Tag Archives: projection

projection

We are incredibly skilled at the (always) subconscious act of looking at or evaluating a thing in a very ‘us’-ish way.  Thus, it is all too often the case that:

  • the [re]view says more about the [re]viewer than of that which is [re]viewed
  • the name says more about the namer than of that which is named
  • the belief says more about the believer than of that which is believed
  • the doubt says more about the doubter than of that which is doubted
  • the defence says more about the defender than of that which is being defended
  • the dismissal says more about the one dismissing than of that which is being dismissed
  • the theory says more about the theorist than of that which is theorised
  • the interpretation says more about the interpreter than of that which is interpreted
  • the translation says more about the translator than of that which is translated
  • the governing says more about the governor than of that which is being governed
  • the instruction says more about the instructor than of that which is instructed
  • the legislation says more about the legislative body (or process) than of that which is legislated
  • the writing (or blog post!!??) says more about the writer than of that which is written
  • the comment says more about the commenter than of that which is commented on
  • and so on…

knowledge of self – knowledge of the other

Feuerbach wasn’t entirely wrong.  Projection is a real thing.  Anthropomorphism is well known: that we can project human characteristics onto animals.  When it comes to Feuerbach and God, I think he just throws out the baby (that humans can know anything of God) with the bathwater (humans are prone to projection). For him, projection is a reason to doubt any/all knowledge of, and hence the existence of (for who can be bothered believing in something you can’t know!?) God.  For me, projection is the temptation to make God into a mere idol.

But the salient insight here is the importance of knowing self (and your tendency to project – or indeed your tendency to dismiss the possibility for any knowledge simply because full/perfect knowledge seems impossible) in the quest to know any ‘other’.  Both the knowing subject and the known object must be a part of any thoroughgoing epistemology.

projection, polytheism & judaeo-christian ‘atheism’

One of the standard atheist charges against belief in a god (especially since Feuerbach) is that humans invent a ‘god’ who is nothing more than a ‘projection’ of their own need to believe.  The central idea is that all beliefs about ‘gods’ simply reflect what humans want or assume a ‘god’ to be like.

Quickly, I’ll say that although this would be one of the strongest challenges to theism, it is anything but a knock-down argument.  Not only does it leave entirely unchallenged the notion of a real, actual, but yet unknowable god1 with essence and qualities other than imagined or known by humans, but it also assumes that a ‘god’ would automatically be unable to reveal himself through the god-like desires and assumptions of humans2.  Nonetheless, even apart from these points much more can be observed.

First of all, we should note that the charge of ‘projection’ is precisely the charge that the biblical prophets level against the polytheistic ‘gods’ that the nations believed in.  Isaiah 44 has a deliciously illustrative example of the classic monotheistic mockery of polytheism – a kind of monotheistic ‘atheism’, if you like3.  Isaiah effectively says that these polytheistic people take a tree, cut it down, use one half to cook dinner and warm themselves, and then take the other half, carve it into the shape of an image and bow down to it as a god.  Polytheism, atheists and monotheists agree, is human projection.

Also, having noted the similarity between the critiques of both Feuerbachian atheism and monotheistic ‘atheism’, we should not the key point of departure.  Revelation.

Contrary to humans imagining or desiring their way to God, the Bible speaks of a God who reveals himself.  Romans 1 speaks of the idolatry of the Roman pantheon (resulting in the idolatrous lifestyle of gluttonous eating and indulgent sexuality – faithful worship of the idol gods of food and sex), and contrasts this with the God who is ‘plainly seen’ as creator because of the created world.  The wider New Testament presents the person of Jesus Christ as the exact, final and full revelation of God – sharpening, completing and bringing into focus everything that had ever been revealed about God.

Martin Luther has a particularly striking understanding of this.  For Luther, even reason was unreliable to gain true knowledge of God.  For Luther (following the lead of the NT authors), God was fully known in and through Jesus – and particularly through Jesus’ surprising, detestible, un-godly, weak and shameful death on the Cross.  He contrasted ‘theologians of glory’, who speak of God’s bright glory and strength, with true ‘theologians of the Cross’, who speak of God’s suffering, shame and ‘weakness’ on the Cross.

I’ve seen a video of Dawkins mocking Jesus on the Cross as small-minded and insignificant.  What he is doing, perhaps unknowingly, is agreeing in principle that God would be ‘powerful’, ‘big-minded’ and ‘significant’ as imagined by humans – and mocking Jesus for not being like that.  The New Testament writers however, knowingly proclaimed this strange, weak, local, and dying God – whose gospel sounded foolish to Greek ears and was an offensive stumbling block to the Jews.

  1. which is something most forms of theism – in different degrees – say about their god []
  2. I note that ‘assumptions’ is not a very charitable term to theism.  For example, negative theology is an immensely rational, logical and delusion-countering way of thinking about what qualities a ‘god’ must have. []
  3. Which is also seen in the creation story, where all the things listed in the 6 days of creation – sun, moon, stars, sky, earth, sea, birds, beasts, etc. – reflect the polytheistic array of ‘gods’ of the surrounding nations []

true knowledge

A delicious quote:

Knowledge involves the encounter of the probing and projecting subject with the object of its investigation, but it is true knowledge, not when the object is conformed to the imaginative activity of the subject, but when the imaginative activity of the subject is conformed to the reality of the object, when our thinking becomes, in some sense, the image in which its originating object is more or less faithfully reflected. (Tom Smail, Like Father Like Son, 30)