Friday, July 25, 2008

Have Quakers surpassed the wisdom of Feuerbach?

Feuerbach believed that God was simply a projection of a person’s (or a community’s) highest hopes for humanity onto a cosmic figure that really didn’t exist, and certainly didn’t exert any control in the day to day affairs of nature, human or otherwise. Such projection, claimed Ludwig, not only separate persons from God because we are repulsed at our failure to maintain such attributes, but from one another as well. Of course Feuerbach lived in the heady times of modernity, the salad days for those who believed human beings (or “Man”) were the tip of the top of nature’s hierarchy of truth and reason and all that might be good.
It took Hitler’s Germany and Truman’s bombs to redirect such narcissism toward greater “realities,” such as the relative status of truth, and it only took that long because most of nineteenth-century European philosophy was over the fact of Napoleon, still enamored with France’s revolution, and apparently less than cognizant of the realities of the American Civil War. Indeed, Feuerbach’s Germany was headed toward the Empire status it had dreamed of for so long while in the shadow of its fellow western white folks, and was ready to pounce upon a different Napoleon with Bismarck’s own well-reasoned projection of Prussian high hopes onto the rest of Europe. I am not sure how Feuerbach would have felt about Bismarck, considering Otto’s hatred for socialists. I haven’t read that much. But I regress – this is really a post about Quakers.
It seems as though many Quakers of a type are stuck in the muck created by the realization that modernity’s criticisms of God failed to replace the forlorn deity with anything worthwhile (unless you count weapons innovation and marketing as a worthy religious replacement for the superstitions of the past), and that postmodernism failed to realize that the marketplace of relativity only mimic’s modernity’s critique of “superstition.” Postmodernism creates an atmosphere where God is nothing more than an individual’s projection of his or her own desires onto a generic spirit that is easily removed from the box of “religion” and into the baggy of “spirituality.” Such faith is no more than a reflection of person’s political leanings or hopes for the perfect mate. Such baggies are much less bulky and easier to carry that the stale boxes of ante-modernity religion.
Baggies, however, are the containers of drug users, and individual spirituality has replaced organized religion as the “drug of the masses” by leading folks down a road of self-reliance that mimics the Enlightenment concept of freedom. I suggest real freedom is that which comes from engaging in voluntary community that is centered around the collective concept of religious identity and meaning, and a unity centered around a collective concept of telos. This may mean, not so much that we put God in a box as much as it means that we place an emphasis on revelation tested against the tradition and texts of a people and not the whims and projections of a person. Many Quakers prefer the personal to the corporate, and that is why we are quickly becoming a faith community without an identity. O perhaps too many identities.
In a postmodern world, individuals may indeed be able to purchase a new identity that suits their vision of the future while rejecting responsibility for he past. We can pick and choose from the melting pot marketplace that tells us we are capable of grasping the finer points of any faith, politic, or discipline without assuming its totality. This is not a projection of our finest attributes as humans, however, as Feuerbach had labeled it in the nineteenth century. This is simply speculating on the open market of identity and truth, hoping that we enrich ourselves without the burden of responsibility to community. Forget oil, colonize an Eastern spirituality - it’s a buyers market in the empire.

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

Interesting. But don't we need both religious community and individual and small-group spirituality?

I agree that spirituality on its own can become narcissistic, and needs tradition and community to provide a reality-check now and again. But religious community without individual spirituality can all too easily become enforced conformity.