Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Spirituality of Power (non vice-versa) PART ONE - The Faithful

What do Jesus Christ, Darth Vader, and a pack of wild dogs have in common?

They all hold a strict respect, worship, or degree of fealty to power.

Christ to his apparent father figure,
Vader to both his acquisition of power as well as his more powerful master
and the dogs to whichever dog happens to be strongest and smartest at the time - the alpha.

In this first part of my blog posts, I'll be discussing the relationship between power, and those of faith.

Power is important - possibly THE most important thing to any action of anything - by definition. Slightly different from the translation of Nietzsche's power, which is really more along the lines of "strength," (which we did highlight during Daniel's presentation in class,) power is the ability to do. When you have been granted power in any situation, say, at work, you have been given a new ability to do something. If you have ever done something in your entire life, it was because you had the power to do so. Power is almost literally synonymous with "ability". It then may be begging the question in the back of your mind,"The power to do what, exactly?" to determine what kind of power. The power to light a city is electrical power; the power to roll a ball is kinetic power; the power to mobilize a nation of people to do your bidding is political power; etc. Let's discuss power in relation to God, Godlike power, as it were, for the sake of this exercise.

Why are gods worshiped? It's because they're powerful. Would Christianity or Islam have the same level of following if their deity didn't have the power to really do much more than Casper the Friendly Ghost? The good lord might be "revered" as some sort of ancestral spirit, but certainly not worshiped. That begs the question, then, are gods ever worshiped, or is it simply their power?

If you were to drink from a magic fountain tomorrow, and it granted you telekinesis, telepathy, and immortality - you would be worshiped by someone, if not everyone. You would have, for all intents and purposes, achieved godhood, and ascended the weaknesses of humanity. But this attention you're receiving in this hypothetical instance is not from any quality that you have other than your newfound power. Not because of anything else. You now have abilities to do things, and people would then give you all kinds of sacrifices and praise in order to appease your sense of vanity, and manipulate you into doing what they don't have the power to do themselves.

That leads me to my second point: Worship.

If you ever went to church, or any other religious institution (which I'm sure most of you did), you probably prayed. You admitted to god everything you had done wrong (as if he didn't already know, which I'm sure gave you a level of consternation in the back of your mind) and expressed your deep loyalty, love, and compassion for him, and would then take the time to pray about something.

It's a common expression among those who worship that they will "keep them in your prayers," a servile appeal to an apparently omnipotent and omniscient construct, to change its entire scheme of operation (unless it was counting on your prayer from the beginning, but this blog post isn't about determinism), specifically for the one praying.

It's not unlike petitioning a king for a favor.

The underlying point of this however, is still power. God would have the power to keep grandma from dying due to complications in surgery, and you don't. We have the power to beg god for help, so let's do that!

But you're not really begging for God's sake, are you? You're begging for power, and attempting to temporarily seize it by asking permission.  Acknowledging the connection between worship and power also gives a slightly indirect answer to the Epicurean paradox, that god cannot be all powerful, all benevolent, and still allow evil to exist.  It's pretty evident through the "genocides," as Dawkins put it, of the Old Testament, that YHWH wasn't worshiped for his goodness. He was worshiped for his power, and power alone.

 Ah, but the apologist might say "This is a gross perversion of my god! My god is also kind and he performed great acts of compassion for which I worship him. he healed everybody's sniffles and protects our eternal soul from a great endless sea of asparagus or something else that's rather horrible."
In response to that, I'm sure Gandhi would do the very same things if he could, but nobody worships Gandhi. We just revere him. We worship things because they are powerful - good or evil. Frankly, we worship power, we just gave power in its most ultimately form a wide variety of cultural nomenclatures that distorted our understanding of what it was that we were actually focused on.

My next post will be the relationship between power and those without faith.

(Any critique on how I formatted this would be greatly appreciated in the comments, as I'm not an avid blogger by any stretch of the imagination, and I'd also be happy to answer any questions, or prolong any devil's advocate debates too!)


  1. I really like the thoughts you conveyed here about worshiping power. You've got a great opening line too!

    So, is the case that theists are really attempting to trade worship for (perceived) power. And, in the collective exercise of this worship, is that power actualized by way of voter manipulation, collective petitioning, guilt persuasion, mob rule, etc, or are they really (not so secretly) wanting magic powers? Thoughts?

    P.S. I couldn't help but contemplate the numerous PowerPoint jokes I could have made here yet have shown a considerable amount of self-restraint regarding this opportunity--excluding this postscript.

  2. Very interesting post Andrew, I'm really looking forward to seeing how it develops. I particularly like your definition of power as the ability to 'do', or at least, the perception of that ability. I'm not sure that I can entirely concur with it though. It seems more proper that power is an exercise, an activity. Not merely the ability to do something, but actually doing the thing. Power unused is, it would seem to me, not actually a thing. The definition of power is in it's effects, not it's potential.

  3. Kinetic and Potential energies are still energies, Jamie :P

    I agree with Andrew on this one. Power is the ability to "do". Whether or not it is used does not dictate if it remains a power nonetheless. Sure, they might not exercise those powers NOW, but consider them stored away in a safe place for whenever it would be most opportune.

    Excellent points, Andrew! I'm super stoked to read about power and the faithless.

  4. I'm not crazy about "reverence" as an improvement on worship. How 'bout admiration, esteem, emulation...? All ways of borrowing and spreading memes, enhancing one's power, but not prostrating before unseen masters.