Intelligent primates, ones having a theory of mind, anthropomorphize the source of thunder. Chimps go ballistic and will bang loud, clangy objects back—they look at the sky and shake their fists. This really happens.
This biological response to thunder, shared by all intelligent apes, is the seed that will grow into our belief in a god who responds to our actions. Our desire to placate him, combined with our theory of mind, will grow into our belief in a lawgiving god and this, in turn, into a template for realizing a devout utopia under an absolute sovereign and his immutable laws. Primates who take thunder as a serious threat and take their anthropomorphizing seriously and reflect on their theory of mind might develop into the most enchanting of all social organizations, the devout society.
We are always enchanted by pious societies, zombie-like they may be. But this zombie part—their moving together with a single mind—is also what attracts us. We imagine a quaint, pastoral community that is highly harmonious and pro-social, whose members obey the law out of duty but also out of something else. It is that something else that attracts us. They do not merely obey the god’s commands, they love them—because they love him. They feel what he feels. Their theory of mind lets them project themselves into the position of the lonely, invisible, threatening Alpha male in the sky. They enjoy an obedience-from-the-heart, one that is absolute and unconditional. They are not obedient to a visible, finite, challengeable peer, but to a god who is invisible yet as wide as the sky, who is all-seeing, even into our minds, and who is unchallengeable.
It is this elevation of ordinary Alpha power to absolute power that raises the possibility of overcoming the problem of social conflict once and for all. It makes possible the idea of perfect laws. Since we discern these by reading the god’s mind, he can also read ours—so our obedience isn’t just show anymore, it’s internalized. With an ordinary Alpha, we merely seek to appear obedient. With the mind-reading Sky Alpha, we seek to be obedient. But since we are always free and capable of disobeying at every moment, something amazing happens—we seek to restrain our own willing, and the willing of our willing, and the willing of that … all the way down, so that the very core of our spontaneity, per impossible, becomes pre-yoked to immutable obedience. Bringing obedience down to the core of spontaneity and achieving a kind of perpetual commitment, the kind felt by Perpetua when she smilingly sliced off her own head, is what we mean by loving God.
Review: Threatening Sky Alpha (TSA) has power over all. What does TSA want? Our theory of mind, and reflection on what we would do, gives us his laws. These laws, thankfully, cannot be challenged. Only in this way can the laws of society be set in stone. All we then need to make utopia is unconditional obedience. And this is possible when you choose not the merely act obedient, but to will to be obedient, when you will to will what Alpha wills. Our template for doing this comes from our familiar love-relations like self-love and love of kin. This is why TSA is a “father” or some other DNA-sharing family member. It helps us replace our initial biological reaction to thunder (fear and fist-shaking) with an attitude of total obedience to TSA and his laws—and this ends up being total service to the group.
This shift from serving TSA to serving group is seen historically in the Hebrew Bible. God’s commands morph from “More meat!” to “Take care of each other.”
Survival is more than food-gathering, mate-hunting, and defending. It has many stratagems, including activities that have no immediately observable physical effects. One is getting the tribe to protect you. This can work by economic exchange, as when we win kindness by giving it; or by making others dependent on you, so they’re always indebted; or by threatening them, which creates underlying resentment and is less self-perpetuating. But there is a higher “spiritual” way to win tribal support—by being admirable and worthy of admiration.
And we recognize that this is the highest way. Recognition by the person, the meaning- and value-maker, creates value of the self. Being well-used is different from being well-liked. We want, above all, being acknowledge as valuable by a value maker—another self. Winning admiration is the most abstract and comprehensive way to solicit the aid and protection by the group. It is the opposite of the harmful personality, the one that solicits reduced social aid. We want to be valued not just as feed supply, but as The Voice itself.
Knowing this, and having a theory of mind, we realize that the best way to secure good relations with TSA is to not merely obey, but also to recognize and admire. But deeper than these is our recognition of another demand of TSA—be be believed in. This creates a weird epistemic imperative unique to religious cultures. God’s greatest insecurity is not being believed in.
Recognition is a kind of highest desire of primates. To be a person is to be recognized by persons as a self. To be a person is the highest and most abstract kind of valuation; recognition is the objective correlate of having a self. Recognition creates the inner person, that free-floating sprite of voluntaristic power that we identify with as “I.” Its being is dependent on a power other than service and obedience.
Review: Intelligent primates recognize the drum-beating terrorist in the sky as another ape. This enemy, being sky-wide (omnipresent) and invisible, is unassailable—the ultimate Alpha. The only alternative: placate it by friendship, just like we would the local finite Alphas we already know. We infer what makes him happy (his laws), and then not only follow them, but internalize them; and not only that, we love him. This makes our soul thoroughly likable to him. In this way, God is an impetus for prioritizing law over selfishness, and this takes our instinct for social coordination to the highest level, culminating in the devout, zombie-like society of true believers that we all cherish and hope to be some day.
OK, that’s one part. The other part, which you’ve been expecting, is related to the threatening—the other aspect of TSA. We have gained this insight simply by considering that the TSA has an other mind and wants service, obedience, placation, and—best if we ever want to have any leverage—friendship. If TSA is an angry subject, it must feel like we do when we act that way. It is dissatisfied with us.
So being a friend is a big deal. That is the good part of the personal god.
We reach this conclusion by introspection: I want others to help or otherwise obey us. We have a theory of mind about TSA, and this determines how we respond to his threats. And from the same premise (other mind) and method (introspection on biological or universal motivations) yields another behavior—the placation of the Beta. We call want to be Alphas, but not everyone has the heart of unbringing. But we want it, so we know it when we see it. Tantrum baby wants its way—but it can kill you so you can’t just ignore it like you do with an actual baby. You do what it says: then it won’t hurt you.
So TSA is angry. Next step is obvious: find out what it wants. Hence, the 613 Commandments. We have to put these words in his mouth because there have to be some words. The Alpha never punishes unless he knows that you know what he wants. If we cannot find these out, we are powerless. Power is naming the demands of TSA.
So that’s the background. America does have its own flavor of this, the fearful obedience to TSA. The location of its highest concentration is found in the Christian youth camp or school commitment ritual. This is the most powerful force of theistic commitment alive today. It is the closest thing we have to a bonafide hardcore superstition. It’s something you’d expect to see on the “oh those devout simpletons” planet in Star Trek that feature in those Prime Directive vs religious-based genocide episodes. We have that. It’s a precious remnant of the uniquely “jealous” god of Judaism. He wants meat (animal) sacrifice, yes—just as we all do. (Want want to please it.) But he is also insecure. All that food won’t matter if he does not exist. Promising to believe in someone’s existence is a very strange thing to do. For example, we never do this. I promise to help you, but I never promise to believe that you exist.
This is the most secure foundation to preserve and help God. More than food, he needs our belief. This is what happens when Our People encounter others who have other gods. It’s a crisis—the first metaphysical crisis in human history. Not only their clothes and speech and food, but their god. They have a different TSA. But … but we’ve been pleasing ours all this time. We’re we wasting our time? Oh shit—even thinking that probably really pisses him off.
Brief tangent: Can gods read minds? Is this essential, early, or new? It must be basic because the other mind just is something we can read. It’s the object of our reading, and it happens to be me, at a distance and without my access. And we know that others read our minds in the same way—through our movements and faces. So TSA can read our minds.