of Common Prayer, who, highly secularized but also fearful of self-examination, slips into catatonic denial and mourning when it develops that her daughter was pursuing another life, an alter ego, of political criminality. For sacral man, ways and limits of mourning are well-set. Reactions and decisions are pre-fabricated. He can feel secure that all happens as part of a sacred history, elevated to celestial levels of meaning, and contemplates and suffers his own death in the same frame of mind. Since he identifies with gods, his time scales for personal achievement and for the expected future history of the world, including even rewards and punishments for actors on the present scene, are celestial as well as according to the secular calendar. He is confident of indirect and unknown measures being taken on his behalf by supernatural agencies.

From early childhood, he has been god-fearing. By satisfying the gods, he is exempted from much fear of men and accidents: "If I please God, God will take care of me;" "When God calls, I am ready to go." He realizes very early in life that he has problems of self-control; he projects the unruly selves onto the deities, and thus can "bargain with them at arm's length. Self- hate becomes devil-hate. When his psychic system becomes well established, he acquires self-confidence.

He has several persisting problems. Some are due to his inherent structure as a human being. Others are owing to his uniqueness when confronted by what must, after all, be a general formula of his religion for handling all humans. There occur also conflictful features of his larger culture, and accidents and natural disasters. Thus his religion, so holy to him, may be disliked by other groups with whom he must deal. He ( and his group) may have such consistently bad luck with nature that active punitive measures are continually taken - prayers, sacrifices, guilt, fasting and abstentions. Aggressive behavior against outsiders is sometimes called for by prophecy and divination: "God needs help in punishing his enemies."

Furthermore, he may be genetically a "difficult character" for his religious institutions, a "nervous type" uncontrollably impatient with ritual, a person whose parents were a little deviant and unwittingly made him more deviant from the religious norms of belief and behavior. Guilt-feelings, self-destructiveness, suspiciousness, extravagant behavior (aggressiveness, asceticism, etc.) may result.

Finally his modes of logic may interfere with what he wants to do with himself and the world. If the gods manage so much, he is left to cope with little, and may see little need for pragmatic learning. He may, by continuous resort to his religious logic, become stupid and retarded in contributing to and gaining from the larger culture, where different logics are called for, such as "This cannot occur without That" or "To obtain, That, do This and no more." He may suffer from a great many floating opinions, unanchored to mundane cause and effect, good for ritual, useless for practical life, whether dealing with people or tools.

Regarding these issues as a whole, one large risk seems to confront model religious citizens. The near impossibility of a general religious system being all things to all people all the time causes universal individual problems within the religion. It also causes divisions into priesthood and parishioners, mystics and ritualists, managers and managed, and so on, which aggravate the insecurities of all affected by the divisions, that is, of all believers. Ritual resembles instinctive behavior and may cover most aspects of life except revelation. No religion exists without a place for mystic revelation. Yet revelation is the opposite of ritual. Somehow every church must give birth to and nurture this hero (or assassin).

In addition, every religion exists within at least a partially secularized society; even in the most simple tribal society, where all seems to be definitively sacralized, there is an everyday need to confront and exploit nature, to use tools variously, to deal with outsiders. Conditions change; religion is conditioned; religions change. Every ritual change is a slap in the face of the religion, and face-saving tactics are numerous.

I am not taking present Western European society as typical of religious settings, for this would be too easy. Change and secularization are rampant. I am trying here, as elsewhere in this study, to employ the most conservative type of analysis, and to avoid taking advantage of the many loop-holes of speculation and illustrations that religious history and philosophy ordinarily profit from.

I am asking consideration of relatively changeless culture, while asserting that there is never a state of changelessness. And so, within and outside the model citizen, change is happening and causes him lifetime anxieties which the religion cannot possibly control by scripture or rites. A calculus of felicity is not difficult to imagine. The greater the stresses within the church and in the relations (direct and indirectly effective) between the church and the environment, the greater become the anxieties and uncontrollable outbursts of our model citizen; the greater then the changes within his groups as well.

In none of this discussion have we spoken of the moral values of the activity, except we have presumed a kind of dolce vita religiosa for the citizen. We have not asked how many orphans has he sheltered, how many cannibal feasts has he enjoyed, or how productive has he been, nor have we made any quantitative gauges of his feelings of nearness to god.

It seems that we must always come up to the point where we are saying "What his religion happens to say is good, is in fact good." whereas we know "in our hearts and minds" that this cannot be. There has to be more than this to justify a religion on moral grounds. Is there some metaphysical morality that can weed out bad from good religions, bad from good citizens?

Or, perhaps, a model of secular man can reveal, by way of contrast, a morality overshadowing religious morality. Let us see. As with sacral man, we shall be taking an optimistic view of his development; the model is optimistically biased. Here now the person we have in mind begins life as the child of parents and in a group who disbelieve in the supernatural and practice no rites in the name of gods or spirits. They point out to the infant actions and persons whose effects are good or bad. The child is taught that nothing exists unless it can be experienced by himself and proven to his authorities, for he has these, too, in his parents and attendants. He is trained to reason pragmatically rather than to practice religious rituals or seek revelations.

He is ritualized, but in the name of necessary training to achieve good or logically necessary effects. By reward and punishment he is taught to seek or avoid objects, persons and activities that he is likely to encounter. He is discharged from training when his own sense of right and wrong appears to rule him adequately.

He learns that his society is benign in its intentions toward him, behaves justly toward him and others, and protects him from himself, potential assailants, and foreign enemies. If he participates voluntarily in his own training, he will acquire skills that the economic system and the governments will welcome and pay him to use.

Ritualized or routine training is justified in terms of its consequences. As the British Statesman Gladstone put it (1876) in the years when the concept was becoming current, "The Secularist.... does not of necessity assert anything but the positive and exclusive claims of the purposes, the enjoyments, and the needs, presented to us in the world of sight and experience."

There is only body, not soul (except metaphorically), and no afterlife to look forward to or worry about. He may enjoy fictional stories about the supernatural; he may pretend "for fun" that any phenomenon is unreal. He observes a number of secular holidays arising out of political, social, and heroic events.

His respect for scientific method (empiricism, facts, logic, experiment, control of the environment) is high; he claims to believe only in its application and findings, whether in the human or the natural realm. He expects a continuous upgrading of his life, partly because of a general upsurge in health and living standards. His feelings are not rigid nor profound, He expects every person to do his duty, and does not accept authority without explanation in material, empirical, and logical terms. He seeks generally to belong to groups whose leaders are elective.

What will be our felicity calculus for such a model citizen? He may be on the whole as "happy" as the religious citizen. The word "happy" would mean a usual mild euphoria, which, we must admit, may come genetically, or as a result of brute affection generously granted the infant being. Still, this affection may be tendered by his identification with "Infant Jesus" in certain cultures, which would therefore allow an intrusion of religion even into the recesses of infancy.

What he loses of the security in the perceived protection of the gods, he makes up for by an increase of security owing to the perceived way in which changing explanations go along with changing events. His defenses stop at the grave, but his hopes of increased beneficial effects of science for himself and his human identifiees are greater.

He has fewer judges of his actions, and perceives fewer entities to please. He will, however, be more frequently and poignantly disappointed with humans, because their conduct is not mediated through his gods, and strikes him directly and rudely. His only hope is other humans. This increases his load of fear and anxiety, and probably this will be heavier than the fearload of religious man.

His temperament may also be more mercurial. On one hand, his life offers less inspiration and may be insipid, while on the other hand he may strain for sensory stimuli and orgiastic behavior. He is not likely to be less aggressive or less vicious than religious man.

His morality is no more explainable than that of religious man. He simply holds it on natural grounds: "That is the way people behave when they are not driven by superstition or authority."

The secularization of modern times may well have had its likenesses at certain times and among certain groups of the Golden Age of Saturn, the Confucian period of China, the Middle Bronze Age in the Near East, the Classical age of Greece, the pagan Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and other eras. The clash between the religious and the secular is prominently displayed. We have an idea that a large section of the elite, at least, in these eras was a disbeliever, a shopper for ideas, luxuriating in freedoms of choice among supernatural views and between cultism and materialism. Here may be the difference -- freedom of choice against a bound-up cosmos, not secularism versus supernaturalism or religion or sacralism. We cannot be certain at all that the secular man has ever been really secular, rather than merely a disintegrated sacred man.

The modern secular man was emerging in the Renaissance. Machiavelli was living at the same time as Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. Loyola, unlike the author of the Prince, who moved fully and confidently into the modern disintegrated secular society, was seized by the need to keep the total image of Jesus under control and in mind, and to capture and reintegrate any escaping impressions and thoughts. Roland Barthes has grasped the essence of Loyola's mission and procedures, as spelled out in Loyola's book of Spiritual Exercises.

"The obsessional character of the Exercises blazes forth in the accounting passion transmitted to the exercitant: as soon as an object, intellectual or imaginary, appears, it is broken up, divided, numbered. The accountancy is obsessional not only because it is infinite, but above all because it engenders its own errors... [Every failure induces, requires, more accounting.] Everything is immediately divided, sub-divided, classified, numbered off in annotations, meditations, weeks, points, exercises, mysteries, etc. [That is,] The Exercises can be conceived as a desperate struggle against the dispersal of images which psychologically, they say, marks mental experience and over which -- every religion agrees -- only an extremely rigorous method can triumph."

The whole aim and process is a totalitarian domination of the mind for the purpose of putting oneself into a position to ask God questions and to receive passively the answers. All vagaries were returned to the Source. There is no denying the social impact of the Jesuit method and practice. Allowing that traditional Catholicism continued inertially, Jesuitry become a great active sword that held much of secularism at bay while causing it to involute. Evidence abounds that secular man is actually a form of sacral man with Jesuitical control. What is sacred possesses for its experiencer an aura of the holy, of awe, of fear, of divine arbitrariness, of supernatural animation. Sacral man in his extreme expression sees the cosmos and all its details as sacred; there are few of such men, of course. The extremely secular man sees everything as void of the supernatural and fully accessible to the senses; there are very few of such men, too.

Let us provide some categories of behavior that might be regarded as sacred or at least non-sensible, to which most so-called secular men adhere. For one thing, they believe in many myths, myths of their descent and families, of their country, of the history of their locale, of wars and voyages. More, and now we make a few specific allusions applying to some, by way of illustration, they hold myths about GM, GE, IBM, their President and political leaders, Albert Einstein, Hollywood, the Mafia, the flag (" Old Glory"), Harvard University, the "Spirit of Saint Louis," the Philadelphia Eagles Football Team, Bellevue Hospital, the "Monopolies," "Justice," "free will," "reason," "truth," "nature," snakes, elephants, diets, and so on and on.

What do we mean by associating such people first with myth, then with the supernatural, hence with the sacred? The myth has in common with the sacred a non-empirical aura of "emotion" or feeling attaching itself to a non-existent or otherwise psychologically incomplete perception such that, whatever it is, it would not recognizably exist unless it were mythified. International Business Machines (IBM) does not exist as entity, but only as hundreds of millions of mental and physical operations of people, partly related to machines. But "it" is "mighty," "global," "venerable," "rich," "progressive," "losing money this year," "in need of revitalization," and so on. One is "loyal" to it, "depends" upon it, "accepts its policies," "questions it sincerity," "sues it," tries to "break it up," "ignores its complaints" and so on. Lawyers hop around on "its giant body like fleas on an elephant," "defending it," "justifying it," and of course "living off of it." A great many people derive a feeling of the supernatural and sacred form when functioning in the corporate ambiance. The Chief Executive of the great Schlumberger multinational enterprise said recently that a corporation nowadays must learn from the Japanese that "we have the responsibility that religion used to have."

Are these behaviors and beliefs any less religious, say, than the behavior of believers in a volcano religion? The typical secularist worships a dozen such volcanoes; he is polytheistic; he believes in the supernatural and practices rites in regard to it. I do not argue here the consequences: this mythicized aggregate produces millions of hard objects for people; what does the religious aggregate produce but "useless objects" such as church buildings and a superabundant "software?"

We cannot maintain that secular man is less superstitious than sacral man. Does he more often believe "13 is an unlucky number" or carry a rabbit's foot for luck? Encyclopedias of false beliefs and superstitions are available, but they do not speak to this issue. Superstition is sacralization gone wild, uncontrolled by formal religious authority or science. There is very little difference, too, between superstition and the "false cause" of an anxiety; worrying over the number 13 is not much different in cause and effect than worrying that the airplane in which one is sitting will plunge to earth. Secular man has a plethora of both types of illnesses.

Inseparable from myth in practice are symbols and fictions. Language is but the greatest set of all fictions. That it is magical is provable in the behavior of humans in regard to it from their beginnings up to the present. Words lead a life of their own, in the world of words, distinct in part from the objects to which they ordinarily refer. Modern secularists use words freely; a candy is "divine;" every accident is a "catastrophe." No matter; that the world turns with an energy of 10 37 ergs of energy does not deny to a leaf wafting down from a tree its own erg. What we have in secularism is a disintegration of the sacred cosmos into infinite particularistic ergs of the supernatural, but at the same time a denial of the cosmic supernatural. Words merge into symbols, which may be words, pictures, displays, but also contain the impact of sets of words, without integration with the grammar of the language. A symbol contains a stimulus to arrive at an attitude or predisposition of mind or behavior. The symbol of the cross has been found throughout the world from the time of the earliest gods up to the present, denoting the chief god or a reference and extension of the god. Wherever a cross occurs, the supernatural does as well; in the ancient world, stones of Hermes were put up at crossroads. Many symbols are likewise ancient. Some of them, like the cross, find their way into the secular crests of noble families, secular institutions, the trademarks of modern corporations, and the escutcheons of government agencies.

Such modern references are very weak, it is said; this is true, and art designers and public relations experts will invent trademarks and other symbols for a price, using scientific techniques for determining how readily the public will recognize and accept the symbol. Still, unauthorized use of the trademark can incite a law-suit for millions of dollars; something sacred must be conveyed. It contains more than a single erg of the supernatural.

So it is with fictions, which are of several kinds, including the words, myths and symbols referred to already. We need only to mention that others remain, and also contain qualities of the supernatural, and they are continuously and necessarily employed by the secular mind The "average" is one of the most useful concepts of science, but it does not exist. Very often sought, like the Golden Fleece, once found, it leads to marvelous gains. That "everyone knows the law" is a fiction treated as fact in a court of law; "ignorance of the law is no excuse for an offense."

Science, law, literature, drama, and music constitute a veritable fictional world that no amount of secularism can eradicate. Secular man can only claim that these are all piecemeal tools, that he "uses" them, that they do not make him a believer in the supernatural, and that he can understand me when I tell him that these are unreal. But this must be a very special secular man, not an ordinary one, for the ordinary one does not see the dizzying use of hundreds of tools; he is used by them, attaches all kinds of fleeting supernatural associations to them, and does not understand well at all when I speak of them as unreal.

So the ideal, extreme, purely secular man will try to squeeze out of life all that is fictional, we suppose, if it ever ended in anything but the most mad hermeticism, with various rituals for exorcising fictions, in a direct confrontation of the real. Pure secularism would be a life of instinctive stimulus-response: wordless, thoughtless, myopic, and solitary. Wrung out of existence would be the arts, politics, law, the market-place, love, human relations, and science itself, including both the conception of all these and all of their ritual accompaniments.

Since he must himself employ the supernatural and its rituals, secular man, we see, does not so much want to destroy religion as he does to particularize it, to make it pantheistic and kaleidoscopic. He wants to keep all his options. He wants full freedom to pick up and lay down any iota of the supernatural or any practice connected with it. He is like the sophisticated Roman of 2000 years ago who also wanted to pick up and lay down any god or rite as he pleased. He does not wish to be part of an all-embracing and integrated cosmic religious system, not even to be reminded that everything in the world and in culture is tied to everything else, even secularly, if not sacrally.

Religion as such threatens his options. He wants to freely disperse his affects and attentions. He wants to be free to change them. He admires the composer who builds idiosyncratic tonal works or the sculptor whose "Composition in plastic, number 18" pretends to communicate with nothing or nobody. Just so, he wants individually to compose and recompose the vignettes of his life.

There is accordingly a strong trend toward the disintegration of morality. Morality, too, is piecemeal in secularism. Each item is judged right or wrong by itself. We note this in pragmatism where the consequences of an act determine its morality. We note it in American law where social consequences tend to be the measure of a crime and its punition. We note it in the press, where instantaneity and shocks push aside moral priorities. We note it in democratic politics, where the politicians must, and willingly do, fix the plight of whoever is complaining most, generally ignoring the "good of the whole," scales of values, or long-term considerations: "The wheel that squeaks gets the grease."

Still, the supernatural of everyday life in modern society is not enough religion for a great many secularists and they solicit new religions, inventing them, so they think, actually "reinventing the wheel" time and time again. These are by no means to be dismissed; they are heroic endeavors to join science and traditional religion, to worship the Divine and the Good without reference to the succession of gods, to build peaceful humanistic communities, to make contact with presumably intelligent beings in outer space, to achieve sacred communities with new rituals that dignify rather than abase their members, and to build a satisfying non-materialistic life around ideals. To ridicule them is by implication to ridicule ourselves. (To ridicule ourselves, on the other hand, is not far from our minds, as we mistake one turn of the road after another; we feel always on the brink of absurdity, that the whole enterprise of penetrating and ordering religion is surreal.)

We hear of physical therapy communities, where diet, exercise, and love build new souls, and of group therapy communities where, in one case, one learns to love oneself and, in another case, to give up selfish love of oneself to love others. We learn of astrological networks of believers who adjust their lives to the elaborated meaning of planetary motions and conjunctions.

There are communities and networks of haute couture, work, skills, fraternity, "rock and roll," sexual practices, diet, outer space communications, sports, and many other special areas that go far beyond occasional meetings and informational exchanges into the dense supernatural and ritual affairs of religious cults. They are voluntary. Participation may be brief and intense; it is for that period sacred, supernatural and ritualistic.

We begin to see an overall pattern of the people of a secular society; they live amidst many intense but sporadic religious episodes, where their minds are fully occupied in recapitulating birth, baptism, initiation, marriage, priesthood and death in brief compass, and in between these episodes, they float and paddle in a swirling world of secular symbols, legends, myths, and fictions. Are they happy? Have they found Truth and Morality? Once again, I would warn against a hasty denial. What is "happy"? Who is happy in this world? "Happy" may be a little thing, quite evasive, quite accidental and lucky, though subjectively grand in its effects.

As for "moral", that, too, may be the accident of a soul that is bumped and tossed about like flotsam, until finally jettisoned onto the shores of goodness.


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