August 11, 2013

Henry Geiger - Men and Gods (1973)

Henry Geiger (1908?-15 February 1989) was the editor, publisher, and chief writer of MANAS Journal which published from 1948-1988. Abraham Maslow called him “the only small ‘p’ philosopher America has produced in this century.”
Below is an excerpt from, "Men and Gods" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XXVI, No. 39. September 26, 1973.
"The best world for a moral agent," Josiah Royce observed many years ago, "is one that needs him to make it better." We can't think of anyone else who has defined the role of human beings in just this way, unless we add the gods to the category of mankind, for then Prometheus and various other saviors can be counted as exemplary human beings. This is not of course the familiar way of thinking about "the gods," who are usually considered to have had a more sublime origin. But in recent years even theologians have begun to suggest a humanist reading of great scriptures, and one modern interpreter has proposed that all the high religions are primarily concerned with the nature of man, not with "God." In the June, 1968, issue of the Blaisdell Institute Journal (Claremont, Calif.), Dr. John A. Hutchison, in a paper devoted to the quest for self-knowledge, wrote:
In many of these sources such as early Buddhism the idea of deity is declared to be extraneous, and in some, such as Jainism, it is specifically denied. Where the idea of deity enters, as in the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is with reference to the human situation.
In short, Dr. Hutchison declares, when the - Lord speaks, it is "invariably something about the nature of man." After providing support for this view from anthropological research, he says:
If this evidence is accepted, then it follows that the interpretation I am offering you does not turn religion upside down, but just the opposite, turns it right-side up. If time permitted, I would like to argue that in the modern West roughly since the enlightenment, there has been a massive misconception of religion as a hypothesis concerning a remote being called God whose dwelling place is just beyond the reach of our furthest telescope. Theists accept this hypothesis and atheists and skeptics reject it; but significantly they agree, and I would say mistakenly, in the primary meaning or reference for religion. I would call this the fallacy of the Head Spirit (I am tempted to say the Head Spook) Out There.
On this view, then, it is possible to call Prometheus a fully developed (self-actualizing?) man. And we are entitled to adopt, if we wish, the hypothesis of the Promethean theory of human nature, for Prometheus was certainly a moral agent who sought to make the world (or human universe) a better place. Emerson saw in Prometheus the Jesus of Greek mythology, the titanic hero who gave himself in sacrifice because of his love for mankind. In Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, the fire which the hero stole from the gods became the power of consciousness and reason. Until the people received his gift, Prometheus tells the Leader of the Chorus, they were psychically as yet unborn:
        . . . like children . . . seeing they saw not, and hearing they understood not, but like as shapes in a dream they wrought all the days of their life in confusion . . . like the little ants they dwelt underground in the sunless depths of caverns.
The scope of the Promethean gift to mankind is described by Harry Slochower in Mythopoesis (Wayne State University Press, 1970):
"Understanding" and "a portion of reason" are more than reflective thought. By sophia or "wisdom," the Greeks understood practical application of knowledge. Prometheus taught man "to discern the seasons by the rising and obscure setting of the stars." He gave them understanding of their rituals, "of the altar-flames that before were meaningless." No longer would they need to propitiate a capricious "seasonal god," but could predict and provide for the workings of the natural phenomena. He revealed the technique for coping with disease, taught the use of "the secret treasures of the earth . . . copper, iron, silver, gold." In this context fire becomes a technical- social lever for freeing human power, a tool which raises man from the animal towards the human stage.

Prometheus' "reason" went beyond the rational meaning of language; he "found the subtle interpretation of words half heard or heard by chance, and of meetings by the way." He even penetrated into the realm of the unconscious as revealed in dreams:

"From dreams I first taught them to judge what should befall in waking state."

At the same time, Prometheus stressed the value of tradition: "I taught them the groupings of letters, to be a memorial and record of the past, the mistress of the arts and mother of the muses." Prometheus thus combined bold re-creation of the human heritage with piety toward its valuable residue. In sum, "all human arts are from Prometheus."
Who is Prometheus? He is the god-man or man-god who has won foreknowledge, who sides with Zeus when the other titans seek to make themselves rulers of the world or "lords by force," but who serves man in defiance of Zeus when he grows tyrannical, preferring to keep mankind in its unenlightened state. Prometheus is punished by Zeus, but his true offense is not his resistance to the Olympian ruler, but in giving the fire of creativity and mind to a mankind not disciplined enough to use these powers wisely. Vultures tear daily at the liver of the suffering titan, since the liver is a symbol of uncontrolled passions, yet each day his liver is renewed, since Prometheus did not act selfishly, but gave the fire for the enlightenment of humans. In the final denouement of the myth, in which Prometheus is released from his tortures by Hercules, thousands of years later—a promised liberation still far in the future, we may suspect—Zeus is also restored to his better self, since the gods, like men, have also a dual nature. Slochower remarks, "As in the Book of Job, the Prometheia rejects the narrow tribe god, but reaches an understanding with a god who approximates a universal deity." Yet Aeschylus' drama suggests that the mission and ordeal of mankind, now personified by Hercules, goes on and on. As Slochower puts it:
Prometheus is rescued by Hercules, the son of Zeus' union with a mortal woman, Alcmene. In turn, the deliverer must engage in his "Twelve Labors" and serve as woman-man to Omphale. Once again, the hero has the task of cleansing the stables of the rotten state.
If we accept the Roycean conception of man—Man as the moral agent needed to make the universe better—then we have no difficulty in recognizing the gods as beings who typify man, and in some cases as Personages who fulfill the highest human potentialities. This may be seen from various statements made by the god Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. The difference between a god and a man is in the human lack of self- knowledge which is complete in the gods. In answer to a question by Arjuna, his disciple, Krishna says (chapter four): "Both I and thou have passed through many births, O harasser of thy foes! Mine are known unto me, but thou knowest not of shine." Earlier, in the third chapter, Krishna had explained, in effect, that men and gods have the same obligation to fulfill their duties, since "whatever is practiced by the most excellent men, that is also practiced by others." Continuing, he says:
The world follows whatever example they set. There is nothing, O son of Pritha, in the three regions of the universe which it is necessary for me to perform, nor anything possible to obtain which I have not obtained, and yet I am constantly in action. If I were not indefatigable in action, all men would follow my example, O son of Pritha. If I did not perform actions these creatures would perish; I would be the cause of the confusion of castes, and should have slain all these creatures. O son of Bharata, as the ignorant perform the duties of life from the hope of reward, so the wise man, from the wish to bring the world to duty and benefit mankind, should perform his actions without motives of interest. He should not create confusion in the understandings of the ignorant, who are inclined to outward works, but by being himself engaged in action should cause them to act also.
The call to duty, then, is the call to altruistic service. But one could say, following Dr. Hutchison, that since the Enlightenment this aspect of the nature of man, constituting his highest purpose or role, has been dropped out of both religious and philosophical tradition. Altruism is a duty of the gods, not of men, who, if they are believers, are merely the beneficiaries of the services rendered by divine and distinctly other powers. Interesting evidence of this reduction of the idea of man, of human selfhood, is found in the dictionary definitions of "Promethean," an adjective used to assign the qualities displayed by Prometheus to unusual human beings. A Promethean, we are told, is one who is "creative," or "boldly original." Promethean self-sacrifice, the titan's love of human kind, is not mentioned. Our "Promethean men" suffer, too, but seldom for the reason given by Aeschylus, "For that to men he bare too fond a mind."