This is what organized religion means for most people. This is what would happen if God actually answered people’s prayers. The response would be even worse if Jesus came back in the flesh. There is a reason he was crucified the first time. Some things never change.
A friend of ours is a Muslim and grew up in an Islamic country. As he talked about his religion, we realized how different it is from Christianity. There is no shared practice among Christians similar to the praying five times a day. From early on, Christianity was filled with diverse groups and disagreements, and that has only increased over time (there are over 4,600 denominations of Christianity in the United States alone). My friend had a hard time appreciating that there is no agreed upon authority, interpretation, or beliefs among all Christians.
Unlike Muhammad, Jesus never wrote anything nor was anything written down about him until much later. Nor did he intend to start a new religion. He offered no rules, social norms, instructions, etc for how to organize a church, a religious society, or a government. He didn’t even preach family values, if anything the opposite — from a command to let the dead bury themselves to the proclamation of having come to turn family members against each other. The Gospels offer no practical advice about anything. Much of Jesus’ teachings, beyond a general message of love and compassion, are vague and enigmatic, often parables that have many possible meanings.
Now compare Jesus to the Islamic prophet. Muhammad is considered the last prophet, although he never claimed to have heard the voice of God and instead supposedly having received the message secondhand through an angel. Still, according to Muslims, the Koran is the only complete holy text in existence — the final Word of God. That is also something that differs from Christianity. Jesus never asserted that God would become silent to all of humanity for eternity and that his worshippers would be condemned to a world without the God they longed for, in the way Allah never enters His own Creation.
Many Protestants and Anabaptists and those in similar groups believe that God continues to be revealed to people today, that the divine is known through direct experience, that the Bible as a holy text must be read as a personal relationship to God, not merely taken on the authority of blind faith. Some churches go so far as to teach people how to speak to and hear God (T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back). Even within Catholicism, there have been further revelations of God since Jesus, from various mystics and saints that are acknowledged by the Vatican but also from ordinary Catholics claiming God spoke to them without any great fear of hereticism and excommunication.
It made me think about Julian Jaynes’ theory modern consciousness. With the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations, there was this sense of the gods having gone silent. Yet this was never an absolute experience, as some people continued to hear the gods. Even into the modern world, occasionally people still claim to hear various gods and sometimes even found new religions based on revelations. The Bahai, for example, consider Muhammad to be just one more prophet with others having followed him. Hindus also have a living tradition of divine revelation that is equivalent to that of prophets. Only Islam, as far as I know, claims all prophecy and revelation to be ended for all time.
I was thinking about the sense of loss and loneliness people felt when bicameral societies came to an end. They were thrown onto an increasingly isolated individualism. Religion as we know it was designed to accommodate this, in order to give a sense of order, meaning and authority that had gone missing. But Islam takes this to an extreme. After Muhammad, no human supposedly would ever again personally hear, see, or experience the divine in any way (excluding mystical traditions like Sufism). For all intents and purposes, Allah has entirely receded from the world. The only sign of his existence that he left behind was a book of instructions. We must submit and comply or be punished in the afterlife, a world separate from this one
That seems so utterly depressing and dreary to me. I was raised Christian and on the far other extreme of Protestantism. My family attended the Unity Church that emphasizes direct experience of God to such a degree that the Bible itself was mostly ignored and almost irrelevant — why turn to mere words on paper when you can go straight to the source? Rather than being denied and condemned, to claim to have heard God speak would have been taken seriously. I’m no longer religious, but the nearly deist idea of a god that is distant and silent seems so alien and unappealing to me. Yet maybe that makes Islam well designed for the modern world, as it offers a strong response to atheism.
If you don’t have any experience of God, this is considered normal and expected in Islam, not something to be worried about, not something to challenge one’s faith as is common in Christianity (NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity); and it avoids the riskiness and confusion of voice-hearing (Libby Anne, Voices in Your Head: Evangelicals and the Voice of God). One’s ignorance of the divine demonstrates one’s individual inadequacy and, as argued by religious authority, is all the more reason to submit to religious authority. Islamic relation between God and humanity is one-way, except to some extent by way of inspiration and dreams, but Allah himself never directly enters his Creation and so never directly interacts with humans, not even with prophets. Is that why constant prayer is necessary for Muslims, to offset God’s silence and vacancy? Worship of a missing God seems perfectly suited for the modern world.
Muslims are left with looking for traces of God in the Koran like ants crawling around in a footprint while trying to comprehend what made it and what it wants them to do. So, some of the ants claim to be part of a direct lineage of ants that goes back to an original ant that, according to tradition, was stepped upon by what passed by. These well-respected ants then explain to all the other ants what is meant by all the bumps and grooves in the dried mud. In worship, the ants pray toward the footprint and regularly gather to circle around it. This gives their life some sense of meaning and purpose and, besides, it maintains the social order.
That is what is needed in a world where the bicameral voices of archaic authorization no longer speak, no longer are heard. Something has to fill the silence as the loneliness it creates is unbearable. Islam has a nifty trick, embracing the emptiness and further irritating the overwhelming anxiety as it offers the salve for the soul. Muslims take the silence of God as proof of God, as a promise of something more. This otherworldly being, Allah, tells humans who don’t feel at home in this world that their real home is elsewhere, to which they will return if they do what they are told. Other religions do something similar, but Islam takes this to another level — arguably, the highest or most extreme form of monotheism, so far. The loss of the bicameral mind could not be pushed much further, one suspects, without being pushed into an abyss.
Islam is a truly modern religion. Right up there with capitalism and scientism.
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Further discussion about this can be found on the Facebook page “Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”.
I’ve been reading about bicameralism and the Axial Age. It is all very fascinating.
It’s strange to look back at that era of transformation. The modern sense of self-conscious, introspective, autonomous individuality (as moral agent and rational actor) was just emerging after the breakdown of the bicameral mind. What came before that is almost incomprehensible to us.
One interesting factor is that civilization didn’t create organized religion, but the other way around. Or so it seems, according to the archaeological evidence. When humans were still wandering hunter-gatherers, they began building structures for worship. It was only later that people started settled down around these worship centers. So, humans built permanent houses for the gods before they built permanent houses for themselves.
These God Houses often originated as tombs and burial mounds of revered leaders. The first deities seem to have been god-kings. The leader was considered a god while alive or spoke for god. In either case, death made concrete the deification of the former leader. In doing so, the corpse or some part of it such as the skull would become the worshipped idol. Later on it became more common to carve a statue that allowed for a more long-lasting god who was less prone to decay.
God(s) didn’t make humans. Rather, humans in a very literal sense made god(s). They made the form of the god or used the already available form of a corpse or skull. It was sort of like trapping the dead king’s soul and forcing it to play the role of god.
These bicameral people didn’t make the distinctions we make. There was no clear separation between the divine and the human, between the individual and the group. It was all a singular pre-individuated experience. These ancient humans heard voices, but they had no internal space for their own voice. The voices were heard in the world all around them. The king was or spoke for the high god, and that voice continued speaking even after the king died. We moderns would call that a hallucination, but to them it was just their daily reality.
With the breakdown of the bicameral mind, there was a crisis of community and identity. The entire social order broke down, because of large-scale environmental catastrophes that killed or made into refugees most of the human population back then. In a short period of time, nearly all the great civilizations collapsed in close succession, the collapse of each civilization sending refugees outward in waves of chaos and destruction. Nothing like it was seen before or since in recorded history.
People were desperate to make sense of what happened. But the voices of the gods had grown distant or were silenced. The temples were destroyed, the idols gone, traditions lost, and communities splintered. The bicameral societies had been extremely stable and were utterly dependent on that stability. They couldn’t deal with change at that level. The bicameral mind itself could no longer function. These societies never recovered from this mass tragedy.
An innovation that became useful in this era was improved forms of writing. Using alphabets and scrolls, the ancient oral traditions were written down and altered in the process. Also, new literary traditions increasingly took hold. Epics and canons were formed to bring new order. What formed from this was a sense of the past as different from the present. There was some basic understanding that humanity had changed and that the world used to be different.
A corrolary innovation was that, instead of idol worship, people began to worship these new texts, first as scrolls and then later as books. They found a more portable way of trapping a god. But the loss of the more concrete forms of worship led to the gods becoming more distant. People less often heard the voices of the gods for themselves and instead turned to the texts where it was written the cultural memory of the last people who heard the divine speaking (e.g., Moses) or even the last person who spoke as the divine (e.g., Jesus Christ).
The divine was increasingly brought down to the human level and yet at the same time increasingly made more separate from daily experience. It wasn’t just that the voices of the gods went silent. Rather, the voices that used to be heard externally were being internalized. What once was recognized as divine and as other became the groundwork upon which the individuated self was built. God became a still, small voice and slowly loss its divine quality altogether. People stopped hearing voices of non-human entities. Instead, they developed a thinking mind. The gods became trapped in the human skull and you could say that they forgot they were gods.
The process of making gods eventually transitioned into the process of making individuals. We revere individuality as strongly as people once revered the divine. That is an odd thing.
I watched God’s Not Dead with my parents. It was the quite the experience. I had almost no expectations. I just went because my parents wanted to go. I’ll watch almost anything, when in the right mood.
God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and my parents are Christians. I was raised Christian, but not the Christianity found in the movie. God’s Not Dead is full-on fundamentalism. My mom grew up in that kind of religion and my dad in a more mild variety. I, however, was raised mostly in the Unity Chruch, which is uber-hippy, pansy-liberal New Thought Christianity.
No preacher ever threatened or even implied I might go to hell. No Unity minister would likely even mention hell, except to dismiss it. God loves you! Period. Full stop.
I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood religion. I’m a heathen these days, but I still don’t think of myself as an atheist. I largely don’t care one whit about arguments for and against God. On the other hand, while tripping on mushrooms once I saw the entire world breathe in unison, as if it were all a single being. Dude! The world is a crazy complex place, beyond the meager capacity of my human comprehension. Who am I to say much of anything about the mysteries of the universe? If someone wants to call this sense of mystery ‘God’, they are free to do so and I won’t complain.
Anyway, if God or gods or Star Trek Qs exist, I doubt they care about my belief in them or lack thereof. Do I care if tiny organisms believes in me? Not really. I choose not to step on ants and worms, but I don’t ask if they believe in me first. I won’t claim to be their savior if they accept me into their hearts and I won’t promise them heaven nor threaten them with damnation. I’m certainly not going to attempt to inspire ant and worm prophets to write holy scriptures about my greatness. I’m just a big galoot traipsing through their tiny world. That is all.
That may sound dismissive. I actually have little desire to be dismissive. Faith is a personal thing. The personal part is what matters. I can’t speak about someone else’s personal experience. I’m fine with other people’s religion, as long as they don’t seek to impose it on me or proselytize it to me.
Even a fundamentalist movie like God’s Not Dead doesn’t overly bother me. It seemed disconnected from reality, but that is to be expected. It’s not like anyone forced me to watch the movie. That said, fundamentalists are more than happy to force their beliefs onto others. If hardcore fundamentalists thought they could legally get away with it, they’d likely make watching this movie obligatory for every child in school.
Many of them are no more interested in genuine dialogue than is the radical left-wing activist I dealt with the other day (see my post: There Are No Allies Without Alliances). But most isn’t all. I wouldn’t want to broadbrush all rightward-leaning Christians. Most fundamentalists are like most people. They just want to be left alone to live their lives how they see fit. But the average fundamentalist isn’t the one I’m worried about. What worries me are the fundamentalist activists, lobbyists, and politicians.
The one thing that stood out to me about that radical left-wing activist had to do with his worldview. There were specified roles one could play, but one wasn’t free to be an individual. There is no place for someone like me in that worldview. Likewise, in watching God’s Not Dead, I realized there is no place for me there either.
The movie is full of caricatures and stereotypes. Everyone was an extreme. Either you are hard right-wing believer or else you are some secular bogeyman, the three main options being a clueless professor, a sociopathic businessman, and a Godless communist. In this worldview, there exists no such thing as a liberal Christian, a moderate Muslim, a moral pagan, an ethical humanist, a mild-mannered atheist, or a curious-minded agnostic; certainly, there is no such thing as an intelligent, fair-minded professor. It turns out the professor secretly believes in God, but just hates him, what every fundamentalist suspects about atheists.
A freethinking individual is not welcome in either of these worldviews from the left and right.
God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.
I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.
I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.
I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.
Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.
Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.
There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.
Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.
My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.
The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.
I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.
There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.
We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.
We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).
Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?
“I’m going to create man and woman with original sin. Then I’m going to impregnate a woman with myself as her child, so that I can be born in human form. Once alive, I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself. To save you from the sin I originally condemned you to. Ta dah!”
Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?
By D.M. Murdock
Archaeologists working in Turkey have unearthed an Assyrian tablet dating to around 670 BCE that “could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.” […]
Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.
The tablet, dating to about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.
Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.
“Those documents…seem to reflect very closely the formulaic structure of these treaty documents,” he told about 50 guests at the Ottawa residence of the Turkish ambassador, Rafet Akgunay.
He was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt on the condition that they worship only Him and follow His commandments.
But it will be interesting for scholars to have this parallel document.
“The language in the [Assyrian] texts is [very similar] and now we have a treaty document just a few miles up the road from Jerusalem.”…
[…] Although the article states that the archaeologist Timothy Harrison “was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt,” it is nonetheless raising that very issue in a manner which breaks with the centuries-old tradition of bending all finds in the “Holy Land” and other places of biblical interest to fit the Bible, in attempts to prove the “Good Book” as “history.” It is obvious that this sort of bibliolatry appeasement from the more scientific segment of society is losing ground precisely because of such discoveries – and the implication of this one is a doozy.
The reason that such immense ideals have an “otheworldly” feel to them is because God is the ultimate Other… which isn’t the same as saying God is separate. This Other can also be experienced inwardly (if such a word applies), but this doesn’t change the esential Otherness. God’s Goodness isn’t human goodness meaning it isn’t comprehensible in everyday terms nor can it be conformed to our purposes. God undermines our entire sense of self and reality which isn’t a bad thing per se, but its hard to interpret such an experience according to our normal beliefs and expectations of goodness.
This world of suffering is Hell and our complicity with suffering is Evil. I use these strong words because only they can convey the power of suffering when felt deeply. But, by this, I don’t mean to assume any particular theological claims. And, yet, I do mean to say that essentially both the Christians and Gnostics are right about God. Thusly, without logical consistency and without psychological reconciliation, I accept my inability to separate my experience of suffering from my experience of that which is other than suffering… whatever one may wish to call it.
Or, anyways, this is what makes sense to me at the moment. Unlike a pessimist of a materialist bent, I don’t deny any metaphysical possibility. I have experienced something that felt like an Other. Was it God? Was it even good in the ultimate sense? I don’t know. It felt real… and, in this world of confusion, a glimpse of reality may be the closest one gets to the Good.
On this fine Christmas, I watched a very unusual animated neo-noir movie titled Renaissance. It was enjoyable even if not precisely appropriate for this Holy of Holy days. I’m sure Jesus would be understanding. Why can’t anyone make a good neo-noir Christmas special?
The Wikipedia Article on the Rennaissance.
A good review by A.J. MacReady.
I was also spending some quality time with Tim Boucher on his insightful blog. Here is one that particularly amused me partly because the funny quote he started off with.
God gets lonely too, you know
Three bears in the bed, and the little one said
“I’m crowded, roll over”
So they all rolled over and one fell out Two bears in the bed, and the little one said
“I’m crowded, roll over”
So they all rolled over and one fell out
One bear in the bed, and the little one said
– (from Sesame Street)
What I really found interesting was this diagram and a related quote.
I was wondering if there were any historical theological precedents wherein Jesus and Lucifer were two stages of the same entity. That is, Lucifer transforms into Jesus through a process of purification. Lucifer is thrown out of Heaven, descends like a meteor and burns, burns, burns, until one day he just cools off. At this point, he is transfigured, and rises into Heaven once again, like a rocket shot into space.
The quote is the third paragraph below the diagram, but I had the same exact thought when I saw the diagram. Lucifer, afterall, is an angel. Angels are direct manifestations, extensions even, of God. According to some sources, Lucifer fell because his loyalty was so strong to God. Lucifer coming into this world was the first time an aspect of God directly manifested on Earth, and Lucifer’s fall parallels that of Adam and Eve. Lucifer led the way for Mankind to fully enter this world of limits and suffering, and so likewise Jesus in becoming Christ is the Wayshower back to Heaven.