“He has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.”
—Jonathan Swift (1666-1747), his epitaph for himself, from the Latin
People listen to what they want to hear. What they want to hear is that they are righteous, they deserve what they take, they are free agents of independent mind, they are valued members of their group, their beliefs are justified, their actions are blameless, and they have no requirement to change. Prophets are doomed to exile accompanied by their insanity.
We huddle in our comfort groups, behind the circled wagons of our circular-logic orthodoxies, preserving the warm certainties of our virginal delusions against the hostile assaults of painful reality; our brave protectors sending out righteous fire onto a heathenish enemy intent on our dissolution. But God is on our side, because we created Him. He is our disembodied superiority, the source point of our primacy, the divine root of our power. So long as our circle remains unbroken, we bask in the certainty of this heavenly delusion, the Eden womb of ignorance. Truth is cold, knowledge is hell, awareness is exile.
This is why “under God” must stay in our loyalty prayer to our national flag; of course it is unconstitutional, but thank God our Supreme Court understands the will of the people is beyond constitution and law, and yearns most deeply for the one true faith to unite us all in one true state under one true God — unchallenged by the unthinkable.
Faith and religion must be crammed down the throats of non-believers because until all conform, believers insecure in their belief will agonize over their fears and doubts. People who have actually had a religious experience do not require anything of anyone else, at most they feel joy they may wish to share and a sense of compassion for the continued suffering of the unenlightened. Organized religion and dogmatic faith are impediments to actual religious experience. If you actually want to know God, you have to let go of religion. The burning bush of Moses, the blow that struck St. Paul off horseback, the fire that burned in St. Teresa’s heart are not for the weak, the self-satisfied, the fearful of denial being exposed; so instead, most choose to cling to religion. Religion is the great protector of prejudice, and our prejudices define the egos we cling to as self-definitions. How could we jeopardize THAT? How could we abandon ourselves to an overwhelming unknown that would burn all THAT away in a flash? And so the circles are drawn tight.
God, as the invention of war lords who justified their tyrannies by divine right descending from a remote Almighty above us, is very much the American God whose wrath falls on the poor of this earth, whom we war against for a greater good — to our benefit. This is why today even Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, who may have lost family to the guns and machetes of our missionary wars, must surely feel some sadness as the most successful American fascist leader, Ronald Reagan, is laid to rest. Is not our glory worthy of such reverence? Do not our blessings from God deserve such honor? Surely, even those who may have felt the sting of actions by our freedom-loving agents and proxies, promoting the selfless civilizing efforts we make on behalf of world order, will understand the overriding benefits we have been empowered to provide. Surely, in time the world will be grateful, and God will bless us with the profits of that gratitude.
God, The Atheist
Are we alone in the universe? Will our rovers on Mars or our probes to the moons of Neptune and beyond ever find life? Instead of flinging ourselves into the cold, dark, near-vacuum vastness of space, seeking to answer “is there life in the universe?” (besides Earth), take a shortcut, go to the bathroom mirror and look at the universe to see the obvious: the universe is alive.
Imagine that our universe is just a fluke of randomness that clumped and rippled as it expanded away from the singularity of abstraction called the Big Bang — where nama and rupa, the names and forms carried by language can begin the illusion of containing the larger reality. Out of this, precipitated molecular fragments that settled as dusts and pooled as droplets drawn into the rocks and oceans of worlds drifting in space. In this one of uncountable and unknowable other worlds, conditions were just so that heat, light, water, minerals, organic molecular fragments, electricity and time could combine to produce DNA strands, and these in turn evolved with astonishing complexity and rapidity. A radiating cascade of energetics, flowing from the Big Bang through cosmogonic physics, material accretion during gravitational infall, radiochemical and thermo-electrochemical organosynthesis, biochemical elaboration, life, evolution, us.
If our science can dissect this process with sufficient precision, could we then produce life synthetically? Could we produce a sentient being directly from chemical elements, given sufficient energy, technology, and investment? Obviously, we can reproduce any living species — at least in theory — by modern artificial insemination, cloning and recombinant DNA methods. However, this is always never more than adjustments (of exceeding scientific refinement, to be sure) to existing natural biological systems of reproduction. To actually be God and create life, we would have to be able to do so from elements. We would synthesize our own DNA (which is routine today) and then build up our being from masses of basic synthetic organic material.
Our first synthetic beings were viruses, which were created by November 2003. Scientists in the United States assembled a bacteriophage — a virus which infects bacteria, not humans — by stitching together the more than 5,000 DNA building blocks of the organism, from pieces of DNA available commercially. It will be some time before American industry can synthesize a perfect butler, or a perfect prostitute.
A bacteriophage is certainly a being, but probably not one of significant consciousness. To prove to ourselves we are God, we would have to produce a creature of significant complexity and consciousness, like a hamster, or even synthetic soldiers for our military. Wouldn’t that prove we were God, and wouldn’t that prove there is no God? Then our Pledge of Allegiance could be corrected from “under God,” to “under Us,” note the capital U.
What the production of synthetic sentient life would prove is that sentience is an elemental embedded potentiality. Whether the chemist is cosmogonic, or geochemical, or a postdoctoral student in a laboratory, the yeast of sentience is intrinsic to the chemicals of life, and if the recipe is followed the hand of the maker is irrelevant. It is that intrinsic potentiality of sentience that is God. So we are God, inasmuch as we are no more than the dust and ooze of the universe and God suffuses it all, and we are not God in that we can never possess an exclusive unique power to create synthetic subservient life. Life we can create, and we may learn more ways to do so, but it will never be other than we ourselves are.
So the Almighty — God the Tory Lord — is a fiction. God is a communist and an atheist, and we are it! Tat vam asi — you are that.
Imagine the change in our politics if Americans could look into the mirror and see themselves as God, no different from looking into their neighbor’s eyes and seeing them as God, no different from looking into the beady little eyes of their child’s hamster and seeing it as God, and looking at news photos of Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, and southeast Asian water buffalo boys, and seeing them as God as much as the viewers themselves. Our American God would die, his self-righteous empire would collapse, and with it the great weight of a bloody and godless idol would fall away.
East Of Eden
Jonathan Swift, the great satirist and champion of the Irish people against their oppression by his fellow Englishmen, went insane because he hated humanity but loved people. “His concern lay in his earnest, and as it happens his Christian, belief that mankind is not only susceptible to salvation but worthy of being saved.” Miriam Kosh Starkman continues, “Swift spoke meaningfully when he claimed to “hate and detest that animal called man,” but to “heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth;” for his professed hatred of the animal called man spells his dissatisfaction with mankind, and his love for the individual, his hope for mankind.” (1)
There are many Swifts in our modern day, railing against the follies and injustices of our time. Most are destined for obscurity, as American SUV excess lumbers blissfully on in our rapidly warming, desiccating world, which might snap into a mini Ice Age if the thermohaline cycle of ocean currents is diluted sufficiently by the melting of polar ice caps to change the planetary heat balance and with it world climates. Why worry, our SUVs will be perfect vehicles for cold, windy drought-parched land as long as we have…oops, no gas.
Today’s Swifts see the European tundra, the expanded American desert and the semi-arid savanna south of the Ohio River, the oil wars in the Persian Gulf, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Caribbean, the boat people from collapsed eco-systems landing on southern European and southern United States’ shores, the end of middle class comfort with the fading of oil-fired transportation and industry, the loss of carefree freedom with military needs never-ending in a world where survival is more difficult, living is more expensive, and life was never cheaper among its up to 8 billion people.
The Swifts of today know that if there is to be any equity, sanity, justice and peace in a climatically altered, largely oil-depleted world, in as soon as two decades, it will be that equity, sanity, justice and peace that carries forward from mechanisms that we form today and in these next few years. We will never adjust instantly, with grace and dignity, to the impact of abrupt climate change and significant oil depletion against our selfish and wasteful inertia.
The only certainty we have is that whatever changes occur, we will experience them together, locked on this island Earth. We have the wherewithal to “save ourselves” from what we can estimate might happen, if we get busy now, setting aside our petty penurious profiteering, and organize our use of resources for the best ends of society and for a planned transition to a sustainable national and world energetics.
Alas, the Swifts of today must go mad, because their messages violate every aspect of “what people like to hear.” It is the fate of most prophets to go insane to one degree or another. Driven by visions of a catastrophe they can see yet not prevent, they rail and become public nuisances, and must be forcibly silenced by stoning, or blocking with spam filters, and in any way possible sent off into a wilderness where their cries dissipate out of earshot from polite society. This time, our Titanic is the whole planet.
An American Prayer
God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death. Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them. Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown. Let me be curious without fear of thought. Let me be expressive without thought of fear. Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion. Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge. Let me be humane, an instrument of peace. Let me know truth. Let me be grateful.
1. Gulliver’s Travels And Other Writings By Jonathan Swift, edited by Miriam Kosh Starkman, New York: Bantam Books, 1962, ISBN 0-553-21232-X
The above was originally published as:
5 July 2004
My Pledge of Allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the altered states in America,
and to the republic-of-dreams for which it stands,
one nation under the gods,
the goddesses, the spirits of the ancestors,
and the great unknowable void,
with liberty to imagine justice
28 June 2002