On Feeling Limitless
Sometimes when I hear or see a horrible, brutal thing, it usually involves human behavior. I wonder how humans can commit such an act. Thinking about it, I try to look beyond the moral judgments of “bad” and “evil” that limit my perspective while trying to understand the actual motivation behind the act. In the war in Rwanda I saw a man chopping off a child’s arm. It took me a lot of “overcoming” and processing of what I saw. Today I believe what I witnessed was a man trying to break free by breaking boundaries, breaking the greatest taboos. Maybe this man had a lot of limitations in his life, a lot of restrictions imposed by morals, tradition, habits, etc… maybe something inside him told him that by committing an unspeakable act, he would finally leave all rules behind and was free to do whatever he wanted. After this deed, everything suddenly seemed possible.
In all cultures, humans established human sacrifices in order to collectively experience the crossing of this threshold. By witnessing a human sacrifice (or in some cultures: the spectacular ritual suicide of the king who by law was obligated to brutally kill himself after a few years of ruling), by going beyond the limit of what seems bearable (for the sacrificial person as well as for the onlooker), there seem to be an ancient catharsis that occurs in the human soul. One could argue that an icon like Jesus was such a human sacrifice. Christians say “Jesus died to set us free”. Which is exactly what each human sacrifice before him was designed to do.
I think about the millions of people who are slaughtered in anonymous warfare today. Human sacrifices without a name that die without their sacrifice being recognized, appreciated or honored. Still, we call cultures “barbaric” that included ritualized human sacrifices.
Why do we humans crave or need human sacrifices? We eagerly watch victims of car crashes, expecting to see blood. We watch horrific, violent movies and violent “sport” like Ultimate Fighting. At the same time, the current mainstream religions call spilling blood “a sin” and give us no outlet for spilling blood in a ritualized, civilized, honorable way. We mass slaughter animals by the billions for cheap meat without honoring the animal’s death. We rather pretend meat grows shrink-wrapped in supermarkets. We live with a huge blind spot. Why are so few people disturbed by that?
Older religions like Hinduism allow for God(esse)s to encompass loves as well as destructive violence. They accept the necessity of construction and destruction. Most today’s religions have banned the destructive element from sight, into “hell”. The result: an ideology of ongoing growth and enforced, infinite productivity. Capitalism is based on the idea of ever-growing profit. If capitalism’s ideologues could, they would abolish night (the military is working on medication that limits sleep to one hour in a 24h cycle to create more effective soldiers…) and death altogether – to increase profits. Our bodies teach us a simple lesson about unrestricted growth: wherever it occurs in cells, it’s called cancer.
Conceived in the image of an adolescent boy, our culture refuses to accept limits. We crave limitlessness in every aspect of our lives: we are bombarded with messages suggesting eternal youth, unlimited wealth, endless happiness. Older cults and religions observed the balance in nature between day and night, summer and winter, life and death. They respected and accepted both halves of the cycle. They also understood the human craving to experience limitlessness. For that reason they ritualized the two easiest ways to experience it: death and sex. The process of dying (as well as orgasm, in French called “The little death”) catapults the human consciousness into another orbit and thereby reminds the human mind of the limitlessness of feelings and consciousness, beyond the daily pragmatic human experience of eating, working and sleeping.
Statistics prove a significant relationship between the occurrence of sex and violence in societies. The more fulfilling sex (for both genders), the less violence - the more violence, the less fulfilling sex. As most common religions today demonize sex (even more than violence) and death is banned into hospitals, far away from daily experience - there is no outlet to feel limitless – other than consumption. It is my belief that today’s religions have funneled their believer’s needs for meaning straight into consumerism/capitalism – despite most holy books condemn hording riches.
When our culture will reform their attitude towards sex and death, consumerism will automatically lose its base. Just as environmentalism expands the consciousness regarding our environment, a new movement is needed to expands our inner consciousness and identify our real needs as human beings. Don’t believe corporate America telling you they know what you need.