Saturday, December 29, 2007

Post post

I love the responses from everyone to the last post - thank you! I'll respond here instead of in Comments.

Mary Ellen raises the point that Jesus, like George Washington, was a real historical person, and not an invention. Of course that's right, and I'm sorry for not being more clear. I did not mean to imply that historical persons were inventions, only the theology that surrounds them. Was Jesus the Son of God? Was Buddha The Enlightened One? Was Mohammad God's Holy Prophet? These are theological questions. (The "Big Hairy Thunderer," along with Zeus and Oden, for example, are inventions, however.) The theology that is connected to deity(ies) is the part that is man-made. I am sensitive to the fact that people who are devoted to any one of these are sincere and fervent in their belief that, for example, Jesus is the Messiah. That is a matter of faith, and it is quite profound and very personal. (I know; I've been there.) It is faith, not fact. You could not prove it to a Muslim any more than a Muslim could prove to you that Jesus was not divine, but only a minor prophet. If any of this could be proved, we wouldn't have had all these wars over it. What I want to point out is that the theology that surrounds religious figures was invented. For example, it wasn't until almost 400 years after the death of Jesus that the church fathers sat down and decided which books to include, and to exclude, in a bible. Over the centuries since that time, people kept killing each other over the contents of that book, a book which was put together by committee.

Dan wondered if my post was saying that religion serves no real purpose to humanity. Tom Harper mentioned the question over whether or not religion is "hard-wired" into us. Garnie says now she wants to go read more Joseph Campbell. Randal says this (religion) is a way of explaining things. I think all of these comments are tied together. We don't know yet if humanity is hard-wired for religion. What seems evident is that intelligent beings want to explain things - they are intelligent enough to ask questions and speculate about the answers. As Niose's article pointed out, there is evidence that even Neanderthals had religion. Joseph Campbell's outstanding work examines man's quest for purpose and meaning.

I think there is a real need inside of us to know "Who's in charge." Going off on my own tangent now about this, I think this need is one of survival. We are primates, and we live in tribes. We call them countries now, but essentially, we are tribal. Tribes have social structure, and must have leaders. It's a matter of survival to know exactly who is in charge, because if we don't, we run the terrible risk of accidentally pissing that person off. The penalty could be severe - anything from death to being ostracized. Therefore, as a matter of survival, we must know who's in charge. Not only that, we must know what the rules are.

Imagine that you are the leader of a primitive tribe. You got there by being the strongest. You kept your power because you are savvy. Like all tribal groups, you, as leader, have a few select lieutenants around you to enforce your wishes. They've got your back. Now say that there's a great thunderstorm and everyone is afraid (including yourself, but you don't show that because it's a sign of unacceptable weakness in a leader.) Lightening strikes the tree that one of the tribe members is sitting in, and he is killed. Everyone wants to know why - why was Ernie struck down, and not Joe? Everyone is frightened, traumatized. They come to you demanding an answer. What are you going to tell them? Either you or one of your homeboys had better come up with something. It's easy to see how the theology of a Big Hairy Thunderer is born. Even the leader needs to have a Leader. He can promote one of his lieutenants to priest (shaman, medicine man, etc.) to intervene with the BHT, and the priest - usually with the assistance of some magic herbal sacrament - tells everyone what the rules are. It was the BHT's will that Ernie be struck down by a mighty lightening bolt, as punishment for some infraction - did not everyone see Ernie hoarding food last week? Well, there ya go... Hey, someone points out, Joe did stuff even worse than Ernie, yet he lives - what about that? Oh, well - the BHT works in mysterious ways, and in fact, now that you've questioned Him, you'd better look out the next time He brings a storm. In fact, why don't you all STFU and we, the Church, will tell you, the ignorant masses, what to believe. And so on.

The point of Niose's article was that we no longer need to rely on theology to explain what we don't understand. To go back to the epilepsy example in the previous post, it must have been scary to watch people having seizures, and because we are such a curious species, we needed to know why. Demonic possession seemed to fit the bill, until - centuries later - we discovered that epilepsy is a disease, just as plague is a disease, not a divine scourge. This is the progress spoken of, the freedom to discover what is, as opposed to what has been conjured.

These subjects fascinate me. I know there's lots more to discuss, and I appreciate everyone's viewpoints. It's great to be able to discuss this stuff in a non-hostile manner. I hope we don't get a troll.

Speaking of trolls, and to address the question of how atheists are perceived in this society, take a look at this letter to the editor that I Stumbled upon. (I also ran across a poll somewhere stating that most Americans would rather have a (gasp!) homosexual president than an atheist president. Atheists are in the last closet.)