Pecan Pie

Social Anxiety from the South

No Backstage with the All Seeing Eye

God is always watching.  A personal deity sees everything you do, knows every detail of your life, and watches you pee?  Well, maybe not, but you gotta wonder…

What does the belief that Someone is always watching you do to the way adherents of a religious theology behave?  I wonder how damaging it might be to think that you have absolutely no privacy.  Of course, hopefully most of us have a conscience that guides us even when no one is watching, but even if we don’t have that, most of us are socialized enough to know what will be acceptable in society and what will not.  No need for the All Seeing Eye of Mordor to guide our every private moment.

Goffman is loved in undergraduate sociology theory classes because I think everyone can understand the need or pressure to be “on” or “off” (Marie and Becky, I bet both of you can really relate to this theory,  as well.)  Erving Goffman theorized that, like Shakespeare said, all the world really is a stage and everyone else is a player, a part of the audience and also the lead in their own life.  One of the most important features of Goffman’s theory is that like a play, we have a front stage and a backstage in our everyday lives.  Front stage is the place where we must be “on” we must conform to social norms, behave in a way that is satisfactory for us to navigate our world.  Our backstage is where we can let our guard down, like, say, the bathroom or during sexual intercourse.  The backstage consists of the places where we feel little or no judgment or where we prepare for the front stage.

So, I wonder, if god is always watching us, where is our backstage?  If we believe that god is always with us, even when we pee, where is our privacy?  Is there a place that is truly our own and no one else’s?  I have friends, who feel enormous pressure to perform in everyday lives.  They are not Christians, just victims of a culture not able or willing to modify its norms for those playing a different part than the rest of society.  If they did not have a place where they could just “be themselves” (and I’m sure as children, who have less backstage time than other humans this would be particularly difficult) the world would be plain unbearable.

This brings me to another concept that I think ties into my example.  Marx’s (yes, there he is again, oh noes! Call security!) Theory of alienation proposes that capitalism removed people so much from the process of their work (no more farming the food you yourself eat, you work is no longer personal, instead you are a cog in a machine, easily replaced) that they will become disenchanted with their labor.  Religion is often a huge machine, it has many rules and scare tactics are a familiar way to keep people in line.  If a person never feels like they have any privacy and that they have little to no control over their life (save the fact that they can control how well they follow the rules 24 hours a day) will they become disenchanted with religion?

I have spoken to so many religious people, current and former, who definitely felt that they could never live up to the expectations of the perpetual front stage where they were committed to be, all day, every day.  A daunting task.  In some of those instances, the individual did feel alienated from god, faith and the positive parts of belonging to a religion.  Others seem to feel that god, by the very nature of his supposed being, has the right to know each and every detail of our lives, and in fact, already knows it all (causing a free will exchange that usually turns into a mulberry bush.)

How can we reconcile the need privacy with an All Knowing Personal God?  If we cannot reconcile the two, how can we reconcile the need for privacy with the danger of alienating the faithful from their religion?  Are either possible, both or neither?  Ready?  Go!

Written by thelittlepecan

December 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

Posted in atheism, religion, Sociology

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. How about the incarnational God. That is the God within or the divine within. Each of us has the divine, but none of us is the divine. So if we are the divine, it is hard to escape the divine. However, that is not the general concept that western religions operate under. God is “out there” and we are “down here.” Also, God is good and we are bad. This is not thanks to religion, but thanks to Plato.

    I think, for me, the bigger issue is how can we reconcile our body/mind/spirit into one cohesive divine rather than the Platonized separation of body v. mind or feelings v. reason?? If we can solve this problem, I think we have a chance at actually being compassionate with each other. If we recognize our own bodies and being as fabulous, isn’t it therefore more difficult to do bad things to other people’s bodies?

    Wow, I strayed away from privacy v. all-knowing God…I suppose it is just hard for me to imagine God as spy. Easier to imagine TSA folks as spy. Anyway, this image of God as “out there” spying on us is Plato’s fault. God is not “out there.” And, lest Christians push back, the whole basis of Christianity is incarnation.



    December 6, 2010 at 11:47 am

    • You’ll need to provide some more on why this is Plato’s fault. I’d place Paul right at the center of this issue, myself.

      The fact is, the idea of a god always watching is the prevalent notion in Western society and, no matter who is to blame, the Church quickly co opted that idea for itself, right from the start.


      December 6, 2010 at 11:57 am

  2. The front stage is a very painful place for me to be, my backstage is my preferred location, especially since my husband is such a soft landing place for all of those hard front of the stage moments.. I made myself fat earlier in my life so I would become invisible onstage.. it worked kinda for a while, but I do not seem to be able to shrink into the woodwork..
    As a child the all-knowing god concept truly bothered me. Although, as god has never been a driving force in my life- except for the way others deal with the concept- the all seeing eye doesn’t bother me- but wow what an idea!!! Ick.


    December 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

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