Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Smiling Sun: A Reflection on Human Spirituality

Child psychologists, such as the Swiss scholar Jean Piaget, tell us that children instinctively give animate, personal characteristics to inanimate objects—draw a face on the sun, for example. Anthropologists tell us that all pre-scientific people are animistic in their religious beliefs, investing every tree, brook, and celestial body with personhood. What could be more natural? What metaphor is more ready at hand than the thing we know best: our self. For all of its grandeur and refinement, the idea of a transcendent Person who acts in the world is only the final manifestation of a primitive animism. A divine Person is not the Heraclitean mystery seen through a glass darkly, but a reflection of one's self in a mirror brightly (p. 20).

The above profundity draws a line connecting the most elementary stages of child development with Paleolithic human spirituality down to belief in the singular and refined immaterial monotheistic God of today. But, where the child attributes personhood to the sun and the earlier hominid to a brook, what is the theist today attributing personhood to?

Obviously, the [Western] theist today is not investing inanimate objects with divine personhood; instead, the theist today finds more abstract realities, real or perceived, with the divine animus. These realities include ignorance, mystery, fear, coincidence, personal feelings of transcendence and other such biological operations of the brain, etc.

Raymo, Chet. When God is Gone Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist. Sorin Books: Notre Dame, 2008.

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