It’s when we’re children that we first learn the power of language. I could see it with my son, the visible pleasure he took in saying a simple phrase like “Look, a duck!” and seeing me stop, turn my head, look at what he’d indicated and smile at him in recognition. He knew he was understood. Another time he might say, “I want a banana.” So I’d go and get him a banana. That a sound can represent something and even make it happen, is a powerful thing to learn. What this taught him is that language allows one to identify real objects and desires. A sound means something real and to use the sound is to summon the object. The word duck means a real duck.
That functions perfectly well as long as one is dealing with ducks and bananas. But from that point on it gets complicated. I suspect that the experience of referencing something and seeing a person recognize it and then respond leads to a great error as our communication skills develop along their automatic path. Could it be that on some primal level, we assume that any word we use, or any concept we reference, no matter how abstract, is understood as a reference to some object having a concrete existence?
If this was true then it would follow that people in discussing concepts and ideas think they’re actually discussing something concrete when in truth it’s only ideas and concepts. This suggests that as soon as we stop using language for purely practical reasons, as we leave the realm of the visible, of the identifiable, of that which can be clearly indicated, we are, without knowing it, only expressing ourselves emotionally. This suggests that language when divorced from its purely indicative function is in its essence identical to dreaming; it allows us to express things to our emotional satisfaction, work them out, feel balanced, but without referencing or effecting anything real. It serves to make us feel that we are understood.
Let me illustrate this by using perhaps what is the most famous example of a controversial indicating word: God. How many times have we seen, heard, or read a conversation in which one person says that they don’t believe in God and the person across from them says that they do believe?
There is a paradox: The Idea of God is concrete, it exists as an idea. But this says nothing about the existence or non-existence of a real heavenly divine entity. Certainly the Idea of God exists, but ideas are not ducks or bananas. I suggest that when we use the term God we think we’re using it as if we were saying “duck” or “banana” and not simply referencing an idea. The word God is an idea but an idea isn’t a God. The word God is just an emotional sound.
It follows that any opinion about God is the expression of an opinion about an idea and nothing more. That is, it’s essentially emotional. This has a surprising consequence. It suggests that the two people having the argument over the existence of God are, in absolute terms, expressing the exact same thing but they don’t know it. Since what they are discussing is an idea and not a real thing, what we’re left with is purely an expression of an emotional need, their personal need to affirm or deny the idea and feel understood.
People speak and express themselves for two purposes, either to identify and reference a tangible object (duck, banana) or to create a needed inner balance through self-expression, not unlike dreaming. For just as when we dream and it allows us to come to terms with some inner contradiction or dilemma, when we speak abstractly it does the same. This means that, in absolute terms, all opinions upon abstract statements are equal in that their purpose is identical, to bring emotional equilibrium to the person speaking.
In any conversation in which two people argue over an abstract idea they present a series of statements until they’re satisfied they’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion and feel balanced with themselves. They feel understood. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the two discourses, pro and con, are identical in their purpose just as two very different dreams are identical in the purpose they serve. This purpose is to allow the speakers to express themselves, it has no relation to that other emotional sound: Truth.
This leads one to believe that all the truly important things in life, what we live and die for, are intangible: God, Love, Truth, Freedom, and Beauty. For example, beauty exists as a concept because it emerged from specific objects, like a beautiful woman, painting or piece of music. The same is true for love; it’s known as an abstract idea because of its concrete manifestations, that of a mother’s love for her child, of the unspoken relation between two people, etc. You know it’s there it’s there though you can’t really point to it like a duck. Truth and Freedom are the same, we see that for example in relation to the struggle for human rights and dignity.
And so it is with God. Any argument, pro or con, must leave the domain of words and find, if they exist, the real presence of God in the world. The concept is there, but what is it referencing?