Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jesus Is Just All Right With Me

[For Archaeopteryx or anyone else it may be "new" to. This was written in 2004, embarrassingly vintage swill here, and not edited all that much. Also, here's why I like Robert Charles Wilson. --K]

Animal a rare event in the Universe. Cherished for it's rarity...When primates learned the trick of consciousness, of neurons talking to neurons the way planets talk to planets, making consciousness out of quantum events, there was nothing to get in the way of our evolution...

"Why do people worship gods, Tam?"

Because we're descended from them, Zoe thought. We're their crippled mute offspring, in all our millions.
--Robert Charles Wilson, Bios
A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation
--Stephen Crane

The question 'what makes us special?' has been around so long as we have been special enough to ask it. Indeed, as more is learned about animal sapience, many of the sacred demarcations of humanity vanish or blur, from tool use to symbolic communication and even speech. The only thing that seems to separate mankind definitively from animals is that at some point in our development, we have been reflective enough to ask what's it all about, and that introspection somehow stuck. We peep over the cusp of consciousness: a handful fewer neurons and the human race is back to monosyllabic grunting and hurling feces at our simian brothers. We do not know what the highest level of sentience in the universe may be, but it's safe to say that we people represent the bare minimum.

And we have every reason to be bitter about it. On one end of the belief spectrum, we are unlucky enough to be have evolved sufficient intelligence to imagine and fear (and collectively, create) our demise while sufficiently primitive to prevent rising above this knowledge and fear. The more faithful believe we have been created by some loving deity, but if this is so, we have evidently been left to our own devices, for surely no god speaks to us directly today. It's tough to forgive a creator who holds us responsible for the nature he placed in us. If God has an ineffible plan, it involves some pretty tough love. Should a superintelligence exist, it's much more likely that we are, ant-like, simply beneath its notice, and we read its will with all the comprehension of human behavior that the ant gathers from a foot suddenly placed in its path. (It is even possible that we are unknowing components of a larger consciousness. Why the fuck not.)

I've called the Judeo-Christian tradition, "as good as any," but in truth, it's better than some. I like, for one thing, the basic Christian code (regardless of actual practice) of humility, charity, forgiveness, and meditatively seeking the kingdom of God. I'll happily interpret it as a highly individualist faith too. I do have a tough time digesting the proscriptions and prescriptions of the overzealous faithful interpreting 2000 year-old politics through more constrained (and often lesser) minds than my own. Even if the bible was inspired by god, it has still been channeled by the corrupt, inefficient minds of men, and they don't make grains of salt big enough.

Blind faith is for suckers, and it seems violate the central lesson of Christianity at that. Buying for now into the Eden myth, it is a desire to be like God (that is, the "sin" of thinking) that makes us so miserable, but this sentience has a reward too, that we may become more than beasts, and perhaps more than that. (But probably not.) Unquestioning acceptance puts us right back on par with the animals, and although this may be return to Eden, it forsakes our responsibility and capacity as marginally better beings. It is like seeking to be intellectually unborn, and you know, fuck that.

The metaphor at the center of Christianity that I still find appealing is this: Jesus, it's said, came down as an incarnation of god, basically to live life as one of us poor benighted bastards for a time. The uncomprehended universe--call it god--may have little regard for humans in general, but it's very comforting to think, maybe without even believing it, that cold infinite nature once gave a damn about us. In perhaps my favorite throwaway apology for Christianity,
Some say he was not a human being at all...but the thought, tangible to us, of some vast intelligence to whom our actuality is no more real than the paper theaters of the toy sellers...[H]e had the power to reconcile the universe with humanity, and humanity with the universe, ending the old breach.
--Gene Wolfe, The Claw of the Conciliator

Is it bullshit? Maybe. Probably. But I get the appeal.


twiffer said...

one thing: how do we know other animals are not introspective?

if you were investigated by a creature that had no means of communicating with you, how would it know you were self-reflective? the truth is, we have no way of knowing if, say, dogs have a concept of "god". we just assume they don't.

Keifus said...

Answer: we carefully define introspection so that it's a human thing. (Another answer: we're the ones who can't shut the fuck up about it.)

But you have a point. What's Fido dreaming about anyway, with his legs all twitching like that? One more line fuzzed.


LentenStuffe said...

My terriers are twins: one is named Proslogion and the other is called Monologion, but if either of them ever so much as sniffles an Ontological Argument in my presence I'll have them deballed and minced immediately!

Keifus said...

I guess nothing new under the sun anyway. That was funny even before I had to look it up. (Tell Anselm I just discovered that I'm god, would you?)


Thy Goddess said...

Blind faith is for suckers?

Ummm, yeah. That is exactly what I require from my subjects. In fact, it delights me to no end.

That, and all the deballing !

PS: Cute....(the smile and the post).

Keifus said...

Ouch! I admit it would make life easier in some ways, but still, I like my faiths vague and with not very much painful and humiliating attrition.

K (thanks, shucks, etc.)

rundeep said...

My dog is not into the ontological argument. But the cat is. The dog is more a Nicomachean Ethics sort of critter -- trying to build good habits and all.

For no good reason: does therapy just encourage narcissism? Cause the people I know in therapy seem very concerned about themselves. More self-involvement than introspection. Anyway. bye.

Archaeopteryx said...


I admit to a period when I, too, sort of liked the idea of Jesus as a version of God slumming with the meat puppets. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have given him any sort of sympathy for our situations. He apparently was convinced by his time here that we were either beyond helping, or were getting what we deserved. Either way, it's time to look elsewhere for assistance. Flying Spaghetti Monster, anyone?

Keifus said...

Hi Arch. I liked the idea a little better three or four years ago, really. But like I said, I still see the appeal.

But...this flying spaghetti monster you mention? Is he the demanding offerings sort of god, or the leaving presents sort?

rundeep: my cat just acts like she's got it all figured out. I'm not buying it. She can't even open the damn door on her own.


Archaeopteryx said...

Keifus--is it possible you're not joking? You haven't read the Gospel of the FSM?


Dawn Coyote said...

well, my cat attempted to open the door the other day. He was up on the half-wall and reaching his paw out to jiggle the latch on the screen door. This is the same cat who flushes the toilet on a regular basis, and can open all the cupboards.

He also seems capable of some runimentary form of speech. Sometimes he seem to speak whole sentences of varied sounds. Friends who witness this stand in awe. I wonder if the sounds represent anything for him, or if he's merely mimicking us stupid humans.

Though I caught Scooter before he got the door open, I had another cat when I was a kid who used to jump up and pull down the latch to let himself out on a regular basis. We never did get him to close the door behind him, though.

Keifus said...

arch: Okay, sign me up (it says we're all his creatures, so I think I better), but deity or not, I'm not letting my kids do this.

dawn: my cat does thank me when I open the door for her. Maybe she's lazy. Maybe tonight we can talk about ontology a little, see where it goes.