About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Internalization of the Divine Supplement


In the previous posts I have charted the development of religion from a localized to non-localized phenomenon and the development of something I term the Divine Supplement.  I use this term to describe how something that exists in the space between the fully sacred and fully profane can substitute for the authentically Divine.  I will address this aspect of authenticity in my next post, because I want to fully lay out my framework of theological evolution before I tackle the authentic.  As you will see, authenticity is very fuzzy and morphs over time and depends on how you approach it.  For now, I want to finish the development process.

In the last post, I discussed Eliade’s terms of Theophany and Hierophany.  These terms circumscribe the two ways that we can connect to the Divine, and thereby establish the idea of the Sacred.  In a Theophany, connection is established by direct manifestation of God.  In this system, there is a physical presence, without which, the Sacred cannot exist.  This sort of system is typical of Greek and Egyptian religions, where, for example, the Gods were thought to be physically present in statuary, otherwise known as fetish objects.  

The Hierophany expands on this idea.  In this system, physical manifestation of God is not necessary for the space or action to become sacred.  Although a Hierophany can still encompass a manifest Deity, it is primarily defined by a system called an Ideal Model.  This system consists of laws, commandments, and rituals which create value, direction and purpose.  Through this development, the establishment of the sacred becomes behaviorally based, not physically based.

This is the first step of the process of internalization.  As an example, at this point in religious development, we get the Covenant.  The Jews are no longer defined by place, nor are they defined purely by heritage, they are defined by a series of actions and rituals, as laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  I should note here, that at least to the more Orthodox sects of Judaism, obeying the Law is not sufficient for being a Jew, you also must be born of a line of Jews.  But for now, I will look at the keeping of the Law as the primary requirement of Judaism. 

Unlike the other religions of the Classical World, where externalities created religious identity, for the Jews, you also needed to live by internalities.  You had to be circumcised, an externality, but you also had to keep the Sabbath, which is internal.  Even though you can be observed keeping the Sabbath, which would be superficially external, you are required to keep it even in the absence of others, which makes it a personal ritual.  This may have been the first time that an internal system defined religious identity.  It certainly was one of the earliest instances of this existing in written form.

So, as I have discussed, this is another aspect of the Divine Supplement; a religious internal identity providing connection to God, instead of a physical external connection.  This is a substitute because system of laws, which whether divinely inspired or not, are still grounded in the world of man and thus become a substitute for the physical presence of God through what is called religious experience.

I would like to explore this briefly before continuing.  In primitive religion, the initiation into the Divine Cult occurred through physical trial and Ecstasy, which is the actual experience of the Divine Presence.  Typically the initiate would be fed drugs, starved, sleep deprived, wounded or some combination of these actions to bring about an altered state of consciousness where they could receive God.  I should note here, this concept still exists in some modern religions, such as the Pentecostal ritual of Speaking in Tongues, or the neo-pagan act of suspension.  But as Eliade describes, even in the modern era, these rituals are a link to the primitive aspects of the initiatory experience.

In the more modern Representational Initiation, such as the Bar Mitzvah, baptism or First Communion, are ritual experience substitutes for the Ordeal practiced in ancient religions.  The child being baptized does not experience an actual presence of God, but nonetheless is initiated into the Divine Cult known as Christianity.  I would like to note here, cult, like fetish, is being used in the anthropological sense of the word, and holds no negative connotation.

To return to my point, I would like to chart this development of internalization. 

In a Theophany, connection to God was external, extra-personal and hierarchical.  It was external in that it required a manifest Deity.  There was a need for the Divine Presence in order for the condition of sacredity to exist.  It was extra-personal because all of the Truth was delivered from the outside, in this case, through Divine Revelation and the presence of Deity.  Finally, it was strongly hierarchical, priests were the only ones who could perform the rituals that appeased the Gods and only through the priests could salvation be achieved.  At this stage, those rituals had to occur in the presence of the Gods, which was done through their Fetishes. Further, salvation was not for the afterlife, it was an aspect of the physical world, again another externality.  The priests literally stayed the hand of the Gods, and protected the people from their Divine Wrath.

As we move forward into the early Hierophanies, which I will term Priestly Hieropanies, connection to God shifts somewhat.  It remains extra-personal and hierarchical, but it is now both internal and external.  In this stage, Truth is still divinely delivered, and the intercession of the priest is necessary to find salvation, but now we have systems of ritualized behavior to establish the Sacred.  Some of that behavior is external, such as the rituals of the temple, the laws of dress and the physical markings required of devotion, such as circumcision.  However, some behaviors are now internalized.  We are introduced into the idea of the Unclean, the abomination and the pure, all of which define the internal religious life.  

These notions create the Sacred Space, not only in the temple but in the soul as well.  It is important to note here that salvation has become Salvation, and we are introduced into the idea of the immortal soul that receives reward or punishment for deeds done while in the flesh.  At this stage, Salvation still requires the hierarchy of the priest to intercede with God to save the soul; Salvation cannot occur without it.  Also in this type of Hierophany, the priest also continues to guarantee salvation, the staying of God’s Wrath, turning His eye from the people.  

At the next stage, we come into a system that I will call an Internalized Hierophany, which has the characteristics of being internal, subjectivist and egalitarian.  Although some external trappings may exist, such as religious services, much of the system relies on internalizations; for example, accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.  This is an internalization without any external cue at all.  Only God can know what is truly in a person’s heart.  In some sects of Christianity, and in Islam, the internal is the single most important thing to mark a person as a believer.  There is little to no ritual for conversion beyond accepting Deity into your heart.

But this Hierophany is also subjectivist.  Although there are some Divine Truths, the most important aspect of being Sacred is being Good.  Although we might not like to think so, good is an utterly nebulous and subjective thing.  If you ask ten people what makes a person good, you will likely get ten different, but equally valid responses.  Just as evil is utterly dependant on context, so is good; an act that at a certain time could be right or wrong could be completely different in another situation.  The same thing could be said of being Righteous, or any of the other terms that describe adherence to faith.  It is no longer a public display; religion becomes a private experience, which is the hallmark of the internal.

Finally the Internalized Hierophany is egalitarian and by its very nature it must be so.  When there were externalities, there could also be a priest to intercede, because a priest could observe the forms and rituals that displayed the entry into the Sacred.  In an Internalized Hierophany, there are no outward forms to display, and no way for the intercessionary priest to determine adherence to the Law.  When you are the only person who can determine your tie to the Sacred, you must pray for yourself.  You become your own key to Salvation.  Further as God becomes an internalized experience, there is neither salvation, nor any need for it in the first place.  God moves from a physical to a purely spiritual presence and, as such, no longer directly acts in the physical world.  This is the John Spong view of Christianity, where God is a very personal, internalized process.   

With this, I have outlined the three models of religion.  Understand, I am dealing with idealized models here; the real world expressions of these systems are much messier.  For example, Catholicism still contains physical manifestations of Deity through the miracle of Transubstantiation and yet believes intent, not action defines what is a sin.  Evangelical Christianity relies strongly on extra-personal Truths revealed by God, but are internalized through the experience of being “Born Again.”  The models are never pure outside of a thought experiment, but they do provide a framework for understanding.

Now that we have looked at how the Sacred can be created, and models of doing so, I would like to examine a further implication of this.  We have created what Douglas Hofstadter would term an isomorphism, where two complex systems can be mapped onto each other.  He expanded the thought from a purely mathematical model to one that can be applied more broadly to all sorts of theoretical frameworks.  We are created by God and then we create God in our image.  More specifically, we create rituals to make the Sacred, and then the Sacred circumscribes our lives.  Put another way, did we write these crazy stories, or did these stories make us crazy?

This isomorphism is fascinating.  We have set up a system, through either a Theophany or a Hierophany to be able to create the Sacred.  This Sacred Experience defines our connection to Deity and we can build the entire chain of connections in this way.  Here we are on very solid ground, well trod by theologians, anthropologists and academics.

However, we can flip it around, which is a very different way to look at it.  If we do this, the rituals, processes, rules and forms create for us our notion of the Divine.  We can map one system directly onto the other; the only difference is the order of development.  We can look at these rituals, Laws and forms and through them develop the notion of God.  In this case, we are not a reflection of the Divine; the Divine is a reflection of us.

This broaches the subject of authenticity.  Which side is the authentic, the Divine Experience or the Human one?  This is the subject that I will pick up on in the next post.

St Barts Cathedral, New York City

No comments:

Post a Comment