Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gods

Andy Warhol, One Hundred One Dollar Bills, 1965

We make our gods in our own image.
The Egyptians made their gods into absentee landlords, after the land owning nobility who ruled over them.
The Greeks imagined their gods to be like their own over-class, charismatic, amoral, fickle, and cruel.
The ancient Israelites (and other peoples like them) imagined their God to be like the tribal patriarchs who had the power of life and death over every man, woman, child, and goat in the clan.

Do we have gods? Of course we do, only they are not transcendent, but gods none the less.

There's no more powerful demonstration of the fact of a post-Christian, or even post-religious world, than to look at the center of any city anywhere around the world. The largest and most ambitious buildings of any city in any age proclaim what its citizens truly believe in. The towers and domes of churches and cathedrals long dominated the cities in the West. Shikara towers of Hindu temples once dominated cities in India. Domes and minarets formed the unmistakable skylines of cities under Islam. The spires of stupas and the towers of pagodas dominated the cities of the East.
Now, every city center looks like a variation on Manhattan. Our largest monuments are by far for banks and corporations. They are our most costly and ambitious buildings, and of course they express our deepest and most sincere convictions just a certainly as any cathedral did in a medieval French city.

The god we all really believe in, as opposed to the gods we say we believe in (or don't believe in), is money. Money really does work the miracles and heal the sick. It creates and it destroys even more surely than our old gods did. It is a demanding and jealous god that really does demand absolute loyalty and punishes to the seventh generation. It sends the rain, makes the crops grow, brings prosperity, and heals disease, all of those things for which generations of humanity prayed to their gods. Like those gods, it demands sacrifice in return, and sometimes a sacrifice in blood. Our god is every bit as fickle, cruel, and amoral as the ancient gods, frequently rewarding and punishing for no clear discernible reason.
Money is a cruel god who offers no hope, has no meaning, and creates no meaning. It is an impersonal, vast, and abstract deity. We worship and propitiate because we are all bound to do so. We are bound to do so because we have given money so much power over us and over our children. Since we cannot agree among ourselves about any single set of meanings and values for the world, money sends us all the price tag and reduces the whole idea of value to use and exchange, something that everyone understands.

Santa Muerte, the god of the Mexican drug trade.

David Wojnarowicz, Redesign of the Dollar Bill, 1988

1 comment:

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Makes me think of 1960ies TV detective stories. And more acutely, of the attaché case of Mr Museweni, the Ugandan Dictator, when he returned from his exile in Sweden...