If you maintain a chaos magic blog, belief as a topic returns with the tiresome regularity of cold sores.
As previously discussed, it’s not a term that greatly appeals to me.
But it has returned now.
It has returned because we seemingly have an innate need to narrativise disruption. (I’m only being half-ironic with my apocalypse tagging.)
Beliefs, it seems to me, only become useful once we realise that they drift:
The human idea of God has a history, since it always means something slightly different to each group of people who have used it at various points of time. The idea of God formed in one generation by one set of human beings could be meaningless in another.
Indeed, the statement “I believe in God” has no objective meaning, as such, but like any other statement only means something in context, when proclaimed by a particular community. Consequently there is no one unchanging idea contained in the word “God”; instead the word contains a whole spectrum of meanings, some of which are contradictory or mutually exclusive.
Had the notion of God not had this flexibility, it would not have survived to become one of the great human ideas.
When one conception of God has ceased to have meaning or relevance, it has been quietly discarded and replaced by a new theology. A fundamentalist would deny this, since fundamentalism is antihistorical: it believes that Abraham, Moses and the later prophets all experienced their God in exactly the same way as people do today. Yet if we look at [our three] religions, it becomes clear that there is no objective view of “God”: each generation has to create the image of God that works for them. The same is true of atheism. The statement “I do not believe in God” has meant something slightly different at each point in history. The people who have been dubbed “atheists” over the years have always denied a particular conception of the divine.
That’s from Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. It’s relevance to us is down to that turn of phrase “one of the great human ideas”. Because we are in the market for some good ideas right now.
Once every one and a half days, some of my liberal dickbag friends manage to slide across my social graph some magnificently ignorant soundbite or another to do with the Occupy movement or similar. Some inbred “Presidential nominee” or similar will take a break from threatening to invade Mexico or accusing China of shooting down satellites with futuristic lasers to get all Biblical about this global groundswell.
And it makes you think: Would Jesus be standing there on Wall Street in a Guy Fawkes mask? (Pause to enjoy the irony of that particular original religious symbolism.) The short answer is yes. And if he wasn’t, we’d make him:
Despite its otherworldliness, religion is highly pragmatic. We shall see that it is far more important for a particular idea of God to work than for it to be logically or scientifically sound. As soon as it ceases to be effective it will be changed – sometimes for something radically different.
This did not disturb the monotheists before our own day because they were quite clear that their ideas about God were not sacrosanct but could only be provisional. They were entirely man-made – they could be nothing else – and quite separate from the indescribable Reality they all symbolized.
Karen Armstrong again. Why bring this up?
Because times are tough. Because the pipes in your house might be new but the water that comes out of them is still the same stuff in total volume and make-up that’s been with us since water first appeared on our silly little planet. (Sidebar: ask Dawkins where water came from. Bam.)
Because we can’t afford to have you getting tangled in old ideas when the world really needs you to bring your A-game. Because we need people who can find love in hopeless places. (Sidebar: the song of winter. I love Calvin Harris.)
Because -apocalypse or not- we really need you to bring your Best God. That’s superheroics right there.
Speaking of, check out this video. Please watch the whole thing. It’ll be the best twelve minutes you spend all night.