Mockery is easy, particularly when presented ideas are deemed so clearly farcical. Examples of religious absurdity are so abundant, from declarations of the end of the world to seeing Jesus on a piece of toast, that poking fun and snorting with laughter has become a past-time akin to baseball for some. Unfortunately for the practice of mockery, it offers little help for any form of engagement to result in an expanded understanding. Perhaps such isn’t the goal though, and forgetting the silliness of their own childhood beliefs, the simplistic humor of mockery serves as a protestation of distance, each joke a declaration that “I am not like him.” When recognition eventually dawns that the other person, separated through mockery, has been struggling with issues intrinsic to all humanity, the gulf then that exists makes any helpful dialogue that much less possible.
Recently having watched the movie “Fury,” a scene plays out when one soldier asks another why the Germans haven’t given up as they are so clearly beaten. The other soldier looks at the questioner and asks: “Would you?” Whether it’s nationalistic pride or ideological allegiance, there’s a level of safety being sought in both, an identification with something bigger than one’s self. In issues of meaning and purpose, this identification can take on a great deal of weight, scrambling to hold onto it even as the mental fingernails scrape and break over the gravel of reality.
The Divine has a lot to answer for, being called on as the source for everything from a winning play in a sports game to bringing about a healthy end to surgery. From the truly extravagant to the utterly banal, the Divine of nearly any religious tradition seems to constantly and consistently be pointed to as the progenitor of anything good or welcome. Much can be said about the opposite being absent, that is the negative. Rare is the person who praises their Divinity for the death, destruction and heartache of everyday living. More so, the negative is absent even when the positive assumes the existence of such. I was in a small group once where a person wanted to pray that they would receive, via the prosperity gospel, a large life insurance settlement. When I pointed out that this required the death of a supposed loved one, I was quickly told to be quiet. This can be said of every claimed miracle of someone surviving a catastrophic event, their survival by Divinity infers that all those who died horribly were at minimum not chosen to live by that very loving Divinity or, more consistently, that they were in fact chosen to die horribly. Little wonder then that such thoughts rarely get voiced. Pointing out the self-serving egotism of such thinking simply goes without saying, but it still needs to be said.
Such self-serving ideas are not without historical roots, it would seem to be the underlying purpose afforded by the metaphysical allusions of religious ideology. Ignorance of natural events, from storms to death, served as impetus to determine some form of understanding, leading to the foundational elements of primitive Divinity. The result provides both consistency, but more importantly a sense of meaning, of purpose. If an event x occurs that is unclear or unhelpful, Divinity is called in to provide a sense of meaning or purpose via the instrumentality of the believer through some ritual. The result is an internalization of control-after-the-fact, of placing the event via human action upon an altar of Divine origin. Those rituals have changed over the years, some more than others depending on the religious tradition, with western Christianity reflecting a general lackadaisical attitude of mere projected thought as prayer being enough. On the other hand, perhaps the lack of overt and complicated rituals is indicative of western arrogance and self-empowerment. We don’t need the public bloody slaughtering of a bull, a silent wisp of a thought provides the equivalent. In any case, the Divine is called upon as the ultimate post-hoc logical fallacy, the consequence being the loss of any real human meaning.
Wait, how does that happen? Notice the locus of meaning and purpose. Certainly there’s a sense of empowerment by the believer, but it’s a passive one, an apron-strings approach to living. Bad thing happens, meaning is placed on the Divine and life moves on despite there being no real understanding. Let’s face it, the Divine provides no explanation, merely a place-filling box that itself is hollow. Ignorance rears its ugly head in the face of adversity and is side-stepped until a story can be made to explain it. Think back on stories of Divinity, there’s a sequence of events. At first the naming of the Divine occurs, with some emotionally-laden cliche about mysterious plans. Only later, time dependent on the need and imaginative powers of the individual, is there any substance provided and always of some ego-saving form. Why did the bad thing happen? “I don’t know but God’s ways are mysterious.” Same question later asked and such turns into “God caused it to happen so I’d learn x lesson or find y door had opened.” Such thinking, by removing human intent and active engagement, results in a loss of connection with the real suffering of the world.
Now then, we don’t want to leave out the positive. We can see from the negative that there’s a disengagement, a general lack of removal from life that occurs when any meaning associated with suffering is placed on the Divine. When the same practice is done concerning the positive, the full hyperbolic destruction of humanity is complete, with nothing of what we do coming to have any meaning. Those years in school, the dedication to practice and sacrifices made to learn medicine and surgery, the personal level of intention and power of the human drive to succeed? All wither before the Divine hegemony of the good. The years of sweat and tears, the pain from training, the dedication to a team resulting in a beautiful cohesiveness of people working together to complete a goal? All of that is cast aside to be replaced by the Divine act. That sports players and doctors are lauded even by believers simply indicates the true shallowness of the idea. What it doesn’t remove is how utterly devastating such thinking is to human meaning and progress.
The existence of a Divine source for human action does not provide meaning, it places it in a realm outside of human reach. The Divine will relegates all human purpose and meaning to the scrap-heap of broken hopes and dreams. Our suffering and heartache become not sources for poetry and perseverance, our achievements and the humane quality of humanity become not sources for sonnets and hope-filled pride, all are but testaments to a Divine source of which we are but flotsam in the sea of changing materiality. The constancy of the Divine takes away any revelation of joy and meaning to be found in the day-to-day living of human existence. So yes it is easy to mock when silliness is ascribed to a person’s personal Divinity. The reality, however, is far more potent and deserves more than rueful sighs. Such a believer desperately wants to find meaning, but in so doing has lost any real source for it. That’s not silly or worth mocking, it’s completely tragic.
© David Teachout