The ‘God’ problem— revisited

by Witty Ludwig


– it must be an idea willingly abandoned, a primitive relic of primitive cultures; and this can only happen through understanding how the misconceptions were born in the first place.


I feel as if I’m in the midst of some sort of transition stage.  I feel uncomfortable.  Not, mind you, a transition in the sense that I’m becoming in any way religious but I can’t help but feel haunted by some of his observations that, only now, are starting to take shape for me.  I had read snippets before but wasn’t truly grasping his point but, following my recent discovery of his notes on Frazer’s Golden Bough, piece by piece, my approach, my perspective has been shifting.

I read the following the other day as a criticism of someone who believes in the power of prayer: 

“I have no beef with a person who thinks god answers their prayers. Having been brought up religious, I can tell you I haven’t had the need to pray since my deconversion and it doesn’t even bother me. This first reason should have been changed to read; I like to talk to myself and think that something is actually happening. Am afraid if I stop talking with myself, I will become a hopeless wreck.

And I would have agreed with this wholeheartedly as recently as a couple of years ago but now I suppose my stance is creeping towards these lines:

“… it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting dearly and I would not for my life ridicule it.”  


Now, I can’t say I respect it dearly but the fact is I am starting to see it as some remarkable insight into what I suppose is referred to as the human condition.  From my most recent entries before this one, the reader will note the trend of what I have been reading recently and so to borrow again the quotes from an earlier piece I documented:


“Burning in effigy.  Kissing the picture of one’s beloved.  That is obviously not based on the belief that it will have some specific effect on the object which the picture represents.  It aims at satisfaction and achieves it.  Or rather:  it aims at nothing at all; we just behave this way and then we feel satisfied.

[When I am furious about something, I sometimes beat the ground or a tree with my walking stick.  But I certainly do not believe that the ground is to blame or that my beating can help anything. “I am venting my anger”.  And all rites are of this kind.  Such actions may be called Instinct-actions.”


“Really what I should like to say is that here too what is important is not the words you use or what you think while saying them, so much as the difference that they make at different points in your life.  How do I know that two people mean the same thing when each says he believes in God?  And just the same goes for the Trinity.  Theology that insists on certain words & phrases & prohibits others makes nothing clearer. (Karl Barth)

It gesticulates with words, as it were, because it wants to say something & does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense.”


I suppose my change of heart is that I starting to see more and more the wonder in the fact that something as seemingly absurd, to me, as the act or prayer can have the importance it does to so many people.

Don’t get me wrong, I still find religion itself very frustrating and often abhorrent, particularly in Christianity’s case; however, religious belief, or more importantly, religious expression is starting to indicate to me something more profound than simply ‘nonsensical actions’ or ‘the absurd’, a socially acceptable ‘madness’.  I see something very animal about it– as contradictory an idea as that may seem to some– and although I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in any of my previous posts for some reason, I have held the view for many years now that we often forget that we are in fact animals and that language goes some way to obfuscate this fact.

This is why I couldn’t help but wince when I revisited my old post at the final two lines (at the top of this post).  It is in fact quintessential to realise that it is primitive–  and that this in fact more profound than my dismissive label suggested.  I will be thinking on this further no doubt, try as I might not to.


I should add that, although this affects the first part of my original post, there is still much to stand by in that part.