At some point, after becoming chemically dependent on a narcotic i.e. heroin, I made the realisation: “Oh! I’ve objectified salvation.” I had made addiction into something material, something compelling and comfortable and reliable; and then it hurt me and I had to let go of it. Sometimes sobriety feels phoney. Sometimes it’s uninteresting and it feels like ‘the party is over’. Bliss on the other hand never felt phoney.
In the end, it comes down to very basic questions about whether or not you’re optimistic or pessimistic about human nature, whether or not you believe humans are ultimately good if you go deep, deep, deep down enough.
What, ultimately, do we find at the root of human good and evil? The individual will. Free will, if you need to call it that. Is an individual will going to be motivated by love? Or is its driving force something more cynical and darker than goodness?
I have to believe that for most, it’s love. I have to rationalise that love is itself a primordial force written into our long evolutionary story, love as a kind of certainty of oneness. Or if oneness sounds too glib then – at least – not separateness.
Linguists did some sort of etymological analysis of the word love in various unrelated languages. They found that by far its most common meaning was union, coming together, as if some pre-linguistic, prototypical limbic aspect of our awareness – that unique imagination awakened in our opaque Stone Age lineage – humans know that we are more than one objective locus of individual. We perceive a sharing in the reality of consciousness; that what’s looking at me from behind your eyes is close kin to what’s looking back at you behind mine.
What can be done with this information? For many, myself included, it feels like we’re gifted a choice.
No need, by the way, to get lost in existential arguments over free will. The choice I’m referring to needn’t be conscious. The speaker voicing our individual self-conscious identity doesn’t have to be the source of identity or free will.
In William Blake’s engravings of the Book of Job there’s a perfect expression of the choice I’m trying to describe. In it, Blake explores whether your way and Job’s are to be depicted as looking (and being) identical…
Job is made to run the gauntlet by the lovely interfering Old Testament God and – despite the trials and tribulations – ultimately, despite his human weaknesses, he proves himself a good guy. God concludes Job’s success not because Job was able to roleplay propitiating obedience but because the goodness of his mind shone through the rightness of his actions.
And God shows many meaningful things to Job. Amidst these trials, out of the heat, God emerges to say: “Here is a behemoth that I have made, as I made others and as I made thee.”
We see (through Job) the behemoth made, and it’s a fearsome brutal monster as Blake depicts in his engraving. It’s grotesque, skinless, all muscle and sinew and appetite. It’s worth looking over Blake’s artistry. His behemoth is a beast with a roaring, priapic, ever-fucking Punch in its larynx. Some insatiable fucking brute.
And then God says: “This is the Leviathan that I have made, as I made thee.”
The creature emerges from the deep as the silky serpent, flat fangs and grimy scales. The author of the Book of Job and William Blake are showing these things are inside us, a part of us. We are them.
Here in the Book of Job from thousands of years in the past and in a Jungian analysis of Job and William Blake’s seminal engravings, the act of God is in revelation: because the Leviathan is in the heart of every man and woman, and it is brutal but potent and we have the capacity not simply to fear it or hate it but also to like it and be it.
The parable of the Leviathan is closer to the classical myth than typical biblical folk-history. Its sobering message is both true and subtle. If we aren’t good, then God isn’t good. We are the creator potential and in that potential is the potential for evil as well as the potential for good; and God isn’t an outside patrician pushing us one way or the other. That’s our challenge.
At scale, that’s why we humans have to become good. That’s why we have to become holy. Because God, the popular concept of God, is at best ambivalent, laissez-faire, and the universe – in all its awe-inspiring mind-bending enormity – has no moral compass, doesn’t give a fuck, and hasn’t the capacity to care.
Bottom line, if we don’t manifest glory, if humans don’t manifest good, in an anthropomorphic sense, then there is no good. Intentions don’t matter. We’re not trying to get a little badge or a stripe or some sort of approval for choosing to be good. No such potential for reward exists. It’s not on offer. It can’t matter.
God isn’t judging. There will be no passing sentence. There’s no heaven above, no hell below, no good admitted to rapture, no evil doomed to descend into the underworld. We’re the only potential manifestion of God’s glory. If we don’t manifest it, then it isn’t there. If we never manifest it then the insensible darkness will be all that’s left; in a universe of unseen fire and unfelt rock and gas.
Last year, I was doing this visualisation and for whatever reason it led to a dream, a dream in which I found myself hanging out with Jesus. And you know, it was the white Messiah of Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Probably because that’s the evocative picture my subconscious had absorbed as the most expressive of Christ’s visual forms.
And suddenly I’m sitting with Jesus, in some kind of Middle Eastern hermitage. We’re in a humble stone cell, light coming in from a lattice screen window. I’m looking directly at him, silent, feeling what I’m seeing is real – not merely a scene created in my imagination.
There was no peace in the Christ I saw. He did not see me. There was no joy in his face, no beatific aegis in the air above. And I got angry. I had expected Jesus to be profoundly at peace. I wanted to feel the saviour as the epitome of serene unconditional love.
Jesus, or whatever eternal source the Christ manifests, was bent in prayer and, if anything, he was vulnerable, almost to the point of being helpless.
What the fuck!
This avatar of omnipotent God, whom scripture itself teaches us to perceive as the saviour in human form, was the exact opposite of potent.
And what terrified me, in the dream, was it is the last version of Jesus I wanted my mind to create. We want a Christ who’s going to help us, don’t we? An all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving manifestation of divinity.
This fragile, lonely Christ didn’t or couldn’t see me as he prayed. But I saw him; as he was and is; and I could see the desperate, crippling sensitivity. More than impotent, it seemed like this holy being – Jesus Christ, Gautama Siddhartha, Jahweh, Allah, Krishna – was the murmuring a frightened prayer to the universe.
He was the one needing to be saved; by me.
In a flash I understood the Truth that’s been concealed from us, from generation to generation, since the first fireside stories of our ancestors, huddled close in a bright little scatter of migrating hope under the howling African night of the Rift Valley.
Afterwards I tried to make sense of this, to put the dream into words. It was beautiful and troubling, in hindsight, and purely on that one vision, a lot of things made more sense.
Do a Google search for “anything you do, you give the world the permission to do.” Browse the results and you’ll see they are all wrong. The algorithm inverts of the sentence’s meaning in a predictably egocentric, trite way.
What the phrase means is as follows: Permission, I think, refers to you being the only arbiter of morality and every act that you do, you’re saying ‘anyone can do this to me’. You want to lie? Then you’re saying everyone can lie to you. You want to cheat? You’re saying everyone can cheat on you.
We are the embryonic God. Today, as you read these words. The moment – the present, here and now – is the only possible de facto frontline. Yeah. This is it. There is no omnipotent God. There is potential but no more. God is still a work in progress, for you, for me, for everyone in their turn.
The universe is ambivalent? But that’s just because the rainbow wheel – like on your computer – is spinning. Buffering. Searching. Loading.
If the sum total of sentience in the homo sapiens species veers in the evil direction, the opposite direction to the promised land Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently about, then that’s what we get. We get the Leviathan. We manifest the demonic Leviathan. Because we’ve chosen the Leviathan.
And then we’re stuck with it. Perhaps, for as long as its cannibalistic self-destructive behemoth can find disciples to hold the chaos together.
If all we can do is create the Leviathan, the story of humankind ends in nothing. No God. No saviour. We will have denied ourselves and the universe a God of grace and love; and soon enough the universe will have denied us existence.