Abstraction and Power

The ability of the human mind to engage in abstraction is an amazing and powerful tool. In a way, it has enabled us as a species to progress far beyond that of the other species on this planet. What is abstraction, you ask? It is merely the ability to let one thing represent something else. To give a brief example, let’s use language as an example. The word “home” is an example of an abstracted idea. When someone says “home” we immediately think of the place that we live when we are not working or going to school or even out somewhere playing. It is where we have the bed that we sleep in, a kitchen where we make our meals, a place where we take care of our hygiene. All of these concepts are included in the word “home.” It is a concept rather than a thing.

All language is an abstraction. We use words to represent things. Those words can then be combined together, to create an even higher level of abstraction. It is a way of compressing knowledge and communicating it efficiently. If we meet someone with a different language and we need to communicate, the first thing we do is point at an item of which we both recognize and use sounds to represent that thing. This becomes the first layer of abstraction. Within the abstraction of home we also have the concept of “kitchen”, within the concept of “kitchen” we have things like dishes, sinks, stove, and cupboards. At the highest level of abstraction, the word “home” contains all of these concepts.

As valuable as the ability to use abstraction is, there is also a downside. We sacrifice details for speed in communication. Many times, the details can create huge misunderstandings between people when communicating with others. Nowhere is this more evident than when people come together to argue about religion.

One of the important and less understood facets of abstraction in language is the fact that there is often emotional content wrapped up in it. Let’s make the definition of God a little less abstract by listing a few common attributes that are relatively well accepted across multiple belief systems. Here are a few:

Omnipotent
Omniscient
Omnipresent
In charge of everything
Can give life – can take life
Is above us in every way
Knows the future and the past
Creator of everything including the universe.
Everything is controlled by “His will.”

The emotional content hidden within these attributes is that God is above us in every way, intelligence, power, and knowledge. Not only do the concepts present superiority, but they also imply that it is God’s right to do with us as God pleases. There is awe, fear, subjugation, authority and other concepts included within the abstraction of “God.”

We don’t just abstract in language. We also abstract in other very important areas. We view people as “representatives” for functions. We view a man wearing a police uniform as an abstraction for the power of the law. In a similar manner, we view our ecclesiastical leaders as representatives of the power of God. In so doing we automatically grant that person (or persons) respect in accordance with our concept of God. In this way we are subtly programmed to accord an unearned authority based on our religious tenets.

For thousands of years, religious leaders have utilized this unearned authority to subjugate others, enrich themselves, and control multitudes of people. Our politicians wrap themselves in God, Country, and Patriotism to garner the votes influenced by the power embodied within these conceptual abstractions.

Perhaps this explains the fear in America of the Atheist movement. If God is viewed as a “mythology” the unearned power held by ecclesiastical leaders evaporates. Politicians who wrap themselves in God become viewed as “delusional.” It becomes an enormous shift in power. No longer can anyone claim that “My way is the right way, because God told me so.” Instead ideas, propositions, and efforts become examined under the light of a multitude of contrasting viewpoints and decisions arrived at through compromise.

It is this reason, why I stand against religion in all its forms. It is the subtle programming, the nuances hidden within the abstractions, the unearned power and its misuse. Relegating God to the dustbin of “mythology” accomplishes some useful things.

  • First, it frees us from the dominion of those who would use God to control us.
  • Second, it removes the “unquestionable source” from the equation, and everything can be challenged.
  • Third, it frees us from fear based psychology based in “what happens after we die?”
  • Fourth, we no longer can use God as an excuse to invade and attack those whose beliefs differ from our own. We can then look for and examine the motives of those who would use God as the excuse for war.
  • Fifth, and in my opinion the most important reason of all, it permits us to take responsibility for our own actions instead of using God as a scapegoat.

The things that happen to us are a result of the decisions of others combined with random chance and how our own decisions interact. It isn’t “God’s will”. When we make mistakes, “Satan” didn’t tempt us, we made a choice or acted on instinct. We get to take responsibility for our own actions and we get to learn the lessons of those actions. We also learn that we can ONLY be responsible for our own actions. We are not responsible for the actions or the feelings of others. When someone takes offense or feels hurt by our actions, they are responsible for their own feelings.

It is important to remember that virtually every statement made in “God’s name” is a manipulative effort by one with unearned authority in an attempt to control behavior. In short; power.

1 Comment

  1. This is why I refuse to engage in a debate about the existence god or benefit of believing in god unless the other person will first define their god.

    Almost without exception, 1 of 2 things happens:
    –They reference a set of religious texts they “agree” with
    –They are incapable of defining their god

    The first nearly always leads to them realizing that they really don’t believe their scriptures, as they retreat from specific references. They believe in the god of their parents more than they believe in the god of their scriptures. Why? Because their parent’s god is a god of bedtime stories & pleasantries, rather than a god of divisiveness (as nearly all scriptural gods are). Unfortunately, the god of their parents lacks any specificity with which I could engage in discussion.

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