Monday, 4 May 2015

Virtual Gods II

Gods have matured with us. They began as personifications of whatever was awesome and dreadful, outwardly experienced seas and storms, inwardly experienced lust and greed. Such gods could demand human sacrifice and were later regarded as demons. The most powerful Roman god (see image) broke all the moral laws.

Antithetically, morality without awe is secularist. Rudolf Otto argued that "holy" synthesizes "awesome" and "righteous" and that this synthesis defines the Biblical deity. Such an idea of God develops in the Bible. These categories remain meaningful even when we have ceased to personify them. CS Lewis rightly argued that fear of a ghost differs qualitatively from fear of a man-eating tiger and that both differ from the dread that we would feel if we believed that we were uncomfortably close to a "great spirit." To combine this dread with moral obligation is to complete Otto's synthesis.

However, I think that:

awe is part of our response to impersonal nature;

morality results from the natural selection of intelligent social animals - we help others either because they bear the same genes or because they might help us in return and this motivation is experienced as moral obligation, not as calculating self-interest, which is what it sounds like when expressed in biological terms.

These reflections on the development of religion and humanity were prompted by reading Poul Anderson's account of Hanno bearing gifts to Melqart. See here.

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