Jonathan Swift said, “We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” In these times, and from I’m sitting, that seems so painfully true that one could begin to resent religion as the dupe to blame our wars and problems on. I fly helicopters for Navy. There is no religion like the one you feel when a bullet pops by your ear or into your airframe. There is literally no religion when you see where it lands (if someone caught it, that is).
Religion is here to stay, nonetheless. She had a humble beginning as a fireside chat, that much seems sure. In some places she adapted along with cultural demands into an incredibly complex and demanding set of moral codes and rituals; Religion has come a long way. Her original intentions may have been innocent enough. At first, she was a cultural manifestation of superstitions about natural events and a way to calm fears about the unknown. It is my opinion that the birth of Religion was a result of the communion between the search for meaning and the fear of not finding it.
Maybe it was an earthquake, a comet, the northern lights, or a flood; it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that someone looked up and around and decided that the event in question was not natural. It was supernatural. In time, she grew from a story about spiritual help through the winter into something more. From there it morphed into something potentially ugly. She soon found herself woven deeply into the fabric of our every endeavor.
Professional religious scholars whose livelihood depended on our dependence on Her have carefully, and probably for the most part innocently, ensured their station by enforcing our dependence on the idea of a supernatural influence or influences. She is certainly not ugly all the time. The primal purpose was more likely to unite the tribe with a sense of purpose rather than to separate it from, and cause conflict with, other tribes. My current life position tends to have me lean a little on the apathetic side in regards to religion. In my present job I see Her as more trouble than She’s worth. Of course, there are boundless opportunities for Her redemption. Whether it is truth or blasphemy, if going through the motions of believing gives solace to someone, especially in their last moments… Well, there can’t be anything bad about that. Jonathan Swift was right though, Religion, on this side of the world (“Middle” and “Far East”), is not sowing seeds of love.
Religion has been around since we have. Whoever we are and whatever Religion is, we’ve been at it, whatever it is, pretty much the whole time, however long that’s been. Since we as humans kept a shoddy journal, let’s examine Religion’s ledger to see what we can learn about Her creation, presence, purpose, and intentions.
Religion’s journal; Day One: Today I made way into the tribe of the squatting ones as an explanation for what Zag thought to be a bear-shaped star formation. In a loose conversation about the origin of things, Zag told his furry little life-mate and their children that the star formations were a manifestation of the animal spirits watching over them and the tribe. He didn’t use those words of course, but I know what guy meant and am glad I could help. The scared kids slept well tonight, thanks in part to My care for them. Cute, huh? I just got here and they already put me to good use. He told them a story of some bear crossing the river to get better fish. I think I’m going to like it here on earth.
Day twenty eight: Today I found Zag standing by the fire around a wide-eyed crowd expanding the Bear Story. He included the flow of river and the cycle of the fish, the growth of the trees and more star theories, maxims, axioms, fables, and such nonsense. I think it’s adorable. He explained the seasons through Me. I got credit for last month’s kill of a wooly beast that they still wear around camp. I didn’t have to do anything, and look how popular I am. Zag is getting quite a following and now has one fulltime assistant. They are using a sort of fire and bone magic to try and manipulate their surroundings and keep Me, of all people, amused. I’m am becoming popular around here; so is Zag. I can feel our power and influence growing.
Year Two: Zag’s stories continue to grow and his popularity as a man about town is growing with them. He is often visited by other tribesmen and has quit his day job of hunting pigs and now devotes fulltime efforts to making My importance known to all. He has even implemented a set of what will could be called moral actions, rituals, and taboos for others to be wary of else they displease “The Spirits.” He is quite knowledgeable, they think. The tribe gives his family pigs for his knowledge. As man begins to rationalize his experience, animism is giving way to polytheism. I have become many things now. As Religion, I find Myself tended to on many fronts for many causes. Very flattering.
Winter, year twenty: Zag and his three assistants have been blamed, along with Me, for the long winter and shortage of wooly animal meat. They came into the lodge they built in My honor and chanted for a long time. They threw some bones around trying to get me to signal them. It a magical presentation, but I am powerless to help without their continued faith and observance of the laws, says Zag. They killed some kind of animal on the fire today and asked Me to stop the snow and bring Spring. That’d be nice, I’m cold too.
From where I’m sitting, I’m guessing they still haven’t figured out the whole rotation around the Sun thing yet, when is science coming? Each season I get offerings to help bring the next one. Foug and Chuke have begun to keep a kind of calendar of sacrificial events on the cave wall, they are coming along nicely. It seems we are still in the speculative stage of religious motivation. They are using Me, though I don’t mind, to explain their place in nature, their beginnings and endings. I get credit and blame for the onset and cure of pretty much all the sickness around this place. I don’t think Zag originally meant for Me to be a scapegoat, but it’s convenient for them, easy to explain, and I still like the attention.
Year three hundred fifty eight: It has been some time since my arrival. So far I have grown into dozens of separate Gods, Goddesses, and Animal Spirits for different emotions, seasons, hunting practices, and natural processes like birth and death. When people get older they are told they will come live with Me or My manifestations. When they are born I am blessing them and giving them strength for different stations in life. The Bear Story has changed through the last couple generations, but they still speak of Zag and his followers. I’m a regular industry down here now, elders pass on the stories, and the various tribes I am among have provisions in their storehouses to support a fulltime staff of My preachers on hand for any emergency or policy dispute. I am beginning enjoy this and I think I believe some the great stuff they are saying about Me.
Year seventeen thousand: I’ve gone global. Each new place I see I am pleased to see the good word of Me is being passed on. Oh sure, the languages have changed. I’m adapting to new cultural needs and weather patterns. Did you know that near top of the planet they say I live in the Aura Borealis? I do miss that Bear Story, but all in all people are still killing animals, and occasionally each other over cultural manifestation of religious superstitions about anything from birthing procedures to whether or not to eat meat on a full moon.
I have moved. I am now located “everywhere” according to some, but the many of the little people have created a “Heaven” for Me. It’s quite nice, I think I’ll stay. The water’s good too.
Year one hundred thousand or so: Yesterday, another meteorite came whizzing by My place again. It hit in the desert near where they are calling Arabia vice the usual ocean locations. The people around the area where it came down started to worship it. Now they are setting a yearly requirement of pilgrimage to this holy site, called a hajj (Noss/Noss, pg 517). They are killing sheep and camels around the site and getting quite energetic about worshiping Me. I, Religion, am getting very strong in the Middle East.
In some regions, depending on the age of Me in their cultures, they have moved from the speculative stage to the imperialistic stage. This imperialistic motivation to have Me around is most obvious in the warring nations of Europe and Middle East. Many religious and political leaders are now shifting from polytheism to henotheism. That is, they are worshiping one God but are not denying the existence of the others. This is proving helpful for them in wielding power over the masses by using Me as a scapegoat again for when things don’t go so well for them in battle. As imperialistically motivated manifestations of Me get around, they are looking for My (read: secular) approval for their political and actual battles. Some leaders will congratulate themselves for a great battle as their having been specifically blessed by the Gods.
Year something: I’m losing count with all the new business. It’s been about sixty years since the meteor thing in Arabia. Some of the Jewish people are going to begin to count years over again from here out I think. There are some new manifestations of Me floating around. Including one guy actually walking the earth - Jesus. This looks like a good thing for the Jews since he is Jewish, but it doesn’t seem to sit well with the Italians and Greeks who have got Me split up several ways. They have a fantastic Soap Opera like world of Gods and Goddesses. Particularly the ones in Rome I think may cause trouble for this guy. They have got a very strong political system and lately I have been getting tangled in the definition of some ruling party’s policies.
Increasingly I am finding that people are becoming less interested in Me and more interested in details about how to practice/worship Me. For the hardcore stuff I can still count on a couple folks around Canaan and the Andies over on the other side of the Atlantic.
1290, by popular count: As I manifest Myself in different forms, I am tending to like to fervor I cause in Western cultures more than the sublime peace My cousin, Mindfulness, has got going on over here in the Far East. These folks are concentrating on becoming one with the universe and ending the cycle of suffering. There is a lot of talk about mediation, silence, and harmony. If I can risk a generalization about the Eastern Cultures real quick, I’d have to say that they have about as close to an ethical motivation to seek a Me as any. The idea over here is closer to leading a tolerant moral life than to excluding others for not leading one. It’s getting harder for Me to inflict cultural challenges based on Me in those cultures who’s identity is understood to be more of a soul-searching inner-movement or meditation than the formalized industrial powerhouse I have become in the Anglo world.
This year, my “chosen people” have been driven from England. The Religious intolerance of Christianity Inc. has proclaimed charges against them “with every form of malevolent purpose” (Noss/Noss pg. 433).
I didn’t come over here to inflict so much hate. A little mischief perhaps, but this is getting out of hand. I pine for the days when I was younger and helping the little people ease their minds over fear of death and the afterlife. I used to be for keeping the crops healthy, the weather favorable. I used to make people feel better about the chances of infant mortality with a simple offering. I used to aid the sick with hope for comfort from the unknown. It’s sad in way. These people are turning away from Me as comfort from curses and hexes and more toward Me as a high-hat club. There’s plenty of room in this “heaven” for everyone, I’d say if I could. But I have no voice but the voice given Me, and for now that voice isn’t breathing Me Tolerance. One guys says My home is infinitely vast and peaceful, and another guy wants to kill him for saying that only Jesus, or Allah, or some other exacting method can get one there. I’m confused about how I got so difficult without My permission.
1394: Now the French are kicking the Jews out. Tisk tisk, when will the French learn that they can’t keep pushing everyone around. Maybe someday they will be beaten themselves. I just don’t know how that could ever happen. They are such a proud people, they’ll never give up in a battle or war.
1492: Uh oh, the hate is spreading. The people in Spain are now prosecuting, torturing and kicking out the Jews too. Also this year they sent a guy over to My back-up plan across the ocean to explore new lands and look for gold, spread glory, and all that. I wonder if the violence of the Anglos and ardor of their devotion will catch on with the natives. I was enjoying the very earthy reverence they have when practicing Me. The natives in the new land have manifested Me in animal spirits and were reverently trying to fit into the cycle of life and hold a gentle place on earth. It reminded me of Zag and his people. Of course, I still have My zealots in the Andies to check up on once in a while too.
1517: Dear Me; Anglo Religion got a gut-punch today when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis. Boy, the Catholics didn’t like that. Instead of reform in the church, now the Christians are protesting for a whole new Me (Noss/Noss pg 504). I’m flattered, but still don’t see anyone but some of the Asians getting the big picture about what I can be used for.
1676: Another blow today as a Dutchman, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek discovers bacteria (Grolier, 1996). With this figured out, I can see that a lot of the credit I got for mystical illness and cures will be out the window. This science thing is really making hard for a girl to make a decent living as an omnipotent, all knowing Religious force. Luckily there are those willing to ignore science altogether, or help me to adapt to the changing knowledge about the world and where I can continue to fit in.
And so it would continue in much the same silly manor up through our modern times. Religion’s experience is plainly metaphorically compatible with a life of child. In creation, no real sense of purpose, just to be there for comfort or love. Growing older she’s gaining confidence, pride, self-worth, and a certain amount of personality based on external input. She grows and adapts to her environment, like all beings, with a self-preservation instinct. Today we find her in many forms, many with the same goal, but different game plans. She has the power to include or exclude you from the group. She can order your death by your own hand. She can defend your right to live under some else’s. Religion has become the pivot-point for public and private policy making. Her colored threads make up the fabric for nearly every society on the planet. Different shades, different texture, same roots.
We briefly looked at examples of motivation for her adoption: speculative, imperialistic, mystical, and ethical. Nowadays almost any motivation is defendable as a good one. I already identified myself as a skeptic for most motivations. This makes me either the perfect aspirant to examine the influence of religion on the world population, or a terrible candidate for such an endeavor. I would hope the former is more accurate. Writing this, and looking deeper into the creation of ideas about religion, I found the Religion Family Tree an interesting one. I made some leaps of faith from one point to another for the purpose of metaphor, but all in all I am assured you got the idea of how Religion went from birth to it’s modern adolescent state.
Adolescent because an adult wouldn’t act like this. I hope.
I have enjoyed learning what I have so far in making this dialogue. I had an awful lot more blanks to fill in than I thought.
Brickle, Bruce, and Stan Jantz. Guide to Cults, Religions, & Spiritual Beliefs. Eugene: Harvest
House Publishers, 2002.
CliffNotes. Mythology. New York: Wiley Publishing, 1976.
Grolier Incorporated. Encyclopedia Americana: International Edition. vol 3. Danbury: Grolier,
Noss, David S., and John B. Noss. A History of the World’s Religions. 8th ed. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990.