Monkey vs. Cat Religions


When a theist asks me “Do you believe in God“, I could simply reply “No“, but that answer would be dishonest for three reasons — all dependent on my understanding of the human mind. The 3rd reason is explored in this post.

First Reason: “You”

Concerning the word “you“:  In my philosophy of mind “you” is problematic.  I see the mind as a fluxing of many different non-permanent selves.  I think that any given time, the self we perceive ourselves to be is simply a temporary, functional awareness of only a few of the unconscious operating parts of our brain.1

Second Reason:  “Believe”

Concerning the word “believe“:  I think each of us can hold multiple contradictory beliefs simultaneously.  And in my case, sure, at least one of my many selves believes in a god.2 Yeah, yeah, I am an atheist, but … see how difficult these conversations can get when you hold a view of mind like mine !

Third Reason: “God”

Concerning the word “God“:  So though parts of me may believe in a god, the interrogator may have a very different intuitive feeling  for “god” than I do.  In the remainder of the post I describe an unusual way I sometimes view “god” which is probably very different than the “God” intended by questions from most Christians, Jews, Muslims etc.  And since my meaning significantly different from theirs, if I answer “Yes, I believe in God“, it misleads the listener to think that I fully believe in the kind of god they believe in. Instead, my god is a kind of Monkey God.

Monkey vs. Cat Gods

When Western theists ask about “God”, they are usually referring to an all-powerful, intervening, all-knowing, personal, all-loving and yet historically easily-angered, jealous and dangerous god.  This story illustrates a different notion of the divine.

Just as in Christianity, there are many different denominations of Hinduism with each believing very different theologies.    One Hindu analogy to illustrate their different theologies is Monkey vs. Cat Religions.3 During my two years in India and Pakistan I heard this explanation several times when debating religion with Sadhus ! 3

cat_carries_kittyHave you ever seen a baby cat carried by its mother?  What does the kitten do? The kitten does nothing — it just submissively hangs there in surrender while the mother carries it all around.  Thus in cat religions, the believer is dependent upon the god for salvation and for grace.  One only need to surrender and the mother (the god) protects and saves the baby.  There are two main Hindu sects: Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu) and Shaivism (worship of Shiva).  The Vaishnavite embrace a Cat God — Vishnu whom the hope their faith, adoration and surrender to secures them a good life and salvation.  Sound familiar?

monkey_on_momOn the other hand, imagine how a mother monkey carries her baby — she doesn’t!  The mother monkey actually barely pays attention to the baby monkey. The baby monkey must hold on for dear life.  Thus in monkey religions, salvation is made by the effort of the believer.  The god (here the monkey) is available for sustenance while not even being aware of the believer — this god is not personal and has no people-like traits of knowing, loving, hating, desiring or even acting.  Here god is seen as a source of strength and love but a source that only is available by participation of the individual.

In Christianity, this sounds like the old  works vs. grace debate.  And even in Hinduism, sometimes it boils down to that. ( Wow, surprise, the human mind, be it a Hindu’s or Christian’s wrestles with the same dichotomies ! ) But some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism have a model of the “divine” as I just described where the word “grace” does not even make sense — for grace must be supplied by a person-like entity.  And in the Monkey Religions I am discussing, there is no active role of the Divine — the divine is only sustenance, it is not a caring, intervening, all-knowing, person-like being.  Yet the believers in this “Monkey God” appear as “spiritual” as the “Cat God” folks, but in their heads, they are doing very different things than the Christian theist.5

I hope that has broadened a few reader’s understanding of both the mind and models of divinity.  This self talking to you now (“me”) does not think in terms of divinity at all, but inside me, I know that sort of thinking is there.  Heck, I hate to be totally honest on this atheist site, but inside me, I am sure there are even faint beliefs in an intervening, all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing god.  It is just that I know my Monkey God is much louder !  Smile.

1.  See my post on “Many Selves, No Self” for more details on my philosophy of mind.

2. See my post on Your Inner Theist to see how an Theist mind can exists inside an Atheist.

3. If you care for references, see Singing the Body of God by Steven Hopkins or Origin and Evolution of Religion by E. Washburn Hopkins.

4. Sadhu: A Hindu ascetic holy man.

5. This concept has elements related to panentheism.


Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion

37 responses to “Monkey vs. Cat Religions

  1. What a GREAT FREAKING POST, I love it. Never heard the cat and monkey aspect before, but man, does it sure resonate in my spirit. As far as you being an atheist, I somehow doubt it. From my limited perspective I would assess you as an Anti-Theist. But what the Hell do I know.

  2. Wow, glad you liked it. Thank you. A lot of me is in that post and when I saw no responses today I thought, “great Krishna !”, most of my readers must be very committed to viewing themselves as solid rational animals. Almost like they left one god for another.

    But then, maybe it was simply that no one read it ! (smile)

    Hmmm, not sure I know the technical difference between A-Theist and Anti-Theist (actually, the second sounds stronger and more negative). How about Non-Theist? Whatever I am, it contains very little theism — but as I wrote, I am sure there is some in there ! (smile)

    Oh well, when you have my sort of view on Self, there probably aren’t a lot of terms that apply easily. And my view of self is central to my philosophy. Another central aspect of my philosophy is “ignorance” — for we are truly all ignorant. And finally, the notion of EN is inspiring to me at all times !

  3. When I respond to the question do you believe in God, I obviously am not just answering the question regarding a Christian God…and I’m not answering regarding a Jewish God either. I answer it considering all Gods, deities, divinities, and supernatural beings. And my answer is no.
    I back up the answer with “there is no evidence.”
    I’m an atheist.

  4. Atheist Jew–
    I can’t tell if you read my post.
    The Monkey god makes no claims and thus needs no evidence. Rather vacuous, in some senses. Besides, I am also discussing methods of conversation. It would be fun if you addressed those aspects of my post.

  5. I back up the answer with “there is no evidence.”
    I’m an atheist.(Atheist Jew)

    Ok, here we go. There is a starting point to creation as we see it. That supposes a creative force or if you wish to change that term it could be called G-d as that starting point. The evidence needed is the Universe as we see it, if you dont think so then tell me how it all got here.

  6. @ T4T: The problem with calling the original cause “God” is that the word us already taken and comes with all that other baggage that original causes don’t need. I can understand redefining “God” to be innocuous so that you can stay in the club — I DO understand the value of sacrificing rationality. But if you are not doing that, why not call your original cause “OC” instead of pretending more with your pseudo-Hebrew symbol: “g-d” — my guess is that you DO want to sneak in other notions. Otherwise, why would you and your daughter pray to such an original cause to give you better day or hear your praises. Of all the original causes I know (albeit of limited phenomena), none have needed adoration or heed requests.

    And also, OC may not be needed at all. Our understanding about causality, time and reality may be so flawed that original cause may be unnecessary — but that hurts too much to think of for a bug like me. Some physicists actually do hold this stance.


  7. kvpx

    Have you read anything by philosopher Owen Flanagan? I’m currently reading The Problem of the Soul. Good stuff on personal identity, free will, and human flourishing from the perspective of a philosophical naturalist who also practices Buddhism. Provides a model of the self that discards permanent, unchangeable view of self while still retaining an element of personal identity across time. I think you can also find some related material at

    I like the cat/monkey analogy. But for an atheist, talk of the monkey god can be a metaphor at best, since it still uses terms like ‘god’ and ‘salvation’. Or am I missing the point?

  8. Sabio

    Great ideas, let me try to explain my position a little better. I like your monkey g-d idea that you posted so I will base some of my view from there.
    I use the G-d symbol as I like the idea of mystery, and I read somewhere that when used in this fashion it acknowledges the fact that we cant know it completely. My spirit relates to this so I use it. I think all the concepts I use to be completely rational and logical, whether you agree with that is a different bird lol. I think prayer is like meditation and is about us relating to our outward world better. Using a term that connotes creator in my mind just enhances that. I believe that whatever created us actually allowed for these propensities which aid in our existence. If I use the Monkey analogy its like the baby monkey finding ways to hang on to the mother. Some work better than others. Maybe prayer is just a better handgrip.😉

    Oh by the way the prayers arent for adoration they are for gratitude, at least that is how we view them. Not sure why you have to view them otherwise.

  9. @kvpx: Wow, thank you kindly. I put them on my Amazon list. I have 8 books taxing for landing on my nightstand, but I will get one of his after I get 4 of those unboarded ! You are correct, I use “god” and “salvation” in that story as pure metaphor, of course, you got the point EXACTLY ! Very good. Great suggestion — I am excited.

  10. @ t-tf-rt-t (wow, you’re right, that makes you a lot more mysterious ! smile):

    I’d guess that we are in about 98% emotional agreement and 89% conceptual agreement. Doesn’t that make me sound analytic ! But these percentages could be closer, after some exploring (not that it matters, but it is interesting !)

    I guess if a child’s mind was been hypnotized by common notions of “God”, then using compromised version of it may be very useful and sly. My kids never got that, so we don’t feel tempted to use it. I am all for mind tools, no matter what the literal truth import, so we have no differences here — we are both pragmatists, it seems.

    But here we differ. I would never say “Whatever created us…” yet alone add on “…actually ALLOWED”. Way too much intentionality implied which means personhood and control in a creator — very anthropocentric ! So I have some questions for you:

    1) Do you think some model of mechanical evolution with unintelligent processes is responsible for all life?

    2) Do you believe your ‘creator’ futzed with evolutionary mechanism it to bring human mentality into it. Or like I , you feel the same mechanism that made a mindless amoeba made humans, viruses, rats and jelly fish.

    3) Why did your creator not allow mentalities like we have in other creatures or let us have the smell of dogs or flight of birds ….

    I am sure you see where I am going. You sound like you really want a creator, intervening, human-centric deity.

    G-d, thank you for this day,
    bless our mothers and fathers
    and help us have another wonderful day tomorrow.

    That is from your blog. Do you feel such prayers are asking a creator who allowed us minds will actually interfere with reality and increase the probability that you and your daughter have a better day tomorrow.

    I am guessing you don’t believe any of it. But it seems a huge part of you (subconscious and unadmitted) must believe it or you would not use the language you do. And that is fine, of course. But just to get notions out there.

    Now, to complicate things further:

    In my family we say “Onegaishimasu” before a journey. It is very superstitious. The word means “Please do me this honorable favor”. I explain to kids that it means, “I remind the various parts of my mind to take care on this trip to be careful and be happy. I am thankful for the home I am leaving and look forward to returning.”

    But wow, it sounds very close to theist slop ! Doesn’t it? But it isn’t — or is it? See ! What a hypocrite I am. OR, maybe I know the mind is superstitious and instead of suppressing it, I use this Aikido maneuver to steal its energy and direct it in positive creative directions.

    That may be what you do too but you embrace more obviously theist terminology and theist echoes — maybe. Eh?

  11. Sabio

    I will try to answer most of your questions. As far as hypnotizing my daughters mind about G-d, We never went to church when she was really young and only briefly tried it when she was older, though we dont go anymore(too much brainwashing)😉
    We discuss what may have started this process all the time. Some of her answers are quite interesting. She makes it clear the bible is not believable. Pretty aware kid actually. On to the questions

    1. I think all of life is based from some kind of intelligence. I believe it perfectly logical and rational to suppose this. Seems to me all the parts fit, regardless if we know how to do it.

    2. No “futzing”, the more we learn about the Universe the more we understand how the parts fit. Quarks, black holes, Sun spots, Neurons, blood cells. They all seem to have some kind of specific purpose(wouldnt you agree)?

    3. Who knows? I guess if I could tell you that I would know why my buddy likes big titties and I like little ones. Diversity seems to help with the design(wouldnt you agree)?

    I agree with you about the language of our prayer. To the outside eye it can be viewed as us asking a G-d to make our day better. Sometimes the words we use just help with the ritual and are not meant to be taken literally. The prayer is to focus on gratitude, and seeing as we didnt start this off we try to put that focus elsewhere. As I see the design, I see that gratitude seems to make it function better. Focusing on certain behaviours and attitudes actually help the whole system function better. From an evolutionary standpoint this is good(wouldnt you agree)?

    I have no clue what started this process or why the heck it is even happening. But I do believe it is completely rational and logical to suppose there is some form of intelligence behind it. Afterall, the complexity of life just reeks of intelligence. Even the areas we saw as completely random in the past, we now know how and why it does what it does. As we untangle more of the Universe and its design we will understand this for other areas too. But alas it seems that part of this design means we are always arriving, never arrived.🙂

  12. dreadpiratescetis

    If I had to be choosing, I think the monkey god be more inline with my choosing. Yet I didn’t chose. I be a human and thar be my moorings. I am given a community, a family, and I am influenced and pulled by things both seen and unseen. Things I can understand and reason out and other things that I simply can’t.

    I believe the full-moon effects us in ways we will never be able to measure. Same be with God. So in short, I reject both cat and monkey god because the God I know does both and more.

  13. @ Pirate
    Are you saying that circumstance gave you your opinion of your cat God and that those who were born into circumstances that gave them their of their monkey God are, like you, limited in their perspective of God but no less than you?

  14. dreadpiratescetis

    What I be saying is that in my view those two options don’t work. I could be thinking I be holding onto God so tight yet when I finally let go I find that I be being carried by the cat god. Yet I may think I be being carried and yet I be riding loosely on the monkey god, unaware that I be holding on the whole time.

    That be the funny thing with God and faith and such in my mind. It be both at the same time.

  15. @ Pirate
    You are doing a wonderful job at not communicating to me

  16. dreadpiratescetis

    I do not see how ye can miss spy’n me meaning. What I be trying to chart a course for would be the part that “we all be limited in our perspective of God.” Then I be explaining how.

  17. The Agnotheist

    Very interesting post.

    What about the “human god” & Human religion ?

    A mixture of Cat & Monkey

    Human babies depend on their Mothers for sustinance – pretty much like the Cat.
    They are also required to participate – suck breasts, cling on somewhat, not quite active like the baby monkey – but not as passive as the Cat.

    So both maybe the case – need “works” & “Grace” – one without the other would turn the religion/system/metaphysic into obsurdity.

    As for an agnotheist – this is different to agnostic. If there was a God it would be utterly unknowable – so…I have “no knowledge of god”

    please dont ask how I know I have no knowledge of God.
    Perhaps I dont know, how I know that I have no knowledge of God.


  18. @ Andrew

    Fun analogy. But when you look at theologies, they usually lean one way or the other. Few people are good at holding these in balance. But fun analogy.

  19. The Agnotheist


    Judaism actually “enforces” or claims both the “grace” & “works” as true.

    Mainstream Christianity rejected this in favour of grace “Jesus died on the cross for you” etc… and Pauls rejection of the “law”
    Judaism also recognized the grace “not by bread alone you shall live” etc and all the blessings done….all day for health,food,drink…even blessing after going to the toilet that “the pipes do their job and dont burst (Im serious) etc.

    Islam somewhat embraces both too – following the laws “robotically” in both Islam and Judaism is seen as lacking – i.e works alone just lead to arrogance of “see what I can do” or “my family done it so do I”

    Anyway – I probably resonate with your explanations in terms of cognitive parts to the personality and perhaps there is a part(s) of our mind that “whats our free lunch” and part(s) that want credit for hard “autonomously done” work – perhaps the executive control of the pre-frontal cortex likes to plan and act on projects whist the limbic systems dopamine reward circuits just likes the pleasure for free regardless of effort or action taken.
    Serious neurocognitive overgeneralizing as all these brain systems are working in combination all the time.

    Then for the atheist this is just neurocognition that has been hijacked by religious doctrines “Jesus died for your sins….accept Gods Grace” or “Do the Works God commanded you”…..(a narrow false dilemma if both are true)
    Then for “positive psychology” both can be cultivated – appreciate what you have with joy now and plan goals for achievements.

    For the religious this would be Gods way to develop our minds so those enclined to free lunch Grace theology get off their butts and those who keep doing works stop being arrogantly pious of their “achievements” in divine service….


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  22. The baby monkey clinging to the mother-monkey or kitten limp in the mother -cats mouth were metaphors used often by a famous Yogi to encourage Western yoga devotees to surrender to god when suffering came. (See quote below). I was once a believer in this kind of mother-cat god and I occasionally saw myself (metaphorically) clinging for dear life to the mother-monkey and reminded myself to relax, trust, and surrender to a mother-cat god. It was just a metaphor for the quality of the devotee/god relationship to adopt during suffering, and was NOT worship of an actual mother-cat god. My mother-cat-like god never saved me, now that I look back, but surrendering to the idea of this mother-cat god provided me with some temporary psychological comfort during temporary suffering or confusion. My spiritual Linus’ blanket.

    Here’s an illustrative quote taken from one of Yogananda’s Sunday lectures titled: “Preparing for Your Next Incarnation”, circa 1940s at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, San Diego, California.

    “The Right Attitude Toward Suffering
    There are two kinds of seekers: those who are like the baby monkey and those who are like the kitten. The baby monkey clings to the mother; but when she jumps, it may fall off. The little kitten is carried about by the mother cat, content wherever she places it. The kitten has complete trust in its mother. I am more like that; I give all responsibility to the Divine Mother. But to maintain that attitude takes great will. Under all circumstances-health or sickness, riches or poverty, sunshine or gray clouds-your feeling must remain unruffled. Even when you are in the coal bin of suffering you don’t wonder why the Mother placed you there. You have faith that She knows best. Sometimes an apparent disaster turns into a blessing for you”.
    excerpt from Journey to Self-Realization – Collected Talks and Essays by Paramahansa Yogananda. Volume 3 (Self-Realization Fellowship)

  23. R Vogel

    This is really awesome and educational! Thanks.

  24. @ Scott,
    Thanx for the quote and verifying one of the things I heard. Did Yoganada ever prescribe the Shaivite Monkey God to folks instead of the Cat Vishnavite god? I think these type of god intuitions are highly related to temperament.

    @ R Vogle,
    Thanx, glad you enjoyed.

  25. nimblewill

    Interesting! I am a Christian that wouldn’t view it either way. Christ in me is the Hope of Glory. If His glory is the way He makes Himself known. Then He will make Himself known in Me. I am a body, a vessel, a cup. I am a carrier of Christ. More like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers Christ. He is in me and I am in Him.

  26. @ nimblewill,
    Do you belong to a Christian denomination or have your own creative theology — there are so many Christian theologies.
    In your Christianity, do you pray to god to help you or don’t you have to because he is in you and it is really just you doing the miracles?
    Do you believe in life after death?
    But bottom line: lots of different version out there. Thanx for sharing yours.

  27. nimblewill

    I would say that my theology is biblical. I go to a Baptist church and have all my life. I will be glad to share scripture if you’d like. I believe that prayer is an attitude mostly. A two way conversation. I do believe that life continues after death. I would say that I am a hopeful Christian universalist.

  28. @nimblewill,
    No, I definitely DON’T want you to share scripture — I am an ex-Christian, I get the whole thing. I just wanted to know what sect you fall into.
    It is funny that ALL Christians (Mormons, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptist and more consider their theology biblical).
    I must say, though, I am glad you are a Christian universalist !

  29. nimblewill

    Yeah, I thought that sense I was going to be biblical I would at least lean on the scripture that taught universal salvation.

  30. Yeah, nimblewill, I’ve read the universal salvation arguments too. But since I am out of the whole Jesus and theist god belief system, I have no need to read it again, any more than to re-read all the theology arguments of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Shintoism (all of which I have previous background in). My curiosity is always anthropological and mental. I only look at theology maps to see the way people play with ideas to support their preferences.

    In fact, here is how I see theology (if you are interested):

  31. nimblewill

    Good read, but I am of the opinion that Jesus came to untangle theological knots. The problem I see, just like you, with all religion, (even Christianity) is that a dualistic approach seems to be the norm. Jesus came to show us that we were at one with our Creator. No dualism. No hoops, No knots.

  32. So, did Buddha come to do the same or Mohammed or Lao Tze or Krishna. I don’t see any untied knots, they must have failed.

  33. nimblewill

    Maybe you are looking for knots?

  34. Nah, nimblewill, I actually use to see everything so much more clearly and simply when I was a believer. Actually, in more than one belief system. It was only with maturity and insight that the complexity of things stood out. The knots became clear.

  35. R Vogel

    I always find it fascinating how when you learn something new, you then start seeing it in other places. I learned of Marcionism recently and have seen it pop up in no less than 3 other blogs since, and today I found this:

    I will take cats and monkeys over cats and dogs any day!

  36. Ah, Vogel, on my post (written 5 years earlier!) you like to their blog, but on their blog, you didn’t link to mine. I’m hurt?
    LOL, yeah, it is funny how we ignore things we don’t understand, but once we are familiar, we see what we otherwise thought we hadn’t seen before.

  37. R Vogel

    An inexcusable oversight. Corrected.

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