Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post to Open Humanism Mind-meeting group

[I posted this note and comments to a Facebook group after Anitra joined me to it. I am posting it here because I want to save it, and I don't entirely trust FB to do that for me.]

Anitra tossed me into this group against my will. I am her husband, with whom she does not always agree. Her focus is on her own brand of humanism mixed with form of Christianity. My focus is elsewhere. I'm a polytheist who doesn't believe in gods. How does that work? Well, first off, when I say I don't believe in gods, I mean I don't believe in what monotheists generally consider gods to be. I have my own ideas what purposes the word god should be put to, and my ideas are not accepted by most people, therefore they would say that I don't believe in gods. That is the first answer.

But also, believing really isn't the point. Gods to me aren't to be believed in. Gods are part of the machinery of my seeing. Objectively, when you look around a room, you don't see your eyes. Your eyes and brain are part of the equipment of your seeing. What I *mean* by a god, generally, is a part of my equipment of seeing into the world, or of my engagement with the world. A god is an organ of my subjectivity, that colors my insight. Strictly speaking those are what I would call personal gods. Universal gods also can be defined in at least two ways. A universal god may be an idealization of a form of a personal god. Or a universal god may refer to a perspective that informs subjectivities that can be shared. That is, the god is the shared perspectivity.

Example. A very simple god is found in what the Greeks called Hera. Hera is the god (goddess) who is said to be at work whenever someone runs into a burning building to save a baby, and says they didn't think about it, they just did it. The weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hera made American's enlist in droves. Hera sent firemen running up the stairs of the World Trade Towers. Actually Hera is the universalization of an ideal form of organ of insight. We all have a Hera in us, or we're sociopaths. "Hera" is to those individual Heras, as "The Human Eye" is to our individual eyes. The individual Heras cause us to engage ourselves in the world in a certain way. When I say I don't believe in gods, a subtler meaning of saying that is  that I am not a Platonist, so I don't believe in ideal forms, so the universal Hera to me is a fiction. Well, the individual Heras, when imagined as personal beings are fictions, too. But they are fictions of a higher reality. Because if you have had such experiences as I've described you know how it feels and it feels like somebody outside of yourself directed your actions. So the personalization of individual Heras is justified by the utility of conveying the experience. In any case, the individual Heras exist objectively as phenomena. I can say on that level I believe in them.

I don't want to have the best beliefs I can. I want to discover the means to have the best insights. By attending to gods, and distinguishing them, I am gaining in understanding how I engage the world and how others do, too. I don't have to make a religion out of it. I can apply my definitions, look for my very objective organs of engagement and get somewhere with that. But when I was a child I learned another way. That other way didn't detract from what I just described but added to it. I learned that by taking the subjective experiences of gods for granted and responding to the gods as if they were the persons they seem sometimes to be, they become easier to see and understand. This is the method of imagination. That's my religion. It has no dogma. It has no scripture. The church is everywhere. The altar is in my head. My gods eat Anitra's god every morning for breakfast, then spit him out and ask for eggs and toast instead.

Imagining is not only a solitary process, but a group activity. My childhood experience was that, around the age of 3, I encountered and became close friends with a couple of 18 year-old Hawaiian brothers, one of whom was a Hawaiian traditionalist. So he had rejected Christianity for a version of the Hawaiian traditional ways, the Kahiko, that he had learned (against the law in those days!) from one of his uncles. He taught me some of that. As a result, my imagining of gods and goddesses often reflects Kahiko imaginings. Another way to say that I do not believe in the gods, is that I am aware that they are imaginings, and I am aware that they are only scaffolding for my awareness, and I am aware that they come from inspirations of all kinds, and therefore I can pack them all up and forget about them, and go to sleep when I need to. The act of choosing these gods and not those isn't about dogma, it's about love.

Imagining itself is an organ of seeing. And necessary to imagining is the ability to clear one's head, or to tear down imaginings. And necessary to make any use of imaginings, you need memory, to preserve them a while, to use them. There's a nice trinity.

Should mention this corollary: Since the gods are organs of my engagement with the world, and since "I" is a word for that engagement, I am made of my gods. My voice is the combination of their voices. This view tends to make me less than worshipful about them. I have a lot of appreciation for my body parts, but I don't worship my liver. In fact, I actually feel rather superior to my liver, most of the time.

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