For nearly 200 years the intellectual world has not been kind to believers. Beginning with the Enlightenment, which debunked religious authority as a criterion for judgment, the intellectual world has to a large part propounded the idea that religion is false and that it impoverishes the human spirit.
For Nietzsche, religion was a blindness; for Feuerbach, an alienation of humanity from itself; for Marx, an opium for the masses; and for Freud, a psychic displacement. In each case, religion is something backward, a harmful naiveté, something that keeps humanity from being what it should be. In each case, too, there is the call to have the courage to move beyond religion.
Many great writers, artists, and scientists have, in the past 200 years, supported that general idea. In the popular mindset too there is present the idea, never far from the surface, that religion and churchgoing are a naiveté, a backwardness, a timidity that would not stand up to courageous scrutiny. The idea is that religion, in the end, is something that keeps people down and blocks them from being fully creative and from fully enjoying life. The church, with its dogmas and nuns, preaching poverty, chastity, and obedience – when what brings happiness is affluence, sex, and freedom!
Today the intellectual world is softening on that. Scientific circles, beginning with Einstein and running through Stephen Hawking, are much less arrogant and more open to the question of God. Great anthropologists, like Mircea Eliade and Victor Turner, are telling us that, to order our lives in a meaningful way, we must either believe in a God or in some myth that functionally does what religion does.
And the circles of psychology that follow Karl Jung are looking at the adult child of the enlightenment and suggesting that most of what is wrong with that child has to do with lack of proper religion. In their perspective, we are not born simple cameras with rationality and emotion. We are born driven beings, with savage propensities which make us, many times, anything but rational because we are hard-wired to certain archetypes (energy configurations, instinctual patterns, a collective unconscious) which fundamentally help shape how we think, feel, and judge, whether we are conscious of this or not. We are anything but neutral, urbane, sophisticates, acting out of a certain enlightened rationality.
Moreover, and this is key in their insight, at the center of these archetypes, as the source of them all, lies the sense that we are a god or goddess, a divine king or queen. The ultimate source of energy for every person is a sense of grandiosity. In Christianity, we’ve always known this. We are the Imago Deo, the image of God. This grandiosity, the Jungians now assure us, cannot be denied, outgrown, moved beyond by therapy, or even transformed. It can only be admitted to and creatively contained. For them, there are only two kinds of people in this world, those who admit their infantile grandiosity and those who don’t!
They go on to say that, in the end, the idea of the enlightenment and of Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud, the idea that humanity is better off without God, is not only wrong, but dangerous. Unless our innate grandiosity is contained through some form of obedience to a god beyond the individual ego and through an agenda that is genuinely transpersonal, it leads to self-destruction (and often the destruction of others too). How? Because when we try to live with our grandiosity without a proper relationship to something beyond ourselves we inflate or go crazy – or both. So much for the essence of the enlightenment!
The history of secularity during the last 200 years, I submit, provides more than enough evidence for the hypothesis that the human person without God or without some god myth is a menace towards himself or herself and towards others. When one does not worship a God on a throne or the Christ child in the manger, he or she soon enough sets self upon that throne or highchair and demands worship. We either deal religiously or in some other ritual way with the image of God inside of us or, as is so prevalent today, we will be dealing with infantile grandiosity and the destructive and addictive behaviors and depressions that stem from it.
The concept of infantile grandiosity sheds light on many things, not the least of which are our pathological complexities – our neuroses, psychoses, grandiose longings, perpetual dissatisfaction, chronic depression, and our yearning to be, in the end, worshipped. It also explains why there is a clear and unalterable need in our lives for God, religion, and obedience.