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The utility of "God"


I attended my first Episcopalian service last night [in April 2010]. It was Maundy Thursday, so we did the whole foot-washing thing and then the Eucharist, etc. Endless singing and antiphonal rituals, responses, prayers. A certain pungent beauty in the foot-washing, beautiful symbolism. But how foreign it all is to the spirit of the times! A relic of antiquity, as Nietzsche said. The Greek chorus, for instance. Submersing ourselves in ritual, in self-forgetfulness and community. Love, the incredible and constantly repeated emphasis on love. Admirable. But it seems that in order so to escape ourselves in love we have to fall back on the expedient of inventing a God who loves us and enjoins us to love each other, and pray to him, direct our love first to him and thereby to each other. It is through the mediating idea of a God that people are best able to achieve love of mankind. Nor is this surprising. Mankind is just an abstraction, the most abstract of abstractions, and as such is not easy to love passionately. God is a kind of abstraction too, but, paradoxically, a concrete and self-conscious one. He is something like Hegel’s “concrete universal.” A sublimation of the idea of mankind, or rather of all its noble aspects (love, power, goodness, omniscient self-consciousness) as personified in a self, which is the sort of thing that can most readily be loved (as opposed to “mankind,” which is not a self). God is the bridge between the concrete self and the abstraction of humanity: he is a concrete abstraction, or an abstract concreteness. And the idea of him provides people with a half-conscious sense of being-respected or being-recognized/confirmed for loving everyone. It inspires them to make the effort to “love thy neighbor,” since if they do, they know they’ll in turn be loved by the Absolute Self, and thus be objectively confirmed as (objectively) valuable. Certainly this motivation isn’t conscious, but it’s there all the same.

As I’ve said before, God is a particularly suitable “objective correlative” of the abstract Other in consciousness. By securing his recognition you’re securing the recognition of the abstract other, and so, effectively, of your self. Putting to rest (potentially) your self-doubt.


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