Monday, 1 September 2014

The anti-Christian effects of superstition, propitiation, sacrifice

I feel in myself a deep, existential worry which is superstitious, and relates to the idea of propitiating - ultimately by sacrifice.

So, I resist expressing happiness, confidence, hope, optimism - I resist allowing myself to feel confidence in the future - I am to some extent constrained in being honestly positive about such matters, for fear that it will trigger resentment, revenge, reaction from others.

It feels like there is something which regards my feeling happiness, confidence, hope and optimism as being arrogant or 'cocky'; and needing to be taken-down-a-peg  and taught-a-lesson

I therefore feel negatively-compelled to think things, and to avoid thinking things, from a fear that someone or some-thing will be offended, prickly, insulted, jealous; it is a fundamentally superstitious attitude of living life among rules - mostly unknown - which prescribe and prohibit and are zealously enforced; and the main business of life as being rule-following and avoidance of rule-breaking - and the servile serving-out of punishments for our inevitable breaches.


This constraint motivated by fear of reprisal may be realistic in human society - given the endemic nature of spitefulness, and the 'dog in the manger' attitude of so many people who delight in the misery of others and whose main concern is that nobody else should have more or be more than themselves.

(This is, indeed, the case for such high-flown garb as 'equality', egalitarianism, sexual liberation, democracy and so on.) 


But there is more to it than this. The constraint is also (and perhaps primarily) inner - it is present even in the privacy of my mind, of my stream of conscious thought.

This is not surprising since belief in gods, spirits, ghosts, malicious ancestors at large - belief in 'the supernatural' in general - is spontaneous and natural to humans - we believe that our inner thoughts are to some extent accessible and shared and communicated, and that among those who share them are powerful and malicious entities (something like the Christian concept of demons).

This is a powerful constraint - and I suspect it is a very general factor in human affairs (although I can only observe it indirectly in other people - I and sure it is there). However, although general, spontaneous, natural - I suspect it is anti-Christian in a developed sense of Christianity - for the simple reason that it implies God (who knows our thoughts) is not fully loving, but is prone to the same kind of resentment and revenge as other people - indeed the worst kind of people - in this world.

Yet at the same time (because it is general, natural, spontaneous to humans) this tendency to assume that God really does have a resentful and vengeful attitude is a constant tendency to which individuals and organizations and society tend to recur (for motivations which may be 'good' - e.g. encouraging or enforcing good behaviour - as well as wicked).


This can be seen even among our own young children, who sometimes act towards us in a way that shows they are afraid that we do not really love them, that we need propitiating.

Sometimes the children are right - because parents are not perfect; but they are fundamentally wrong in that loving parents really are not motivated by resentment and really do not need to be propitiated - indeed a loving parent is appalled and deeply sorrowful to perceive this attitude in his children - an attitude based on fear. 


So, the situation seems to be that it is (at least to some significant extent) natural for humans to treat God as if he were a demon; and demons (I think) really do want to be treated with superstitious concern, propitiated and sacrificed-to.

Demons (presumably) want us never to be free of the constraining fear to express (or even to feel) an attitude that is positive care-free, hope-full. They want humans to cringe, to be eaten up with anxiety about deflecting bad luck, evil influences, they want us to be hog-ridden by superstitious observations, they want us to be always and repeatedly destroying good things as 'sacrifices' - and to regard this destruction of good things as necessary to deflect divine 'wrath'.


Unsurprisingly, because humans are error prone and yield to sin, this attitude of constraining fear has been (to varying extents, but sometimes very fully) incorporated into Christianity - the attitude that God watching out for us to trip up, get angry, punish us - unless this is deflected by propitiation and sacrifice - by a general human attitude of pessimism, expressions of misery... an attitude which is in fact and to some significant extent a dishonestly negative expression of our state of mind.

People come to fear - even inside their heads - a full and honest expression of positive and happy states of mind; asif this would trigger the jealous resentment of God! This I feel in myself, and I believe I perceive it in people all around me.

But I believe it is anti-Christian - a flaw, an error, a sin - a consequence of insufficient Christian faith and not a sign of Christian faith: this anxious, superstitious focus on propitiation and sacrifice is itself an insult to God rather than respect for God; deeply saddening to God, rather than what he wants from us.


Indeed, when we treat God as if He were a demon, it is analogous to someone who falsely accuses her loving parents of 'abusing' her. It is to treat our loving Father in Heaven as if He were an abuser.

That is a measure of how serious an error we are making; how serious a sin it is to feel constrained against expressing - even to ourselves - our happiness, hope, confidence.

Note: On this view, Christ as a propitiation and sacrifice is a matter of getting all that stuff out-of-the-way; of telling us not to worry about it any more because Christ has utterly and permanently taken care of it.


ajb said...

Yes, that makes some sense of what happened to Jesus - although it still doesn't seem to make sense to me.

It seems there's an important distinction between sacrifice as propitiation and sacrifice as entrusting.

Samson J. said...

a consequence of insufficient Christian faith and not a sign of Christian faith

Yes. I used to share the feeling you're talking about, on ocassion, but it seems to have disappeared with Christian maturity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - "sacrifice as entrusting."

I don't think I understand.

ajb said...

Sacrifice as entrusting something to God (for example, Christians talk about sacrificing their lives to God, by which they mean trusting and seeking His guidance).