How’d We Get to This Point?

In a flight of fancy from time to time I found myself imagining how things really may have evolved as opposed to the traditions we were raised to believe.

Annuit Cœptis, means "He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings", and Novus Ordo Seclorum, meanc "New Order of the Ages".

Annuit Cœptis, means “He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings”, and Novus Ordo Seclorum, meanc “New Order of the Ages”.

It is no coincidence that the “Eye of Providence” is a symbol on American currency

Of the 50 wealthiest people in America all are white except one and 90% of them are males.

Prior to the 2012 election a NY Times piece noted that “[f]or much of American history, white Protestants dominated the top rungs of American government.”  I don’t think it can be disputed either that they were predominantly male.

The belief that “all men are created equal” is a popular theme in the American culture but it’s an ideal that doesn’t live up to societal realities.   The mere fact that only men are mentioned in this ideal already reflects a certain bias that creates barriers for about half of the world’s population.  We can adjust our thinking to reflect contemporary societal norms but there will always be those who fall back on a view that they and their peers hold which asserts they are unique and are thus somehow qualified to make judgement calls that should reflect the norm.

How we got to this point is academic but the fact that we did appears to have something to do with Western patriarchal faith systems.  About three thousand years ago, according to the biblical time table, a man named Abram heard a voice he claimed to be the God of the universe.  This was an anomaly for the period and culture of this time because the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia, where Abram and his family resided, were worshippers of a polytheistic religious cult.  It was also a culture similar to our traditions in modern times where the father was the bread winner and the woman stayed at home raising the children.

As the progenitor of not only Judaism but its offshoots, Christianity and Islam, the voice in Abram’s head set the stage for how most of the people on earth view their world today.  Time has changed much but the notion that women are subservient to men and that God’s law is absolute remains pretty well entrenched in our age.  But how life developed in this manner is something that evolved gradually and out of a certain necessity to ensure the survival of the family and the tribe.

The story of Adam and Eve is most likely one that developed over time to explain this evolution in simplistic terms, as part of an oral tradition that goes back centuries when humans became more than hunter-gathers.  After learning how to grow their food rather than chasing it down became the norm, they would settle down in a specific region.  A division of labor developed that likely revolved around men’s natural physical strength and a woman’s ability to bear offspring.  The garden of Eden account likely satisfied the curiosities of those raised with it.  It was important to have some comprehension of life’s beginning, no matter how fantastical, in an attempt to rationalize their behavior as a natural order of things.

I like to imagine a scenario where this began to take shape back in ancient times.  The compilation of the Genesis account in the Old testament is a mixed bag of stories that have survived the test of time, especially those chapters prior to the introduction of Abraham.  But if we could encapsulate a scenario of its origins, how might that go?  The following is my creation of such an scenario.

The Rise of an Invisible God Authority

Though most people were content with the stories they were raised with, there was always some individual around who, endowed with an excess of critical thinking, pointed out that just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it has to remain as such.  Such people were viewed as threatening to the status quo but their logic could not be easily dismissed.  So, in order to give the customs of the day some authority, the elder men of some pre-historic tribe, who benefitted the most from the current social arrangement, gathered separately amongst themselves to devise a plan.  

At first they thought they could simply dictate terms because they were older, more experienced and stronger but these attributes were not always consistent and deteriorated over time, thus giving this notion no lasting credence.

 “But what if” one half-witted old fellow said, “we could attribute this way of life to a supernatural being who was beyond the weakness of mere mortals and actually had the power of life and death and established this system we have become accustomed to as a design of his own?”

The other men looked at each other and kind of chuckled amongst themselves.  The old man had been known to act weirdly on numerous occasions and attribute it all to the voices in his head.

“And where do we say this god came from?” asked one of the other men.

Looking up to the sky the half-wit said, “Out there, beyond our reach.  In this way we can say he sees all things yet will be invisible to all at such a great distance.   We can claim he comes down only on occasion to visit the eldest of us.  It was during one of these visits that he explained how we all came to be and how we were to live.”

As crazy as it sounded to the other men, they were desperate to save their way of life and discussed amongst themselves how they would carry it off.

“But what of the wiseass amongst us that questions everything?” one asked.

“We have the superior numbers,” another said, “and as long as we mock and ridicule him in unison the tribe is more likely to listen to us.  There is persuasive power in numbers, no? The people will at least have some reservations about who is right and who is wrong.”

The men continued their discussion about a plan.  They determined that at some point they would inform the wiseass that the unseen god is paying them a visit again and if he would like to come with them to see for himself, he is free to do so.  No doubt he will jump at this opportunity they thought.

After departing the camp and having traveled a safe distance they would kill the wiseass.  Upon returning they would explain to the group that the unseen god had struck the wiseass dead for his innumerable questions that challenged his authenticity and authority.  This will also serve the added benefit to instill fear in any other future skeptics that death awaits them should they try to dismiss their fictitious god.

And so it was and so it became.  This seem to serve their special interests for the remainder of their lives.  Within a few generations the myth became the reality.  The god-people formed elaborate institutions, rituals and even a priesthood to validate what had at first been a contrivance to foster the status quo.  Now it had a life of its own.  The founding fathers of this myth would be in awe of what they had wrought.

Since myth had now transitioned into reality the adherents of this tradition were faced with explaining the unexplainable.  Though chaos seem to dominate human life this was merely the sky god’s way of testing people, they conjectured.   They were amazed at how easily the people accepted this absurdity and built upon it.  Suffering was an essential criteria if we were to win favor with the unseen god.  Later an ideal was devised to suggest that those who remained steadfast loyal to this myth of the ancients, would experience an afterlife reward.  One full of golden streets and virgins.

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 12.26.14 PM

Myth or Reality

And there, in a nutshell, is my version suggesting how we’ve arrived at the point where we are today.  Is there some truth to it?  Perhaps.  Is there some value in believing in things we can’t prove exists?  Again, perhaps, but to a limited degree.  The human psyche is still an unknown factor in many ways and things that help us make it through a world that often seems to pose a threat to our existence requires an imagination that smooths the rough edges of life.  Beyond that need however such fantasies have proven to be themselves the sources of threats to our well-being.

I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.  – Thomas Jefferson

To those who have fervently bound themselves to their fantasies, miracles and believing that “God works in mysterious ways” is a typical response from a people who refuse to believe that their existence may have been the result of something other than the superstitions their fore bearers devised to explain much of their world at the time.  This muddled response is part of what we call “apologetics” and serves to defend the long held traditions of religious views; views that rational minds simply find incredible.

My friend John Zande over at his blog, The Superstitious Ape, has summed up the use of apologetics nicely in a short piece he wrote earlier this month.  If the bible is the inerrant word of an infallible, omnipotent god, [then] by extension such a god should be able to state exactly what it wants to say and do so free of any and all ambiguity”, Zande surmises.

Its word should be unencumbered by cultural idiosyncrasies and remain unmolested by divergences in language, calligraphy, obscure and dead lexicons, future dialects, exotic morphemes, or even illiteracy and deafness. Its word should contain no contradiction, no absurdity, no oversight or declarations that are in conflict with observed facts. Its word should penetrate all tribal, domestic and international legal code and remain morally true in a timeless continuum. Such an entity should be instantly recognisable to all sentient creatures regardless of locale or epoch, and its actions should exhibit no fault or favour, no bias, prejudice, second-thought or indeed, if omnipotent, no mind-set at all.

Now here comes that awkward moment for the bible-wielding fundamentalist. If this claim were in way true there wouldn’t be apologists practicing apologetics. It’s as simple as that.  SOURCE 

So What to Make About “Equality”

I admire John’s critical thinking on this and align myself along this mode of thought.  I leave it up to those who read this to draw their own conclusion.

But if any of this resonates at all then you would be hard-pressed to conclude that equality is limited to one gender, one race or one socio-political view.  Any law today that finds its origins derived from ancient religious premises which imposes restrictions because of one’s gender, race or socio-political view should be rejected outright if it cannot qualify its existence upon the virtue of human dignity.

If we are indeed the product of an all-powerful god who is viewed to be in control of all things then it becomes an insult to such a god to have those who claim to represent him or her for doling out what they claim only that god has the authority to do.   If only God can take a life then wars, the death penalty and even abortion are wrong.   You can’t ignore the first two with this line of thinking while pontificating its veracity for the third.  It’s either all or none.

Taking human life is the ultimate hostile action of a society that is incapable of finding remedies to avoid it.  Wars are the result of differences people have contrived between themselves and their neighbors, not because one is inherently evil and the other always holds the moral high ground.  The death penalty concedes that rehabilitation is beyond us and the motives for taking another life lies in societal norms that pit one against another.  Competition often over extends itself where the vanquished or weaker participant is left humiliated, often wallowing in low self esteem.

For those who believe life begins at conception let me suggest that abortions are the result of a society that at times not only fails to properly educate young people about sexual intercourse but who also insists our natural sex urges be restrained until we are lawfully married.  When the means of contraception is frowned on if not outright denied as a result of religious codes that have little merit, then abortion is the only option left for women with unwanted pregnancies.  And what does it say about a religion that insist even a rape victim must accept the violation of her right to choose who will father her child.

If such miscarriages of justice are ingrained in the religious dogma passed down over the centuries then what does it say about other such long held distortions.  Can a perfect god create an imperfect urge.  If not then why should homosexuality be viewed as an “abomination” in the eyes of those who carry on the tradition of others who once held it was legitimate to own slaves, treat women as chattel and kill disobedient children.  Could the answer simply be that a select few adult males who claim to be the heirs of the “one true religion” have decided this for all the rest of us?  If so, how did we let this happen?   When did we allow our brains to shut down?

old rich white guy

I’ve been fortunate that my birthright as a white male has allowed me to escape the persecution that others have had to endure and still do at some level.  It is easier for me to avoid the taboos associated with pre-marital sex or even holding views at odds with the status quo because I am viewed as part of the designated “superior elite”.  I am after all part of that traditional group who fall back on a view that they and their peers are unique and are thus somehow qualified to make judgement calls that should reflect the norm.

I reject this status however and am ashamed of those backward thinking men who would claim to have the authority of God himself to do what they do.  A god mind you that was likely the creation of an ancient Sumerian, living in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, who found it expedient to justify his urge to distance himself from annoying relatives by claiming he heard the voice of “the sky god” directing him to do so.  But that’s a subject for another post.

8 responses to “How’d We Get to This Point?

  1. As I was reading, I was reminded of this story: A woman was cooking a pot roast for her family, and she cut both ends off the meat before putting it in the oven. When her husband asked her why, she said, “I don’t know. My mother always did.” So, they asked her mother, who also responded, “Because my mother always did.” Finally, when they asked her grandmother, she answered, “Because the roast was always too big for my roasting pan.”

    • The classic example of follow tradition without really understanding its roots or the need to continue it. Thanks Tawn.

      Many of us, especially of the conservative persuasion, find it difficult to let go of something we’ve been accustomed to, even when after discovering it no longer serves an essential need.

    • Thanks Sherry. I worked on this for days to get it to say what I wanted it too without rambling on. I’m not sure I fully succeeded but I appreciate your kind words none the less.

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