Ye Gods

2006-12-23

At this time of year it's hard to escape spirituality (it's also hard to escape materialism, but that's another matter, as it were). O holy night, the son of god, come let us adore him, glory to god in the highest, and all the rest. I became a non-believer at the age of nine, and when I was younger the language of religion made me uncomfortable. After a while it made me resentful -- why did the believers get to hold a monopoly on the words expressing deep emotion? Then it made me curious about finding a secular meaning for those terms. Can't those of us who don't believe in a higher realm outside or above our human reality also revere, worship, venerate, and adore real-life people and this-worldly values that are holy, hallowed, divine, sacred, and glorious, thus leading to experiences of exaltation, transport, rapture, ecstasy, and bliss?

Fifteen years ago I wrote a youthful essay on the topic, and I'm still thinking about it. It's a difficult area to explore without becoming ungrounded. One possible ground is etymology. Consider:

Nothing here says that the object of these actions and emotions must exist in a realm outside or above this-worldly human experience. But few people are comfortable applying these terms to their friends or family or companions -- or especially to themselves (it's considered awfully impudent to think that you're glorious or divine or holy!). Interestingly, some of these words are acceptable when applied to one's spouse or lover -- "he really worships his wife", "I adore you", "our marriage is blissful", etc. Others are sometimes applied in the realm of the arts (such as Glenn Gould's notion of "ecstasy as the only proper quest for the artist"). But most of them are used primarily in the special, walled-off realm of religion. One of these days I'll write an essay about the phenomenon, because I find it endlessly fascinating...


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