Path of Service and Mastery: Spiritual Dominance and Submission

In this day and age, and especially in this country that I live in, there is a great deal of ambivalent and conflicted feeling about one human being serving another in a formal and negotiated submissive role. Most of us claim to hate the idea of having our right to do whatever we want trampled upon. We may complain about or even rebel against authority, perhaps even reflexively, simply because it's there. Most service jobs, from housemaid to waiter to social worker, are low-paid and socially devalued. Especially when it comes to personal service jobs, such as the aforementioned waiter or housemaid, we tend to assume that no one could actually enjoy such a job, and everyone in such jobs are merely biding their time until they can get "better" jobs. Those would be the ones where you are on the ordering side of the lunch counter, rather than being on the side where they cook the fries. Actually doing the order-taking is seen as degrading by definition. We encourage this attitude in every new generation, and then we wonder why they are surly to us from behind the counter, forget our ketchup, steal from our houses as they clean the floors, laugh at the idea of community service, and eventually grow up to hire desperate illegal immigrants to do the work that they found so belittling.

Attitudes toward service weren't always this way, historically. While there was plenty about medieval European society that was psychologically unhealthy, they did have a healthier and more practical ideal of service than we do. Service was not limited merely to a class of rich folk who never served others and a class of poor folk who were never served themselves. Since everyone lived as part of a hierarchy, everyone (except the very top and the very bottom) was expected to experience both serving and being served. If the Duke came to visit the earl, the earl or his son might serve the Duke supper with his own hands, to show him honor. The Duke himself might have served the King a week ago, and so on up and down the chain. Beyond this, there were clerics and monastics who -- ideally, anyway -- served God, often by serving the people, for spiritual reasons.

While a medieval hierarchy is impractical in today's modern and complicated social world, we modern Americans could certainly use some reeducation in the value of service, whether towards people who are paying you, people who have no money and need aid, or one specific person. To put oneself -- even temporarily -- in a selfless position for the sake of making others happier and more comfortable has always been a worthy goal. For it to be a spiritual goal, however, the rewards have to come not in the form of obligations and favors owed or returned by those you sacrifice for, but in the form of intangibles -- pleasure at making others happy, pride in doing a good job, and/or positive feelings from being part of a larger goal of making even a small part of the world easier rather than harder.

There are many places in society, past and present, where people have willingly given up certain of their rights in order to lead a simplified life of discipline and focused purpose. One of these is the military; another is monastic orders of all sorts, from abbeys to ashrams. In each of these cases, the entire lives of the individuals involved are heavily controlled, up to and including their sexuality, their clothing and hairstyles, the possessions that they are allowed to own, and their daily work. If no one was ever drawn to a path of willingly giving up certain freedoms in exchange for a greater reward in the end, no one would ever join these organizations.

Still, the questions arise...why are some people drawn to a much more intense and personal form of service? Why choose to serve a single, flawed human being rather than serving humanity impersonally, or -- for the more religously inclined -- serving Deity directly, with no human middleman? That's the question that makes many critics of spiritual D/s turn up their noses. Surely the world would be a better place, the voice points out, if you dedicated yourself to feeding the hungry instead of slavishly cooking dinner for one individual?

Reverence for and obedience to deity in whatever form you see it is generally part of the religious experience, but some people need a more concrete representation. Perhaps the voice of deity is indistiguishable from their own internal monologue. Perhaps they need someone more watchful and present in their lives to guide them, and give them head-pats and ass-kicking when necesarry. Perhaps they need structure and discipline, and they need it in a personal one-on-one way rather than from an impersonal group. Perhaps their religion doesn't have a monastic order, they are not fit for the military, and they don't wish to join a cult. Perhaps they are highly sexual and want that incorporated into their gift of service, which is more safely done with a partner than doing the sacred prostitute archetype in this society.

Doing a life of simplicity and spiritual discipline can involve a certain amount of depersonalizing the self, which some people do better than others. Those who are prone to doing it badly, or shallowly, only on a surface level, may do better with the constant scrutiny of a one-on-one D/s relationship, where they are not allowed to get away with superficial submission. Those for whom it is important to retain some measure of their uniqueness might find impersonal service a hard road; with a D/s relationship you may be an object, but at least you are (or ought to be) an individual and valued object. Or it may be that annihilation of the individual self is just not their job this time around, and they need stimulation, people, and personal love. Whatever the reasons, some people simply find personal service to one human being more valuable to their own spiritual growth than any amount of abstract impersonal love.

"Only if one leaves aside ambition -- the quest for status, position, and power -- can one be free to seek the will of another, to seek to walk in the way of obedience." -M. Basil Pennington, OCSO

Character and Choices

When people practice dominance and submission in a BDSM context, they might be doing it for any number of reasons -- because it turns them on, because it's fun to be helpless in a completely safe space, because it's fun to be in charge, because it's a way to build trust (in each other and in general). However, if people feel a strong need to bring a spiritual slant into it, it's generally because this resonates with their core personality on a deep level, and they want to use and honor that. Many modern individuals, and especially many Pagans (some of whom may be veterans of the feminist, or civil rights, or peace movements) may also be uncomfortable with the idea that some people might have dominance or submission not just as a fun persona, or a personality trait, but as a core part of their being. This seems to fly in the face of all the equal rights that we have fought for. If some people would rather just be submissive for serious stretches of their life, what does that say about our ideals of equality? Beyond that, what does it say about consent, and how one's being can affect the ability to consent?

The issue, of course, is that one has to be able to say No in order for one's Yes to be worth something. The sacrifice of giving up certain of one's rights for a greater goal is no sacrifice if you were never allowed those rights in the first place. Similarly, no submissive can truly know that they are saying Yes to something unless they know that they are capable of saying No.

What it comes down to is that the prize that our foreparents fought for was our ability to choose our paths, and to give up those things that we choose to release. After all, any life path comes with sacrifices and things we'll never be; we can only live one life at a time. When someone chooses to be submissive to someone else, and to turn over their choices and decisions to that person, it's a choice that their inital freedom allows them to make...and in most cases, if it all goes wrong, they can unchoose it and walk away. Similarly, someone who chooses to accept the responsibility of running someone else's life for them has to be able to unchoose that if it turns out to be too much, or unsuitable for other reasons.

What about the other side? If the submissive has the problem of being seen as codependent, the dominant has even more monstrous stereotypes to live down. All too often, the focus seems to be around the mental health and safety of the vulnerable submissive, with little attention paid to the mental health and ideal path of the dominant. In BDSM pornography, dominants are all too often seen as two-dimensional sinister characters, often with motivations that are either entirely concealed or clearly sociopathic. Even in erotica that extols the ideal of pure service for its own sake, the dominants are often made out to be merely a necessary prop for the bottom to serve. While this role can serve certain useful psychological purposes -- for example, if you have an innate desire to control someone that just won't seem to go away no matter what you do, a willing submissive can feed and honor that part of you. However, this kind of shallow role is not enough to build a spiritual path upon.

To take on the role of dominant in a sacred manner is to practice a role of honorable authority. In this society, we often have a love-hate relationship with authority. We fear it and resent it when it limits us, yet we call upon it in need, and resent it again for not being authoritarian enough when it does not set the limits on others that we desire. We have all been raised with the idea that "power corrupts, and total power corrupts totally". Using dominance as a spiritual discipline gives the lie to this old myth. (If it were true, only powerless people would be good people, and that would be a terrible thing.) To take on this path is to make a commitment to being an authority in the world -- if only over one willing person -- in a way that explores what it is to be ethical, honorable, and responsive in the power that you wield. It requires that you question and perhaps rework your preconceptions of the nature of leadership and authority. It requires that you make decisions thoughtfully and not blindly, and that you delve into yourself to find the unconscious triggers that can trick you into doing things for the wrong reasons. To be a spiritual dominant is to do a great deal of soul-searching, and a great deal of scrutinizing models (both real and mythical) for the subtle directions in how to do this right.

Most D/s relationships are short-lived, in the sense that they are confined within the boundaries of a single scene, which may be no more than a few hours. For some people, even the act of giving up control over a few aspects of their life for a couple of hours is a huge act of trust. There's nothing wrong with this; dominance and submission is a ritual psychodrama tool like any other, and it can be taken up and left behind like any other tool when its usefulness is ended. And it must be said that for a non-submissive person, submitting and trusting another flawed human being for a couple of hours can be as difficult -- and as rewarding -- as a lifetime slave commitment from a more naturally submissive individual. Similarly, a couple of hours of wielding responsibility by someone who is not a dominant can be as nerve-wracking -- and as educational and confidence-building -- as the dom who must take responsibility for another adult human every day.

To approach dominance and submission as a spiritual path is to approach it very consciously and attentively, without guilt or shame. It becomes a tool, and the only sacrilege is to use it wrongly. I'd define "wrongly" as doing it in any way that leaves shame and guilt, that discourages self-knowledge and mindfulness, that encourages self-destructive behavior, or forces the participants into molds that are not authentic to their core selves. Doing it "rightly", however, that's a little more complicated. Ideally, it should be designed so that it brings one or both or all or the participants a little closer to exploring their souls, their place in the cosmos, and their relationship to the Divine Will. That takes a lot of honesty, creativity, and the willingness to be introspective and to challenge yourself.

What are the criteria for a spiritually-focused D/s relationship? First of all, both people have to be strongly dedicated to their spiritual path, and they have to be willing to use the D/s relationship to improve themselves as human beings. Although it can be done with two people whose spiritual practices are different, that will require a lot of negotiation on both their parts, and the top must take care not to interfere with the bottom's practices, or attempt to pressure them into converting. Each should not only respect but appreciate the other's path, and be willing to understand it in depth even if they don't choose to practice it, or they will not be able to aid and assist one another properly. This dynamic does seem to work best when both top and bottom are following the same religious practice, however, as there is a stronger understanding between them of what to strive for. It is also important that both top and bottom have similar ideas about the spiritual responsibilities of their respective positions, and how those work together.

Second, this has to done mainly for reasons other than sexual ones. While sexuality is a sacred thing, if it's about nothing but your hard-on, by definition it does not have a spiritual component to it. While a D/s relationship might start out with solely sexual motivations, one needs to be open to bringing it beyond that. If, in the course of things, you discover that the relationship has gone into a spiritual region, this needs to be accepted and honored. Once this happens, the relationship is no longer casual, regardless of structure. It can, however, be anonymous and impersonal; the people involved might have a stronger connection to their roles and/or archetypes than to each other per se.

By framing the relationship in a spiritual way, you are creating something more powerful than your hard-on. For example, if Joe falls for Mistress X, and suddenly finds in himself the urge to worship her as a form of the goddess, even if the sexual attraction goes away, the spiritual component of the relationship does not. As Pagans, we are here to live our spirituality, not just to think of it as a nice thing. It can happen independently of our wayward feelings, and we need to understand and respect that.

Two people in a spiritual D/s relationship have some basic responsibilities to each other. When this is a bond between two individuals and not just to roles and archetypes, it is a serious commitment -- not necessarily till death do us part, but at least until it has run its course. This is not something that you walk away from until it has given you all that it can give, and you have given to it all that you can give. You can't just pick up and drop it at will. It needs to be treated like the sacred tool that it is, although that does not rule out a breakup when the dynamic is clearly no longer useful to either party.

The Conundrum of Consensual Slavery

"It's impossible to be a slave, because slavery isn't legal." That's one of the comebacks that my slave and I get when we speak up about our unusual relationship style, and it's usually said in a rather smug tone of voice. It's literally true, in the sense that I have no legal way to force Joshua to obey any order of mine. It's also utterly irrelevant, as the binding agent between us is not the law of the Land, but of the Gods.

I've put it this way: if you are strongly religious, and you get married in front of your Gods and your priest/ess and your spiritual community, you don't then hold to those vows because you happen to have a certificate that says that the state considers you married. You do it because you made that commitment in front of the Powers That Be, and you know that They heard your promise. You'd do it even if you couldn't get legally married for whatever reason. That's the spirit in which Joshua and I signed a contract of formal full-time dominance and submission. He submits to me because he agreed to, in front of witnesses both incarnated and otherwise.

Another response, which is more complicated to refute, is the worry that being in a position of dominance and of submission for more than short recreational periods of time is psychologically bad for people. After all, centuries of political work have been spent making sure that no one is socially required to be completely subservient to anyone else outside of childhood, prison and the military, or to submit simply because they were born into a certain race, class, or gender. This is important work, and it flies in the face of many places in the world where slavery is quite legal and large portions of the population are lawfully forced to be subservient to other portions. The idea that someone would willingly give up the rights that have been fought for and won, or that someone else would knowingly and thoughtfully aid and abet them in doing so, might seem to be a product of delusion or sociopathy to confused onlookers. To want to be a slave can seem crazy, and to enjoy being one can seem brainwashed, and to want to own one somehow evil, or at least terribly selfish.

It needs to be said that there is a continuum of D/s: never doing it, doing it once in a while, doing it part-time with many limits, doing it full-time with limits, doing it full-time with few or no limits, and various points in between. The far end is not a "goal"; being a full-time slave-and-master pair is not the "best" or most "desirable" form of D/s, any more than being a nun is the best and most desirable form of Catholicism, and the one to which all Catholics should rightly aspire. All points on that continuum are right and correct, if they are authentic to the people involved. The presence of someone whose power dynamic is more severe than yours is neither an affront nor a reproach. It is simply someone with different needs from your own.

In opposition to the idea that full-time submission is unhealthy or politically incorrect, the other problematic attitude is that of idealizing it, usually in a sexually fetishistic way. "If only I could find the right slave/Master/Mistress," the inner voice sighs, "then my whole life would be one long sexual fantasy." Many of these types are horrified by the presence of people with nonsexual D/s relationships; why do this if not to assuage your deep sexual needs? The reality of the situation is that a full-time D/s relationship is just that....the dynamic stands even through the 99% of the day or week or month where you're not having any kind of sex, or even exchanging sexual tension.

If the heat for the full-time D/s relationship comes from sexual energy, it will burn out in short order. No hard-on or wet-on is so strong that it will sustain you through the periods of unsexy hard work. If your primary attraction to the idea of being in a master-slave relationship is that it is sexy, don't do it full-time. Do it for short periods of time, say a weekend, and don't try to fool yourselves that you could make that spark and heat pull through month after month, year after year. Doing it for love, especially on the bottom's part, doesn't work either; nor does the motivation of running away from the real world.

Who are the sort of people who are right for such a thing? The bottom has to be extremely service-oriented, the sort of person who might under other circumstances be attracted to a monastery or abbey, or the military, or a career as a full-time professional caretaker or some such thing. Service, in and of itself, has to be an extreme psychological and hopefully spiritual reward for them, regardless of their sexuality. They have to be enthusiastic about serving the top even if s/he ends up in a wheelchair and can no longer act all dominant at them. If they can't feel like a slave when the top isn't being explicitly dominant, then they aren't really a slave and they should quit. The power dynamic should be implicit, not necessarily explicit most of the time.

For the top...well, that's a trickier thing. I am continually disappointed by the mainstream BDSM ideal of the two-dimensional top who is always distant, hard, and in control. Being a cartoon top is psychologically depriving, and bottoms who expect that of tops shouldn't be in 24/7 relationships. You have to be a human being, and be able to cry, or break down, or get sick, or screw up and apologize. What makes a good top for a 24/7 situation? Honesty, self-confidence, extreme trustworthiness. a strong moral code that emphasizes taking responsibility for your life and that of your dependents, the ability to listen to and observe them, the ability to set an example. I use the ideal of "noblesse oblige", the idea that if I'm really the superior person here, I have an obligation to behave well. Having a slave is not an excuse to be a selfish asshole. It's the opposite. This person is giving their life to you; you had better be worthy of the gift.

In a spiritual full-time BDSM relationship, the slave or servant (they are different things; a slave is owned and a servant is not) should be asking themselves, "How can I perfect this discipline of service so that it improves me, not diminishes me, as a person, and serves the Divine Will through serving this one person?" The master should be deeply involved in helping them constantly work toward this goal. In fact, it's part of the master's responsibility to be asking critical questions like, "Does the work that I am giving this servant make good use of their abilities, or does it waste their talents and force them into work they are not well suited for? Does this work help them to become more polished in their service? Is this work set into a context that makes it easier for them to work this as a spiritual discipline? Am I respectful of their spirituality, or do I shove it aside when it inconveniences me?"

The master should also be asking themselves, "Now that I have the privilege of this person's service, what greater work am I freed up to do that serves the Divine Power, and ideally the world? How can I use the discipline of ethical mastery to improve myself as a person, rather than merely letting it make me lazier? At the end of the day, what have I done to make my slave believe that they are better off serving me than channeling those energies elsewhere?" At the same time, the slave's responsibility is to always be thinking, "What practical things can I do that really make my master's life easier, and free them up to do more valuable work, rather than just doing those services that make me feel particularly sexy or slavey?" It's a conscious collusion between both people involved.

Ideally, of course, the top should have a strong relationship with some Power or at least a spiritual code that keeps them ethically in check; they should understand that if there is a hierarchy here, they are not at the top of it. The Powers That Be have that place, and the top serves Them as the bottom serves the top. It's also good for the top to have something in their lives that keeps them humble, because in a relationship like this, they often end up as the bottom's spiritual mentor, which is always a tricky position between people who are sexually involved with each other.

Does this sound like a lot of work, and not terribly sexy? Yeah, it does, and it is. When we wrote our master-and-slave contract, we had a very hard time finding any realistic models. There were plenty of contracts around, but they were all very fetishy in nature, with long lists of the sexual activites that the slave in question would provide (including directions in how to sit and stand and what sort of clothing items would or would not be worn), and lists of what sort of torture the dominant would inflict on them. Frankly, it looked more like these contracts were written as titillation for the parties involved, rather than as a thoughtful and practical guide to how to do this on a day-to-day basis.

We both felt that this was utterly beside the point of what we were trying to do, and we finally ended up writing our own over a period of months. It seemed to me that listing any specific activities that we would or would not do was irrelevant. After all, I might change my mind as to what sort of activities that I wanted, or make up new ones. If I was really the one in charge, then I could ask for -- and get -- anything I wanted within the limits that we set out. It seemed more sensible to draw up the limits, and figure that the activities would take care of themselves. That's how we ended up with a slave contract with no mention of whips, chains, fetish gear, collars, or kinky sex in general.

In my contract with Joshua, there are a lot of things that I could probably live without, although I wouldn't like it, and still feel as if this power dynamic was real and not just a fantasy game. There's one item, however, that for me at least is the absolute deal-breaking clincher: that he has no right to privacy from me. Everything that he thinks, or knows, or hears, is mine to have at my demand. He can neither lie to me nor hide anything from me; if I say, "Is there anything you've been thinking that you hope you won't have to tell me?" he has to speak up fully and truthfully. This also means that if someone says, "This is just between you and me, but..." he has to stop them, and explain that if they don't want me to hear it too, they shouldn't go telling him.

Somehow, access to as much of Joshua's mind as I could get seemed more important than anything else in really feeling like I owned him. To completely take his body, I would have to get hold of his mind first. A short time later, I read the accounts of other D/s relationships that seemed to be real and not just fetish-oriented, and noticed that so many stressed the importance of constant truthful communication about how the slave is doing. At that point, I realized that my instincts had been right: in order to create the proper context for the slave to best do their thing, the master must have full access to their ongoing thoughts and reactions. My ability to do my job depended on my ability to raid the inside of his head for information.

It was also important to both of us to use a discipline of radical honesty as part of our communication efforts. Part of this was being able to hear hard things from each other. I'm always made terribly uncomfortable by rules for full-time slaves that never allow the slave to point out that the master is wrong, and that they must always phrase things to suggest that they truly believe that the master never makes a mistake and is always right. To me, this says that the slave is coddling the master's fragile ego; that their mastery would be irreparably damaged, and their response correspondingly irrational, if the slave was allowed to point out an error. While I can see the value in the slave avoiding being disrespectful, as a matter of discipline and mindfulness, I'm not that fragile. If I'm a real dominant, I can hear my submissive respectfully criticize me, or point out a perceived error in my thinking, without feeling crushed or acting like a spurned teenager.

(For dynamics with a great deal of distance and no emotional intimacy, refraining from criticism can be appropriate, because it is not part of the submissive's negotiated job to do so. One example, of course, is the Master/Apprentice archetype; the apprentice is generally expected to keep their mouth shut and not criticize the master, whose knowledge they ought to respect, or they wouldn't be studying under them in the first place.)

There's also that if you don't respect any of this person's opinions or perspectives on anything, are they really the sort of individual that you'd want to be spending so much of your time with? As the person who is closest to the master's most intimate functions on a day-to-day level, the servant often has a perspective that can be valuable, and anyway if they're that close to you they'll probably already notice every single time you screw up anyway. So don't go trying to hide your lack of omniscience and omnipotence from them. Instead, use them to help you be better at it in the rest of the world. If I'm walking out the door with my zipper down (physically or metaphorically), and my submissive gently points it out, rather than being nettled that he allowed me to know that he had noticed that I was imperfect, I figure that it's his job to help me hide that imperfection from less loyal eyes, and he's only doing what I have charged him to do.

Part of our discipline is mindfulness. While we don't always get it right, the ideal is that we are aware of and scrutinize everything that we do. If Joshua is doing something, I have the right to demand that he tell me what he is doing, and why he thinks it's a good idea. I also have the right to veto his action, but as part of our discipline of mindfulness, it's a better thing if I simply challenge him to rethink his idea, with the addition of any information provided by my perspective. If he holds to his idea, I disagree, and I veto him, he is required to do as I ask. Then, if it turns out to be a bad idea, it's on me...and while I have the right to tell him to shut up and not point it out to me, it's better for my personal evolution for him to respectfully ask that we rethink my perspective. On the other hand, if I am doing something and he challenges me on it, I have the right to tell him that it is none of his concern....but as soon as I do that, I am then honor-bound to make sure that my ideas are really well thought through and sound. As a master, although I have the right to leave him entirely out of my decision, I have the responsibility to make that decision with extra care and thought, since he is being forced to trust me entirely.

It's painfully true that a willing submissive can be made into a yes-man, but that's the worst possible thing for a dominant's evolution. Although it may be their job to make you more physically and emotionally comfortable, it's not their job to make you too spiritually comfortable. Nobody should ever be too spiritually comfortable, because it signifies stagnation and a lack of growth. If you're the dom, it's on you to force yourself not to give in to the temptation of spiritual laziness while you're being pampered by the presence of your submissive.

Part of a dominant's discipline should be a strict code of honor. While there is leeway in creating your code of honor, it should be scrutinized carefully to make sure that it is designed to force you to be ethical to those around you, not to protect your pride from the pain of having to question your motives. Your submissive should be able to trust you with their life, their body, their soul, and their sanity, and know that you treat them with their well-being in mind, even if while you ask them to sacrifice some amount of comfort and convenience for you. Thought should be given to what will happen if some external damage renders you unable to treat them safely and ethically. If they are a bound, committed slave, thought should also be given to what will happen to them if you should die.

The word "master" (and here I include it as a gender-neutral term) is also a verb. To "master" someone or something is far more than just being able to control them; it is being able to bring them to the highest possible expression that they are capable of. "Mastering" a slave may start out like "mastering" a wild horse, but the spiritual expression of that mastery should be more like "mastering" the violin, which is a process that takes years of work and patience, and learning to work with the instrument rather than merely attempting to violently coerce it.

As the master becomes like the maestro, so the slave becomes the instrument to be played. In doing so, they strip away the trappings of their lives and selves that are distractions to the focused life, and discover what lies nakedly underneath. It is a lifetime commitment to service and self-knowledge, and that can seem overly absolute and irrevocable to many in our freedom-loving, uncommitted culture. For most consensual slaves, however, the finality and permanence of a commitment to the right master and the right situation is a comfort rather than a chafing chain; just as some people go straight into a monastery or ashram and never come out again. There is a great deal of spiritual comfort in knowing exactly what it is that you are supposed to do with your life, and simply getting on with the doing of it.

As a final word on the spirituality of being a bound slave, I will quote some words that my own slave found inspiring. The famous monastic Thomas Merton, when asked to write a message from the contemplative's perspective to the "man of the world", began with the following:

"Let us suppose the message of a so-called contemplative to a so-called man of the world to be something like this:

My dear Brother, first of all, I apologize for addressing you when you have not addressed me and have not really asked me anything. And I apologize for being behind a high wall which you do not understand. The high wall is to you a problem, and perhaps it is also a problem to me. Perhaps you ask me why I stay behind it, out of obedience? Perhaps you are no longer satisfied with the reply that if I stay behind this wall I have quiet, recollection, tranquility of heart. It is true that when I came to this monastery where I am, I came in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation, that I could not remember who I was. But the fact remains that my flight from the world is not a reproach to you who remain in the world, and I have no right to repudiate the world in a purely negative fashion, because if I do that, my flight will have taken me not to truth and to God, but to a private, though doubtless pious, illusion."