addendum: on i-it and the god we repress


god is the between of an i and a thou, and it is precisely this existential dialogue with all that exists, our “essential deed” as buber called it, that which we repress within us and between us. we don’t start by searching for god, we encounter god when we embrace any being as a thou. we seek a relationship with that which transcends our ego, and we find god in the process. we can say -maybe with spinoza- that all beings are god, and when we say thou to any one being, it is god we are addressing. as martin buber said, the lines of relationship intersect in the eternal thou. but since we find it very hard to actualize dialogue in our lives, we repress within us the god that actualizes itself as dialogue between an i and a thou.

viktor frankl wrote many essays concerning “the unconscious god”. for frankl, a fundamental source of psychological neurosis lies precisely in our repression of this inner-dimension of the god-in us. the unconscious god we repress becomes manifested in different ways, religion being one of them, and also, often times, in the form of the “devil”.

since god is dialogical in nature, we repress the presence of god in us by refusing the existential call to enter into i-thou dialogue with all beings. we repress god in two ways that essentially are one. we make god into an inner “spirit” we feel or experience, rather than a social practice we engage in, and we make god into an “it” to serve the purposes of our psychological and material lives. buber once gave a good simile: spirt is not like the blood that runs inside our veins, it is more like the air we breath and is between us. the word spirit in hebrew, “ruah” is the same word as wind.

god is not some-thing we need, for only things can be needed. we need no god, as the god one needs is only a projection of one’s own ego. in other words, the “it” god is what is known as an idol. god, who is also the ten thousand things, is a god that can never become an “it”. we only encounter the god we can say thou to for she can never become anything but eternally a thou.

the divine, of course, is not the same as god. god, of course, is not the same as religion. we created the divine, not god, and god did not create religion, the divine did. but we create god and god creates us. (or the other way around.) the act of creation is the act of being created. the act of calling all beings thou, is the act of being called thou by god. with every “thou” we say, we create god and are created by her. (or the other way around.)

the god in us manifests itself as the god between us, and that “between” is something we are fearful of. the more we repress the god in us by refusing to be present in the between of the i and the thou, the more it acts out by expressing itself in the form of religion. we find comfort in religion because the god that is between us can only be made manifest as a call to existential action, and religion exempts us from it by replacing the relationship with god with a relationship with the religion-about-god. religion creates the illusion that by relating to a theology, or a set of sacramental rituals, we are serving and worshipping our gods. but there is no god outside of the relationship with all beings, and in that sense, religion becomes a powerful shield to keep us from the god who is calling us to worship by performing the sacred sacrament of the neighbor. the only sacrament he desires.

but our fear of the dialogical call is not without foundation. the path of i-thou dialogue is very arduous, fraught with disappointments and the goal is uncertain. the god in us is the existential call to a dialogical project, but we find existence itself, let alone dialogue, terrifying. therefore we take that inner god-presence and divert it away from dialogue and into the temples, rituals, reverence for the imagery of clergy and holy books of the religions. all these become safe places to deposit in them our inner god for long term storage and safe-keeping. and we believe that we have answered the call by becoming religious in that sense, but all we have done, if that is all we do, is create an eclipse of the face of god.

the god in us is the god between us and only in the between of an i and a thou we will encounter him who can never be an “it” for he is eternally our thou. as an i-it, outside of the between, god is-not. but we need to understand that the between of an i and a thou is more than the i and the thou, it encompasses, includes and embraces the ten thousand things and all beings. from a dialogical perspective, the presence of god is manifested in the between of an i and a thou. but that between cannot remain a “personal experience of two”, it must transcend itself into a social-ethical existential project.

©Hune Margulies, Ph.D.

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