When Christianity was strong in the West, the concept of God answered both the need for external physical protection and the interior need for something to account for that sense of the numinous most of us sense now and then. That is, God was, at the same time powerfully immanent in the cosmos and the comforting “God within our bosoms.” One could say that God was continuous across a boundary of objective outer and subjective inner life. People quite naturally felt a greater kinship with the world – or even the cosmos, if one included the crude conceptualization of the heavens extant at the time. Everything, including the human race was part of God’s Creation. The concept of the individual was not particularly well-developed.
God once provided both physical security and inner comfort. Now our needs are divided between the state and psychology. (Photo: public domain)
In these secular times, that emotionally and intellectually satisfying continuity is broken. The socialist nanny state, the entitlement-dispensing government, now answers the need for exterior physical security, while the unconscious mind accounts for the inner sense of the numinous. The new situation sets up a dichotomy or duality that has consequences. Religion once smoothly transitioned from objective outside to subjective inside. Now we have the wild disparity between the huge objective political state on the one hand and personal subjective psychology on the other. The sense of being apart or separate from the world has grown. The concept of the individual – and its popularity – has grown with it.
Yet a kind of continuity does still exist: both outer nanny state and inner unconscious mind are sources of “benefits.” They are both objects of “worship” in modern cargo cults. Many people see the state as a bottomless pit for funding social programs from which they hope to gain (or which will assuage their sense of guilt by doing some good for “disadvantaged” others). Positive thinking and the law of attraction are popular methods for prompting the unconscious mind to furnish the things governments will not provide. It is a bit more complicated these days since we must deploy two strategies rather than just one. Voting and pop-psychology are required to replace the simpler all-in-one practice of prayer.
The desire for security and an explanation for our sense of the numinous never vanish. We simply must have these things. This means we must come to terms with the task our growing awareness has set for us. Socialism is proving a catastrophic moral and fiscal trap, and “cargo cults of the unconscious” are a return to beliefs even more primitive than the major religions they have partially supplanted. We have forever split asunder security and numinosity. Going forward, a two-pronged approach is unavoidable. We need a new way of finding security as well as a more realistic view of the unconscious and what it does and does not do. Never again will we enjoy the smooth inner /outer continuity afforded by a childlike belief in an omnipresent supreme being.
You will notice I am not going near the idea that we might steel ourselves philosophically to live without state-organized security! After a half-century or more of learning to rely on government, and the social disintegration that reliance has fostered, the notion of returning to the extended family as a safety net now seems too farfetched.