Two Modes of “God”: the Sticky Label & as Anaesthetic

March 28, 2019

Science and religion do in fact have one thing in common: both are very effective means of closing down subjective conscious experiencing of our inner world. Science can do it by denying that consciousness even exists, or by limiting itself to the study of its appearance in others instead of direct first hand experience (which admittedly can anyway not be shared with others). In any case, the wonder of consciousness, surprise at one’s own existence, and the uncomfortable awareness of complete aloneness and fact of mortality operate mostly in the subconscious, and anyone who denies these things affect their behaviour simply hasn’t looked very hard.

Religion, on the other hand, (and I include its soft core version found under the label ‘spirituality’ here), can shut down this awareness by immediately declaring the whole territory of ‘the inner’ as already well known and in the private possession of some entity called “God”.

This goddy tendency is ubiquitous among humans, and for me personally (an atheist of pseudo-buddhist orientation), quite baffling. Awareness — consciousness — is all we have. Why switch it off and label it? And why then start yelling at or killing anyone who tells you you’ve been hasty and you’re missing something? Why assume that anyone who stops using that word is shallow?

Whatever the reason, I identify here the two main ways in which the “God”-word seems to me to be used:

  1. as a kind of sticky label with the word “God” written in it that the believer wants to stick onto some part of their private subjective experience; and
  2. as a kind of anaesthetic, which is administered through vague words and soft priestly intonations that are designed to be so fuzzy around the edges that no one even tries to pin down to any specific meaning. It is especially used at times of crisis in the attempt at switching off pain.

(There is of course, a third, in which belief in “God” is a supposedly rational conclusion, derived only through reason — usually with the words “I didn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” It usually amounts to either an argument from design, or the insistence that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event attested to by eye witnesses, so we are compelled to believe it. I find this argument so utterly fatuous that I can only assume it is rhetorical and insincere, and only masks a belief in 1 or 2 above. The idea that such a creator has any interest in humans or exists in any way comprehensible to humans no doubt sounded a little better when people thought the earth was the center of the universe. It sounded slightly better until 1925 when we thought there was only one galaxy and our sun was the centre of that. But now that we know the size and age of the universe it is just absurd to use that argument, regardless of whether it is is given a fancy title like ‘The Anthropic Principle’ or not.)

The Sticky Label Theory of God

So you were born, and everyone was already using the word “God” as if it means something, and you didn’t know what it meant. You probably thought you were the only one in this boat, so you tried your best to know what it means. It means ‘authority that can’t be questioned’, or ‘big power that created the universe’, or — even more mysteriously — ‘love’: that much is clear; but what exactly IS it? Or HOW is it?

In any case, you’ve got this word written indelibly on a metaphysical label, and everyone else seems to have stuck it somewhere. They say they have stuck it onto the most valuable and precious location in their inner world that they can find.

So what about you? Well?

…A limited number of possibilities are apparent at this point.

You can stick it somewhere and it feels right — and good luck to you!

You can say you’ve stuck it somewhere and occasionally toss the word into conversation, often enough to keep the mullahs or the annoying uncle with the fake smile off your back; but the whole things seems a bit weird and pointless, but you’ve got other more pressing concerns in life.

You can try out as many different places as possible to stick it, and agree that this label could, in principle, be stuck in many places, so they all must be “God”. This is a popular one these days, especially among academics and anyone who for whatever reason wants to avoid making waves, but couldn’t be bothered to take any clear position.

….Or you could say the label was already peeled off by someone and handed to you by default, and you don’t see any point in sticking it anywhere.

This last option seems to upset everyone who has stuck their label onto something, and even enrages the aforementioned group who think that in principle you should have stuck it somewhere. All seem to think that you deny the existence of whatever it is they stuck their label onto: that which is most valuable. How could you, you unfeeling cad. Ha — you don’t believe in yourself! Etc.

In fact all you have done is declared your inner world an unexplored continent open to no one else. You might find it has rocks and trees and deserts and rivers, and places you can fall to your death into if you’re not careful; or if you are just unlucky.

But that “God” label stops that exploration. It’s too loud, and too meaningless. Too burdened with other people’s meanings, that they only guessed at and asserted in the first place. And always — ALWAYS — that sticky label you were given has some fine print that indicates who you are indebted to, and which agents can collect that debt.

Perhaps worst of all, having stuck the label somewhere, it means that all the rest of you is not “God”, and therefore unclean. For fanatics and those terrified from birth by fanatics, it often means that another label called “Satan” has been stuck onto other parts. (The wonderful comedy duo Garfunkel & Oates wrote a nice song for repressed puritanical teenagers on this topic, called F*ck me in the Ass Because I Love Jesus. “Careful not to touch Satan’s doorbell.”)

This dissociation from and denial of one’s mammalian origins and nature has pointlessly blighted humanity with incalculable misery.

The Word “God” as an Anaesthetic

This usage of the word “God” tends to see God as an external and benign force. It is used to switch off thought, discussion, and inner exploration. The whole point is that the words don’t mean anything. Their fuzzy edges are supposed to dull sensation, not to clarify or locate a source of pain. In an utterly hopeless or extreme situation, I can understand trying it, but unfortunately it is used routinely by priests and theologians. (New Age spiritual teachers use it too, but they usually intersperse it with concepts from quantum physics in the place of Jesus.)

The danger here is that it may also distract one from locating a source or cause of pain, and debilitate one from finding a solution to it. But pointing out the meaningless nature of such intonations, or that the accompanying behaviour (the smirking and stooping of popes and Dalai Lamas) is insincere and fake, makes the critic appear “not nice”, and a spoil sport, at best.

Despite what proponents of this approach say, it chews up a lot of energy to generate the desired neurochemicals associated with these pious words. Just because others don’t share the addiction to these substances, doesn’t mean that they don’t also use or value those same neurochemicals, perhaps in a different manner.

Eschewing all of this doesn’t make an atheist or non-theist a klutz who sees no mystery or wonder in the universe. Rather, it leaves doors and gates in the inner world open or unmarked. Although this does make it harder for such people to talk about their experiences, it does mean that when they do, they are forced to develop their own terminology to describe what they experience. Those more accustomed to the use of the “God” label will find such words glib or baffling, but if they took the time to ask any of their co-religionists what exactly they mean by the “God” word, they would find it just as glib and baffling.

Posted by Yakaru


  1. Hmm, very interesting. I just went to check out my latest follower’s blog (as is so often the case, I hit “Publish” and a couple of bots like and follow me within seconds, and when I go there to see what they’re up to, it’s the God squad again), and here’s a perfect example of some of what you talk about. The poster asks people to tell him in the comments “what constitutes the being of God”, and all those fuzzy meaninglessnesses flow forth from people, interspersed with little indications of the pain they’re anaesthetising or whom they owe.

    Your post really clarified for me – along with these comments – how people just get born with people using the word and flounder around trying to fit it to something, or use their description to show off how clever they think they are. What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us…? Doesn’t matter what you say, the G-word makes it pretty deep.

  2. Er, not that it matters, I intended to post the link: https://perfectchaos.org/2019/02/27/defining-the-being-of-god/

  3. I was just about to start writing this post when I saw the notification for your latest —

    I skipped over the part about the Christian encounter at first (to avoid getting my ideas scrambled) and read the personal part. Jung would call this ‘synchronicity’: an acausal connecting principle…. which uses ameaningful words to explain asignificant coincidences.

    I notice the divine fellow at that website is passing the collection plate around rather forcefully and promoting his fatuous book to anyone who comments. Though I guess I’d want some cash too if anyone started quoting David Bentley Hart on my site.

    “God is that reality which is unconditioned, that reality from everything else in our everyday experience derives its existence. Not really originating from some distant point in the past, such as the Big Bang, but conserving the existence of all conditioned beings at every moment in the here and now.”

    I don’t know if you’ve read Jerry Coyne’s book, Faith vs Fact, but he nails this kind of thing ruthlessly, showing how they claim that theology doesn’t make fact claims, so is immune from attack by science; whereupon they immediately revert to making fact claims.

  4. Hehe, “ameaningful words”, nice. Ah, the thoughtless ones, to whom “acausal connection” is a perfectly good explanation for things happening at the same time that seem connected but for which no physical connection can be found. Saying this is “acausal” admits that there’s nothing there at all, nothing caused the coincidence, yet the “deepity” end of the phrase suggests spooky causation. I’d not seen that so clearly until you pointed it out.

    This, and spending a little bit of time wading through the sticky, sick-making platitudes that pass for philosophy on Steven Colborne’s website, made me realise that “God” is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the quality you noted here, labels people take as having some meaning or reality because they’re there and people often intone them seriously as if they knew what they were talking about.

    I’m all over the place this morning – don’t know whether to laugh or cry at it all. Steven, for example, applies himself to the problem of consciousness by briefly saying that it’s common these days to think of people as machine bodies with a brain machine running the show, inviting people to “think about that”, then immediately saying he believes in God, because it doesn’t feel like there’s a machine in his head. Hmm, that’s right, if there was a machine in your head, there would be a lot of banging and grinding or something. You’d feel the gears or levers changing your head’s centre of gravity, obviously. Still, at least we’d know there’s some-fucking-thing going on in there!

    Ooh yes, can’t wait to read his book bringing all the last ten years of his thinking together into one volume, “British philosopher” Steven Colborne.

    And then, pity again. Nobody can help where they get to with all this. He’s a guy who’s struggled, or still struggles, with psychological problems, trying to make his way in the world, and there’s this Internet thing where people can tell everyone what they believe! You can even publish books and make a name for yourself, and serve “God” (which Steven says is everything, by the way, he doesn’t identify as a Christian). And he believes we all live forever, because…? No idea. Hasn’t said, but we don’t remember being babies, so…

    The world is about 99% idiot.

  5. Ach– ‘scientists think the brain is a machine.’ Amazing how many religious people think scientists all follow Descartes, even though few did even in 1650, and then having dissed Descartes & modern science, they then spout the cartesian idea that humans aren’t just machines because we have an immortal soul…. It’s so predictable… almost like, um, clockwork!

Comments welcome, but please try to address the issues raised in the article!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: