This short treatise is intended to follow the blog “Darkness and Chaos and Such”. In that blog, I examined the tendency of humans to attach personality and motivation to things that are not even things. For example, darkness is not so much a thing as it is the absence of a thing. These “things that are not things” (let’s call them pseudo-entities) are often quite mysterious to us, and, so, we come to think of them as things to be dealt with at the level of propitiation or negotiation.
In the current paper, let’s examine how we might even go about making such things into supernatural beings, or gods – from pseudo-entity to god. I do not propose that the discussion to follow is any particular set of events. Rather, it is an attempt to examine the underlying phenomena. By the way, pseudo basically means false.
First, let’s review the nature of personification. For our purposes personification is the process whereby persons, or people generally, assign person-hood or personality to some entity of considerably lower order than the people themselves. Typically, the entity which is being personified is not an entity that is conscious. In fact, the entity may not even be a real (tangible) entity – it may not exist except as an idea. For example, I mentioned “darkness” above. Most of us have an idea of what darkness is. Our idea is typically that darkness is the absence of light. This notion is consistent with what we know from science and from practical, personal experience. In this case, the real entity is light – which we may define in various ways, but the thing that would be universally held to be true is that darkness is only a state is which the entity known as light is absent. Darkness is a pseudo-entity. By the way, there are lots of theological ideas inherent in these ideas, but they are not our fodder at the moment.
- Light is an entity. It exists independently of other entities, including darkness.
- Darkness is a pseudo-entity. It “exists” only when there is no light.
It is also generally well-known that children are “afraid of the dark”. We can argue that what they actually fear is that which cannot be seen when light is absent, but the fear will typically be focused on the lack of light rather than the obscured, but real, objects. We may translate the declaration of the child into being “afraid of the lack of light”, but who has heard it expressed that way?
The fear of whatever is concealed by the lack of light is often quite intense. The fear can be so intense, in fact, that a person may seek to control their environment in such a way as to never allow it to be lightless. They will think of this as not allowing the environment to be dark. Obviously, darkness seems to have a power of its own if we seek obsessively to control or eliminate it. In the case of darkness, our encounters with dark (or near dark) are so common that a place is made for it even in our conscious mind.
Darkness often seems to be a person, or at least a brooding “presence”. At some level of awareness, people may even need for darkness to be thought of as a person. That way they can negotiate with darkness in an effort to defy it. It should be clear that these mental (psychological) activities have inferred negative motivations to the phenomenon which is nothing more than the absence of light. It has sort of become a person through the actions of real persons – not in a physical reality but in terms of how people think about it. From there, it might not be hard to associate other properties to darkness (our test case) in order to enhance our sense of what it is.
The mystery of darkness (we cannot see what is in a space in which there is no light) allows a person to assert that it contains all sorts of things – the “monsters” of imagination along with objects that are actually present. If we begin to formalize what we believe to be in the darkness, we might even assign power and motivation to the individual entities we “believe” to be there. In this line of thought, we might eventually think of entities that are only encountered in the dark as being children (lesser offspring) of the dark. And so forth.
There are two major conditions under which one of these pseudo-persons (such as darkness) might appear to become more than just assumed persons. In one condition, a person who is interested in some measure of control over other persons may use something like fear in order to effectuate that control. The promise of being able to control or divert the negative interest of a feared entity may give to the person a position of relative power over other persons. If the entity to be avoided or placated can be defined well by the power-seeking-person, that entity, in effect, becomes a deity. Once the identity of the entity is fairly well defined by the power-seeking-person, that person can define and control the terms of interaction with the entity. The power-seeking-person can then even embellish the definition of the entity (now a deity in the minds of the regular folks) in such a way as to increase power. In a general way, we have just described the process of deification. In this case, deification has been a generally political process driven by a human agent for the purposes of the agent, not those of the pseudo-entity.
The second, and more serious, condition under which deification might occur involves non-human actors. In this case, an actual spiritual being might put itself forward as the pseudo-entity in question. I call your attention to 2 Corinthians 11:14-15: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (NASB, emphasis added) We can quibble about what entities might be called Satan’s “servants”, but they are likely to be found both in human and in non-human form. I am particularly interested in the non-human versions because humans don’t ordinarily work very well as deities. They are too apparently not deities. Even emperors have failed at that. In addition to that, servants of Satan might at least attempt to disguise themselves as entities other than servants of righteousness. It makes perfectly good sense that they might disguise themselves as such things as personified darkness (for example).
At this point, our analysis is focused on pseudo-entities such as darkness, which do not actually exist, but are inferred from the absence of some real phenomena (like light). The mysterious nature of such pseudo-entities might lend itself quite well to the insertion of an actual entity into the consciousness of people. Thus, because mankind is designed to “know God”, there is a place in a person that readily accepts the suggestion of deity. In the absence of accurate information concerning access to the true God, a person might fall prey to some other “god”. (I understand there are many persons who profess to not believe in any supernatural being. I suspect this is actually a rare situation. In fact, I find that the excited state such persons often reach in discussions about God indicates they are in need of dealing with the “who or what” of deity.)
I think it goes without saying that some of the “servants of Satan” might well perceive it to be in their own best interest (and his) to distract humans from knowing (and worshipping) the true (one and only) God. Because humans have a built-in need to worship God, they can be quite susceptible to the claims of virtually any spiritual entity that disguises itself as God. Given that is likely to be the case, a wide variety of presentations as to the person of God are likely to be encountered in any person’s life. Each of these entities that disguises itself as God will present itself with characteristics of its own nature. In these characteristics, it will seek to present itself as meeting the needs of the people to whom it presents itself. Hence, the various entities will each have its own name and liturgy.
Let’s continue to use darkness, but remember there are other pseudo-entities for which these phenomena pertain. Interestingly, the Greeks believed in a god of darkness they named Erebus. So we have this hypothetical sequence.
- People were afraid of things they might encounter in dark places.
- They “peopled” the darkness with all sorts of potentially harmful things, some real, some not real.
- They came to think of darkness as something with motives that they feared. They believed that darkness desired to harm them.
- They formally named darkness. They attached powers to it.
- They decided to believe darkness could be persuaded to leave them alone.
- They included darkness in their pantheon (list of gods).
- They created means to induce darkness to leave them alone.
So, a pseudo-entity called darkness (something that actually does not exist) has become a god. Priests represent this god and keeps people afraid of the god. “Nothing” has been deified.
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