Sometimes we can forget that much of our best efforts have been about trying to find ideal attitudes within ourselves, toward fellow human beings. A case could be made, that we can be surprised by our own inner potential, but that we usually are too embarrassed to direct our most intense energies toward ”mere” fellow human beings.
Clearly, human history is full of demonstrations of an enormous potential for devotion, for fervent adoration, for a willingness to give our all and lay our best at the feet of … someone. Kings, emperors, popes, imams, priests, rabbis, commanders, teachers, flags, lovers, and children have had to serve as surrogates. Yet, we knew all too often that we had to turn a blind eye to the man or woman and focus on the symbol, the office, or the image in our own heart.
Gods, at least some of them, are much better: one can link yearnings in our hearts and minds with whatever qualities would be the perfect match – and there we are: our inner potential finally meets an outer image. Instead of having faith in the perfection of another human being’s qualifications, we can fully trust the qualifications of the god, having to have faith merely in his or her existence.
Ideal humanity is much more easily disproved than the existence of an otherwise ideal being, where the certainty we seek is to be found in our own fervor. As romantic lovers know all too well: the object of our devotion is actually far less crucial than our rapture, since it is our inner perfection we strive for when we love, not that of another being.
In this sense, we may want to return to religious ecstasy and loving devotion as the exercise grounds for how we may wish to relate to each other – if only we keep in mind that this is not about what we expect, demand, insist on from the other person, but what we would like to strive for in ourselves, as the highest ideal of true love and intense, all-accepting dedication.
When one of the chorals in Bach’s Christmas Oratory passionately asks: “How shall I receive you…,” it is a question about self-improvement, about being the best possible host to another being’s presence. It is not about “how shall I be received, how shall I make a good impression, or what can I get out of this encounter.”
Granted that most religious energies are about the market place, about how I can get the most out of the gods with the least effort, with the least chance of getting clobbered for having done something wrong. A cheap opportunism, a naked fear of greater powers, calculates what needs to be done to get to the dog food before the others do. – But all this is trite and simply uninteresting.
Indeed, we may tell much about the character of people by the image of the gods they harbor in their soul and what role those play in their universe. Few people seem to consider what an ideal higher or more advanced being actually should look like. They just adopt the first god from the street as their own.
If we started with a description of the finest persons we know (not necessarily the most effective hustlers), articulated these qualities (for example in a grandmother or in a child) we could then try to imagine how these very qualities could be developed into near perfection. Then we would have some basics for a god, probably of quite a different persuasion than we are used to.
If the theory of multiple universes is right, then it could well be that in one of these infinitely many universes such beings exist. They, furthermore, could have developed the ability to observe us and seek out similar qualities in us, should we ever develop them in ourselves. Would such beings be able to be friends with and love every living being, or would they resemble the angry god of Old Testament, of which Bertrand Russell remarked that he is not the kind of person one would want to have over for dinner?
Whether such beings exist in the “multiverse” is not as important as the question whether we use the best within us to develop the best of us toward the best we are capable of, just in case we should ever meet up with our own ideal.
What could be of interest is to what extent some of our most idealistic yearnings could be redirected toward one another, but without any obligation to the other person and with mutual understanding of the journey we are undertaking: becoming more human in the highest imaginable sense, with our highest aspiration flowing intensely and freely.
There is a long tradition of this internal spiritual quest as the best focus for religious aspirations, but it is an easily forgotten or sidelined tradition, pushed aside by ravenous, fearful instincts and that ever-present, pathetic will to power.
Once we admit that this inner growth is a better focus for our energies, it becomes as childish to insist that gods must exist as it is petulant to insist that our most cherished human beings match our ever developing, ever changing ideals.