The Sense of the Sacred (II)

This is not a separate essay.  As the section numbers indicate, these reflections are the continuation of the last post “The Sense of the Sacred,” Aug 2, and are built on those premises.


The sense of the sacred is always associated with the community on which survival depends.  So the religious rituals of self-sacrifice performed the secondary function of sacralizing social life by grounding the community — its routines, its regulations, its castes and its “values” — in the wellspring of the sacred, but always in terms of religion’s separation of the sacred from the profane.  As society changed — specifically in how it guaranteed survival — what religion had narrowly sanctioned as “sacred” had to change with it; if it didn’t, society would generate a religion that would.  Society and religion are integral.  Theocracy is the normal state of affairs; it is natural.  Religion is society’s sounding board for declaring its values sacred.  Those values are what justify society’s survival system guaranteeing existence.

The adjustments made by Christianity in the second century of the common era is an example of a change of this type.  It adapted to living permanently with and within the Roman Empire instead of actively anticipating Rome’s downfall in the Second Coming.  Those modifications were responsible for allowing Rome to feel confident that in selecting Christianity as its state religion it was not shooting itself in the foot.  There were a number of features that assured the empire that its own existence and values were safe with Christianity: hierarchy, a rigid upper-class control of authority and ritual, a quid pro quo “salvation” conditioned on compliant behavior judged by a demanding “God” who sanctioned Rome’s right to rule.  It was a far cry from the original invitation to join Jesus’ “Way,” an egalitarian movement of the common people wrapped in the arms of a merciful “God” who promised the final overthrow of Rome’s system of injustice and idolatry.  Christianity effectively re-invented itself, choosing to function on a dynamic that was quite the opposite of that of its founder.  It changed its world-view from one-world to two, and embraced as its own the class structures that were at the very heart of Roman exploitation.  Christianity never challenged the ancient Mediterranean economic system which was based entirely on slavery on a vast scale.  Control by an aristocratic hierarchy and serfs bound to the land remained in place throughout the subsequent history of Europe in all the nations of the West including the Americas, until the late 18th century.  And all through that time its sacred justification was provided by the Catholic Church and its many reformed versions, very few of which ever challenged those structures.

We can’t fail to appreciate the political implications of all this.  These dynamics are not just the fall-out of ancient illusions; they are invariables that do not change with time or with the symbols that objectify them.  The Catholic/Christian hierarchy was tied to the Roman Imperial, class-based world-view.  They have not officially represented European nations since Europe’s “democratizing” project began with the French and American revolutions.  The Christian state religions of Europe disappeared but left a great tension in their wake.  Society requires a “religion.”  We are still defined by the inescapable need to sacralize the social realities by which we survive and work out our destiny.  Our sense of the sacred will not go away, and the connection between survival (being-here, existence), the community, what we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for, and “God” is a constant.  “God” is a projection of human existential dependency.  It is naturally dominated by society’s existential (survival) role.  Young men have always killed one another and died willingly for their clan and nation even though they were of the same religion.  Religion did not create this disposition; it was an innate inclination and ancient religion was the expression of it.  The human proclivity to be of service to the “sacred” as determined by the survival community will continue to function in the absence of an established religion; it will ineluctably interpret as sacred the processes by which the community currently guarantees survival, and it will eventually develop symbols and rituals — however “irreligious” they may at first appear — that objectify and externalize those “sacred” processes.  In the United States politically conservative Christians, the most socially prominent of whom are the Roman Catholic hierarchy, are currently attempting to redefine Christianity along the lines of the “modern” sacred categories of economic wealthmaking — the corporate business model — in an attempt to align their religion with the values that rule our societies.  The fact that this redefinition stands in stark contrast to the words and spirit of their founder is generally not a matter of serious concern — nor has it ever been.

This is not the willful immorality of greedy and arrogant men, it is the normal process by which society attempts to find a way to declare itself sacred.  A new sacred world view begins to emerge and to function as the old religion did, shaping and subordinating all of economic, political and social activities to the new values.  If a traditional religion can re-tool itself to do this, all the better.  In the case of Christianity, impossible as it was to imagine, it changed itself to reflect the sacred structures and values of the Roman Empire.  If it wants to become the “state religion” of today’s global capitalist empire currently managed by the United States, it will have to reinvent itself once again.  Some believe that transformation is, in fact, well under way and that a return to theocracy, now openly part of political discourse, lies ahead.


 In our times, traditional hieratic controls and their associated values in the West began to be abandoned two hundred years ago with the collapse of the ancien regime and its birth-right nobility rooted in land and agricultural wealth.  The Catholic/Christian hierarchy had been wed to that nobility.  Simultaneously, the industrial and political revolutions spawned a technology-led world of values focused on “freedom,” increasingly interpreted in our day to mean the opportunity for any individual to pursue the unlimited accumulation of wealth for the purposes of consuming at levels once available only to the aristocracy — the “good life.”  The “divine birth-right” class structures supposedly razed in that transition, were quickly re-erected under the rubric of the “superiority” displayed by individuals who had the ability to produce and accumulate wealth.  Wealthmaking took the place of nobility of birth; it became an ultimate value and qualified the economically successful — despite their lack of political credentials and experience (like movie stars)— for membership in the ruling elite.  Political power was now a derivative of wealth and not birth.  By our time it has already become “tradition” and is given the deference reserved for venerable elders.

The current survival pattern in mass society is based on industrial production.  Even our food is produced in industrial modes.  Production and consumption are mutually dependent aspects of this system.  This is the mechanism by which the community provides actual survival and security to its individual members, hence it has become sacred and its sacredness radiates out to sacralize whatever serves and strengthens the system.

Each side of the cycle of production and consumption requires the other.  Production must be aimed at providing what consumers want, and consumers must be encouraged to want what is being produced or the system will fail.  Success in selling, and active participation in buying not just anything, but specifically the products that are being made by the production machinery, take on a value — a “sacredness” — determined by the needs of the survival system as it has evolved regardless of its relevance to the optimal physical and spiritual health of the human organism.  In order to guarantee survival, the system itself must first survive, and consumers must be made to “sacrifice themselves” for it.  These are common patterns that have defined the “sacred” life of the species since time immemorial.  People sacrifice themselves for the survival of their way of life.  Human society is like a “superorganism” and its parts and members spontaneously live for what they see is the good of the whole … by which they survive.

This accounts for some of the anomalies that characterize our times.  For example: national governments like our own, dedicated to keeping the system alive, use public funds to shore up industries and enterprises which provide dubiously important goods and services on the claim that they are so essential to society’s survival that they cannot be allowed to fail.  Governments are also officially in the business of finding overseas clients (consumers) for their producing industries.  Where a country like ours has, for historic reasons, developed a machinery for making weapons of war, the government encourages other governments, however poor their people, to buy these military supplies, effectively transforming themselves into warmaking nations pushing their neighbors to arm themselves in self-defense.  In 2012 The US accounted for 79% of arms sold to third world countries.  This insanity does not come from a satanic desire to foment wars or to divert much needed resources from the poor, it is the result of having to support the nation’s productive sector and the high paying “jobs” that it supports.  No religion denounces it.

An entire industry has developed — advertising — dedicated to manipulating consumers so they will desire the items that are being produced regardless of quality or need.  The tools of persuasion employed to these ends can be so seductive, and their public display so unavoidable, that they undermine the individual’s self-posses­sion and self-control.  Studies have shown that the high American obesity rate and associated disorders like type 2 diabetes correlate with the avalanche of advertising by large restaurant and fast-food chains.  Despite everyone’s recognition that this is more than a mere annoyance, and that the damage to the public’s health is significant and costly, there is no effort to control it; rather, consistent with the analysis presented here, it is declared constitutionally protected speech: advertising is essential to the running of the system, and so is “sacred.”  The churches, of course, never say a word about it.

Few remain unaffected by the brainwashing.  People find themselves drawn into habits of “conspicuous consumption” where a decision to buy is not made because of need, but for other reasons:  a visible proof of their worth as consumers — their value as participating members of society — and a response to subconscious desires created by commercial advertising.

Valid members of society are certified as such by their participation in the consumption of what the economic machinery is producing.  The pursuit of “social justice” is co-opted and rendered acceptable because it is seen as the attempt to include more people in the consumption benefits of the “good life,” thus strengthening the system.  Those who don’t agree with these values are considered eccentric if not sociopathic.  This applies to those who dare to pursue “other” goals: the formation of an egalitarian, classless society, the radical equalization of wealth and international power, the enrichment of human relationships, a pursuit of know­ledge for wisdom and not for “higher paying jobs,” the enjoyment of manual skills and communal labor, eliminating reliance on the production machinery of the system, solitude, silence, and the contemplation of LIFE.  These “sociopaths” are often (self) quarantined in asylums of varying degrees of coercion and respectability, from jails to monasteries.  Why do we all find this “normal”? … because the definition of what is “sacred” is dependent on the actual survival systems that are in place.  We all know what is expected of us even if it is never articulated: producers must provide what will sell (this includes intellectual, esthetic and religious “products”), and consumers must buy what is being sold (however superfluous) … and we comply.

Careers and life-styles are chosen, not because of interest in the work, but because people want to secure for themselves sufficient consumer power to sustain their recognized membership in “respectable” society.  “Respectability” is the system reinforcing itself by transforming what it needs into “sacred values;” those who do not venerate those values are ostracized.  This is the role of religion.  It sanctions the status quo — it “baptizes” how we actually survive and galvanizes people into the common effort.  Those that think it functions otherwise are living in illusion.

Contrary to what many believe, this is not a corruption of religion, it is rather its authentic historic role.  Society is normally and naturally a theocracy.  Mystics like Jesus and the Buddha were eccentrics — sociopaths — who were so appalled at conditions and so transfixed by the universality of the sacred and its echo in us that they were able to transcend society’s mediation of existence entirely and relate directly to its source in our sense of the sacred.  Their sense of the sacred did not correspond to any existing social structures and so could not be immediately utilized.  Each of them took the symbol of “God” from their ancestral religion and revised it so radically (Buddha eliminating it altogether) that it could no longer serve to support their society’s sacred claims.  Each ended up negating the social order of his day.  Jesus projected the end of the world and the beginning of a society ruled by “God” himself, and the Buddha counseled leaving society entirely and permanently living in the sangha, an alternative community sheltered from society’s false “sacred.” Their visions implied a new society.  Their message was a rebellion against the status quo.  Each was later co-opted and harnessed into service by being integrated into their contemporary society’s religious project.  And so their visions were deformed.  Now we have the delicious irony of a Jesus who said we had a “loving Father” who forgave all, himself being turned into the “Terrible Judge” of the living and the dead, and a Buddha who rejected belief in the gods entirely, being made a god who grants what people desire.


 There are a number of ways people have reacted to modernization and the end of state religions, but they never go so far as to challenge consumer-focused wealthmaking as sacred and the consuming individual as the symbol of respectability the “proper” (sacred) way of being-here as a human being.  Conservatives loudly bemoan the loss of the “old values” embedded in traditional religions and claim to seek to reimpose them.  But it is significant and very revealing that they do not challenge the heuristic role of wealth in the exercise of political power: they do not advocate for the re-installation of birthright aristocracy.  But while their own self-interest is surely a factor here, what I want to emphasize is that they are promoting a value that has gained credibility as the sacred symbol of the system by which we all currently survive; wealth­making and the wealthy consumer are icons that are now old enough to be respected as tradition.

Then there are the people conservatives call “liberal” whom they accuse of simply letting the “takers” (non-wealthmakers) guide economic and social policy.  In an “Ayn Rand” scenario, conservatives equate the accumulation of wealth with hard work and intelligence, the qualities of “superior” human beings.  You don’t have to know someone personally to know their “worth” as human beings, you just have to look at their level of consumption.  Liberals are accused of not respecting the accumulation of wealth as the sacred guiding principal of personal superiority, social aspiration and the true indicator of the right to rule.  It is similarly revealing, however, that liberals for their part do not argue with the premise, but rather vociferously deny the charge. They make it a point to declare the goal of public policy to be the “good life” for all, an expansion of the power to consume at high levels identified as “middle-class,” a maneuver they insist will strengthen the system.  There is no commitment whatsoever to reduce superfluous consumption, to pursue the equalization of wealth or the elimination of the enormous disparities of income in a world where one half of the population of the earth, 3 billion people, live on less than $3 per day.  Conservatives seem not to hear any of this this and insist on denouncing liberals as “socialists” which identifies them as demonic — the anti-Christ.  Their sense of the sacred is clearly in play here.  But in fact, from the perspective of sacred values there is no difference between them and they are both supported by religion.

Practically, however, those differences can be very important because even a slightly more equitable distribution of wealth can spell the difference between life and death for people on the edge; but I want to emphasize, that is more a by-product than a goal.  Liberals’ redistribution efforts are rarely couched in such basic terms; they prefer to describe their policies as functions of upward mobility — giving more people access to the “middle class” and the power to consume at respectable levels.  It reveals that whatever else is going on, the system will always be served and preserved.  There is, in fact, no serious talk of socialism, and for conservatives to call the adjustments proposed by liberals socialism is ludicrous.

They are both illustrations of the undisputed place of the power to consume as the sacred value in the culture of our time.  The entire globe is now infected with its pursuit.  Whether in the long run this will be good or bad, beneficial or not, for a human species that must find ways to sustain the earth’s life-support systems and sister species if it is itself to survive, remains to be seen.  But we can be sure of one thing in advance: whatever guarantees being-here will eventually become “sacred” and society will find some way to proclaim it loud and clear.


 The upshot of the discussion so far is that the sense of the sacred is an abiding feature of humankind as it has evolved.  The claim that the loss of tradition entails the loss of the sense of the sacred is simply not true.  The sense of the sacred cannot be lost.  The loss of tradition involves a change in the focus of the sense of the sacred and therefore a change in what symbols are used to objectify it, and what kind of society it sanctions, but the sense of the sacred remains.  It can be manipulated, deformed and exploited, but it cannot be eliminated for it is our instinctive predisposition to recognize and cherish the matrix in which we live and move and have our being. 

As a non-rational instinct, our sense of the sacred functions less like reason and more like taste.  The principal source of taste is tradition.  People tend to like what their ethnic and family traditions have liked.  Food is a prime example, but tradition determines taste in many areas, like politics and religion.  Tradition is an objectified set of symbols — a world-view — whose values are held in high regard because of precedent alone.  It is the power of social inertia.  What is sacred is what everyone believes has always worked for community survival.  Like the common instinct to do what you see everyone else doing, respect for what people “have always done” is an non-rational survival mechanism, hard-wired in us by evolution, of awesome weight and momentum.

Traditional taste is dominated by assurances that are not rationally grounded.  They come only from a trust in what we believe worked for our ancestors. The naïve attempt to make the current system conform to the traditional “sacred” is pathetic and doomed to failure; few really try it though they couch their goals in those terms.  The truth, as always, is rather the opposite: religion tends to conform to the system within which it lives and survives. 

Part of what complicates these issues in our times is the simultaneous presence of multiple obsolete historical traditions and their availability for the refined taste of the discriminating consumer.  In this form religion has become a “product” of commercial enterprise.  Like a museum that provides an esthetic experience of life in another era, the “Church” makes a business of offering the experience of an ancient tradition as an item for sale, and thus secures a respectable place for itself as a wealthmaking business in a business society.  The traditional “sacred” it brokers, however, is irrelevant to the times we live in, as its own submission before the “god” of the marketplace for its self-identity shows.  The overt call, quite explicit in documents coming from the Catholic hierarchy, for church personnel to concentrate on promoting the “Catholic brand” and the crass marketing of “Catholic education” to those who can pay regardless of religious affiliation makes the case clearly.  The corporate business model dominates Catholic policy in practice and is more consciously articulated as such all the time.


Whatever “new sacred” might be emerging under pressure from new survival imperatives created by our global economy at the present moment does not (yet) enjoy the assurances that come with time and tradition.  Conservatives are afraid, correctly in my opinion, that future survival for our self-consciously global community depends upon an abandonment of many of the practices that are proving to be destructive of the earth’s ability to sustain life, and will require an equalization of wealth and power across the globe.  Both these inevitabilities will entail a radical reduction in consumption as currently enjoyed by the heretofore privileged “first world.”  Traditional focus on wealth and the wealthy will no longer work.  Emerging needs will require “socialism,” and tradition cannot support it.  Accepted tradition, per se, carries weight regardless of the incredibility or even absurdity of the objectified symbols it happens to rest on.  Conservative ideologues attempt to provide some rational support to what is really cherished and chosen for other reasons, not for their relevance to what the human community actually needs.

It is proverbial that you cannot argue with taste.  You can argue with the rationalized world-view that is adduced to support it, but since taste is tied to a tradition embraced for itself and ultimately without needing any further reason, demolishing its rational supports will change nothing.  It will simply reveal the non-rational roots of these preferences.

It hardly needs stating that when conservatives claim that the loss of tradition has caused a loss of the sense of the sacred, what they are really complaining about is that the sense of the sacred is now beginning to project different sacred objects — symbols and rituals that do not accord with their taste.  They simply do not like the emerging world-view, which they presciently call socialist; but they cannot claim that it represents a loss of the sense of the sacred.  The sense of the sacred cannot be lost, it can only be changed.  They do not want these newly emerging values to determine how society will structure itself.  They want to preserve “old” structures.  It is not surprising; those structures are the very ones that preserve (their) wealth and privilege.


4 comments on “The Sense of the Sacred (II)

  1. Bob Willis says:

    You state that “theocracy is a normal state of affairs; it is natural.” I have regularly thought of theocracy as a ”regressive state of affairs”, that it occurs in societies dominated by indoctrinated insiders, and, as such, “it is unnatural.” Behind this belief of mine lies, I think, the judgment that theocracy is generated by class-based social structures. If I were right, then theocracy would diminish as class-based social structures vanished through the power of universal education.

    I still think that education has the power to dissolve class-based social structures. I also think that that process will free humankind from the domination of the “gods.” However, as you point out, the disappearance of the “gods” does not, in itself, mean the disappearance of theocracy.

    I suspect that the phenomenon of “civil religion,” accelerated by the fragmentation of medieval Catholic church/state, a shattering brought on by the Reformation, by the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and by the birth of democracies, offers a spreading model of theocracies functioning without “god.” I have not seen this clearly because I have almost automatically considered a belief in “god” to be the same as recognition of the sacred.

    At the same time, however, I have long accepted ”natural mysticism”; that is, a participation in the sacred without any conscious reference to, or acknowledgement of, a “god.” I have explained the experience of the sacred without divinity much as Karl Rahner spoke about “anonymous Christians”; that is, “god” was there in the sacred whether we recognized that “god” or not. I am inclined to think that the sacred needs no “god” to be sacred and that mysticism needs no “god” to be mysticism.

    I understand better the growing dissatisfaction in much of the formerly Christian world. “God” is disappearing but theocracy remains. One part of the theocracy holds desperately on to the disappearing God as the key to its theocratic power. Another part, recognizing the disappearance of “god,” seeks to maintain its theocratic power without “god” but with a civil sacredness, class-based and economic. Yet there are some followers of Jesus who recognize the sacred as being without class-based structures and without the divorcing of the sacred from the profane. Here may be, for me at least, a theocracy I can live in and with. It sounds almost natural!
    My best, Bob

    • tonyequale says:

      Bob, hi!


      On theocracy … historically the only period of time in which theocracy has not dominated our 6000 year old civilization has been the last two hundred or so years. Even the Greek and Mediterranean experiments in city-state democracy and republican government were all theocracies. Socrates was condemned and executed on “religious” grounds by a democracy. The history of the human species throughout time and every place where it has lived displays the identity of society and religion. What is happening in our times must be recognized as a rare (and possibly short lived) interlude.

      On “god” and the sacred … a major problem is the almost ineradicably anthropomorphic imagery we have about “God.” It is almost impossible to stop thinking about “God” as a rational person who does what he wants. It’s very revealing that we do the same thing with other forms of life like animals, and even “nature” itself, we uncontrollably project human intentionality onto these things. In biology it is at least acknowledged to be metaphorical speech even if little effort is made to correct it. It should not be so hard to acknowledge that when applied to “God” it is equally metaphoric — with all the distance from literal reality that that implies.

      Once the word “God” and its associated imagery is truly accepted as metaphoric and not literal then we can let our scientists and our poets describe as well as they can the behavior of this energy in which we live and move and have our being. That’s all the imagery of “God” that we are ever going to get; but really, it’s all we need. It is the mask of “God;” and it is enough to tell us that we can trust what is behind the mask.

      Our “sense of the sacred,” more direct and “infallible” than any of our reasoning, is nothing more than the flip-side of our sense of existential dependency. You can’t argue with it because we all know from within that our existence is fragile and threatened. Whatever is perceived to help us exist is “felt” as sacred. These things are not optional. We can’t help it. It comes with being a vulnerable body in a universe of matter.


  2. Dick. Harding.....The American one. says:

    Hi Tony.
    I have been silently observing your postings and refrained from joining the discussions – for no particular reason – except maybe being too busy trying to retire peacefully. And I think I am succeeding.
    I was more complacent with your earlier treatment of the human condition vis a vis the question of our concepts of the divine and the need to re-evaluate those concepts in terms of matter and energy. I’m happy to have had your food for thought to assist me in moving away from anything that smacks of anthropomorphism, no matter how well intended.
    I’m also happy to accept a stance that allows me to feel a sense of wholeness that, realistically or not, separates itself from the day to day futility of searching for ultimate answers using worn out words and phrases that only lead back into in to endless semantic circularity. I don’t mean that I have achieved Nirvana, but simply am trying to live out the idea that “This is It” and I accept the fact that personal accomplishment is not the name of the game any longer. I hope I feel the same way when the “fat lady” starts singing.
    Re the matter at hand; what I’m writing are similar to first impressions and not necessarily cogent thought processes. We both know that a wee bit of Jameson’s has a rightful place in this discussion but, alas, none is at hand. Let me keep it simple and only invite reciprocal comment.
    I have reservations about calling the sense of sacred either an “instinct” or something that will always be with us. My psychology training has long since rooted out the presence of instinct as part of the human modus operandi which makes it difficult for me to work around its usage here.
    Likewise, your presentation of the persistence of the sense of the sacred seems to make it an absolute and I think in terms of our capacity to experience the matter-being of our universe, it only gets in the way, if in deed it were an absolute. I think, instead, it is a function of cultural evolution. An un-definable sense of awe in face of the vastness of matter-energy reality better describes the mind’s comprehension of its locus therein and represents a time before the self-other dichotomy arose and the Paleolithic mind knew at least a relative wholeness without societies’ complications which we have inherited. Fortunately, the Old Brain Stem is still with us.
    The process and problems you raise regarding social progression and seeming endless possibilities for improvement as well as oppositional lack of empathy or shear disregard for human consequences are well taken and I suspect that Part III will provide some forthright ideas for resolution.
    I guess my concern so far, lies with the need to move the discussion beyond an “innate sense of the sacred”, even though in fact today many persons are driven by cults of the sacred of every sort and thus act in the most egregious and inhuman way, ourselves included. No one wants to sacrifice their personal take on the sacred. Even misplaced blasphemy is unthinkable for the believer. Unless I can take the discussion out of the realm of the sacred I risk becoming a Don Quixote now embarquing on a futile jihad.
    It sure didn’t work for George.
    I dare not quote the now famous definition of “insanity”
    We all know it but we almost can’t help doing it.

    • tonyequale says:

      Dick, hi!

      Nice to hear from you. I appreciate back and forth and therefore those who will give and take. Sometimes a spate of words has to be wasted before each realizes what s/he misunderstood in the other. The risk of misunderstanding feeds the kitty. Without it the game can’t really begin.

      Now then, engaging risk on your essential point, my very broad definition of the sacred was meant to extricate us from the word and category as opposed to “profane.” A “sense of the sacred” that applies equally to the sense of loyalty of a mafia “soldier,” to a teenybopper who could just die because some unforgivable breach of her subculture’s dress code was being forced on her by her parents, AND Jesus’ vision of Yahweh as the “father” of the prodigal son, has to be explained by something other than “development.” These things are too disparate and unconnected to be the result of development; they all correspond to a deeper, more fundamental commonality.

      I recently finished a book on the history of ancient Mesopotamian civilization, and am deep into a similar volume on Mesoamerica which culminated in the city-states of the Maya and Aztecs. The more than two millennia of cultural development in each case were characterized by the complete identity of society and the sacred through various stages and forms of expression. The forms evolved but the identity of life with the sacred did not; it was there from the beginning as far as archeological evidence can tell. There were no distinctions. Everything that was imagined, thought and done by those people (in complete geographical and historical isolation from one another), was an expression of their perceived connection to the source of their existence — their “gods” and the rituals (behaviors) that evoked and held them close. It is precisely because I define the “sense of the sacred” as the direct corollary of the “sense of existen-tial dependency” that it is inconceivable that a human being could ever function without it … (except of course, the Celts whom Aristotle in the Nichomachaean Ethics claimed were “not courageous but reckless” because they felt no fear). Spinoza’s conatus sese conservandi necessarily spins out the “sense of the sacred.” It is not gratuitous and it is not suppressible. It can take a myriad of forms consonant with the myriad of interpretations that can be applied to it, but it will always be there … for Hitler and his SS … Francis and his devotees … as well as those addicted to the hagiography in the Enquirer. The sense of the sacred is actually more fundamental than instinct, more innate, for it is the immediate irrepressible apprehension of existential conditionality. I claim the newborn infant has it. It goes to the heart of exactly what we are as material organisms, and it is the echo of what matter is: an existential energy … a drive to survive … an insistence on existence in an entropic universe.

      I support my argument with history: there is no evidence that there ever was any human society, no matter how primitive, that was not integral with an expression of the sacred … historical theories to the contrary are pure projection, and “philosophy,” what I just presented: the argument from the “nature” of matter as an existential energy. We cannot NOT thirst for existence even as we are overwhelmed with our utter conditionality. The sense of the sacred is our recognition of existence as the irrepressible desideratum. Yes, I would agree, that comes as close to “absolute” as you can get. I claim everyone has it … all of us … everywhere … at every stage of development … necessarily … and so does every living material organism. But it is not a conceptual absolute. It is a factual, phenomenological absolute, for evidence shows it to be a necessary accompaniment of materiality at least in all its living stages.

      I agree we should “get beyond” our false religious definition of the sacred. But we do that not by denying the universality of the sense of the sacred, but by embracing it, and realizing that there is nothing privileged about it. It is commensurate with human existence. The problem is that the sacred has been shanghaied by religion and harnessed to society’s ends. The “sacred” started out taking a religious form, but it doesn’t have to. We all have it; it belongs to each of us innately as “existentially challenged” human organisms. It functions in all kinds of areas that have nothing whatsoever to do with “religion” and is not distinct from some putative “profane.” My call is to appropriate the sense of the sacred for ourselves and decide what values it should be directed to … and free ourselves from the “official sacred” (opposed to an “official profane”) pontificated for us by the professional high priests of the “cultural temple” (not just the Church) who manipulate and exploit our sense of the sacred for the sake of the “superorganism” and its perceived survival needs.

      Well, that’s the first ante. The pot is building.


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