The idea of constructing a prison in such a way that one, lone guard has 360 degree observation of the entire population makes all kinds of sense. I’m kind of squeamish about it being only one guard; maybe there could be two or three just in case. But there’s no question that it minimizes the cost of guarding a large population of prisoners. It’s a very efficient idea.
I stumbled across the word panopticon in an article in The Boston Review where it occurred to me that the word can be used as a metaphor, also. The poet being reviewed, John Gallaher, was reflecting on the inability to escape life and the curves it throws you. I came to understand that he was seeing it as comparable to being imprisoned in a setting which was constantly under supervision.
There is a somewhat simplistic theological premise that says that God is constantly watching us, and that nothing escapes His eye. Kind of like Big Brother, when you come to think about it. I’ve never taken time to question that concept specifically, but this is as good a time as any. I suppose you have to begin with the idea that God is a being with vision like an animal … humans not being excluded. That’s not a given … it’s just one of the ways in which the Creator is seen by some believers. The Big Brother depiction of God has never appealed to me; it lends itself to believing one’s self to be in a constantly-supervised relationship, and forces me to ask what happened when a crisis occurred. Did God not care enough to intervene? You can see where that leads, and why it might be a problematic premise upon which to build one’s relationship with God.
Some parents relish the idea, however, and pass it along to their children as a parallel to their own plan to overly-supervise their children, thus inhibiting the development of independence and self-reliance. If Mommy is always watching (I’ve never quite figured out how that works) then I have to succumb to her plans and directions. My own predilections are invalid unless they mimic those of Mommy. I’ll get punished if I wander from her rules and regulations … just like God.
A panopticon-centered existence removes my ability to stretch, create, and grow. It requires me to submit to an outside force which will punish me if I exercise independence. In a prison, I suppose, that makes sense. In a family it is pretty limiting and demeaning. In a relationship with God it is mechanistic and pretty self-defeating.
My method for arriving at a place where I think I know what this God relationship thing is all about is to rely upon the process of elimination. Every now and then I find myself rejecting something I have been taught, or something I have assumed, from my six-plus decades of study at God University. This is one of them. I’m going to leave the concept of panopticon to the architects and engineers who design and build prisons.
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