Monday, July 05, 2010

The Creation of Religion

I was on the water by myself and far from shore. My sailboat had flipped as I leaned into the wind a little too much. Wet with waves hitting me in the face I attempted to grab the keel (now the top of the boat) to flip the sailboat upright again. Yet each time I attempted it the stronger than normal wind would push it back again. I pushed the boat in the opposite direction and pulled and it was as if the gods of wind were playing with me because the wind shifted and threw the mast and sail back into the water again. I am a good swimmer and had a life jacket on but after an hour of attempting to pull the boat upright all I could do was lay on the white underside of the boat and rest while the wind and waves attempted to beat me up. In exhaustion I was forced to believe that there was some kind of malevolent spirit at work in the universe plotting against me.

Imagine the ancients running into the same problems and wondering what was at work in the universe around them that seemed to be nothing but chaos. That chaos then came to have names in various ancient traditions: Set in Egypt, Yamm in Ugantic, Tiamat in Babylonian, Typhon in Greek and even in Jewish and Christian scripture as a Sea Serpent, Rahab and Leviathon.

Life was defined as a struggle to keep the Chaos at bay. The gods of chaos in battle with the gods that keep Chaos under control. So what can you do but "help out" the "good" gods fighting Chaos through sacrifices, worship, and rituals. Keep the good gods happy and you will keep the Chaos gods away.

Aristotle believed the particular gods came to be defined through our dreams. Our dreams had a connection with the divine and so showed us how to order the universe to prevent chaos. Euhemerus believed our gods came from ancient heroes who fought the fight against chaos. Cornutus believed that studying the names and places where the god myths came from would give insight into the gods themselves and why we worship them. They all believed in religion but reasoned that this system of beliefs and rituals came from different places.

Religion was created as system of beliefs and rituals that would keep the arbitrary and capricious nature of, well, NATURE at bay. Nature is a nasty place of death, destruction, kill or be eaten, survival of the strongest or deceptive, and scary place. Religions were created to make sense of the scary void. That is also why most religions will be polytheistic. The more gods you have the easier it is to blame one or more of them for the earthquake that just killed 1000 people. Or you can explain it as a battle between two gods resulting in an earthquake. When there is only one god involved, there is only one you can blame for the seemingly capricious killing of people. Polytheists will never wonder if god is good or not because there are simply good gods and bad gods to blame and credit for everything.

Christianity is monotheistic but believes in chaos, not as a god but as a state of NON-God. A place absent of THE-ONE-God's love and care. The REAL battle in Christianity is not the ONE-God versus some other deity but the ONE-God versus our corrupted nature. The ONE-God seeks to be placed on the throne of our lives and depose our selfish nature and therefore the commands and rituals are about denigrating self in favor of the ONE-God and others.

Commands like: love God first and then love your neighbor; if you are hit on one cheek turn the other for hitting as well; if you are asked for an overcoat give your shirt as well; don't give out of your excess but give sacrificially; whoever is the least will be the greatest; give to get; love first no matter if it is reciprocated, etc.

Christianity is a religion; as system of beliefs, but it is far different than the arbitrary battle of gods resulting in earthquakes and tsunamis. So when I was stranded on the sail boat I didn't wonder of the battle going on causing the chaos, I would ask "what is God trying to teach me here?" It isn't some cosmic battle of god vs. god but it probably is something like: "Don't go sailing in strong winds by yourself you dummy!"

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