Re: Hyper-sterics? Christianity and Simulacra

William Peña

This is a direct response to Elizabeth Rodwell's discussion by the same name:

Elizabeth's essay on Baudrillard's treatment of God and simulations/images with religion circles around one fatal issue that, while a point of personal faith, is not an a priori truth from which one can really argue (especially in the 20th century, as opposed to John of Damascus in the 8th) with such certainty: the existence of God. This is, I think, the crux of Baudrillard's point. We can't assume that God exists, that He is out there and being represented by images, so then what can we say about the images themselves?

Nietszche says that God began as the projection of a people's self-love, and then became a tool for a power structure that lost it's sense of it's own humanity and people. Taking this view, God is a sign, He represents a certain ideal. Why do I bring this up? Because of the qualifications of God over the course of history, a history that is as malleable as a person's memory, and dependent on that person's investments in that history. Make no mistake, God has changed over the course of history, from religious sect to sect, and through revolutions of religious thought, all of whom believed they were reaching for truth. And this, this historical change, is the circulating image of God.

If the image of God, the interpretations of His Word (the Bible, scriptures, etc.), and the ways a believer should worship to come closer to God have changed so much over time, then what remains? God exists as a circulation of simulations of some etherreal referrent, and is subject to the revolutions of history that Baudrillard takes on. Whereas the discussion of whether God exists used to rage, now it is dead and taken up as "what do we do with our new secularized society?" This is not to say that I personally believe that spirituality is unimportant, but rather, that for an image to act as a metaphor, as Elizabeth claims, for such a figure as a God, takes a gargantuan power structure, great needs on the part of the people, and great faith on the part of the individual, to prosper in the 20th century. In this collapse of the simulation and the "real," how can we claim that the "real" (in this case, God) exists outside of the simulation?

In the same sense, we can compare how John of Damascus and Baudrillard would talk about the necessity of images in religion. If "John of Damascus, a philopsopher (sic) and author of the book: On the Divine Images (eighth century) argues that images are absolutely necessary, to fill in the gaps left by the flawed and earth-bound human mind," then Baudrillard could argue that images are absolutely necessary as simulations to create the gaps that we can fill with our notions of God. In the end, who is creating these images? Human minds, or divine grace of some sort?

"John of Damascus writes: "The image was devised so [man] might advance in knowledge", and Baudrillard might agree... though he'd argue that advancement means the abandonment of God-delusions and the loss of religion, while John would prefer to link increased knowledge with greater piety." My question to this is: knowledge of what? Does knowledge mean awareness? Does knowledge mean knowledge of self, of critical self-analysis? Or does knowledge mean faith, and hence creating a continued circulating, self-contained system? The axiom that God exists has eroded since John's time, and hence the existence of this God-referrent has as well, so does knowledge include the ability to question God? What if one were to depict images of God as a squat, black, woman with one leg, would this also lead to greater knowledge, or would it be seen as heresy?

The question is mute. God exists now as His simulations, and if one travels to colonized lands where missionaries brought their visions of God to the heathen and travels their paths, one can see how radically these simulations diverge. Does this mean they all believe in false Gods, although they believe they are worhipping the Christian God that missionaries enlightened them with?

PS - I think Elizabeth may have meant this as food for thought, but if not, computers were not modelled after the human brain. They don't resemble it in the slightest, nor were they intended to. They did math, then maybe some word processing, then simulated a desk-top, and onwards. We don't even know what the human mind is like.

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