Adulation, Complicity And Defiance In Religion

Instead of talking about creation in the image of God and the Fall and the redemption of nature and so forth, suppose we ask the right question: how does Judaeo-Christianity really treat our intrinsic nature as predators? Are Jews and Christians restraining their own predation or are they asking God’s blessing on it? From the vengeful ranting of the Psalms, through Jesus’ parable about the wedding-guests, to Revelation’s vision of the court of the heavenly Hellenistic monarch, the hope of the believer is all about getting a special place in the hierarchy, below God, his angels and the saints, but above and in charge of those pesky Others, the people who so kicked you around on earth. It is one answer to the problem posed in the Old Testament: why do the wicked prosper? A problem that would have answered itself if it only been formulated correctly: of course predators prosper, and what can the prey do about it? In this world, nothing much, and so all eschatology is necessarily a fantasy of reversal and revenge. Among other things, you cannot have a privileged place in Heaven unless there are a lot of others to whom you can be superior; ergo such an understanding of salvation is inherently predatory.

This kind of thing may therefore be regarded as another form of Complicity; thus, the religion talks a good game about transcending human nature, but the bottom line is merely exchanging the personnel in the predatory transaction and fulfilling the predatory agenda in a different world. If that next world does not actually exist, of course, then the whole thing is a scam. Similarly, when the religion offers worldly prosperity and success to its believers in return for humble compliance and generous giving. Even mendicancy is actually predation, a form of rent-seeking, in that the monk with his begging-bowl is mooching off the peasant in return for conferral upon the latter of fictitious spiritual benefits. And the scam is the highest form of predation there is, since the victim is not eaten outright but is left alive to be fleeced again and again, fails to realise it and may even enjoy the process.

Healthier forms of religion like the great ethical systems, on the other hand, and the political ideas based on them, endeavour to correctly perceive and then to restrain our predatory nature. This is a most honourable undertaking, but can very easily backslide and suffer ‘regulatory capture’ by the more devious strategies; for example, when the predation of the many is restricted while the predation of the few is not.

An example of such “regulatory capture” is St. Paul’s strictures on “serving the belly”. This looks on the surface like a tirade against gluttony, but is in reality more a critique of Jewish dietary laws and the ever-present judaising tendency in the early church. It is not what is eaten that is the problem, Paul is saying, but the obsession with what is eaten, which then allows one group (non-eaters) to feel superior to another group (eaters). Paul is, then, criticising the Complicitous strategy, where simple predatory goals are ostentatiously renounced in order to acquire other goods, such as moral status and the right to despise. But the critique can be misunderstood and turn into what was originally being criticised; one then passes from “I am superior because I do not, like those wretched goyim, eat swine” to “I am superior because I do not, like those wretched Jews, imagine that refraining from eating swine makes me more acceptable to God”.

Toynbee said: “To be human consists precisely in transcending nature.” But which bits do we transcend? The problem with all the Western religions is that they are too interested in transcending sex, and very selectively at that, and not sufficiently interested in penetrating to the heart of the matter, of which sex is merely one expression. This is often because the pastor has the most skin in the economic-predation game.

Posted on February 18, 2011 at 10:32 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Defying The Demiurge

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