“When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you”: A Leo Sayer Song That Stumbles Upon the Origin of Religion?

Can you “just close your eyes” to reach your beloved—your source of longing? The Leo Sayer YouTube clip below raises an interesting question about the origin of religion. Is it possible that one of the reasons that religion is prevalent in human society is because human beings are endowed with imagination? In other words, when we clearly lack something, can’t we just close our eyes and imagine it existing anyway?

If, for example, we miss someone who has died, or miss someone who is separated from us by space, it’s not too large a stretch to take comfort in imagining them as present—and even talking to them. Might this imaginative ability then be the foundation upon which religion begins? Or, to put it differently: might God function in the human imagination as a place marker for longing, loneliness, and security? When, afterall, we pray to God, or imagine ourselves living eternally with God in heaven, we’re imagining a presence that is in fact an absence. Our expressions of religious longing, therefore, are akin to love letters sent forth to one not present. Messianic expectations are all based on a similar longing (as in “Come Lord Jesus”).

In this sense, poetry is also akin to religion and prayer, for it tries to describe its longing perfectly, and failing in this, must repeat itself—and rewrite itself—again and again. Poetry, religion, and love letters are a sending forth to what is beloved—but not yet present.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to “When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you”: A Leo Sayer Song That Stumbles Upon the Origin of Religion?

  1. aunty dawkins says:

    If faith and religious conviction exist in human immagination and emmotion then they exist.The unique character of human conciousness allows abstract thought and separates us from lower life froms. This meta -conciousness in itself separates us from mere existential life. If Leo Sayer can draw strength and solace from his immagination and it has an effect on his life and conciousness then it is a powerful tool.
    Humans must crave to satisfy the hunger that is as you suggest at the heart of religion otherwise why would religion have evolved at all? We have to ask the question if we have evolved this conciousness that is so powerfully driven by immagination and emmotion, which in turn creates this hunger for a deeper meaning, what purpose has this evolution served?

  2. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    I hadn’t noticed this post before. I think your idea is an interesting one. It reminds me of Freud’s, and others’, projective theories. I don’t mean to diminish your theory, but I think it is one of two possibilities–and should probably be qualified as such.

    Perhaps, alternatively, we commonly close our eyes and imagine something like the divine BECAUSE there is something divine.

    It seems like both of these theories, to me, are equally valid interpretations of this tendency.

    I think that Lewis’s so-called “argument from desire” is every bit as erudite and encompassing as something like a Freudian father-figure theory. Lewis would say that a desire for the divine most likely exists BECAUSE there is a God. If this desire is a constant them of poetry, I’m sure Lewis would (and probably did) have something to say about that as well.

    I think one or the other must be correct–I’m not sure it is that easy to say which one by looking only at the desire and behavior itsel.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    You said: “Perhaps, alternatively, we commonly close our eyes and imagine something like the divine BECAUSE there is something divine. It seems like both of these theories, to me, are equally valid interpretations of this tendency.”

    I have to say that I have had, as you know, some resistance to the argument that you are making here, but I’ve actually gotten used to the argument, and having read Plantinga (on your suggestion), I find it fine (logically). In short, I wouldn’t disagree with you that they are equally probable interpretations. It just depends on your epistemic and metaphysical starting points.

    I know you’re not much of a “pomo” (postmodernism) fan, but Stanley Fish in the New York Times recently made a very similar argument, emphasizing the importance of starting premises in reflecting on religion, and intractability of those premises for discussion.

    I’ll post a link to Fish later.

    —Santi

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