Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that, “…there is something wrong with trying to answer metaphysical questions with the language we use.”
We live our lives in hope of some sort of after life. We are told that before we were born that we were ‘knit together’ in our mother’s womb. That there is some guiding supreme being who encompasses all meaning and all power. That somewhere beneath the earth or on it, is the essence of evil. Now, for many these claims are at the center of their personal and corporate belief system. But why is there a fervency to believe in this narrative over others? Why do so many claim that the above exists beyond a shadow of a doubt? I think to answer this we have to understand a basic definition of metaphysics. When I say basic, I mean to imply as basic as possible, which for some philosophical purist, this might seem a bit unfair and not comprehensive enough, but taking into account that this blog is written to a varied audience, take into account, what I share here does not account for just how comprehensive an idea like metaphysics truly is. Metaphysics seeks to answer: ‘what is existence?’ and ‘what types of thing exist?’ So, already we are introduced to the reality that metaphysics seeks to put things in boxes. Blacks, Whites, rights, wrongs, good, evil, ultimately categorical imperatives. The Apostle Paul quite succinctly gave us an example of metaphysics when he makes the point that metaphysics essentially marginalizes us from each other: …There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – So, what is he saying? Christians don’t exist. He dismantles categories, which is a presupposition of metaphysics. In one sense, he does replace one metaphysical idea with another, namely that Christ becomes the quilting point for all humanity. But, that is a whole different article entirely. I think more importantly we now deal with other areas within religion that metaphysics problematizes.
Life Without God.
Metaphysics assume that something beyond us exists. It doesn’t have to be God, but for the sake of this blog, it will be. What is God if not the desire for humans to be like God? What is God if not the very latent dreams of humans who wish they could be the all-powerful supreme being in control of reality? Is this not akin to many comic book superheroes, metahumans who can control certain aspects of reality or themselves to then become some sort of demi-god or saviour. This is not to discount Christianity as some anthropological myth, but to demonstrate that Christianity as a human religion, or a religion of the human, can still remain without the need for a deity. Because, for many, God becomes a placeholder to justify beliefs in things that may or may not exist. God becomes some being that has to be believed in without question or else all the cards fall. It is then belief that justifies the very belief itself. God becomes, for many, the very thread that holds everything together and without the presence of this being, their world falls apart. If people need to believe in God to believe life is holy, then was life ever really holy in the first place? Of course, the problem is when people tend to start talking about a world with metaphysics that this either means that they must be atheist or a naturalist. Which is to say that the world does not have some mysterious casual link that grounds all of human meaning together. But, I think this is even itself a bit reductionist. Materialism does not have to mean that the world does not have meaning. What it does bring to light is the reality that meaning is itself just as constructed as the world we live in. This confession of construction doesn’t make it any less important, but it does mean we have to be even more responsible with how we deal with our meaning-making. We make meaning, not God, that is simplification of what I am saying here. Can a god exist in a materialist world? Sure. This is what Christianity is about, proclaiming that God (not the overarching creator of meaning, but the weak, human, doubting, non-sovereign god) is the human connection between and amongst all humans and their interaction. This is what the Christian consumerist narrative of Christmas is about, the nativity, God is human. God isn’t God. The manger is God becoming conscious of its own construct of heaven, hell and etc. The god who is mired in the shit of farm animals, natal blood and surrounded by mystics is a god who loses his or her illusions about sovereignty. Christmas, the whole Christian narrative, this is about God’s salvation, not a human one.
Life without The Devil
“He did it!” I remember when I was little, I enjoyed blaming my brother for things that I did wrong. My lack of responsibility gave me both the freedom from guilt, and the illusion of liberation. Today, that same behaviour pervades society and our television screens. Scapegoating has become a fad. From the Ferguson riots to Bosnia, from ISIS to Fox News, blaming others has itself become an art. It has its own aesthetic regime from which to draw from. If we spend our time blaming things outside of us, like a devil, then we don’t have to take social responsibility. If we create a being (or a series of beings: i.e., demons) that embodies the whole of our dark side (remember when Darth Vader confesses to Luke that he is his father? – they’re interconnected – Jung was correct on this one thing) and we can point to it and call it out and cast it out and reject it as if in some way it releases us of its presence – then we give ourselves the license to believe in the very mythology that endorses corporate and individual responsibility. It also gives us meaning. We create an enemy so we have something to fight. Without this, most of us would end up getting old and dying never adding anything of ‘value’ to the world and we’ve been taught this can’t happen. We have to leave something behind. We must have a legacy. But, even more than this, it is the demand that our human rights not be infringed upon, if they are, then someone is to blame. What this belief in the devil exposes then is something hiding in plain sight, the desire for rights/individual-based thinking. Because, if we chose to instead be responsible for one another, then we would only have ourselves to blame and no one else or nothing else. If I was responsible for you, and you for her, and her for him and so on, then rights-based thinking and demonizing those who mysteriously infringe upon our privatization of identity and the self, would not be necessary.
The historian Richard Carrier, in his book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, describes metaphysical naturalism thus: as a philosophy “wherein worship is replaced with curiosity, devotion with diligence, holiness with sincerity, ritual with study, and scripture with the whole world and the whole of human learning”. Carrier wrote that it is the naturalist’s duty “to question all things and have a well-grounded faith in what is well-investigated and well-proved, rather than what is merely well-asserted or well-liked.
We, especially in our Western society have embraced ethics to the point of over-saturation. To the point to where our guilt itself has become structured like a religion. We talk about someone having ‘character’, or we invoke ideas like ‘hypocrisy’, or metaphysical notions of ‘integrity’ (you are who you are when the lights are off) as if these ideas are what make us human before our birth. Yet, in a so-called ethical society, crime and maltreatment of one another is still apparent and widely practiced. What does this say about a religious fervency that dedicates itself to an ethical way of being, and yet live in a society that is becoming its very counter-point? Maybe its not the religion that’s the problem, but the whole notion of ethics as a superego is.
For in ethics, we provide the place of guilt of in our lives. Meaning, if I steal something from the story and then ‘accidently’ get caught then it is a relief for my guilt that I get caught, in fact it might something I wanted to happen all together. Christianity, like many religions, are intrinsically bound around some loss, a trauma of some kind. We feel guilty for that trauma (oh, I must pray to god to ask forgiveness; i must participate in some benevolent act to absolve myself; i must dip myself in the holy water, and etc.). Systematic religions needs some ethical code to maintain their validity (i.e., God has a heart for social justice, God is for the oppressed and etc.) and presence in the world.
The point to all this is that religion is a comfort not a necessity. Religion exists to justify our desire for the presence of certain things to give our lives meaning as well as demand certain expectations (i.e., the world should be without poverty). The desire to live in a better world can remain without religious conversion, without denominational experience. If anything, the benefit of religion is to remind us to keep asking the big questions about reality, living in the here and now (not metaphysical ones), and how to be better humans to one another. It should not be used as a necessity to define certain desires. Religion can be good when it teaches us how to change the world within which we live and is not lost in the afterlife, afterall, this is the meaning of the manger, a God who is more concerned with our reality, than we are with hers.