I am not a very profound man, but I am sometimes curious. Of course, I used to say much the same thing to my ex wives when I wanted sex, “I am not a very penetrating man, but I am sometimes horny.”
Unfortunately, that did not amuse either one of them.
Tonight, besides recalling some of the more alarming ways in which I have in my time successfully — but unintentionally — brought about the destruction of two marriages, I have been thinking about idols. If I understand the concept correctly, an idol is something that we worship instead of worshiping god.
Moreover, it is said we do not always know we are worshiping an idol when we are worshiping an idol, and not god.
I understand that last point — that point about not knowing — very well because both my ex wives were quite fond of pointing out to me (and sometimes to their friends, to the neighbors, to our community, and to the local newspaper and TV stations) how much there is about life (and the marriage bed) that I don’t know.
Now, it seems to me that, when people talk of idols, they most often mean statues, paintings, or other representations of their gods. However, can a notion or an idea also be a representation, an image, that is worshiped in place of god?
If it can — if an idea can be an idol — then worshiping an idol might be at times a bit like loving — not your wife — but merely your idea of your wife.
For some reason, all that has been said so far reminds me of my friend Michael. Michael is much more intellectual even than I am. In fact, he is so oriented towards ideas, so oriented towards thought and thinking, that I used to joke to him, “Michael, you are so intellectual that surely you must at one time or another have been convinced you lost your virginity when you read the chapter on sex in your biology textbook.”
To give him credit, Michael would shoot back, “What do you mean “at one time”? You are talking about my first love, Paul. Please show her some respect!”
Michael is both more intellectual than me and smarter than me, but there is a way — a sense in which — he is more likely to worship idols than me. That is, Michael is a bit more likely than me to love the idea of a thing more than the thing itself.
Now, all this talk of idols, to my mind, seems to raise an important question:
How come that scamp Michael gets laid more often than I ever did? How can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain?
The fact I would ask such an abstract question in the very middle of a conversation that, it turns out, is largely about getting laid has perhaps offered you a fresh and disturbing insight into why that scamp Michael gets laid much more often that I ever did — even when I was married. Nevertheless, I think we should be asking that question because that question might shed some light on precisely how an idea can be an idol.
So, then, how can a belief be thought of as having the same relationship to reality as a map has to its terrain? Please allow me to suggest:
A map can be thought of as a way of stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”. For Example: “The map shows the tree is 500 feet from the house.”
A belief can be thought of as a proposition stating (or symbolizing) the notion that “x is the case”. For Example: “I believe the tree is 500 feet from the house.”
Therefore, there seem to be at least some similarities between maps and beliefs.
But if those statements are true — if a belief can have the same relationship to reality that a map has to its terrain — then doesn’t that explain to us how it is possible for an idea to be an idol? And doesn’t it explain that to us even if it does not explain to us the even more vital question — the question that is fully capable of driving men mad — the question of how it is the scamp Michael gets laid much more than I ever did?
Let’s review our reasoning here:
- Images can at times be idols
- Beliefs can be images
- Therefore, beliefs can be idols
- Hence, it is opposed to both reason and nature that the scamp Michael gets laid much more often than I ever did.
Yup. We have a sound argument there.
Yet, if it is true that beliefs can be idols, then many, many questions come to mind. Many genuinely serious questions. Among those serious questions is a nagging one: When we worship god how do we know we are worshiping god and not just our beliefs about god?
That is, suppose, when I am worshiping god, I am also thinking of god (i.e. I have a concept of god, a concept of what I am worshiping). If that is the case, then am I not worshiping my belief rather than my god? Am I not worshiping the map, rather than the terrain?
In asking those questions at this hour of the night, I am perhaps strangely reminded of something I wrote a few days ago: “It is in the night that our thoughts can become our hunters by pursuing us.”
What if it really is the case that, when we worship god, with a concept of god in mind as we worship god, we are not really worshiping god then, but an idol? What if that is really true? What if the logic here is sound? And what if we took the thought seriously. Really took it seriously.
Would that thought not become the hunter, then? W0uld it not pursue us with other thoughts? Thoughts such as:
Can I worship god without experiencing god? Can I worship the terrain without experiencing the terrain?
Some long time ago, after a day spent foolishly sitting in the rain beside a lake, I wrote a short little poem to commemorate what an absolute idiot I was to have sat all that day in the light rain and drizzle. I recently posted the poem to this blog, but here it is again — because I think it says something about how it might be possible through meditation to experience a thing without, however, experiencing an idea of it. The poem is called, “Meditation” — That is, I thought it was somehow much better to call it, “Meditation”, than to call it, “An Idiot Sitting in the Rain”:
You sit in the evening
The rain on your face
Watching thoughts rise
And watching thoughts fall
And you don’t know the names
Of the things that you see
But you know what to do
Or not do.
“But you know what to do or not do.” It might be said by some folks that, obviously, I didn’t know enough back then to come in out of the rain. But I recall I was pretty happy right where I was that day. For one thing, that was long before I learned the scamp Michael was getting laid much more often than I ever did.
I am not a very profound man because I am perhaps too often a thinker, and thoughts of something are never all that profound when compared to experiencing the thing itself. Nevertheless, I am curious what you make of all this? For instance:
- Can beliefs be idols? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Is it possible for a strong man to be driven into blubbering madness by a mere scamp?
- Can meditation open a way to worshiping without idolatry? Why or why not?
- Does it not offend both reason and nature that the scamp Michael has gotten laid much more often than I ever did?