Shattering the Image, Part II

This website focuses on the negative role Christian values, derived from the image of God, currently play in determining, not only the fate of western civilization, but, as the result of a western-dominated globalization, the fate of the whole world. I have felt compelled to write these essays because, not to be overly dramatic, I truly believe that the future of the human species is at risk. And it is at risk because our system of values has become totally corrupt – to be Biblical, it’s become as a “whited sepulchre.”

From CDS’s to WMD’s, nothing is as it seems, and it seems to matter very much what “the meaning of is” is. Our literal financial bankruptcy is a metaphor for our moral bankruptcy. No matter what venue one might be talking about, value given does not result in value received, but in value lost. We value that which no longer has any value and devalue that which is valuable. We do those things we ought not do and do not do those things we ought to do, to paraphrase the book of common prayer, and there is no health in us.

But just because I am out to expose the problems inherent in the image of the Christian God, it is not my purpose to deny the value of religion altogether. Indeed, it is my contention that humans require a value system of one kind or another to survive. And it is my purpose to persuade my readers to at least entertain this contention long enough to evaluate the logic of my essays. Humans need a collective worldview in order to function collectively, and a collective worldview is based on a mutually agreed upon system of values. Humans get their value systems from their cultures and cultures get their values from religion; in fact, within each culture, religion serves as the repository and medium for the transfer of cultural values from generation to generation, and these values in turn shape culture – which is why it is hard (impossible?) to discover any culture which does not have a religion at its core. Western civilization’s values come from Christianity. Whether one leans to the left or the right, one is still riding the same Christian tricycle. What I propose is that we need a new vehicle, but I’m not sure we can dispense with a vehicle altogether. Although Christian values are betraying us – I am not suggesting that the whole notion of religion should be thrown out. Instead, I think we need to recognize the value of values – and of religion as the symbolic system for values.

I’m quite aware that the topic of values has been tossed around quite a bit in both the political and religious spheres, with talk of values voters, the culture wars, etc. – but, so far, the discussion really hasn’t been especially enlightening or productive. On the contrary. Over the past twenty years or so, in a slowly building reaction to the swerve toward liberalism begun in the 1960’s, we have had a hard turn to the values of the right – exemplified by the rise and popularity of right-wing religious and political fundamentalism. This hard turn to the right peaked with the election of George Bush and the rush to war in Iraq. However, the disaster known as the Bush administration has resulted in a small but significant pullback from the all out support for conservative values. Recently, riding on the coattails of the failure of the Bush administration, we have had the “new atheist” backlash – which resulted in the publication and enthusiastic media promotion of books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, signaling the end of – or at least a pause, a hiccough in the media’s love affair with right wing Christianity.

But, in spite of the media attention given to these books and their authors, they have had little overall cultural effect other than to give secular humanists a few good laughs at the expense of the devout. Preaching to the converted, the “new atheists” have done little to discredit Christianity, but a great deal to motivate “people of faith” to dig in their self-righteous heels. At a time when both a serious critique of Christianity in particular and an understanding of religion in general are called for, these critics all too often have resorted to the cheap shot and the easy laugh. Having held up for ridicule beliefs which are peculiar to certain Christian sects and not representative of Christianity in general, much less all religions, these writers have underestimated and trivialized the very real power of religion itself. So, in spite of their erudition and cleverness, they have achieved very little resonance with the larger populace.

I find it tragic that the only intellectual reaction to right-wing conservative Christian values, which are becoming more and more toxic by the day, is the glib and facile response from thinkers who have given very little serious thought to religion – other than to despise it, when its dangerous flaws need a good, hard, honest, intelligent analysis. So offended are they by Christianity, which they show no real understanding of, that they conflate it with all religion and condemn the whole lot to perdition. As to politicians on the left, they, too have bought into the idea that conservative Christian values are synonymous with values in general, but with the exact opposite effect. To them values mean values voters – and they need values voters, and so Jesus has begun to play a prominent role in the political discourse of the left. Having decided that it is far too dangerous politically to repudiate values, and mistakenly assuming that right-wing Christian values=all values, our Democratic politicians have embraced Christianity with a vengeance, when they should be at least hinting at the need for something new. Either and both positions are fatally flawed.

I would like to propose a middle ground, a philosophical position which negates Christianity as the path to collective salvation (i.e, the source of a value system which provides a stable and healthy foundation for society), but affirms that a religiously-based value system of one kind or another is necessary for human survival. Human beings are biologically determined to be culturally constructed, which means that we have no choice but to embrace a religio-cultural value system (atheists are people who have “withdrawn the projection; that is, they have integrated the cultural value system so perfectly into their consciousness that an outside agent like religion is no longer needed to keep them on the straight and narrow). My analysis attempts to explain why it has been necessary for religious beliefs to be so deeply rooted in the consciousness of a culture that they are taken for truth, and the worldview they create, for reality, and why it necessary that religious belief not be so deep that it cannot be changed.

This proposal is based on the following logic: (1)humans, like other animals, within a given culture or species need to be able to relate to each other and to work together in order to survive, i.e., they need to be reading from the same page. (2) to relate to each other and work together they need a collective “worldview”; (3) the human worldview is culture specific, while the non-human worldview is species specific; (4) the survival value of a culture-specific worldview, rather than a hard-wired human nature, is that it is adaptable; (5) adaptability is the ability to change when changes in the physical or social environment threaten human survival; (6) culture-specific worldviews derive from religiously-based value systems; (7) a value system which is religiously based is stable enough to provide a collective worldview, but mutable enough to allow change when change is required; (8) Christianity has created a value system which has outlived its usefulness, so much so that, to hold onto its values is promoting death instead of life. (9) We need a new system of values which will better serve us in the face of a radically altered physical and social environment. The question is whether or not a new value system can be created consciously or whether it must derive from a new religion which will arise spontaneously from the depths of the collective unconscious in response to very real threats to the survival of the human species.

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