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(I WANNA) TESTIFY
Religion, Testament & Divergent Meanings
Consider these inspirational words from the song Testify by (OG funk band) The Parliaments:
Friends, inquisitive friends
Are asking me what's come over me
A change, there's been a change
And it's oh so plain to see
Love just walked in on me
And took me by surprise
Happiness surrounds me,
You can see it in my eyes
Now it was just a little while ago
My life was incomplete
I was down, so doggone low
I had to look up at my feet
Don't you know, I want to testify
What your love has done for me…
Love-based transformation? Surprising metanoia? Newly embodied happiness? Simultaneous realization & transcendence of existential incompleteness? Hell, that sounds like true religion to me!
Do I think that George Clinton and the other funkadelic pioneers from The Parliaments are… saints? That sounds excessive. I honestly do not know whether they are poetically invoking classical religious language to describe a human love affair — or using the motifs of human love (as devotional nondualistic Sufis often do!) to describe a religious epiphany. I’m philosophically bisexual on this particular point. It looks like it could go either way.
However, (ir)regardless of which way it does go, it’s darned difficult to deny the sheer insouciant desirability of this groovy state of overflowing conscience, vital spirits & ascendant-radiant sensibility. Right?
There is this mood or mode of “optimal psychophysiology” (I’m quoting myself) that communicates itself culturally through the comportment or style-of-manifestation of individuals. Verbally or non-verbally, the irrepressible urge to TESTIFY is a normal part of the human experience. We are born with an in-built testification circuit. Everyone in every epoch in every culture has an Ultimate Reality shaped hole in their hearts — and periodically something fills one of those holes.
That’s when we spill over into… testifying.
Gosh, that sounds nice. Doesn’t it? But my own ecstatic communion with 1960s funk song I heard on the radio recently is clearly not the whole story. The sheer natural niceness of organic love-bliss broadcast through pop music is not everybody’s notion of a true TESTAMENT.
It turns out that a lot of people historically, and even today, think that the urge to testify involves standing on street corners trying to push cheaply printed church pamphlets on unsuspecting pedestrians. For them, I imagine, the urge to testify in involved in convincing other people to symbolically assert their “belief” in a mythological character from an Old Book. Are they crazy? Or am I crazy?
Apparently “gospel” means “good news.” What do YOU look like when you’ve just heard the best, most amazing good news? I suppose it makes you happy, authentic, trusting, outgoing? I guess the real difference among people has to do with their different meanings of “happy” and “authentic” and “trusting” and “outgoing.”
I would probably say that testifying is complete bullshit unless I see the happiness in your eyes, feel the spontaneous freedom of your movements, hear your very personal and idiosyncratic account of the mysterious organic form of your transformation, rejoice with you beyond all serious socio-moral assertions, leave all books and cultural habits behind in something truly REAL about the divinity of existence. But that’s not for everybody. Clearly.
Some folks, no doubt, think that a real, happy testament is based on agreeing, and taking very seriously, the traditional power of an ultimate symbol. That’s the good news. IT (that thing we’ve all heard about) is really real! And it’s really good! And our ancestors were right! And if we can get everyone to agree then the world will go just swimmingly from now on!
Words are sketchy.
If somebody asks you whether you “believe in God” then, in turns out, they have not yet given you enough information to know what the fuck they are talking about? They could mean a finite thing or an infinite thing. That’s a pretty big difference. If the two of you start talking, pretending you know what these common words mean then — probably you’ll end up confused or conflicted.
I recently took the “hidden memetic tribes” online test. At one point they asked me if I AGREED that people’s circumstances were more “of their own making” or “out of their control.” Well, I think it’s objectively true that most of what happens to you depends on complex factors you don’t even know about… let alone control. However, I also agree that it is most useful and practical to believe in your capacity to control your life and take creative responsibility for it. So what could I answer on that question?
The word “agree” contains different, opposed meanings.
This is not to say that words have not meaning. Not everything is relative. Even in the theory of General Relativity, the speed of light is a constant. So I’m not saying that we should throw our arms up in air (waving them like we just don’t care) and despair of the ability of language to constructively convey communication. On the contrary, I’m saying that we can get better work out of language if we take the time to specify what our words mean.
If you ask someone whether they are “liberal” — what they hell are they supposed to say? Are we talking about Adam Smith or Bernie Sanders or Woke Fanatics or the International Monetary Fund or just rural folk who don’t give a damn if men like women? It is a tragically unspecified term. And it is not alone.
The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century was an enormous leap forward in human civilization. Yes, we had already had saints and Buddhas. Yes, we had already had many small pockets of brilliant, rational and transformative minds. And yet something wonderful happened in Europe a few centuries ago. The invention of the printing press, the glass lens and the early clarification of the scientific method helped generate the universal growth of modern consciousness. We often think of this shift as involving the affirmation of “nature” and “reason” and “progress” accompanied by a rejection of “superstition” and “dogma” and “god”. However I think that misses the point. We aren’t shifting from one set of affirmation to another. We are shifting from one skill set to a