Throughout times in human history, improvements in spiritual technology have come to us: more accurate ways of describing our relationship to a divine which shows its face only indirectly in the world.
As someone pointed out long ago, if the gods spoke to us from burning bushes and enchanted rivers, everyone would be religious, and there would be no way to separate the sycophants from the honest.
Instead we have absent gods in whom we have faith from fear of not having faith, since although life appears brutal and materialistic, there is some chance that it is not, and so we appeal to the gods for the same reason we have car insurance.
History would probably record, if it could have recorded this, that the first gods were merely good-luck charms. Talismans worn on the wrist for a good hunt or a night without the sabre-toothed tigers attacking, these early gods were idols.
Eventually this process expanded to the notion of altars and idols. An altar is the descendant and perpetuation of the idol; instead of placing the idol on the altar to worship, we worship at the altar and pretend no idol is involved.
Idols, like symbols, represent a concentration of possibility to a simple yes/no signal. Either the gods are with us, or they are against us. If the former, we should be bold; if the latter, it might be a good day to sleep in.
These idols live on not only in the altars of those who worship a written religion, but in our attitude toward fact. We worship universal and absolute fact which we see in science, morality, and social popularity.
If something is universally acclaimed, in our view, it must be true or perhaps even higher than true, necessary in some way for our collective state of mind. How many movies end with the whole crowd coming together to cheer the hero?
In science we find symbols that are authoritative. People do not like science for what it is, which is a heuristic approximation of reality. They like it for the weapon that they can use it as, a way of settling arguments forever.
Morality presents a similar absolute rule that people can reach out to like an idol and say, “See? The gods favor me, so you must bow and I must reign.” Suggest that morality is relative to a group, or time and place, and people panic.
This is why our current religion consists mostly of denial of determinism. We want to believe that our decisions, moral feelings, assessments of part of the data, and demands make things so, instead of being the power of the world.
In the end, what are gods but an attempt to control reality by gathering it up like a curtain into a fist called symbol or idol, and giving it a pull?
Modern religions like to lump together the pagans and idol-worshippers. This does not make sense. The pagans were an advance in spiritual technology past idol-worship; they idealized process and nature, and exemplified them in amoral, imperfect, and tempestuous gods who were more like Shakespearian characters than the bureaucratic and moralistic gods of the Abrahamic religions.
For most, this was probably a step too far. You go to spiritual services to be told what ritual to practice so that things turn out well, at least for most people. They do not want to hear, as the pagans would tell them, to pay attention to reality; they want to swing a talisman, burn a goat before an idol, or bow above an altar and recite the magic words that make all their problems go away.
Consequently, people went looking for an easier spiritual technology and in doing so they downgraded back to idol-worship, but in this case, the idol was formed of words. This hybridized the old physical talismanic idols with the abstraction of the pagans: you could have the all-encompassing view of the pagans, but the comfort of a little clay figurine you clutched like a rosary when the ice weasels attacked.
The problem, as Fred Nietzsche notes, is that when you cast away the world in favor of a clay or verbal idol, you also remove the reason for that idol. Without the world, why have gods at all? Just live in that solipsistic, idealized space where you are infinite and omnipotent just like a God or Godhead, and ignore reality as the howler monkeys rip you apart and feast on your flesh.
Eventually humans decided to do away with the complicated religion and elected instead for science and humanism. Science in this case meant that humans chose what to study in order to prove that we should do what we wanted to do; humanism means that whatever is human is superior to all else, so if we have to make extinct a thousand species and slaughter a million old-growth forests just to save one blind retarded cancerous midget human, it is not just what we want, but the universally and absolute “right” thing to do.
However, at its core, these are simply advanced forms of idol-worship. We derive our power from pointing at something and saying, “See, it is popular, or it is scientifically proven,” which allows us to stop thinking about reality and remain in that part of our minds where we exclusively think about feelings, judgments, and desires.
The old pagans had a good point. Instead of an idol, they presented us with dice. If you rolled the dice, it gave you a rough approximation of how things were going, and the dice followed physical world rules, not spiritual ones. Numbers fell on a standard distribution and you were more likely to get a seven after a three, a process known as numerology which was less predictive of the divine than of the tendencies of information in the physical world, which was less satisfying than gematria or astrology.
Our modern idol-worship forces us to endorse equality, democracy, consumerism, and other expressions of the human will to dominate. We want to be God and will stop at nothing, because once you hold religion in your hand, whether as a talisman, idol, or words, you start to feel like you control it because you control the object, and therefore you want to control all objects including people so that you can continue the illusion of being God. Heroin addiction is far easier to break than this mental lock which has made us both strong and weak.
Back in the days of physical idols, it was considered a good thing to sacrifice oneself on the altar when times were really bad. If the howler monkeys got the upper hand, and were closing in to eat everyone, it might be wise to simply rush on the altar and impale oneself on the horns of Ba’al or Tiamat.
Right now, we are seeing many people sacrifice themselves upon the altar of human reason. For us to have our new gods and idols, we must worship the word and the power it wields to manipulate others, which means that we cannot admit that any of its tributaries — democracy, equality, bureaucracy, consumerism — have not only run amok but are busy killing us with experimental vaccines, mind-numbing pro forma jobs, toxic cities full of pollutants, lethal diversity conflict, idiots in cars, and other modern blights.
At the end of each age of spiritual technology, people find themselves more willing to rush upon the altar to die than they are to admit that things are wrong and not just in the small, but at the core. That requires them to throw aside their entire worldview and adapt to something entirely new, something which may be beyond their minds.
Almost all of our good horror movies go this way. “Monsters do not exist!” proclaims one character after a monster devours another silly human. “Technically, yes,” says another character, “but we have one here, and we have got to kill it before it kills us.” Very few can make the leap between the first and the second character.
What will be our next spiritual technology? We can no longer worship idols, altars, or symbols. We might be like the pagans and worship nature, but now we have dominion over nature. Human reason has failed us; perhaps it is time to worship logic as if it were a god, and something we can tap into occasionally, but never possess.
Only that level of religiosity keeps humankind where he needs to be, which is as a subordinate to reality itself, forever caught in a state of wonder and looking at the stars with aspiration. Otherwise men see themselves as gods, become tyrants, and then throw themselves on the altar of suicide in order to die before their illusions are revealed.