So I have this loosely-formed but strongly held interlocking set of beliefs about the nature of man, God, and religion; namely that:
- Man today is no smarter* than the Greeks, as well as those who died unremarked for long millennia before
- God does not (necessarily) exist
- Man only invented God as much as man invented himself
- Both man as conscious being and God as omnipotent unseen superbeing have arisen from the same stew of molecules and motives
- Writing and other extra-somatic stores of knowledge (say, hafted spear as instruction manual on how to build a spear) are the single greatest yet serendipitous “killer app” of the hand
And so on. I further believe that there is such a thing as personal enlightenment, that which sets one human a plane above another, and that most purveyors of “enlightenment” are no more enlightened than any other used car salesman.
Consequently, The Enlightenment did set its benefactors upon a plane higher than some others, but it was not even a high-water mark at the time; that is, it had been met before.
However, and this is where I get into a specific claim, prompting this post, I do not think that the proximate pre-Enlightenment period of great religious impact was a blighted age, except in how some small fraction of persons were personally blighted by various persecutions — a phenomenon not unknown in our own supposedly ever-more enlightened age.
Listening to the music of Bach and Beethoven, admiring the cathedral architecture and decoration of [insert unknown to me architects of cathedrals], Michelangelo, the logic of Thomas Aquinas and the rest of the Hallelujah and Praise Jesus crowd of civilization *defining* men and achievements, one is struck how the only motive seems to have been to glorify (that is, to give glory to) God.
Yet I think that this is camouflage. While there have no doubt been countless pious and devout aspirants to give greater glory than others, and the greatest glory possible, to the Almighty, I think that there also existed a greater countless number whose achievements had little or nothing to do with God, no matter what the title, inscription, or even at times the content actually says.
The urge to create beauty, to inspire awe, to explore the depths of numbers or the far-flung reaches of the world (or the moon, for that matter), in my opinion all come from the same place — the enlightened side of mere dominance, which is also sought as a universal ticket to the Good Life. In seeking to understand the nature of truth, beauty, or justice, we do not engage in a different pursuit at some level than if we simply desire to crush our enemies, to see them driven before us, and to hear the lamentations of their women. Which are now our women.
Life has a drive all of its own, and it comes in as many rationalizations as our mind can conjure. Some of those rationalizations come pre-equipped, requiring no creativity to instantiate. There is a reason that from the structure of cheesy and hackish stories to the supposedly off-base Freud and the at-times unmentionable Jung, the archetypes dominate us, and we seek either to please, to escape, or to dominate them. This is all of human behavior in a nutshell. It is also all of animal behavior.
An object in the environment is either food or a threat, or it is without existence. We feed our bodies, as do the dogs, and we feed our souls. We seek to maximize the payment we receive for a job, yet we may seek out a lower-paying job which provides other compensation, such as a feeling of well-being, a lower risk, a sense of purpose, employee stocks, room and board, brotherhood, holiness, and so forth. Each of these supposedly (in some cases) intangibles can be assigned a money price by observing how much money we will give up in order to attain them. Money is not a thing in its own right, but the unit of measurement of human decision -making. Economists study not money but people, whether they know it or not.
The Mother and, later, the Father are the first archetypes. The newborn cannot perceive a threat except for hunger — first, he feeds. He cannot perceive it for the very reason that he cannot avoid it even if perceived. It would be a waste of processing power to have any concept of a threat in the larval breast-feeding stage. The Mother nourishes and protects. The Father, once he becomes real to the infant, is the real mystery. Both benefactor and threat, the relationship with the father is the first and deepest mystery not only for the human infant, but for cub and kit as well. The Mother may (or may not) teach respect or manners, but it is the relationship with the Father in which the lessons become a crucible, for lion and human alike. The Mother mediates and models the relationship with the Father, but the Father mediates and models the relationship with the larger world, whether the same species or other, the physical and metaphysical world.
Children need both mothers and fathers. They don’t always have them available, and without casting shade on any particular instance of single parenthood, the statistics tell the tale. A new dominant male, if he claims the lioness, may well “destroy the cubs”, and this behavior is *not less and possibly more* present in humans as well. The methods may be more subtle — they may not.
It is important in human cultures to revere and demonstrate respect for mothers in order to say that the Mother is not taken for granted. Yet this is because in most instances, the Mother may safely be taken for granted. The Father, not so much. In most species, Fathers are more mobile, with foundational implications both for the actual events and for the psychological realm of possibilities in the life of the developing mammal.
All of this animal/human parallelism may safely be viewed in the context of the Serengeti, from now all the way back to 300,000 years ago. It was true before that as well, but we were not human much before that. We were INCREDIBLY closely related beings, with whom our contemporary selves must still have much in common. If these things are true for the lion, then they are certainly true for any animal more closely related to us, through the monkeys, the apes, and our progenitor forms. The non-human hominids were largely us.
See, if we have not materially changed since the Greeks wrote all of the Archetype stories, then we are chained to the same wheel that they were. And the “ancient” Greeks — no more than a sliver in time removed from us — were in their turn not materially different from those who went thousand of years before them, and sooner rather than later Methusael begat Lamech.
To Be Continued…
*I have a caveat about the “no smarter than” business, but for now I’ll just roll with it.