Religion: Less Than it Appears

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.

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27 thoughts on “Religion: Less Than it Appears”

  1. Aha! A man after my own heart – assembling a “Theory of Everything” (TOE), in this instance, as to humanity’s innate, eternal characteristics. I am in sync with most all of it, save I am slightly more agnostic as to the possible existence of God (or the designer/administrator of the virtual reality in which we and everything we observe are instantiated). As to any suggestions of cynicism, I am also there. My motto: “No matter how cynical I get… I just can’t keep up.” Thank you.

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  2. I was just reading a book on Habits by Charles Duhigg and came away with religion being more than it appears. It motivates people and is the determining factor in some people overcoming things. One has to believe before you can succeed. Failure comes from doubt and not being willing to try.

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  3. Haakon Dahl:
    loosely-formed but strongly held interlocking set of beliefs about the nature of man, God, and religion

    Does this “Theory of Everything” include any ideas about the origin of life?

    Haakon Dahl:
    We feed our bodies, as do the dogs, and we feed our souls.

    An interesting observation for a fellow who does not believe that there is any such thing as a soul.

    Haakon Dahl:
    …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.

    This only applies to those who have rejected religion.

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  4. Creativity, curiosity, conquest, all are impulses, you’re saying, which emerge from “the enlightened side of mere dominance”.  (Can dominance be mere? ) I’d add, and from the denial of mortality.

    As for  religion, I’m repeating myself but I don’t think anybody was still reading when I stated  my theory way down on some long thread a few days ago:  humans have a looong dependency period, during which, as you  point out, we’re helpless and we learn to look to The Mother for succor, yea, though she also metes out pain.  As we become mobile but still of infantile mentation, any kid who does  not trust and obey the Big People, who will not accept that their commands are issued for his own good, who fears not the consequences of disobedience, is unlikely to live long enough to breed; fall into the fire, drown in a river.  So—from the Serengeti, as you put it, we are hard-wired for worship, obeisance, propitiation.

    But: is this necessarily where God comes from—or is it possible that this propensity, instead, comes from God?

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  5.  

    Hypatia:
    As for  religion, I’m repeating myself but I don’t think anybody was still reading when I stated  my theory way down on some long thread a few days ago

    I was still reading. I will always read you even when I disagree. You are fascinating.

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  6. Hypatia:
    But: is this necessarily where God comes from—or is it possible that this propensity, instead, comes from God?

    You know my answer.

    God made us to be in perfect relationship with Him and with each other.   This requires a sense of complete trust.   A lengthy childhood is a nice design feature to form and reinforce the need for trust.

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  7. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    But: is this necessarily where God comes from—or is it possible that this propensity, instead, comes from God?

    You know my answer.

    yes, I do!

     

    God made us to be in perfect relationship with Him and with each other.   This requires a sense of complete trust.   A lengthy childhood is a nice design feature to form and reinforce the need for trust.

    okay….OR, it could be the other way: God is an artifact of our ontogeny.

    I will argue with anyone who purports to know.  No one does. 

     

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  8. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    I will argue with anyone who purports to know.  No one does.

    What proof or authority are you using to make this pronouncement ?

    That  I will argue?  My personal authority.

    That no one knows?  Oh, come on!!!Because no human that I have ever encountered, nor heard tell of, remembers where or what he or she was before birth.

    Nor has any  human being ever returned from death  to tell us what that’s like.

    That’s my “proof” that  no living human knows about God.

    Now, in the OT, you didn’t need faith: God would come take you on a picnic, like He did with the Hebrew elders on Sinai. He’d do tricks like he did for Gideon! He’d incinerate people, like Aaron’s sons— and animal carcasses, like he did in the contest with Baal.

    But now, I think you’d have to agree, we see through a glass darkly.  We do not know.

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  9. I would very much like for this not to become an argument based on scripture.  This is not that thread.  We have had that thread numerous times, and I said recently that there can be no intelligent discourse between people who refuse to accept each others’ premises.

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  10. 10 Cents:
    I was just reading a book on Habits by Charles Duhigg and came away with religion being more than it appears. It motivates people and is the determining factor in some people overcoming things. One has to believe before you can succeed. Failure comes from doubt and not being willing to try.

    It’s very nice that some people derive such great utility from their own thoughts.

    You are discussing some observed phenomena far downstream from an assumed existence of God.   I am talking about the spring from which God flows universally into the human experience — and without accepting any “evidence” no more subject to disproof than astrology.

    Prepare to see the circle squared.  And all of that just on the way to a point about the explosion in human accomplishment in the last millennium.

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  11. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    loosely-formed but strongly held interlocking set of beliefs about the nature of man, God, and religion

    Does this “Theory of Everything” include any ideas about the origin of life?

    First, this “ToE”, as CW put it, is concerned with a span of time many orders of magnitude shorter than required to address the origin of life. Therefore, no. Second, it also does not address the origin of the universe, the distribution of primes, or the instant mechanism of probability.

    Haakon Dahl:
    We feed our bodies, as do the dogs, and we feed our souls.

    An interesting observation for a fellow who does not believe that there is any such thing as a soul.

    Christianity does not license use of the term “soul”, which predates Christianity and Christ.
    It carries much more meaning than ‘the harp-strumming portion of non-existence’.
    Do you understand the point I made there, and why I made it there? It would be a shame to argue only about things which are not the topic.

    Haakon Dahl:
    …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.

    This only applies to those who have rejected religion.

    That’s one way to phrase it.

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  12. Haakon Dahl:
    Christianity does not license use of the term “soul”

    If you are not going to use terms according to the common definitions in use by English-speakers in western civilization, then you ought to provide your definition.

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  13. Haakon Dahl:
    I would very much like for this not to become an argument based on scripture.  This is not that thread.  We have had that thread numerous times, and I said recently that there can be no intelligent discourse between people who refuse to accept each others’ premises.

    All right; I will consider myself to be dis-invited from your thread.

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  14. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    without accepting any “evidence”

    You never answered my question about witness testimony as evidence.

    EDIT:  You may consider this thread much more than an answer.  I will also go in and give the short version, which will simply seem disagreeable, on your thread where that question was raised.

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  15. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I would very much like for this not to become an argument based on scripture.  This is not that thread.  We have had that thread numerous times, and I said recently that there can be no intelligent discourse between people who refuse to accept each others’ premises.

    All right; I will consider myself to be dis-invited from your thread.

    You are hardly dis-invited, but sorcery is not a rational basis from which to argue.  I realize that your faith may propel you to challenge doubt and to invite the faithless, and I appreciate your concern, which I interpret in the most positive manner.  Yet I heard what you said the first time, and the second.  I’ve politely I hope, and perhaps even graciously tried to simply bunt.  It’s the frequency of the repeated pitch which begins to sound like calling we of less faith infidels and unbelievers, blighted, stupid, child-like, in need of ministry and saving, blind to reality, clouded of thought, hopeless, damned, the wretched of the Earth and beyond, consigned to the hellfire and torment for all of eternity unless we should respond favorably to one of your internet exhortations.

    When two people agree to play ball, the hurled ball is welcome, and the swung bat appropriate.  Yet when we cannot agree on the basic rules, neither the ball nor bat rises above the level of a weapon.  You cannot argue a person into faith, but you can sure argue them out of it.

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  16. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    Christianity does not license use of the term “soul”

    If you are not going to use terms according to the common definitions in use by English-speakers in western civilization, then you ought to provide your definition.

    Quickie working definition: That part of the person which is nourished by art.  This is a more widely accepted definition in Western Civilization than you may suspect, and that in turn is another way of stating my main point, which has only surfaced twice in this early instalment.

    Stay tuned.  You are indeed a part of my target audience, but like any presentation, the person making the presentation would like to not be dragged down one person’s favorite rabbit-hole re-hashing pet arguments.

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  17. Hypatia:

    MJBubba:

    God made us to be in perfect relationship with Him and with each other.   This requires a sense of complete trust.   A lengthy childhood is a nice design feature to form and reinforce the need for trust.

    okay….OR, it could be the other way: God is an artifact of our ontogeny.

    I will argue with anyone who purports to know.  No one does. 

    Yup.  That is my hypothesis.

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  18. As someone who has had, lost, and regained faith, I can identify with much of the above.

    At the end of the day, I think the idea we can figure out the universe to be hubris. It is more complex than our minds can understand. I also can say that the idea that God can be ruled out is as much belief as the idea God exists. This is reflected in the many universes “theory” which in no way can be proven, but is used to eliminate the need for God in our totally unlikely, but perfectly tuned universe, for us to be here to look at it. That seems as zelous as any of the faithful.

    As I get older, I find I am more comfortable with the mystery of creation. I pray. I pray a lot less for things, and a lot more in thanksgiving. Do I get answers? I don’t know. Maybe. Does it bring me peace? Yes it does. Does belief mean I think I have it figured out? Not hardly. Does it ease my soul? Yes it does. I suppose one can call that an opiate. However, I don’t see it that way. I see the capacity to sit in mystery is to connect with something greater than me.

    That is all clear as mud, as it should be.

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  19. Haakon, what you say  about the father is interesting.  We are the only species that knows its own father.  Unless the two creatures are separated, I can attest that an animal never forgets the mother—I’ve seen 900 pound horses buckle to their knees, trying to get under their sometimes comically diminutive dam to nurse!

    “Father mediates and models the relationship with the larger world”.    I like that.  Yes and “the father”, or one of his contemporaries, if not the actual biological sire—must always be confronted and vanquished.  Then, turn, young victor, and greet in cradle your own nemesis!

    One of  my favorite books is Thomas Wolfe’s  The Web and The Rock., which I feel expresses the dichotomy between the mother’s and father’s spheres perfectly and poetically.   Has anybody else read it?

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  20. Hypatia:
    Haakon, what you say  about the father is interesting.  We are the only species that knows its own father.  Unless the two creatures are separated, I can attest that an animal never forgets the mother—I’ve seen 900 pound horses buckle to their knees, trying to get under their sometimes comically diminutive dam to nurse!

    That is not exactly true. I am not sure what you mean by “know”. Wolves and Lions know their fathers. Elephant males end up with packs of males as surrogate fathers (and they don’t turn out well without them). Gorillas are raised along side their fathers.

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